You might think that one lushly verdant coral atoll fringed with talcum-fine sand, lapped by aqua water and ringed with coral would be pretty much like the next, right? Not at all, says Verne Maree, fortunate to have visited several Maldivian islands over the years. Read on to discover whether The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi is your particular brand of paradise.
Size matters, and that’s true for coral atolls, too. The dimensions of your island paradise are partly what dictate its character. So ask yourself: do you fancy a tiny island with only a couple of dining venues, where the sea is your swimming pool, and the teeming house reef virtually your sole source of entertainment? Or would you like something much bigger that offers organised activities guaranteed to keep the kids out of your hair? Do you want to be able to go for a run – be it around the island or at its air-conditioned gym?
Also, would you rather avoid pricy seaplane flights by choosing an island that’s just a short speedboat ride from the airport? Not one of the Maldives many far smaller islands, The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi has 251 villas that can accommodate around 500 guests who are looked after by about 600 staff at any one time.
However, from the few souls you might encounter on the beach at 8 or 9am, you’d never think you were sharing the island with a thousand other people. Only at Iru Restaurant’s breakfast buffet is this at all evident – or when it’s bucketing down, and you’re waiting for a buggy. (But you’d be sensible and go in the dry season, right?)
Being bigger means the resort can offer more: especially a wider variety of restaurants and activities, so The Sun Siyam is a good choice for families. Little ones can be dropped off at the well-equipped Kids’ Club to be cared for by trained and cheerful staff, and there’s a plethora of options to keep them busy. Apart from a water-sport centre, a well-equipped gym, tennis and badminton courts, a library and outdoor chess, there’s the thrilling opportunity to commune with rescued baby turtles.
Getting there: You know you’re in island mode when your German seaplane pilot – upper half all crispy-white, starched linen and epaulettes – bares muscular calves and sports flip-flops. It’s just over a four hour flight to Malé, departing from Changi Airport at 9.30am; then it’s five minutes on the bus to the seaplane airport and 45 minutes on the packed Trans Maldivian hop to our destination – Iru Fushi island in Noonu Atoll, located in the northwestern part of the Maldives archipelago. The seaplane transfer costs an extra US$500 per person.
When to go: Preferably not during the rainy season. Over three days at the end of August, it either rained or poured at least half the time, and we had at most two or three hours of sunshine. And though I’ve previously sung the praises of low-season tropical island breaks punctuated by cooling monsoon showers that quickly clear, you might not want to take the risk.
Who’ll be there: You can guess the mix of guests from the languages on menus and signs: English, Chinese and Russian. Chinese predominate around this time of the year, we’re told. Brits and Europeans like to visit during their northern hemisphere winter – over Christmas and the first three months of the year when they’re guaranteed blue skies and baking heat. Russians rush in all year round, whatever the weather.
A smart five-star PADI dive centre boasting instructors in several languages and offering a long list of dive and excursion options makes The Sun Siyam a good choice for lovers of scuba, whether already certified or wannabes. I’m not one of them. I do adore snorkeling, though, especially on a house reef that can be reached from the beach. Apart from some pretty fish and coral in the lagoon, Ira Fushi doesn’t have much of interest for the keen snorkeler, however. The wideness of the lagoon means the house reef is not conveniently close to the beach; also, it’s not one of the better ones. Going out in a traditional Maldivian dhoni, or fishing boat, is always fun, so I enjoy the three-hour snorkel safari, stopping at two different reefs for some floating time. Again, the range of species is relatively limited. Despite the poor visibility, some of us (not I, alack) spot a turtle; and others of us (again, not I) spot a couple of barracudas. We’re also lucky to encounter a school of dolphins, as our dolphin cruise had to be cancelled due to the choppiness of the conditions.
Only such a big resort could possibly offer 14 restaurants, from French and Italian through Thai, Japanese, Indian and more. I was honestly blown away by the incredible standard of the food at The Sun Siyam. Whatever the cuisine, every meal was just as outstanding as the last, and I suspect that will be what I’ll remember most about this resort. Scottish culinary director Ian Lovie’s extensive experience in Asia Pacific, including Australia, shows in the consistently high standards, immaculate presentation and beautifully fresh and wholesome flavours. All menus are presented on tablets, hurrah! – no scrabbling for those reading glasses that give your age away. French fine-dining restaurant Flavours is built on a boardwalk over the sea and boasts a high-end Bubble Lounge that’s bursting with rare champagnes. Starting with fresh-baked breads, artisanal sea-salt butter and an exquisite amuse-bouche of foie gras in aspic, I immediately know I’m in good hands – and that’s where I stay for the duration. Italian restaurant Trio and the fresh seafood restaurant Islander’s Grill become my other two favourites.
An excellent Filipino live band adds hugely to the ambience, especially during our last dinner, at Trio. Having sung along – almost certainly too loudly – throughout the meal, our group ends up in the resort’s private karaoke room for a memorable and wine-fuelled songfest that has to be forcibly broken up around 2.30am. (Through a morning-after mist of hangover on the seaplane, it occurs to me that premeditated karaoke is never as good as a spur-of-the-moment session.) Like much of the Maldives, though, food and beverage prices are relentlessly high. So it’s a good idea to book a package: either half-board (dinner and breakfast) or full-board, and bring along a personal stash of your preferred snacks and sweets. Tragically, you’re not allowed to BYO into the Maldives – the official reason is that it’s a devoutly Muslim country (and yes, if you try to sneak some in they will check and they will find it) – so save your dollars to spend on drinks.
A modest entrance belies the size and scope of The Spa by Thalgo – 20 treatment rooms linked by curved walkways and pavilions, hot and cold pools, steam, massage, and pavilions for yoga, relaxation and more. From a wide and comprehensive list of treatment and modalities, my 60-minute (US$140) Wish Massage– tailored according to my whim by the well-trained and empathetic Weli from Bali – was very good indeed. Both an Ayurvedic doctor and a Chinese medicine consultant are available, too.
It’s worth doing your homework before splashing out on a luxury holiday in the Maldives – and even the least expensive is nowhere near cheap. It’s fair to say that you’re never going to feel like Robinson Crusoe at a substantial resort like this one. On the other hand, you will be beautifully accommodated in a gorgeous villa (and my beach villa was truly magnificent), enjoy world-class food and warm, friendly service. Over to you!
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