The dress code for Kurumba Maldives’ 40th Anniversary Gala Dinner was ‘resort formal’, and while the idea of spending a week in a barefoot tropical paradise with the sand beneath my toes was irresistible, so was the chance to pack a ball gown and unveil my wedding shoes again.
So with suitcases laden with sunscreen, silk and taffeta, and my husband’s dress suit, we boarded the Emirates 11-hour flight to Male (via Dubai) with enough luggage to see us through any number of the 110 resorts that are now dotted across the 26 atolls of the Maldives.
Once considered a once-in-a-lifetime destination, thanks to its white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and glorious sunshine, the Maldives is becoming a more accessible and affordable option. More than a million tourists visited its ring-shaped coral reefs in 2011.
In recent years a number of new resorts have opened, and the local population relies on tourism for 80 per cent of its income. But the history of this archipelago, which dazzles like a necklace embellished with turquoise stones, goes back further.
In the early 70s, a couple of hotels gambled on the Maldives being a success. Universal Resorts struck lucky with Kurumba, after taking a group of tourists to the then uninhabited island.
Sheltered among the coconut trees, the group enjoyed a simple fishing and swimming holiday and were mesmerised by the warm, clear waters and simple beauty of the lush vegetation.
It was enough to impress Universal, who opened a resort in 1972. They named it Kurumba, after the coconuts that grow in abundance.
The first holidaymakers to check into this tropical island had a choice of 30 basic rooms made out of coral stone and plywood.
It’s a far cry from today’s five-star 180-room resort which features a Royal Residence, pool villas and beachside bungalows.
Forty years to the day Kurumba first opened, we were invited to celebrate this grand dame’s successful reign as a five-star island.
Under the moonlight, with just a whisper of a breeze, beacons were lit on the jetty and drums played to welcome some of the 80 guests .
Despite growing competition, this is still one of the most popular properties in the Maldives. Last year alone, 35 per cent of guests were repeat customers.
To commemorate her ruby anniversary, Kurumba has been given a refurbishment. The resort offers eight styles of accommodation and nine dining experiences with all-inclusive options.
The daily activity sheet is as long as your arm, with highlights including the sunset and dolphin cruises (we saw a school of dolphins at breakfast one morning).
The tranquil Veli Spa has eight treatment rooms, and the opportunities for snorkelling are first class.
We loved waking up on the sunny side of the island, so we chose a pool villa on the east side. We strolled along the palm-filled shoreline for sundowners in the Sand Bar on the other side of the island. Then, on our return, we completed the circuit, walking under a blanket of stars and giant bats.
Despite the growing number of visitors to the Maldives, it’s still possible to find a quiet patch of paradise. That sort of beauty is timeless.
Sam Wylie-Harris was a guest of Kuoni, who offer seven nights with breakfast at the five-star Kurumba, Maldives in a deluxe room, including flights with Emirates from Gatwick and group transfers in resort.
Price for December 2012 was from £1,335 pp, based on two sharing. For the latest prices and information, call 01306 747008 or visit kuoni.co.uk.
To book please quote: IO0021