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April 22, 2023

After he visited the 4-year-old Joali Maldives resort (from $2,040 a night) — which features boldly decorated overwater villas, six eateries including a floating Japanese restaurant and a coral restoration program — Stanley Tucci wrote for London’s The Times: “As the seaplane descended over the topaz water, we were so affected by the utter beauty and serenity of the place that the long-haul weariness seemed to filter away.”

In the Maldives — located in the Indian Ocean, 600 miles southwest of Sri Lanka — it’s not uncommon to be greeted upon arrival via seaplane or boat by staff holding their right hands over their hearts. It’s also where most accommodations come with a personal butler or, in the case of Joali Maldives, a jadugar, aka “magician.” Among the stars who have patronized resorts located throughout the country’s 26 atolls of coral sand and luminous aquamarine water, surreal marine megafauna and lush coconut palms are Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Orlando Bloom, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, to name just a few. 

Opened in 2021, sister property Joali Being (from $2,142 a night) is a wellness-focused island retreat located 15 minutes away by boat on Bodufushi Island. It’s an idyllic haven for transformative resets via high-tech tools but also watsu water massage in a serene pool, Turkish hammam treatment, immersive sound healing and nourishing cuisine. There’s a temple to tea ceremonies and another destination for healing herbal infusions — plus radically biophilic architecture across the island.

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A Grand Beach Pool Villa at Joali Being in the Maldives.

Joali Being

For her 40th birthday last year, actress Katie Lowes (Inventing Anna) visited Anantara Dhigu Maldives Resort (from $750 a night) in the South Malé Atoll with her entire family, taking cooking classes, going surfing and getting overwater massages. “There’s the feeling that it takes a village to raise a child,” she tells THR. “The staff were all coming up to my kids at the breakfast table, they were totally taken care of.” 

Anantara dhigu maldives - resort - overwater villas

Overwater villas at Anantara Dhigu Maldives.

Anantara Dhigu Maldives

On Lowes’ actual birthday, they all went swimming with hundreds of nurse sharks, an experience she describes as “unbelievable. They were twice my length, but they’re actually vegetarian and their mouths are really tiny so it couldn’t be safer. My five-year-old son was the first one in!” On the boat back to the resort they spotted pods of dolphins and four massive manta rays. “It was one of those magical days where you’re like, ‘It doesn’t get much better than this.’”

The verdant and intimate Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas — fresh off a breezy overwater villa facelift including to its $5,800-per-night, two-bedroom Sunset Over Water Pool Residence — is where Leonardo DiCaprio, Cristiano Ronaldo and Roger Federer have vacationed and where John Legend and Chrissy Teigen were engaged. (From $1,600 a night, half board).

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An overwater complex at Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas includes an observatory.

Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas

Its prime location in the Baa Atoll makes it a destination for another type of bucket-list marine mammal: giant manta rays. Forty-five minutes away by boat is the fiercely protected UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hanifaru Bay, where from May to November every year incredible numbers of the gentle creatures with 15-foot wingspans gather to feed on plankton. More passive underwater experiences come courtesy of Sea, the subaquatic restaurant with intricate coral reef panoramas, 150-plus fish species, and a deep wine list. Kihavah is also the only resort in the Maldives to have an overwater observatory complete with 16” Meade LX200 telescope for spying on other planets and nebula, craft cocktail in hand.

The Baa Atoll is home as well to Amilla Fushi Maldives (from $1,045 a night), where the Beckhams spent a New Year in the eight-bedroom villa and Ashley Benson, Lindsay Lohan, Katy Perry, and Kate Winslet have also stayed.

Salma Hayek rang in the New Year in 2021 on Kunfunadhoo Island’s Soneva Fushi (from $1,440 a night), which Millie Bobby Brown called “the holiday of a lifetime” on Instagram, and where Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas honeymooned in a beachfront villa. Recently the resort debuted the largest one- and two-bedroom overwater villas in the world, complete with water slides into the ocean and retractable roofs for stargazing from bed. The earth-friendly resort has a glass art studio where guests get creative with recycled glass and boasts the world’s first fully sustainable surf program.

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Beach Pool Villa at Niyama Private Islands, Maldives

Niyama Private Islands

Surfers including Olympic medalist Kanoa Igarashi and Blue Crush surfer Coco Ho love Niyama Private Islands (from $900 a night, half board) because of its exceptional private wave, which breaks off the end of the island dubbed Play and is never crowded. The well-kept secret is a major selling point for vacationers who love a little activity along with their decadent Maldivian lobster–studded meals at the resort’s strikingly immersive restaurants, which range from pan-African and treetop Southeast Asian to the elegant underwater Subsix, which requires a speedboat to reach and has a James Bond–meets–Little Mermaid feel. Their new Luxury Experience full-board offer including dolphin cruises and free-flowing drinks is the total package.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Falchuk honeymooned at Soneva Jani (from $2,140 a night). Upon leaving the actress and entrepreneur wrote on Instagram, “Farewell to these beautiful atolls of peace.” Legend and Teigen celebrated their daughter’s fifth birthday there, while Justin and Hailey Beiber and Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn have all been guests.

One&only reeethi rah - overwater villas - maldives

Overwater villas at One&Only Reeethi Rah

One&Only Reeethi Rah

Idris Elba headlined New Year’s Eve 2020 with a DJ performance at the highly personalized resort One&Only Reethi Rah (from $2,050 a night; $41,700 a night for the top Grand Sunset Residence), with a holistic spa program, remote private dining options and a private whale shark yacht safari.

Over Christmas 2021, Paris Hilton honeymooned with her husband Carter Reum at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island (from $874 a night) in the resort’s $50,000-per-night undersea villa The Muraka, which involved a photo shoot of her in a mermaid tail swimming over their bedroom and, according to her blog, “[learning] about the coral reefs.” To celebrate their first anniversary this November, they bought out Ithaafushi – The Private Island, which bowed as part of Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi (patronized by Emily Ratajkowski and Serena Williams) in 2021 and goes for a cool $85,000 per night. At eight acres, it’s the largest Maldivian private island and has a dedicated culinary team, private ocean sandbank for yoga or dinners, and overwater spa.

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Three-bedroom beach villa at Ithaafushi – The Private Island in the Maldives

Ithaafushi – The Private Island

The nation’s other newest resorts include the ultra-luxe Patina Maldives, Fari Islands (from $1,900 a night), with perhaps the most unique and nature-led architecture in the Maldives plus a mesmerizing James Turrell pavilion, lively social hub, and enlightening offerings such as a ceramics and coral conservation workshop.

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A villa at Patina Maldives, Fari Islands in the Maldives

Patina Maldives, Fari Islands

Alila Kothaifaru Maldives (from $900 a night), which debuted in 2022 offers experiences including Starlight Cinema and The Art of the Coconut, which involves a coconut tree–climbing demo, Maldivian cooking and mixology class, and treetop massage and mini facial. 

Looking back on her trip, Lowes says, “The Maldives really is its own distinct, special thing, and only people who I know who have been there get it. I’ve never seen sunsets and sunrises like that before. The Indian Ocean was completely breathtaking. Once you’ve seen it, these little tiny white islands of coral that are barely above the ocean and have these incredible resorts on them, it’s hard to compare [to anywhere else]. It feels so rare.”

Patina maldives - fari islands - coral restoration project

Coral restoration at Patina Maldives, Fari Islands

Patina Maldives, Fari Islands

A version of this story first appeared in the March 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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