The Maldives really are as beautiful as the newlyweds say

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When you’ve been stuck in a home office for nearly two years, lockdown after lockdown, an offer to go to Tory Island off the Co Donegal coast would have been welcome.

hen you are offered to visit the island of Kuramathi in the Maldives – a tropical tory with sea turtles – you do not hesitate.

I depart Donegal Airport to land in Dublin, where our group of six travelers are escorted on a surprise visit to the Platinum Services Lounge at Dublin Airport (see dublinairport.com). I’ve never said no to champagne before noon – or any time of the day, think about it – and I’m not about to start giving up now.

We are shown to the plane with a driver and, before we start to feel guilty about the VIP treatment, we are shown to our seats, each an individual pod where I will be pampered for the next six hours.

Over the years I have become accustomed to traveling for hours between Donegal and Dublin on a very good bus service (as we would miss a 15 minute layover in Monaghan). This journey on board Qatar Airways to the Maldives via Doha may take a little longer, but at no time do I wish to disembark.

A glass in hand (a good Chilean wine, Viña Tarapacá, keeps me hydrated) and I’m soon enjoying top-notch quality food from an extensive menu. You also have enough space in your pod to fully recline your seat, or you can watch one of the hundreds of movies available on your personal flat screen TV.

We arrive in Doha for a stopover. Doha is not Monaghan, although both have a Four Seasons hotel. It is one of the host cities for the World Cup finals in November and December and we see gigantic stadiums as our plane descends.

After a four hour flight from Doha, we arrive at Malé Velana International Airport. Outside, I want to dive straight into the turquoise waters before I notice whitetip reef sharks darting below. Although they were harmless little guys, I thought it best to tread carefully until I found my bearings.

There are 1,192 islands in the Maldives, spread in a narrow necklace over 1,000 km of the Indian Ocean, north and south of the equator. Of these, about 200 islands are inhabited and another 150 are tourist resorts.

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A villa on stilts with swimming pool in Kuramathi

A villa on stilts with swimming pool in Kuramathi

Our home for the next few days is Kuramathi Island in Rasdhoo Atoll in the Maldives, about 75 minutes by speedboat or 20 minutes by seaplane from Male airport.

We board a seaplane and I make sure I get a front row seat. The flight is a highlight of the trip – the landing is soft but it makes a very rewarding ‘splash’ as ​​we hit the water along a pontoon near the beach of Kuramathi Island. And now we are in paradise. At 1.8km long and just 300m at its widest point, Kuramathi is small (Tory is more than twice its size), but it’s one of the largest tourist islands in the Maldives.

The island is at capacity when we visited, but it never feels small, full, or particularly busy as you walk around. And yet, when you want to make the buzz, a decent crowd can gather at any of the island’s six bars after dark.

In addition to the three buffet restaurants, Kuramathi offers nine a la carte options. My personal favorites were The Reef seafood restaurant (where the salmon was delicious and the scallops divine) and Island Barbecue for the steak and beach vibe.

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The Champagne Loft Bar on Kuramathi Island in the Maldives


The Champagne Loft Bar on Kuramathi Island in the Maldives

The Champagne Loft Bar on Kuramathi Island in the Maldives

Stays at Kuramathi are minimum full board with breakfast, lunch and dinner at one of the buffet restaurants, but I recommend you make the extra effort to opt for one of the all-inclusive packages if your budget allows. They are more expensive, of course, but it would be a shame to skimp when you’ve come this far.

Alright, time to burn some of those calories. We go in search of Nemo during our snorkeling on the reef of the island. It is heartbreaking to see the effects that 2016 El Niño has had on the reefs in the area, much of which is now very bleached. Still, there are signs of new growth, with pockets and bursts of color straight out of a David Attenborough documentary.

We see clownfish, angelfish, oriental sweetlips, surgeonfish and butterflyfish. I’m not beyond my depth in the water when I’m lucky enough to encounter a large sea turtle swimming right below me. Moments later, however, my bubble bursts when I’m surprised by a sight no man should ever see in such an idyllic setting: another pale male less than a foot from my snorkel mask. I swallow a bite of the Indian Ocean with dread. Thanks Seamus.

More adventurous divers can dive a little deeper to swim with manta rays, dolphins and friendly sharks.

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Joe Coyle on a Speedboat from Kuramathi to Kandolhu Island


Joe Coyle on a Speedboat from Kuramathi to Kandolhu Island

Joe Coyle on a Speedboat from Kuramathi to Kandolhu Island

Kuramathi is covered in lush vegetation – coconut palms, papayas, breadfruit, banana trees and a gargantuan 300 year old banyan tree. You cannot see from one side of the island to the other, except at the top of the island, along the famous sandbar. A trip here is a must – you can walk or hop on one of the electric buggies which arrive every 15 minutes or so. The sandbar extends in the shape of an elongated teardrop to the ocean beyond. During my visit, I had the place to myself for a good 10 minutes. I doubt I’ll ever know peace and quiet like this again.

Kuramathi has over 360 villas in 11 categories, from traditional Maldivian-style beach villas to overwater villas with private pools. I stay in a luxury overwater villa with a king bed, free-standing tub, rain shower, and a large private deck with steps down to the otherworldly ocean.

It’s a honeymoon destination, sure, but there are groups of families and friends on the island when we visit, enjoying temperatures that rarely rise much above or fall much below freezing. a sweet 30˚VS.

You could spend a whole day in your villa without getting bored, but we keep up the pace and head to the neighboring island of Kandolhu, a tiny but exquisite resort with just 30 villas.

Kuramathi has its own water bottling plant to eliminate unnecessary plastics wherever possible. For good reason, conservation and sustainability are at the forefront of the thoughts of residents of the Maldives, if not all of its visitors. A hydroponic garden on the island produces all the salad greens and most of the vegetables for the restaurants on the island. It’s comforting to see him in action.

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QSuites on board Qatar Airways are business class travel with a neat touch - a sliding door that helps ensure privacy for every passenger


QSuites on board Qatar Airways are business class travel with a neat touch – a sliding door that helps ensure privacy for every passenger

QSuites on board Qatar Airways are business class travel with a neat touch – a sliding door that helps ensure privacy for every passenger

On the way back we enjoy Qatar Q-Suites on our trip. It’s business class travel with a neat twist – privacy with a sliding door to seal the deal. More Hollywood, champagne, five-star menus.

I can’t help noticing the 20-ton, seven-meter teddy bear in the middle of the Doha airport hall. And there is also an elephant in the room. We are traveling just days after so many representatives of island nations, including the Maldives, pleaded with world leaders at COP26 in Glasgow to urgently commit to tackling the climate emergency.

My carbon footprint on this trip is not low. The Maldives are, on average, only 1.8m above sea level. During my visit to Kuramathi, however, I chatted with a bartender who echoes what I hear on the island, with a reprimand. “Yes”, he says, “but the Maldives needs tourists”.

I land at Carrickfinn Airport in Donegal, voted the most scenic airport in the world. Another paradise found.

Getting There

  • Joe Coyle has traveled as a guest of Simplymaldives.ie, Kuramathi Island Resort and Qatar Airways.
  • Kuramathi beach villas from €1,995 pp; Overwater villas from €2,945 pp for seven nights including flights, taxes and boat transfers with full board (November-April rates around 30% higher).
  • Optional all-inclusive basic package (full board plus drinks), additional €65 per day; All-inclusive formula Select (access to all restaurants), additional €115 per day. There is 25% discount on room rates from May to October 2022; Water Villa categories get a free upgrade from Basic All-Inclusive Meal Plan. To book: Simplymaldives.ie or your local travel agent.
  • Qatar Airways, the world’s best airline according to Skytrax 2021, offers 10 weekly departures from Dublin to Doha from €489.
  • Return fares from Dublin to the Maldives are available from €689 in economy class and €2,540 in business class. For more information or to book, see qatarairways.com or visit your local travel agent.
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