Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, Maldives
Absolute comfort and individualised everything on a white coral atoll
Open all year round
From about US$2000 per villa per night (sleeps 2); US$ 175 half board; US$815 for 3 days yoga therapy,; $1700 for seaplane transfer. A couple of courses comes to about $140 in any of the restaurants.
Up to 200 on the entire island. Villas for 1 – 6 people.
Best for: A time when you crave desert island privacy and the highest standards of luxury
Not for: Lone travellers hoping to make new friendships by being part of a group
In a nutshell: Landaa Giravaaru is an upscale Four Seasons resort with a serious spa where you can turn your stay into a wondrous retreat by composing your own programme with the help of the team. On this pure coral atoll in a biosphere reserve, you’re in untouched nature, yet you eat in fine restaurants. Your own vast villa has ocean, infinity pool and no one in sight, yet a three acre spa is right there. Your yoga therapy is designed - with Indian doctors of ayurveda and yoga - to target one of seven health issues and with private teaching, you practice what you need to learn. Draped with flowers and chanted to like a demi-god, this is a truly spoiling way to retreat.
Sumptuous personal space, mixed with careful attention when you want it. Group or individualised yoga tuition is balanced with absolute privacy and quiet in your oceanfront pool and gardens. Snorkelling, pampering, and refined dining at your command.
While the sea is stunning, the coral is disappointing. During the last decade, the corals have bleached then died in the Maldives. The resort hosts a marine restoration centre that’s successfully propagating new corals on submerged metal frames, but it’s not the natural coral garden that one dreams of swimming in.
Turn your stay at this upscale resort into a retreat by composing your own programme with the help of the team. As your budget allows, the huge, well-designed spa offers traditional and novelty treatments alike, in knowledgeable, authentic and caring hands.
In cabins suspended over the sea, treatments from one to three hours unfold with the mesmeric blue of the reef filling your eyes. Masseurs use high quality herbal oils and poultices, focus on particular chakras, or follow Thai, Tibetan and Indian techniques. The ayurvedic consultant will help you choose your treatment path. Therapists are almost exclusively Asians who trained deeply in one modality in their home country before joining the Four Seasons spa team – so there is a tangible authenticity to their work which is often missing in luxury spas. All spa staff will connect in thoughtful, expansive conversation about your wellbeing, if you wish.
Cocooned in the medicinal gardens at the centre of the island, time slips away during long, spoiling rituals that imaginatively combine specific wraps, scrubs, and steams with chakra-focused or tantric attention. For example the Deva Bhavani ritual for women included a profound four-handed tantric massage, two women chanting over our reviewer's prone body, Tibetan bowl sound healing, a herbal steaming of her vagina and a bath full of basil and flowers. Night treatments are exquisitely staged by candlelight, in a clearing round a vast banyan tree.
The resort has a partnership with a yoga hospital and school in Bangalore, and you can take your yoga seriously with a private teacher who designs a practice specifically for your health, or join group classes every day. You practice on the most exquisite over-sea deck in a mind-cleansing sea-breeze. Four Seasosn Landaa Giravaaru goes to great lengths to encourage newcomers with novelty offerings such as Anti Gravity yoga (swinging and inverting in hammocks) , Yoga Energy Trail (yoga poses repurposed as a challenging fitness circuit around the island) and aqua yoga (low impact water-exercise, using yogic terms – ie shivasana is floating, by another name).
While most yoga is practiced preventatively, Four Seasons Landaa Giravaaru’s Yoga Therapy offers three to seven private sessions with a talented yoga doctor to help you address seven chronic lifestyle issues - diabetes, thyroid disorder, stress, spinal pain, addictions or hormonal imbalance. You’re helped to understand your issue holistically and kick-start habits which promise to reduce pain and reliance on allopathic medicines. You leave with a useful guide to continuing practice, and can continue to connect with your teacher remotely for advice, after you have left.
There’s a free consultation with the ayurvedic doctor for every guest. A mini-diagnosis of your dosha using a questionnaire and pulse readings leads to dietary suggestions and a comprehensive run down of the spa offerings which might balance your system, not that this is likely within a couple of hours. You can sign up for proper seven to 21 day immersions with intense dietary regimes, focused massages and private yoga classes; the spacious villa compounds would be comfortable for more challenging processes, but the sybaritic resort environment wouldn’t necessarily support resolve. The ayurvedic doctors are passionate about their craft and pick daily from their impressive herb gardens.
Detox scrubs, electric transdermal facials, stem cell serum wraps, hair removals and more are available, along with a dizzying array of beauty products to buy. Beauty is clearly the calling card of many of Four Seasosn Landaa Giravaaru’s guests, and the aesthetic end of the spa is correspondingly developed and busy.
The island seems to specialise in exceptionally elegant relaxation. As well as the beaches (dazzling white and soft sand) there are four waterfront restaurants, and innumerable day beds, bales and swing-seats for lounging in warm breezes. Even the smallest villas have spacious sofas, loungers, hammocks and pools, for private chilling. Then there are glamorous over-water nets and lounge bars.
The warm clear sea invites gazing and dipping. You can kayak, windsurf, snorkel or sail a catamaran for free and similarly, learn about dolphins, sharks and corals. You can also go diving, try marine power-toys like jet skis, jet blades and wake surfers, or take a multi day cruise.
You stay in secluded villas as large as a family home and this is the essence of Four Seasosn Landaa Giravaaru's luxury. All villas come with down pillows, sensuous linen, nespresso machines, flatscreen TVs and bose soundsystems, as well as giant bathrooms, outdoor showers, personal decks and pool. The most prestigious are the Water villas, on stilts – they’re distinctly James Bond. Beach Villas spill generously onto astounding white beach. Oceanfront Bungalows are as comfortable as others inside but have a marginally less lovely waterfront.
Our Beach Villa had five outdoor zones including its own beach loungers, an outdoor dining room and upstairs hammock. Every one had fresh towels so one would never take an unnecessary step. The terrestrial villas are separated by dense tropical gardens so the feeling is of great privacy. The water villas gaze directly into infinity. The rippling palette is every bit as uplifting as the photographs suggest.
Other places to be: The entire island is groomed and beautiful. You find swinging chairs and hammocks unexpectedly. Everything is tended to within an inch of its life – the high tideline raked of coral which might hurt a bare foot, the pathways groomed of leaves. On your monogrammed bicycle it’s pure delight to pedal beneath the palms in warm breeze. Much of the time, nobody is in sight.
- Unless you’re craving extended solitude, which is beautiful here, take a lover, or find a friend or two to retreat with. The villas, pricing and restaurants are designed for couples and families/groups, and there isn’t much group socialising among guests.
- Avoid local stopovers if you can – Male is traffic choked, Hulhumale is mid construction.
- Take note that the cheapest villas start at around US$2000 per night, but they have 10% service tax plus 23% local taxes on top – so think nearer $2700 per night before food, paid activities and treatments. Seaplane is a further $1300 and the only way to get there.
- Pack light, floaty, breathable casuals, and no shoes except sandals. Think kaftans, linens for men, and dresses for women, that suit equatorial sun. Things in which you could perhaps ride a bike and hop onto a boat.
When to Go
The best weather is between November and April. High season falls between December and March. Christmas and New Year is party-like and not particularly suited to retreat. The monsoon runs from May to October, peaking around June.
Think holiday more than retreat: you choose between four restaurants (Italian, Middle Eastern, Asian-inspired or a Grill). Menus are elaborate and use gourmet ingredients. Service , setting and style are impeccable. The focus is on international gastronomy rather than nutrition, local sourcing or organics.
Breakfasts are the grandest imaginable – pancakes, juices and Indian dosas made to order, a temptation of mature European cheeses, charcuterie, Asian dumplings, curries and patisserie. For lunches and suppers, if you want to eat lightly, or as vegetarian, you’ll be scrolling through lobsters, wagyu steaks and shameless puddings to find your way to carpaccios and salads. Vegans will want to customise the dishes.
A sybaritic choice of wines, spirits and cocktails is available, plus quality tea and coffee. To retreat from these things requires willpower alone. You have a fruit bowl of tropical fruit and delicious snacks in your villa.
It’s complicated. As a far flung island must, the resort desalinates its own water, generates some of its power, launders onsite and processes its own sewage to national standards. It houses one of the Maldives’ largest solar panel arrays – but with oversized air-conditioned villas and some 15 fresh bathsheets per room, the resort’s power consumption is about four times higher than a local island of similar population, and uses five diesel generators too. Every guest and staff member travels here by small sea plane.
No food grows in this salty, low lying nation – so all the food is imported many miles, though you’d never suspect this from the exotic menus. But the resort is certainly waste conscious – water is bottled in glass, herbs are grown and compost is made, lovely organic bath products come in ceramic bottles, and the resort collects the garbage of neighbouring islands when it barges away its waste, upping the local game.
Remoteness means there’s little hope of local enterpreneurs benefitting from the cashflow. Staff seem to appreciate their jobs: there are some local internships, but most employees are actively recruited from hospitality and holistic colleges in other developing countries, and say they are on good career paths. Few local women can live and work here as muslims, amongst us flagrant foreigners in bikinis.
The main way that Four Seasons supports Maldivians is through the sizeable lease they pay for the island, and in substantial taxes on foods and beds – important income for a low lying nation with few natural resources but beauty, and fish.
The marine centre is working dedicatedly to research and implement coral restoration and has also initiated impressive projects for turtles and manta rays. Its education centre is really engaging and reaches international decisionmakers when defences are down. Building the resorts does impact corals, but it seems the warming seas are doing more widespread harm.
So the resort is very aware, and taking many wonderful, original sustainability steps. Yet seaplanes, metropolitan gastronomy and little luxuries like never carrying a towel to the sunlounger are racking up the carbon footprint. Globally we are reluctant to forsake our pleasures and conveniences. Here, continuing to holiday carefree, as if there’s no consequence, is particularly poignant when visiting a nation at risk of total submersion as sea levels rise.
Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, Baa Atoll, Maldives
Nearest airport: Male
Transfer time: 35 minutes by sea plane