The Nautilus by Michaela Cordes | 4th June, 2021 | Travel
Named after the submarine in Jules Verne’s novels, this private island in the Indian Ocean spoils its guests with bespoke luxury attention. A dreamy destination – not just in times of a pandemic. Welcome to The Nautilus!
Nature in abundance. Over 2,000 different species of fish and at least 200 types of coral populate the waters around the Maldives.
After half a day of traveling, far away from lockdown restrictions and daily infection updates, I find myself in paradise. I have arrived and my soul immediately plunges into the magic of the surroundings. I can see the ocean shimmering in various shades of blue and green from every part of the island, the white sandy beaches, the palm trees swaying in the wind. It’s so beautiful here that I have to pinch myself to understand that this is reality and not some kind of wild daydream! After showing us to our very impressive Ocean Residence villa set above the water, Aslam, our butler, suggests our first activity. “Let me do the unpacking of your bags while you do your first snorkeling tour along our resort’s reef,” he offers. What a treat! Blinking into the sunlight, I gaze out over our private deck and infinity pool, taking in the glittering sun sparkling on the Indian Ocean. Right there I spot my first blacktip reef shark gliding through the crystal-clear shallows towards our overwater villa. Aslam notices my slightly nervous gaze. “Don’t worry!,” he says in a calming voice, “those reef sharks aren’t a dangerous species at all.” No sharks, no healthy reef, I recall from watching the fascinating TV documentary “A Life on Our Planet” by David Attenborough.
Like most of the resorts in the Maldives, The Nautilus is built on an extinct, submarine volcano. The edges make the colorful coral reef that is populated by a huge variety of exotic sea creatures, including manta rays, whale sharks and sea turtles. So far, some 2,000 different species of fish and more than 200 kinds of coral have been discovered in the Maldives.
Equipped with my own snorkeling mask and fins, I slip into the warm seawater. The first thing I see underwater is an octopus peeking out from within its well-chosen coral cave. Its two big round eyes seem to be observing my every move very carefully. Before I went on this trip, I watched the Netflix documentary “My Octopus Teacher,” so I know by now that octopuses aren’t just highly intelligent creatures, but also that one should approach them carefully and with patience. There! I suddenly see he is extending two of his eight arms out of his hiding place. I have to focus hard so as not to lose sight of him.
Octopuses are the chameleons of the sea and protect themselves from predators by changing their color and pattern in spectacular ways, according to their surroundings. No, he doesn’t seem to fully trust me. Whoops – and he’s gone, disappeared back into his hiding place. I snorkel on. Only a few meters further I see a green moray eel glinting in another coral cave. Swarms of biggish, bright-yellow fish swim past me, alternating with some magnificent blue-green parrotfish. The noise as they nibble on the coral is so loud that I can hear the muffled sound before I spot them. Another funny detail is the clouds of sand billowing beneath them as they swim past me. “Those are bits of digested coral,” explains our dive instructor Mariana later. “It’s actually these fish that produce the fine sand.” The rainbow-colored sightings underwater make me so happy, and no stressful thoughts are able to reach me here. It’s quite incredible to think we only landed on The Nautilus two hours ago.
The Baa Atoll’s western chain of islands is located only 120 kilometers from Malé, the Maldives’s main island – just a 30-minute flight away by seaplane. Baa Atoll is short for Maalhosmadulu Dhekunuburi and is what the locals call it. Covering an area of 1,127 square kilometers, it’s made up of 75 islands and was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve ten years ago – the only one in the Maldives. Since then, this area has become very popular with underwater enthusiasts, like me.
Our luxury resort The Nautilus originally opened in 2019. Built on one of the smaller islands in the region – only 13 of which are inhabited – it covers an area of only 242 by 249 meters. Originally developed by Dr. Ibrahim Umar Maniku, the legendary Maldivian entrepreneur who, interestingly, was a trained anesthesiologist who earned his degree in Leipzig, Germany. He carefully designed The Nautilus experience with the aim of attracting ultra high-net-worth individuals looking for the ultimate private resort experience.
His idea took off and The Nautilus quickly became a favorite among visitors from around the world. It’s been voted “Best Resort in the Indian Ocean” by the readers of travel magazine Condé Nast Traveller and also ranks third on the list of Best Resorts Worldwide. With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, this unusual luxury resort had to close for a period of five months. “It was a challenge for us, as it was for all the resorts in the Maldives,” says Mohamed Ashraf, general manager of The Nautilus and one of the few local hotel general managers who actually hails from the Maldives. “But we made good use of the time by further enhancing our guest areas and implementing a safe hygiene regime for the resort and our guests.”
Today staff apply the highest levels of safety to protect their guests and The Nautilus has welcomed a surprising number of tourists who choose to stay longer than before the pandemic. Mohamed Ashraf: “Before, guests booked for a week, but today we see a trend that guests are wanting to stay longer with us – some guests even choose to make The Nautilus their home for several months.”
“Couples, families, or groups of friends – we offer all our guests a very personal experience.“ MOHAMED ASHRAF, GENERAL MANAGER, THE NAUTILUS
Naturally, the limited size of the island seems to help. While other islands in the Maldives accommodate hundreds of guests, The Nautilus consists of only 26 houses and residences. Almost half of these houses are built on stilts above the glittering Indian Ocean. The beach houses, which are no less luxuriously equipped, are nestled in the fine white sand. In addition to featuring a private bar, a private terrace and a pool, all the houses are so generously apportioned that guests tend to stay in their personal space most of the day. In fact, the houses and residences are so spacious that as a couple, you can participate in your own Zoom meeting without disturbing the other one at all.
Before arrival, guests are required to submit written confirmation of a negative PCR test plus a government health declaration form. In addition to this, Emirates and Etihad Airways, which fly to Malé via Dubai and Abu Dhabi respectively, both require a negative PCR test before they allow passengers to board their planes. On the island, you won’t find any of the 145 employees without a face mask. “We’ve donated a test lab on a neighboring island to our community. This helps our guests too, because the testing procedure for the return flight can be comfortably done in the guests’ house,” explains Mohamed Ashraf. This pragmatic approach to safety makes me feel well taken care of and I can turn my attention back to enjoying all the perks this resort has on offer.
In the evening we enjoy the sunset at the Naiboli Poolside Bar, our favorite evening haunt over the next ten days. Individual lights in the pool seem to reflect the magnificent starry skies above us. With Sting’s “ Fragile” playing softly in the background, we notice some other guests for the first time since our arrival and greetings are exchanged from afar. Social distancing is a thing here too. For dinner, choosing a restaurant is a tough call. Either the ingenious creations of the young Indian chef Saravana at Zeytoun restaurant, which overlooks the lagoon. Or teppanyaki prepared at the Ocaso restaurant – a mix of Latin American-influenced Japanese cuisine. The unique thing here is: At The Nautilus there are no rules nor times and any meal and menu can be enjoyed whenever the guest pleases. After dinner, Aslam appears discreetly and suggests our activities for the following day. The private barbecue dinner on a sandbank is an absolute must for the next day! On our way there a pod of dolphins suddenly appears and accompanies the boat for several minutes, swimming alongside the boat and performing some impressive flip jumps. We are mesmerized.
Our scuba trip with the resident marine biologist Mariana is another highlight. Unlike snorkling, where you observe the marine wildlife mostly from above, the scuba diving trip takes us 11 meters down into that underwater world and allows us to become one with nature. We see a spiny lobster, only recognizable by its feelers poking out of a cave, bright, colorful starfish and little orange clownfish flitting between the anemones. All of a sudden, Mariana nudges me and points toward a bigger cave. Assuming she wants to show me some more beautiful coral, I can hardly believe my eyes: There’s a sleeping, three-meter-long nurse shark just an arm’s length away! These nocturnal animals rest during the day and are only aggressive when provoked. Hopefully that’s true, I think, as we continue our dive. On the boat, heading back to the resort, I find that this close encounter has burnt itself into my memory. It will probably remain there as clear as a photograph forever.
As it’s still early in the day and we’re hungry after our early morning dive, we help ourselves to the vast, delicious breakfast buffet laid out at the Thyme restaurant. The range of dishes reflects the variety of guests’ nationalities and includes sushi, sashimi, scrambled eggs, nachos, bagels and pancakes. For the afternoon, Aslam has booked each of us a 60-minute massage in the Solasta Spa. But beforehand, I complete my daily 5k run in the resort’s well-equipped gym – a huge bonus on this tiny island.
On the last evening of our stay, with the breeze blowing gently, I admire the gleaming blue plankton floating in the waves that lap against the shore. And a deep feeling of gratitude washes over me for having been able to enjoy such an extraordinary vacation in these trying times.