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Travel: Sun, sea and stargazing in the Maldives

© Press Association ImagesMilaidhoo Island.
Milaidhoo Island.

From above, the hundreds of islands that make up the Maldives loosely resemble an inverted night sky.

Islands, sandbanks, atolls and turquoise reefs scattered in a sea of deepest blue stand out like the stars in the endless night of our universe.

It is easy to feel insignificant, a tiny cog in the vastness of nature.

Which is perhaps why many seek out this remote destination and the opportunity to leave responsibilities behind.

After two airplane journeys, a seaplane and a speed boat, my toes are in the sand, and I am welcomed to Milaidhoo island with a flagon of icy coconut water, swiftly followed by a glass of Champagne.

I’m here to experience a new stargazing retreat, allowing guests to discover the beauty of our galaxy from an Indian Ocean paradise.

As a country that is 99% water, the Maldives is the perfect place for stargazing, with great dark sky quality and little light pollution between islands.

Starting in the spring, Milaidhoo will be offering a number of astronomy retreats, timed to maximise the chances of clear skies.

The retreat will include the opportunity to name a star, guided stargazing, lectures on Maldivian night sky history and culture, and dinner under the stars on a secluded sand bank.

© Press Association Images
Jemma Crew on Milaidhoo Island.

Guests will be offered a “healing space” treatment, starting with vibrating singing bowls, followed by a Balinese massage using rose aromatherapy – inspired by a rose which was sent to space in the late 1990s, as an experiment to create an entirely new scent.

They will also have a chance to set sail on a traditional Maldivian dhoni and learn the ancient skill of wayfinding – using the sun, stars and waves to steer a course.

Astronomy expert Valerie Stimac, who will lead the retreats, says stargazing while on holiday is “a great opportunity to even further disconnect from the stresses of everyday life” and learn more about a destination through its skies.

“During a general stargazing session, eyes adjust to be able to see the formation of our galaxy in the night sky – it’s not something you can see in cities,” the 35-year-old says. “That first moment of awe, when you realise that we are part of something so much bigger than just a planet or solar system, we’re in a galaxy and there’s even more beyond that, that’s my favourite thing to guide people through.”

Using a powerful laser beam, she helps us identify the constellations Sagittarius, which loosely resembles a teapot, and Scorpius, part of which looks like a scorpion’s tail.

The resort has turned off outdoor lighting to aid our night vision, and we are gently chastised for looking at our phones unless we have a red filter which won’t interfere. As stargazing is always weather dependent, there are alternative evening activities in case the skies cloud over, such as night-time snorkelling, where guests may be lucky enough to discover bioluminescent blue plankton that sparkles in the water.

Milaidhoo is part of the Baa Atoll’s Unesco Biosphere Reserve, so snorkelling in its azure shallows should not be missed. Following the reef which encircles the island, I spot yellow and blue surgeon fish, parrot fish, clown fish and incredible coral formations.

© Press Association Images
Sunset at Milaidhoo Island. (PA)

Guests can also arrange to swim with manta rays in Hanifaru Bay, a protected marine area that is a mere 12 minutes’ speed boat ride away.

Back on land, this is a resort that encourages luxury.

Sitting with a cocktail doing nothing but watching the sun set, is essential Maldives behaviour. The small, personal touches are what make Milaidhoo truly unforgettable – fresh aloe vera delivered to my villa after I sunburn my pasty British legs, staff remembering how I take my coffee, a surprise flower-strewn bath after snorkelling and “see you soon” spelled out in leaves on my bed on my last evening.

I end my stay feeling like a VIP, knowing I will soon be yearning for the beauty and silence of a still Maldivian night sky.


P.S. 

Local influences are peppered through Milaidhoo’s 50 villas. Doors and windows are painted pink or blue to reflect the colours used on nearby islands, while ceilings are vaulted to mimic an inverted boat hull. Privacy coconuts – used as do not disturb signs – are hand painted by one of the island’s housekeepers.

Factfile:

Abercrombie & Kent abercrombiekent.co.uk 03301 734712 offers a seven-night trip to Milaidhoo in an over water villa with private pool from £5,500pp based on two sharing on a B&B basis. Includes flights and seaplane transfers.