Culture and Comfort at the Maldives’ Only Art-focused Resort

  • A view of Maamigili from the window of an approaching seaplane.

    A view of Maamigili from the window of an approaching seaplane.

  • A lacquered malaafai - round boxes traditionally used to serve food - on display in the lobby museum.

    A lacquered malaafai - round boxes traditionally used to serve food - on display in the lobby museum.

  • Stilted above Maamigili's lagoon, the Loama Art Gallery is the only space of its kinds in the Maldives.

    Stilted above Maamigili's lagoon, the Loama Art Gallery is the only space of its kinds in the Maldives.

  • The resort's 55 overwater villas and suites are connected by a jetty to the northern end of the island, with golf buggies on hand to shuttle guests to and fro.

    The resort's 55 overwater villas and suites are connected by a jetty to the northern end of the island, with golf buggies on hand to shuttle guests to and fro.

  • Prawn with a local salad of grated coconut, copy faih lettuce, and chili at Loama's poolside Marha Bar.

    Prawn with a local salad of grated coconut, copy faih lettuce, and chili at Loama's poolside Marha Bar.

  • The resort's Beach Club.

    The resort's Beach Club.

  • Umair Badheeu, Loama's culture and heritage manager.

    Umair Badheeu, Loama's culture and heritage manager.

  • Inside an overwater villa.

    Inside an overwater villa.

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Loama’s admirable cultural agenda—a rarity in a country whose 100 or so resort islands tend to focus exclusively on hedonistic pursuits—goes well beyond history lessons, though. Guests wishing to immerse themselves in village life can join a tour to the nearby island of Maakurathu, home to 1,200 people. With Umair as our guide, we stroll its sandy, sun-blasted streets visiting households where elderly women are busy weaving palm leaves into roof thatching or making rope from coir, a coconut-husk fiber. Under the shade of a breadfruit tree on one street corner, a trio of matrons in black headscarves sits next to a wheelbarrow splitting open beach almonds with a rusty adze. Without being asked, they proffer a handful of the hard-won nuts, bantering away in Dhivehi—the islands’ Sanskrit-derived language—all the while.

Back at the resort, Umair also curates a contemporary art gallery, the first of its kind in the Maldives. Occupying a thatched overwater villa just off the main pier, the space serves as a showcase for a rotating roster of local artists such as Aminath Hilmy, Ahmed Anil, and Eagan Badeeu, Umair’s brother. In a country of fewer than 400,000 people, Umair admits that he has a limited pool of creative talent to draw on. Nonetheless, he’s thrilled by the prospect of providing a platform for the islands’ unsung artistic community.

Of course, Loama caters amply to hedonists too. The food is excellent, from the exquisitely fresh sashimi at Meyzu restaurant to the Thai dishes at beachside Thundi and even to the breakfast buffet at Fazaa, a sand-floored dining pavilion where I discover my favorite new morning snack, mashuni—flaked tuna with grated coconut, shallots, and chili that you eat with roti-style flatbread. There’s a jasmine-scented spa with overwater treatment rooms whose glass floor panels allow you to gaze down at colorful fishes as you lie prone on the massage table. And there are watersports galore, as well as a pair of motorized dhoni boats that you can take out for a spot of line fishing or a sunset cruise.

As for the accommodations, guests have their choice of 105 beachfront or overwater villas, the latter perched on timber pilings with steps leading down to the lagoon. They’re tastefully decorated, perfectly comfortable, and individually named with Dhivehi words like Ufaa (“happy”) and Saafu (“pure”), offering one last lesson in Maldivian culture. My villa is called Jazbee, meaning “beauty,” which seems as apt a description of the place as any. Now, if only Loama would let guests pay with cowrie shells, paradise would be complete.

THE DETAILS

Loama Resort Maldives at Maamigili (Raa Atoll; 960/658-8100; doubles from US$1,521, including breakfast. Seaplane transfers from Male take at least 45 minutes.)

This article originally appeared in the June/July print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Treasure Island”)

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