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August 16th 2018
Published: September 8th 2019
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Firstly let me say that writing this blog is entirely against my policy on such things; in my opinion people don't want to hear about people's romantic holidays. People want to read about incident, controversy and cultural insight. My most successful blogs tend to also involve a healthy dose of misfortune. No one needs to hear about walks on the beach and lovers holding hands and staring into each others' eyes while making their way through a tasting menu basking in another perfect sunset. The second and more decadent part of our honeymoon in early 2018 was in the Maldives, and although it was filled with the romantic holiday tropes I wouldn't dare to bore you with, it was also a genuinely fascinating place. In fact, our seven days in the Maldives were so remarkable I genuinely feel they changed me as a person, and I think MC would say the same thing.

What the Beatles are to pop bands and Michael Jordan is to basketball players, Maldives is to tropical paradises. It's climate, geography, flora and fauna are uncannily well suited to being a centre for tropical resort style tourism. An archipelago in the Indian Ocean sprawling from south
MC took this one!MC took this one!MC took this one!

I can't take credit - in fact she often gets the "Money Shot"
west of Sri Lanka all the way to the equator, of its 1,200 or so coral islands, less than 200 are inhabited and of them almost half are resorts - where a resort encompasses an entire island. Veligandu our island was of an average size, large enough for 100 guests, and the 200 staff who look after them!

We flew into the Maldives as most people do, via the capital city Malé. Malé is its own island which is a surreal urban jungle. From there we took a seaplane out to Veligandu. The beauty of this place is simply outrageous. We disembarked the seaplane onto a jetty with perfect blue skies above and ultra-clear fish-filled water below. Dry land entailed perfect white sand and smiling staff, proud of the beauty of the island they worked on and the service they provided. As we walked down the concourse towards reception there were a couple of chaps softy tapping on bongo drums to give us that "welcome to paradise" vibe. It was all... perfect!

There were two choices for room. Beach Villas are on dry land, in a rather sophisticated hut nestled among palm trees. The joys here are a) you walk out of your villa and you do indeed have a small but still very charming patch of beach to call you own, complete with hammock; b) the bathroom is open-air, one's own private tropical grove, somewhat larger than the average London back garden, with a bougainvillea covered shower. A little more expensive is a Water Villa, where you walk out on a wooden jetty and the huts are built over water, so here you sleep with the gentle lapping of the water surrounding you and wake up with a view of nothing but the infinite blue: sky above, water below. It was agonizing (in a "first world problems" sense) deciding on which option to take so we did what we always do and paid even slightly more and went for both: beach villa for the first half, and water villa thereafter. It's human nature to feel the need to compare, so a water villa that hitherto would have been the most romantic accommodation either of us had ever experienced would suddenly have been untouchable... because it was east facing. The true connoisseur knows that if you're not on the western (sunset) side you're just not batting in the
My Honeymoon T-ShirtMy Honeymoon T-ShirtMy Honeymoon T-Shirt

"I never dreamed I'd marry a super sexy Italian but here I am, living the dream".
top league! I loved both of our rooms, but the water villa was the more unforgettable experience, with an outdoor space on the water with a jacuzzi (utterly unnecessary - but these holidays aren't about what is simply "necessary"). If you get too hot you can just go swimming!

The water was many factors beyond what I had ever experienced. The Maldives is a massive and sprawling collection of atolls, which are themselves an extensive collection of coral islands. Every resort has its own "house reef". When staying on the water villa the house reef wasn't something you have to sail or swim to, you were already on it - so the moment you jump into the water you are surrounded by a quite magnificent and infinitely varied collection of corals, schools of fish and other (often large) types of aquatic life. We were having one of those weeks where things just work out - we were in the process of booking our complimentary snorkeling lesson and found ourselves with an opportunity. The Englishman in front of us wanted to pay more to go on a more extensive trip which involved a boat trip to another reef and exploring by means of hand-held motors. The trouble was, you needed a minimum of two guests for this expedition, and they flatly refused to allow to take him solo even if he paid double! The logical conclusion was to ask me, Xavier "Johnny on the Spot" Hornblow, if I'd do him a favour and be his Plus 1, paid for in full of course. I'm always one for a good opportunity, especially a free one, but even I have limits - I had to say "no" as I was on honeymoon and I could hardly abandon my wife, even for an hour. So the Englishman paid for BOTH of us! The three of us plus two guides found a stunning spot with a mind-boggling array of multi-coloured fish, a beautiful turtle and two large eagle rays which glide along near the sea floor with their wings slowly flapping elegantly in unison through the silent blue. Our Englishman turned out to be the private pilot of a multi-millionaire - he was slumming it on this four star island while his paymaster was experiencing real luxury nearby on an even fancier island!

If there is such a thing as luxury above and
Maria Chiara just loving lifeMaria Chiara just loving lifeMaria Chiara just loving life

Presenting the outdoor bathroom of the Beach Villa
beyond the level of Veligandu I simply don't need it. Which is convenient as I wouldn't be able to afford it either. We were on a package that involved "all inclusive", a new concept for me. Paying for the holiday at the outset included every meal and every drink, alcoholic or otherwise. Each breakfast, lunch and dinner involves an extensive buffet meal, slightly different every day, and for each lunch and dinner there were two fish of the day choices which were cooked in front of you. Often if we were walking by the pier we would see the fish of that day arriving by small fishing boat - always enormous tuna and another enormous white fish the type of which would vary. Suffice to say we ate extremely well.

The idea of "all you can eat" and most especially "all you can drink" was fascinating to me. I am a glutton and so I wasn't really sure that when any form of barrier was removed if I would ever stop consuming. On the first night after dinner we headed for the opposite end of the island where there was a sort of nightclub where it was possible to order as many cocktails as the heart desired and liver allowed. Even the music was good. So to sum up: we were on a tropical island at an club with limitless cocktails and a short walk along a sandy path to a spacious air conditioned villa. This, ladies and gentlemen, was a honeymoon experience! Fortunately for my health and MC's patience, I do have a point where enough is enough, and the next morning was my first and only hangover of the trip.

This was my first genuine tropical island getaway and the thing that had always put me off the idea was the issue of: what does one actually do?! As it turned out I had no reason at all to fear boredom, there was always something going on. Beyond the decision as to whether to sunbathe by the pool or by whichever spot on the sand, there was at least one activity every day: massage, windsurf lesson, visiting a nearby island where actual normal people live, dolphin cruise. I'm slightly ashamed to admit I thought the Maldives was nothing but hotel resorts - in fact the Maldivians have a rich culture which even includes their own script. The activity which sounded the most boring of all ended up being fascinating: the back of the house tour, where we got to see how it is that a luxury resort could be run on a tiny patch of sand in the middle of the ocean - with a big machine making salt water into fresh water. With an incredibly subtle use of walls and palm trees the building that housed the 200 or so Maldivians who work on the island was uncannily invisible to the 100 or so tourists they were looking after!

Our last activity was a guided tour of the house reef. There were a group of young Chinese guests that lasted all of five minutes in the water, while MC and I had a guide who took us further along the reef and to close encounters with three reef sharks! MC asked did he ever get nervous and he mentioned the time he had been surrounded by 15 of them left him feeling less than comfortable. We had seen several strange thug-shaped fishes that trawl the coral surface looking for anyone or anything to beat up or destroy. Our guide said these monsters, called Titan
BIrd's Eye on a Coral IslandBIrd's Eye on a Coral IslandBIrd's Eye on a Coral Island

With Male the capital in the distance on the left.
Trigger Fish, are much more likely to cause harm to humans than reef sharks. I'm glad he told that to us on the last day of our trip - we'd been close to about ten of these fish and escaped incident. From that point MC refused to spend anymore time in the water!

Our last meal was breakfast with the sunrise we'd missed every other morning through sleeping in, and the seaplane arrived to take us back to non-paradisiacal reality. It was the end of our honeymoon. Our trip to the Maldives was easily the most expensive holiday we've ever been on - thanks to the many wedding guests who contributed. I can honestly saw it was worth EVERY PENNY.

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