Lux* South Ari Atoll, Maldives

This is one resort that could proudly boast about delivering a great retreat for everyone – from solo travellers to multi-generation families – and rise to that promise

Occupying the entire expanse of the South Ari Atoll, a protected marine reserve as well as one of the largest islands in the Maldives, Lux* South Ari Atoll presents not only the destination’s iconic soothing colours of nature but also abundant space to do everything or nothing at all, and more importantly, opportunities to support marine conservation.

To access the luxury resort, I came through Velana International Airport and got whisked off to the comfort of Lux* South Ari Atoll’s private lounge within the seaplane terminal. Thereafter, a half-hour seaplane ride placed me right at the doorstep of breezy paradise. I’m giving it extra points for having its own jetty, allowing guests to disembark with ease.

However, holiday vibes truly begun at the seaplane lounge, where interior design and facilities hinted at what was to be expected at the resort. Little ones got their own PLAY zone, while the grown-ups got to explore ethically sourced, freshly brewed coffee at the chic black-and-white Café Lux bar, a signature of all Lux* resorts.

The resort offers a variety of room types, from Beach Pavilions to overwater villas. Families are very much welcomed here, and can be accommodated in two-bedroom Family Beach Pavilions, Family Lagoon Pavilions, or the presidential Lux* Villa.

I spent my nights in the Romantic Pool Water Villa, which rises on stilts over crystal clear waters. This 110m² of space includes a spacious sun deck furnished with a hanging bird’s nest swing, two sun loungers, a private pool, and steps that lead right into the lagoon.

For guests hoping to catch up on their favourite films and dramas during their vacation, they will delight at the drop-down projector screen.

I love that I could spot the first rays of the sun from the sun deck, and the villa’s proximity to the main hub of the resort and yet is isolated enough that I hear only the sounds of the sea.

A great way to enjoy the resort is by taking up the fuss-free, all-inclusive option, which grants guests access to six quality restaurants all day (extra charge only applies to signature menu items); discounted dining at two speciality restaurants, Umami Japanese restaurant and Allegria Italian restaurant); complimentary minibar that is replenished daily; use of fitness facilities and non-motorised water sports equipment, and access to yoga and fitness classes.

The resort is like Mary Poppin’s magic carpet bag. I see on its map an incredible listing of facilities – eight restaurants, five bars, a 15-room spa with four special overwater treatment villas, Yoga Grove, gym, water sports centre, library, herb gardens, tennis courts, two shared swimming pools, two dedicated play zones for children and teens, and the Junk Art Studio & Gallery.

And yet, all these plus guest accommodation are so well planned that the island does not feel congested.

On my sunrise runs every morning down the 1.8km length of the island, I discovered many picturesque nooks, and quiet sections of shoreline with inviting overwater swings and hammocks. This alone was mentally refreshing for me.

And should I desire an action-packed resort retreat, Lux* South Ari Atoll will certainly impress. It curates a roster of daily activities – some complimentary to guests, such as the Tree of Wishes Ceremony and a fun facial walk-through using Lux* Me Spa’s vegan products; and some with an extra charge attached, such as spotting whale sharks and coral planting with a marine biologist.

One activity that gets many guests out of their beds early in the morning is the Message in a Bottle treasure hunt. Gardeners hide up to 25 bottles across the island before sunrise, and within each bottle is a voucher for a prize, which could be a cute plush toy, bottle of wine or a romantic dinner for two.

Our hosts on this media programme signed us up for whale shark spotting and coral planting with a marine biologist, and the activity gave me good insights to the marine ecosystem and the efforts taken by conservation organisations and responsible resorts to minimise existential challenges faced by local marine creatures. Although the whale sharks played coy with us that morning, the cruise out to sea was very relaxing and provided us plenty of time to socialise.

On the second evening, we were taken in by a jolly Maldivian mother who was bent on plumping us up with traditional homecooked favourites. Named Amaa’s Kitchen, this is a new guest experience that is delivered in a manicured herb garden that supplies produce to the resort’s kitchens. Amaa – which means mother in local tongue – first welcomed us with handmade snacks and fresh coconut juice under a majestic banyan tree lit with fairy lights. Through a translator, she got to know us better and then gifted us with tales of her growing up days. Later, as she begun to cook, we were invited to join her and see how traditional cooking methods are still utilised today.

Throughout our stay, we also kept busy with a wine appreciation course at East Bar, a sunset cruise on a traditional Dhoni boat, early morning floating yoga, cooking class, and latte art class within the roasting room at Café Lux.

Looking back, my favourite activity had to be floating yoga. It was conducted on floating mats tethered to the sand bed. I have never done yoga before, much less on a wobbly mat over water. The activity demanded both mental and physical focus in order not to fall into the water, and I laughed internally with exasperation when the master urged me to surrender my earthly worries as I stretched and bent into positions alien to my muscles. And then, there came an unexpected sliver of liberation when I settled into the Warrior Pose and gazed out into the still surface of the sea that mirrored the azure skies. This memory gives me goosebumps.

I met an elderly couple who joked that they came with the intention to do nothing at all, but ended up putting their names down for a number of educational activities. They said the resort was like a summer camp for adults, and I had to agree.

I learnt that F&B is a big part of parent company, The Lux Collective’s DNA, and that commitment is demonstrated through eight restaurants and five bars at Lux* South Ari Atoll.

The menu at every restaurant is different, which makes mealtime an attraction in itself. To add even more variety, the resort organises themed dining events on different days, such as Burger Shack Buffet at Veli Bar over lunch hours, and Maldivian Night dinner and live performances at MIXE.

Proof of the pudding is in the eating, and how well I have eaten! The quality of food is impressive. In a few short days, I discovered the wonder of honeycomb butter (made in-house, like most of the food items served on property) at East Market, relished the natural sweetness of grilled seafood at Senses, found my favourite poke bowl at the laid-back Lagoon Bar, and devoured every morsel of our massive Italian feast at Allegria.

For those with a sweet tooth, the resort has an ice-cream man who cycles around every afternoon with his ice box, offering free cones to anyone. Failed to catch him? No problem, as all-inclusive guests can enjoy unlimited icy treats every day at ICI ice-cream parlour. More than 30 different flavours are made in-house, and different ones are featured daily.

It is also worth noting that the resort is the first Vegan Welcome Hotel in the Maldives certified by Vegan Welcome, a hotel cooperation for purely vegetarian and vegan hotels, bed & breakfasts establishments and event venues. Some 30 per cent of items on the resort’s menu are vegan options, and these healthy eats are aligned with The Lux Collective’s Keen on Green programme that marries sustainable food sourcing with attention to wellness.

I love how Lux* South Ari Atoll provides resort necessities – pretty cotton kaftan, chic paper fan, sturdy flip-flops, and roomy beach tote, making it possible for anyone to fly over with just their swimwear – or not, because you can also choose to shop for some really cool outfits at the resort’s boutique.

Guests can pick up a bicycle to help them get around, or hop on one of the electric buggies that criss-cross the island numerous times daily.

Friendly greetings are dished out in spades here, and many are happy to come and chat with you and share ideas of what else you could do on the island.

Lux* South Ari Atoll can well be the perfect resort for everyone, not just couples celebrating love. It makes a wonderful retreat for anyone longing to regain precious me time, as well as for large, extended families wanting to bond through fun. It is perfect for introverts, as there are so many scenic and serene spots where you’d find nobody else for hours, but also for extroverts eager to make new connections through shared activities.

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