COCKTAILS at sundown on an uninhabited reef flanked by coral-blue sea, followed by a boat-trip to a beautiful island for a private dinner on the beach.
As we work our way through six sumptuous courses, we wiggle our toes in the soft white sand as if to reassure ourselves this surreal, heavenly experience is not a dream.
As date nights go, it has the edge on a shared box of popcorn at the cinema.
The Maldives has more than 1,000 islands — the majority uninhabited — this place has you subconsciously selecting your Desert Island Discs as soon as you clap eyes on it.
That evening of aperitifs on nearby Embudhoo Island and romantic meal at our resort was the pinnacle of a six-day break at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu, but the whole holiday will live long in the memory of my wife, Una, and I.
After flying from Glasgow, via Dubai, to the republic’s main airport in Male, a thrilling 40-minute ride on a tiny seaplane — offering a bird’s-eye view of the atoll — took us to our island resort.
Coco Palm have their own stretch of private beach
Coco Palm — at the forefront of the Maldives’ transformation from backpackers’ haven to luxury holiday destination 20 years ago — has 98 thatched-roofed villas.
There’s sufficient space and sand for every couple or family to feel they have their own private stretch of beach.
Even at full capacity, there are fewer than 250 holidaymakers on the island at any one time, and they are outnumbered by the staff on hand to ensure your every whim is catered for.
The accommodation is luxurious, while staying true to the resort’s eco-friendly ethos.
We stayed in a Sunset Beach Villa, complete with king-size bed and mosquito canopy net, open-air shower and toilet, minibar, free WiFi and private terrace with outdoor seating and sun loungers.
If you fancy treating yourself, the Sunset Lagoon Villas, standing on stilts just above the sea, are the largest and most decadent, with spa baths overlooking the ocean, private sundecks and plunge pools. The food is sublime.
The main restaurant, Cowrie, offers a huge buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That can be a recipe for serious gluttony — especially, if like us, you’re staying on a full-board basis.
Yet, while we did eat a lot, it was healthy. Although cooked and continental breakfast options are there, the array of fresh fruit was more tempting.
For lunch, there are hot-cooked dishes, but the tangy beef and fish salads are refreshingly different. Alternatively, the relaxed Conch bar offers a la carte lunches overlooking the sea.
For dinner, the Cowrie choices are numerous and vary each night but it’s hard to look past what is cooked before your eyes — be it fresh chicken stir-fry or marinated seared tuna.
If you fancy a sit-down, then Cornus restaurant is a great alternative.
It is Asian-themed and does a fragrant Thai green curry. But — private pergola dinner apart — our dining highlight was the beach barbecue, held every Wednesday and Saturday, where succulent lobster, giant prawns and squid are cooked in a flash before you.
The food is simply sublime
As a general rule, the local seafood is divine. For many, the Maldives is the ultimate flop-and-drop destination to escape the stress of modern life — and they’ll be content only to leave their sun loungers for meals or a dip in the Indian Ocean.
But for those who want something more than sun and stunning views, Coco Palm has plenty to keep you busy.
There’s a luxury spa, specialising in Thai and Indian treatments, housed beneath the canopy of palm trees and vegetation that dominates the centre of the island.
The Balinese Massage is simultaneously vigorous and intensely relaxing.
accommodation is luxurious – but sticks to the resort’s eco-friendly ethos
The spa also offers yoga classes and an air-conditioned gym. You can play tennis and badminton, then there’s the watersport activities — including jet-skiing, water-skiing, paddle-boarding, kayaking and surfing.
A partnership between the resort and the charity, The Olive Ridley Project, saw a sanctuary set up last year, with on-site vet to treat and rehabilitate turtles injured by plastic in the sea or fishermen’s nets.
It’s sad to see these beautiful creatures with flippers missing, but inspiring to witness the human affection showered upon them.
Amazingly, one of the half-dozen turtles receiving TLC while we were there will soon be flown to Scotland to see out her days. Once her treatment is complete in April or May, Morgan, who’s unable to return to the wild, will take up residence at Sea Life in Loch Lomond.
Barry and Una enjoy their dream meal on the beach in Maldives
In addition to the on-site activities, Coco Palm offers several excursions by boat.
Embudhoo Island, where we savoured those pre-dinner cocktails, is a special place and can even be hired as a wedding location. It’s hard to think of a more stunning spot for a reception and, at the end of the big day, guests will be taken back to Coco Palm, leaving the happy couple to begin married life in paradise.
Talk about wedded bliss . . . they stay overnight in a solitary thatched villa before a boat collects them in the morning.
It’s hard to think of a more stunning spot for romance
We also visited the non-resort island of Thulhadhoo, from where scores of the Coco Palm staff commute daily by boat.
It provides an insight into traditional Maldivian life, away from tourism, where fishing and the sale of hand-made crafts sustain a devoutly Muslim population.
The locals couldn’t be friendlier but respect their culture and don’t bare too much flesh.
A guided snorkelling trip is also recommended. We went a couple of miles out to sea to a prime coral reef, where we got up close and personal with manta rays, turtles and most of the cast of Finding Nemo.
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