As our seaplane descended toward Niyama Private Islands, we observed two verdant oases rimmed by white beaches and floating in an infinite sea of blue. The two islands – aptly dubbed Chill and Play – are connected via a slim bridge. “Chill” is the island of choice for guests seeking complete relaxation while “Play” is for those desiring a bit more activity. Both are easily accessible via bicycle or golf cart depending on your daily mood.
Upon arrival, we met our Thakuru Wisham (aka villa butler), who escorted us to our lavish overwater villa on Chill. Our new home for the week was one of the five ultra-chic accommodations of “The Crescent” – the resort’s secluded crown jewel. Accessible via a private boardwalk, The Crescent’s five villas are often rented for large family gatherings.
Our villa was extraordinary in every way – immense is the only term that could describe the living areas, the three pools (one an infinity pool running the length of the villa), and the many decks. Opening the massive wooden front door, we entered the foyer that unveiled a modern living space boasting a comfortable indoor seating salon, a dining area, and a full bar. The separate kitchen was stocked with a popcorn machine and every imaginable goody and libation (as if the setting wasn’t intoxicating enough). Passing through the foyer in the opposite direction, floor-to-ceiling sliding doors opened to reveal a spacious bedroom with a sumptuous bed crowned by a dramatic etched-glass work of art.
The ultra-modern bathroom matched the bedroom in size housing an enormous soaking tub, an outdoor shower, and a translucent wall overlooking two decks and the spa pool. We often found messages written on the giant mirror above the floating dual sinks—notes welcoming us to the island, bidding us farewell, and a very touching note congratulating my daughter on her straight-A marks (we received her report card while visiting and the staff must have overheard our excitement).
Outside, we found a playground perched over the crystal-clear water. The far deck sported a staircase into the Indian Ocean allowing easy access to the warm lagoon from which we could see a distant reef rising from the ocean’s floor. Plush lounge chairs occupying the next deck and comfortable couches on the infinity pool’s veranda made for sublime sunbathing. When shade was our preference, we followed a walkway of stepping “stones” to a shallow pool. The villa’s glass walls encased the smaller pool on three sides, providing the perfect afternoon respite. Beyond the small pool which was separated from the infinity pool by the stepping stones, was another veranda with a plush round covered dais. The patio on the far end, we dubbed the “breakfast nook.” Here, shaded from the early morning sun, we dined on lavish breakfast trays.
Many mornings we awoke as the sun rose above the foggy breath of the ocean, creating a sunrise worthy of Monet. Throughout the day, we were captivated by the sweeping ocean views visible from the verandas and through the villa’s floor-to-ceiling windows. Equally as beautiful, the island sunsets filled the sky with color as the sun slipped beneath the horizon. These scenes and everything about Niyama reminded us of Mother Nature’s extensive artistic repertoire.
On our departure date, the resort offered us a beach villa for the day as our flight wasn’t until midnight. As we ran down the white beach into the aquamarine sea, we agreed the beach villa did not disappoint. Floating in the soft water, we felt buoyant and deliriously happy with the sun on our shoulders. Our open-air bathroom—completely open to the elements—proved the perfect place to rinse off the sea’s salt.
Niyama is a culinary destination. We dined on our patio most mornings with a few occasions at the resort’s poolside restaurant, Epicure. The breakfast menu offered an endless array of culinary treasures in a picture-perfect setting which overlooks a painter’s palette of ocean blue hues.
It was at Epicure that my husband surprised us one evening with a “Destination Dining” experience. The resort created a lit pathway to an elaborate seaside table surrounded by torches and a lantern-laden tree. Dining on fine Indian cuisine under a bright moon while sitting in a ring of fire, dipping our toes in the sand and listening to the sounds of the sea was simply magical.
Another memorable dinner was had at NEST, which offers avant-garde Asian cuisine atop Niyama’s tropical forest. Dining in the treetops surrounded by exotic birds chatting amongst themselves, we devoured sushi presented in the most imaginative ways. The showstopper was a platter of sashimi served in an ice shell – a gravity and heat-defying triumph.
An evening at TRIBAL convinced us that we had entered the lands of the Sahara. From the Masaai warriors who greeted us to the spiced aromas floating through the air, we knew we were in for a treat. Beneath a curved wooden dome, we feasted on heavy pots of stewed African game and hearty vegetables. The experience showered our senses with the tastes, sounds, and smells of traditional tribal cooking.
Subsix, Edge, and Edge bar occupy a dramatic compound a half kilometer out to sea and are accessible via a short boat ride from Niyama. Edge’s chefs create contemporary masterpieces showcasing the succulent seafood found in and around the Maldives. Six meters below Edge, the underwater restaurant Subsix is outfitted in aquatic-themed décor. Seated in our anemone-like chairs, seashells tinkling overhead, and our reef friends swimming to and fro just beyond the glass, we enjoyed our favorite meal of the stay. A first course of Lobster Tataki with watermelon, rhubarb, and passion fruit dressing was followed by a warm Maldivian octopus carpaccio with sweet chili dressing, squid ink crackers, and a lemon confit. My husband and daughter chose the pan-seared seabass with eggplant caviar, cherry tomato, spinach, and yuzu gel while I feasted upon the braised lamb shoulder with taro, red wine shallots, glazed baby vegetables, and lemon. The darling Yuzu Delight – shaped like a small delicate apple and consisting of coconut Chantilly, yuzu curd, Thai basil, white chocolate, and coconut ice cream ended the meal perfectly.
Venturing above the sea, we stopped at Edge bar a “hot” nightclub with a cocktail menu to make mixologists swoon. The club’s Nest’s sashimi presented in an ice shell Beach Villa bathroom Epicure Infinity pool Edge bar & Edge restaurant dramatically pitched roof hovered above an oceanside setting drenched in a hypnotic purple glow and throbbing with electronic beats—an entirely intoxicating experience.
The resort offers a myriad of activities guaranteed to burn off those delicious calories. We toured the islands daily on our villa bicycles (each bearing a plaque inscribed with our names). On our morning rides, a long-legged heron greeted us with a slow flap of his wings as he gracefully rose from beneath the boardwalk and into the air. Leaving The Crescent and following winding sand pathways, we passed powdery white beaches, a ring of overwater bungalows, beach villas, shops, tennis courts, the kids’ club, snorkeling hot spots, and endless opportunities to capture that picture-perfect moment. In the early afternoon, we often stopped at the bridge connecting Chill and Play to see the black-tip reef sharks gathered for afternoon playdates.
A favorite pastime was watching the surfers “hang ten” at Play. Many of these wave warriors had traveled from around the world to surf Niyama’s famous waves. This fun spot sported the Surf Shack, ocean-side swings, and the best waves on the island. If you are feeling food truck vibes, the Surf Shack serves burgers, small bites, and sweets. In the early evenings, we visited for sunsets, cool sundowner cocktails, and an even cooler DJ.
In hopes of hanging ten ourselves, we took surfing lessons in the blue lagoon near the Water Sports Center. On more leisurely days, we opted for glass kayaks and paddleboards as we watched thrill-seekers enjoy jet skis, parasailing, and kitesurfing.
One afternoon we jetted off in search of turtles. Our large double-decker speed boat offered a thrilling ride and glorious views of several other island resorts and the surrounding ocean. Visiting a distant reef, we donned our masks and fins and headed out on our quest. Before coming upon our first turtles, we encountered a 15-foot nocturnal nurse shark and several blacktip reef sharks.
Most days we opted to take advantage of the excellent snorkeling just a short distance from our villa. We would descend our ocean-bound staircase and head to the reef ’s coral gardens. Each morning and afternoon visit offered entirely different varieties of fish. From polka dots to stripes to round bodies and pin-thin shapes, we marveled at the elaborate aquatic attire fashioned by Mother Nature.
What better way to end our magnificent vacation than to be pampered at an overwater spa? Our visit to the Drift Spa—a paradise cocooned within a paradise—began with selecting an IV infusion of choice administering a customized blend of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. We were then guided down a peaceful sandy path to an overwater treatment room. For the next 90 minutes, our expert practitioners worked wonders. Using a combination of Hawaiian lomilomi, Japanese shiatsu, Thai traditional massage, and aroma oils, muscles were first relaxed and then revitalized. After the treatments, we practically floated back to our villa.
Niyama’s service is impeccable. The staff strives to be on call for every wish, often anticipating a need before a word is even uttered. Our Thakuru Wisham noticed our original itinerary would result in a long wait in Malé before our flight home. He rearranged the itinerary so we could take a speedboat to a nearby island for a later domestic flight to Malé, shortening our layover by several hours, an option I had no idea was possible. When we arrived in Malé, we were greeted by another Niyama employee who took our bags, whisked us through check-in and customs, and set us up in a lounge with dinner before our flight. Again, completely unexpected and enormously appreciated. To our dear hosts, “shukuriyaa” or Maldivian for “thank you.”
I treasure traveling with my family, often finding that escaping the everyday for adventures in foreign lands creates deep familial bonds. Whether the adventures are on a surfboard, on sand, or beneath the sea in search of hawksbill turtles, family trips are worth their weight in gold. Visit Niyama and see for yourself why it is rated #4 in the “Best Resorts in the World” category of Conde Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice Awards. We are pretty sure it will be #1 for your family, as it was for ours.
For more information, visit niyama.com or follow on Instagram @niyamamaldives