It can be difficult for a resort to stand out in the Maldives. Overwater villas, private pools, and endless ocean views have become de rigueur for luxury hotels in the island chain. But JOALI Maldives has managed to stand out by offering all these amenities with an artistic touch. Everything from its dining area in the trees to the chairs that dot the resort take on unusual shapes that make lots of Instagram fodder, and there’s even an art studio where you can create your own masterpieces.
On top of that, the Maldives resort recently earned its first Forbes Travel Guide five-star rating at the 2022 Star Awards, meaning you can expect virtually flawless service.
Here are more reasons why this art-focused retreat is unique:
The tree house
One of the biggest and most Instagrammable works of art in the Maldives hotel is the tree house hoisted among the palm fronds. Cape artist Porky Hefer, known for producing oversized mutated sea creatures, shaped the tree house into a manta ray with a winding wooden walkway as its tail. The structure is a nod to the Maldives containing the largest population of reef mantas in the world.
Not just a work of art, the aquatic animal sculpture serves as an intimate private dining room. It’s a whimsical alternative to JOALI’s other dining options, including private dining on the beach or on a sandbar. In the manta, curved banquettes overlook the treetops and the beautiful aquamarine waters beyond.
You can choose from Indonesian, Sri Lankan and Maldivian menus, but we opted for breakfast. The table, dressed in a crocheted white lace tablecloth, had a spread that included “Our Favorite,” a satisfying omelet strewn with Parma ham, salted halloumi, sun-dried heirloom tomatoes, and topped with arugula; the tasty maldivian omelet with onion, maldivian chilli, curry leaf, spicy katta sambol and moringa leaves; a basket of freshly baked pastries; and a steaming glass jug of black tropical tea. The tree house’s unusual design, secluded perch and views made for a memorable meal.
Of the 73 villas, the 49 overwater options are the most popular. But the beach villas are also appealing — they feature quaint open-air tubs and direct access to the sand. Apart from the location, the two villas share the same amenities: each is equipped with a jadugar (a butler), bicycles, Apple TVs, Bose sound systems, white Illy coffee machines, an expansive pool, outdoor showers, and cabana seating areas.
High cathedral ceilings make the villas feel expansive, but touches such as beautiful dark wood sliding doors and carved palm tree-patterned dividers, pale blue and pink throw pillows and rugs, bedside lamps… in curves and rose gold accents add warmth. Another design highlight: the separate shower and toilet are both covered in swirling dark green and white marble.
Of course, there is also art. The centerpiece is the work of Turkish artist Seckin Pirim which hangs on the wall. A pearl sits in the middle surrounded by ripples of darkening turquoise oval rings. The colors are reminiscent of the waves outside.
When you examine the thoughtful touches throughout, it’s obvious that a woman (i.e. forward-thinking Turkish entrepreneur and hotel owner Esin Güral Argat) had a hand in designing the spaces – the Huge dressing areas have seated vanities lined with light bulbs and magnifying mirrors, toiletry bags include headbands, and in addition to the hairdryer, there’s a hair straightener.
The arrival jetty
After landing at Velana International Airport in Male, board an SUV for the seven-minute ride to the lounge at JOALI’s complimentary seaplane terminal. While waiting for the last leg of the journey, the lounge makes your vacation easier for you. You’ll instantly relax as you inhale the lemongrass-scented air and feel refreshed after a long flight with cool lemongrass towels and non-alcoholic champagne, coffee or tea.
Although you really do feel like you’ve arrived once the seaplane glides over the hotel pier, a double helix pattern that sinks nearly a mile into the Indian Ocean (it has was designed to meander around coral reefs) and lands in front of the distinctive pavilion. The undulating roof makes it look like a manta ray or waves, and inside the open-air space, the beaded walls look like a life-size abacus. It alludes to what awaits us on land.
To explore your creative side, head to the art studio, where resident artist Nataliya Kuleshova holds workshops in pottery, painting, and drawing. The Muscovite draws inspiration from nature for her own work.
The female-owned resort aims to foster gender equality, and she’s found a way to do that through art. He recently launched Women in Arts, a program that gives women a platform through the arts and showcases their talents. Local women visit the property to hone their skills through trainings and workshops led by Kuleshova. The resulting works of art and crafts are then sold on site. In addition, the program collaborates with schools and local communities.
The program also works with leading female artists from around the world. JOALI Maldives invites them for a one night interactive dinner, immersive in art. Past meals have included the chef picking various herbs and flowers from the garden on site to make natural pigment paints for guests to create art on the dinner tablecloth. In August, the guest artist will be New York-based Elizabeth Sutton, known for her bright and bold works. The artist and designer will host a dinner that will feature a hands-on art experience that incorporates bespoke island-inspired designs. Throughout the meal, Sutton will help guests create their own mixed-media butterfly artwork, reminiscent of his signature 3D pieces.
While large pieces like the treehouse and arrival pier command attention, smaller nature-themed artworks (all curated by Istanbul-based company No LaB) can be found in entire 24 acre private island. And you’ll find it in the most unlikely places, like chairs.
Hefer adopts another animal for his Kara chair hanging from a tree by the pool. It is shaped like a gray heron – the national bird of the Maldives – where you sit in the head and spread your legs over the cushion’s tongue and let them hang down from the beak. Under a palm tree, the Spanish designer Nacho Carbonell Evolution Chair looks like a snail. Be social and sit on the yellow bench part or hide in the black hull. Coral inspired New York artist Misha Kahn’s long, vibrant mosaic table behind Mura.
Take a self-guided art tour of the property, looking for the works and reading the plaques next to each.
The dining room
The luxury hotel offers several dining options, including Vandhoo, which offers delicious Southeast Asian, Chinese and Indian cuisines; Bellinis, where you can sip the drink of the same name and homemade limoncellos and savor the Italian cuisine of celebrity chef Theodor Falser; TUH’U, specializing in cuisine from the Levant; and Mura, the bright indoor and outdoor pool bar with aqua walls.
Although the must go place is Saoke, both for its design and food. Designed by Tokyo architect Noriyoshi Muramatsu, the Japanese restaurant is atmospheric. At night, the illuminated wooden walkway leads to the site on illuminated stilts. Inside, backlit wooden bookcases artfully displaying Japanese liquor bottles flank the wooden path leading to the bar, where stacked wooden beams form square cutouts in the ceiling. The modern open-air space offers views of the water, but if you want to get closer to the waves, choose to sit on the pier at the live table.
Chef Hidemasa Yamamoto, who has restaurants in Singapore and Dubai, oversees the menu, which includes sushi, teppanyaki, tempura and robata (charcoal grill) and Nikkei (a fusion of Japanese and Peruvian dishes) dishes. We started with the assorted tempuras. Crispy, well-breaded chunks of shrimp, whitefish, pumpkin, eggplant and more arrived on a plate with long beaded handles. Next, we moved on to the delicious lightly breaded shrimp tempura roll (stuffed with shrimp, avocado and tobiko) and one of Yamamoto’s signature dishes: light and cold handmade soba noodles with citrus. , spring onions and crispy tenkasu in a soup. The soba is topped off with a generous helping of Imperial Sevruga caviar, a clever touch.