An underwater ballet performs before our eyes, with a squadron of graceful manta rays gliding and tumbling through the water.
These mysterious creatures are one of the biggest draws for those visiting the Baa Atoll Unesco Biosphere Reserve in the central-western part of the Maldives.
Our snorkelling guide, Saif, says we are very lucky to get such a show as we are at the end of the manta-ray season, which runs from June until late November. There are only three of us in the water, and several times I pull away as the rays swoop towards me with their ghostly mouths agape. But there’s nothing to fear from these gentle giants, which can grow to 16ft from wingtip to wingtip. They feed on plankton and krill, and unlike stingrays, there is no venom in their whip-like tails.
Bright idea: A spectacular aerial shot of Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, which Sadie Whitelocks says ‘immediately casts a sunny spell on you’
Landaa Giraavaru is a 30-minute seaplane ride from the Maldivian capital of Male. Pictured is one of the over-water villas
Landaa Giraavaru turns the romance up to 11 with this incredible overwater – and very secluded – wedding pavilion
Ghostly: Manta rays feed on plankton and krill, and unlike stingrays, there is no venom in their whip-like tails
Sadie watches a squadron of graceful, mysterious manta rays perform an underwater ballet
For a luxurious marine safari base, check in at the rather plush Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru. The lush atoll is a 30-minute seaplane ride from the pint-sized Maldivian capital of Male.
Landaa Giraavaru immediately casts a sunny spell on you, with the dreariness of lockdown washed away by delightful 28C temperatures. Guests are not required to wear a mask while out and about, though staff do, so there is a strange sense of freedom at being able to exercise facial expressions again.
On this remote atoll, sealife is at the centre of things with a state-of-the-art marine research facility, a PADI dive outlet, and a turtle rehabilitation centre. At the marine centre, one of the resident biologists, Simon from Essex, will be keen to fill you in on his projects, from boosting clownfish populations to coral restoration.
To further explore the Maldives’ underwater world, book a dive or two. There are multiple dive sites and we head to one near a neighbouring island. You’re guaranteed to see lots of parrotfish, and Felipe, another biologist, informs us that these colourful creatures are largely responsible for the Maldives’ paradisiacal white shores as they nibble coral and poop it out as sand. Lovely!
If this is all too serene, you can take to the water for an eFoiling class. Never heard of it? An eFoil is a surfboard that rides above the water, powered by an electric motor and a propeller attached to a hydrofoil wing under the waves. The motor is almost silent and powered by a rechargeable battery.
Our tutor, Hazmar, makes it look easy as he flies above the bobbing blue on the futuristic motorised surfboard, but when I try it’s a struggle to stand and it takes several face-plants before I finally manage a two-second hover.
Bliss: Landaa Giraavaru‘s expansive over-water villas boast four-poster beds and direct access to the ocean
Landaa Giraavaru‘s Blu Beach Club has a stunning infinity pool – and a dapper cushion range
Fancy booking a beach villa with a pool at Landaa Giraavaru? This is what’s in store for you
The three-bedroom water suites at Landaa Giraavaru are quite something to behold
The romantic strolls at Landaa Giraavaru take some beating. There’s the sandspit option, pictured, for instance…
Travelling in memorable style: Sadie gets ready to board the Four Seasons luxury transfer seaplane
Sadie holds the sun in her hands at Landaa Giraavaru
For a more sedate soaking, Landaa Giraavaru‘s expansive over-water villas boast magnificent infinity pools, and their free-standing bathtubs, which accommodate two, also make for a prime spot to unwind. To further your state of castaway bliss, pedal your way on your resort bicycle through the jungle interior to Landaa Giraavaru’s spa.
I hear myself suddenly snore as Lastri performs the signature massage in an over-water treatment room, while the waves gently whisper around us.
Landaa Giraavaru also specialises in the ancient Indian healing practice of Ayurveda and one couple, we are told, are booked in for a 21-day retreat on the island with a specialist doctor.
With six nights to play with, my therapy stretches to a spot of sunrise yoga with Dr Giri on an over-water pavilion, and the next day he takes my partner and me for an anti-gravity yoga class. We break into giggles as we try to master the ‘mosquito’ and ‘spiderman’ poses. Dr Giri kindly snaps some photographs as the blood rushes to our heads.
Later that day I practise a less active sun salutation with a cocktail to hand as we watch shades of orange give way to a starry night sky from the Ibiza-esque Blu Beach Club restaurant. Our tastebuds are taken on a trip around the world during our stay, with a different restaurant each night. There are authentic Italian flavours at Blu, tongue-tingling Indian tastes at Cafe Landaa and moreish Moroccan-inspired morsels at Al Bakarat.
After three nights, we hop over to Landaa Giraavaru’s sister island Kuda Huraa, which is about 12 miles from Male and 25 minutes by seaplane. General manager Randy tells us that if one were to think of the two Four Seasons properties as potential partners, ‘Kuda Huraa is the one you want to marry as it’s a timeless classic, while Landaa Giraavaru is the one you’ll want to date, with that wow factor’. His analogy immediately resonates.
Kuda Huraa has a more intimate and homely atmosphere than Landaa Giraavaru. Rooms at Kuda Huraa feature equally impressive infinity pools, but the interiors throughout the place are earthier, with burnt red hues and duck-egg-blue feature walls.
A big draw to many is the surfing, with the area around Kuda Huraa being home to some of the Maldives’ biggest rollers.
Kuda Huraa, pictured, has a more intimate and homely atmosphere than Landaa Giraavaru, writes Sadie
Rooms at Kuda Huraa (pictured), says Sadie, feature impressive infinity pools, and the interiors are earthy
Kuda Huraa, pictured, is about 12 miles from Male. One of the big draws is the surfing, with the area being home to some of the Maldives’ biggest rollers, explains Sadie
Thankfully, my first surf lesson is in the resort’s calmer lagoon, but I wish I could have extended my stay to test my balance on some bigger waves.
We meet one chap from Argentina who is staying on the island for three months with his wife and two children in tow.
If your budget can stretch to it, these Four Seasons resorts certainly make for a dreamy work-from-home base. Unfortunately, we have to zip back to Male after six nights of bliss. But with a wealth of memories, it feels as if we’ve been gone for a month.
And that manta ray ballet is a spectacle I’ll never forget.