The Maldives’ art-immersive resort, Joali, is also breathtakingly beautiful

Words: Selma Day

The archetypal image of the Maldives is usually one of clear turquoise waters and pristine white sandy beaches lined with swaying coconut palms – but a resort brimming with world-class art probably doesn’t spring to mind. However, it’s one of the many features that sets Joali apart from all the other luxury resorts in the region.

Situated on Muravandhoo Island in the Raa Atoll, just 40 minutes by seaplane from Malé airport, Joali bills itself as the first art-immersive luxury resort in the Maldives.

The experience starts as soon as you arrive at the island’s show-stopping jetty with its undulating thatched roof – designed to reflect the rise and fall of the ocean. Here, you are warmly greeted by the management team along with your own personal butler, who is there to look after your every whim for the duration of your stay.

After a refreshing welcome drink and a quick buggy tour around the island, you arrive at your villa – which in our case was a luxury two-bedroom over-water affair (perfect for two adults and two kids). There are 73 types of accommodation in all, which include beach villas and residences. On the wall of each villa is Pearl, an eyecatching, clam-like centrepiece by the Turkish artist and sculptor Seckin Pirim. The ripple shape is reminiscent of the aquamarine waters surrounding the island, with its varied hues reflecting the brilliant blue ocean beyond.

The over-water villas, each with a separate living room and high ceilings, are tastefully designed using natural materials – with every mod-con covered, down to the state-of-the-art lighting and mood-control system. Bathrooms are spacious, with a freestanding bathtub looking straight out to the ocean, double sinks and a separate shower, as well as an open-air rain shower. The his and hers custom kimono-style robes are perfect for wandering around the pool area – a spacious deck with a seating area, sunbeds and a hammock over the water to sit and enjoy a morning coffee or an evening cocktail while watching the sun set.

These villas are all about the views and seclusion – the Indian Ocean stretching towards the horizon, the glorious sunsets and a sense of being completely away from it all. That said, the fish are never far away and you may even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of sharks swimming past, as we did while looking over the edge of our (huge) infinity pool.

The vibe at Joali is relaxed. It does barefoot luxury very well – it’s a liberating experience and highly practical if you want to explore the island by bike (each guest has a personalised one outside their villa). Of course, if you want to glam up and wear heels, your butler will pick you up in a buggy to take you to wherever you want to go, but one of the joys of Joali is just cycling around the island and soaking up the sheer beauty of the place.

Food-wise, there are plenty of options. At the end of its own jetty, Saoke is a stunning Japanese restaurant serving sushi and teppanyaki and a wide selection of fine wines and sakes. Less formal is Tuh’u, where you can enjoy Levant cuisine while dining alfresco on the sand under the lit palms; while for a taste of Italy in the Maldives, Bellinis serves up a selection of antipasti, handmade pasta dishes and risottos, alongside Tuscan-inspired mains. Vandhoo is the place to go for Asian fusion and Maldivian dishes, and is also where breakfast is served, while Mura Bar provides all-day snacks.

To satisfy your sweet cravings, there’s an artisanal chocolate and ice-cream room; and for wine lovers, a wine cellar with wines from all over the world, where the sommelier offers daily wine tastings with cheese – not to mention a whiskey and cigar lounge.

Special menus can be enjoyed in various locations around the resort, including on a private sandbank or in the manta ray-shaped treehouse.

Created by the artist Porky Hefer, the treehouse, called Bushra, is inspired by the Maldives’ 5,000 reef manta rays and is one of several international works of art that are dotted around the island and which sit alongside pieces by local artists and artisans.

Other standout works include the Heron Chair – Kara, Hefer’s tribute to the heron, the best-known visitor bird of the Maldives; The Perch by the American artist John-Paul Philippe, a version of his celebrated bench; and One Egg One World, an installation inspired by the egg of the white tern seabird, found across the world’s tropical oceans.

Joali is home to one of the largest and deepest atolls in the world and to myriad sea life, and its mission is to be at the forefront of responsible tourism, safeguarding the local environment and community. Don’t miss the chance to  visit the resident marine biologist, Sam, who works to protect the marine life and reef ecosystems at the resort. As part of the reef restoration project, coral is grown in an underwater nursery for nine to 12 months, then transplanted to an underwater snorkel trail accessible to guests. It really is fascinating to see – you can even take part in the process and be kept up-to-date with the results over the following months.

For a touch of pampering, head to the Joali spa by ESPA – a haven of wellbeing that offers signature treatments and packages, alongside a sauna, steam room, power showers, hammam, vitality pool, spa changing and relaxation areas.

As well as a fitness centre, there’s a range of marine and land sports, from  norkelling with manta rays to wakeboarding, chartered yacht and dhoni excursions and tennis and padel.

As for little ones, there’s plenty to keep them entertained, from native storytelling days to interactive treasure hunts and cookery classes. There’s a family friendly outdoor swimming pool that is handily close to the bar, so you can keep an eye on the kids while you have a cheeky cocktail or two. Come dusk, the trees and surrounding area are lit up with twinkling lights – it’s the perfect place for a sundowner before heading off to dinner.