Pity the poor hotelier in the Maldives: such is the pressure to stand out from the ever-more-cramped crowd (20 new openings were slated for 2019 alone), a new resort can’t just be good, even really good. It apparently needs a big, wow-moment gizmo; “the first in the Maldives!”. From silent cinemas to salt caves to – wait for it – the Maldives’ first ice-rink (yes, really), every year the one-upmanship seems to get slightly more out-there. Still, change is afoot: a new wave of resorts is quietly restoring the Indian Ocean’s sanity with simple but stylish hospitality without the hubris.
The best of these? Joali, the $90m resort on Raa Atoll that recently opened in the less-crowded north. It centres on getting the classics right, and, oh, how right it gets them: with genuinely stunning villas (care of Istanbul design agency Autoban), a very cool beach club-bar, Mura, and tasteful art all around (including excellent pieces by South African designer Porky Hefer), Turkish owner Esin Güral Argat, it turns out, has seriously good taste. Joali is that rare find: a Maldives hotel that has all the hardware of a big resort (Insta-epic sand bank, check; world-class spa, check) with the rarefied, charm-to-spare lovability of a small design hotel. It probably shouldn’t feel as original as it does. Just don’t call it a first. joali.com