My job takes me to all kinds of places strange and wonderful, and The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi, an eco-chic desert island resort in the middle of the Noonu Atoll in The Maldives, was certainly the latter.
Once on board, the 45-minute seaplane ride from Male to The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi is jaw-dropping to say the least, as hundreds of islands – both untouched or developed into stunning private island retreats – oat beneath you, and lagoons and atolls create more shades of blue than you or I could name.
The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi covers a sprawling 52-acre island with 11 diverse food and beverage outlets, a 20-room tropical spa and 221 guest rooms including 70 over-water bungalows with outdoor spa tubs overlooking the ocean – including spectacular Infinity Water Villas – and three exclusive “retreats” designed especially for travelling families or groups.
I stayed in a Beach Villa, which exudes a Mediterranean-inspired feel with its pristine white stone walls that appear to melt into the equally white sand below. The villas are brought to life by a myriad of vibrantly colourful bougainvillea, hibiscus, and other exotic tropical flora.
As if the crystal clear water and fine, white sand were not enough, there is something about the Maldives that can only be understood through experiencing it first hand. All at once, it proves itself to be all of surreal, serene and spiritual. In short, “you had to be there”.
As The Maldives continues to skyrocket in popularity, making its way onto more and more travel wish lists, Mega Maldives airlines was established in 2010 with regular flights from Hong Kong, Seoul, Beijing and Shanghai to Male.
To get to The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi requires a seaplane from Male, which, although they come and go regularly throughout the day, have no fixed schedules. Keeping that in mind, the resort offers its guests a chic lounge at the seaplane port. Comparable to a first class airport lounge, guests can take advantage of its large, plush couches, complimentary food and drinks, free high-speed Wi-Fi and private shower facilities should you wish to freshen up from your journey.
The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi’s Beach Villa offers expansive indoor and outdoor spaces to enjoy, from the cool tranquility of the open-plan bedroom to a long, narrow outdoor marble pool and a shaded sala with luxurious seating, perfect for balmy afternoon naps or enjoying a cocktail. Toward the back of the villa is an alluring indoor-outdoor bathroom that goes above and beyond expectations, with two rain showers, a spa bath, a spacious sun deck and a canopied day bed.
Beach Villas line the island, and for a little extra you can enjoy a dedicated Sunrise Horizon Villa or Sunset Horizon Villa, each placed in prime positions for watching the sun rise or set across an infinite stretch of the Indian Ocean.
It is early evening when I arrive, and after settling into my room, I walk outside of my hut directly onto the beach just as the sky begins to fade into sherbert hues, to get some dinner at Flavours, a fusion restaurant just a stone’s throw away from my villa.
There are no roads, but eco-friendly golf buggies are available to take you around the island. In my opinion, however, it’s worth the walk, as it will never take more than 15 minutes to get from one end of The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi to the other. After all, it’s not as though there’s a rush to get anywhere, and the surrounding unspoiled desert island scenery never gets old.
Situated on a deck overlooking a seemingly endless sea, Flavours serves fusion cuisine that combines the finest imported and local ingredients. Complete with an impressive state-of-the-art wine cellar, wine pairing at ‘Flavours’ is definitely recommended. Also recommended is looking out for wild marine life – as I sat down at my table, I looked over the railing to see a pair of playful reef sharks – “Don’t worry, they are completely harmless,” says one of the waitors, who goes on to tell me that it’s common for turtles, large schools of sh and more to be seen in the impossibly transparent water that surrounds the restaurant – and the island as a whole.
The Trio offers a similar on-the-water experience, but serves dishes with more of a Mediterranean twist. There is also the fantastic Islanders Grill, where I recommend you request a table right on the beach and leave your cares and shoes behind to enjoy a feast of freshly grilled seafood and meat.
For the ultimate private dining experience, The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi offers its unique ‘Destination Dining’ service; organised in advance, the resort staff can set up a completely private, white-linen canopied, candlelit setting for two on an isolated section of the beach for couples to indulge in chilled champagne and a multi-course gourmet menu in one of the most romantic places in the world.
Despite its capacity, The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi has been cleverly designed to ensure absolute privacy for its guests. Aside from the breakfast buffet, chances are you’ll enjoy the rest of your day in solitude, free to roam and explore or simply relax and take it all in.
If you find yourself feeling restless, The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi offers an array of activities, from state-of-the-art spa treatments that explore Ayurvedic, Maldivian and Traditional Chinese treatments, to fishing adventures where guests can learn pole-and-line techniques used by local fishermen, enchanting sunset dolphin watching cruises, and of course, a fully equipped dive centre for all your scuba or snorkeling needs.
The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi also offers complimentary daily activities, which include everything from early morning Pilates classes and sports to parties at the resort’s beachfront bar, Water’s Edge, where a DJ spins tunes under a blanket of stars and palm leaves.
I decided to take part in a complimentary yoga class one afternoon. A brief patch of rain hit the island on my way to the class and, as a result – I guess the rain deterred the others – I found myself in a private yoga session. Sheltered only by a Maldivian style open pavilion and surrounded by lush tropical scenery and gentle rainfall, I lost myself for an hour to deep breathing and movements guided by The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi’s resident Yogi.
The Owner and Managing Director of the resort, Ahmed Siyam Mohamed, has carefully thought through each and every detail, allowing no substitute for perfection. Starting out with only a couple of dollars in his pocket, the highly respected businessman is one of the youngest resort developers in the industry and a much-loved philanthropist. An Executive Board Member of the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), Siyam has won the National Award for distinguished services rendered towards the sustainable development of tourism in the Republic of the Maldives.
The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi is a project particularly close to Siyam’s heart, given its location in the Noonu Atoll, his childhood home. To honour his roots, the resort is deeply committed to enhancing the lives of Maldivians by contributing a portion of the resort’s revenue to local pre-schools and exposing guests to an unadulterated unique and authentic experiences.
On the morning of my last day, I decided to take part in a snorkel safari. A small group, including a number of guides, sailed out in a traditional Maldivian dhoni to the many surrounding atolls, each of which houses its own unique and beautiful environment.
The guides were, as most staff at The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi proved to be, extremely passionate. Diving into the water with the rest of us, they encouraged us to swim further, dive deeper, and get closer to the vast array of colourful coral and wildlife.
There’s something truly meditative about being in the water, where nothing but the sound of your own breath can be heard. Where unfamiliar territory ignites the most genuine feelings of wonder and curiosity.
Leaving the Maldives, I felt humbled in a way that would be best described by a line in James Thurber’s wanderlust-inspired book, ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’: “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”