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July 18, 2024

White sands, blue sea: Paradise found at LUX* South Ari Atoll

By Payel Majumdar Upreti
When you think of the tiny island nation of Maldives, the first thought that comes to mind is the blue sea, and the white sands. However, increasingly the destination is currying favour with those who want to go deeper, quite literally. I’m talking about recreational scuba diving. There are many adventure seekers who return to the nation to explore its rich manta season, whale sharks and its conservation programmes. On the other hand, there are the ones looking beyond a relaxed atmosphere, seeking to connect with the actual locals from Maldives, sampling their delicious food, and experiencing the unique local culture of this island nation, from its music to dance.  LUX* South Ari Atoll in the Maldives, has been the chosen destination for several adventure-seekers and culture connoisseurs, and even those families looking for an escape to paradise. I was recently among the lucky ones to swim around in the warm lagoons that cocoon this very Instagrammable paradise. One of the largest existing islands in the atoll, the resort stretches over 3 km and there’s enough to do for everyone over there, whether you’re a honeymooning couple, or a large group of friends, or a family with growing children. Approachable from a seaplane transfer from Male, the lounge at the seaplane terminal ensures you receive the ‘Lux approach’ as soon as you land on the property, with snacks, a small play area for children, and great freshly brewed coffee, and places to lounge around. . The resort has ten different kinds of accommodations, to cater to every kind of party that lands on its shores. While there are two bedroom lagoon villas and beach villas for larger groups or a family or four and five, the cosier water villas and romantic beach villas cater to couples.
Dhonis are traditional boats found in the Maldives
Adventure in the sea
A 40-minute boat ride away, whale sharks and manta rays can be found swimming away to glory, and a jump is all that’s stopping you from joining them. A lot of the sporting activities are complimentary, including the use of the resort’s sporting equipment. The resort’s USP, however is the exemplary ‘Swimming With Whale Sharks’ experience — a signature experience for ocean lovers with reasonable fitness levels. We went on one of the excursions, and lo and behold, we were blessed with a whale shark spotting, our highlight of the trip.
A whale shark can grown to approximately 39m in length,
A filter-feeding fish, it is one of the largest extant fish species to be found in the world. Due to its existence in very deep waters, very little is known about this species, making it a fascinating creature to observe. The resort’s whale shark programme is led by the resort’s marine biologist who is also involved in the study and conservation of the whale shark population that resides perennially within the boundaries of the South Ari Marine Protected Area. One of the fishes from the population even has the honour of being named by the property! We spotted several dolphins on our way back, and they did us the honour of playing with our boat while we headed back to the resort.
A yoga session in progress at Lux South Ari Atoll
Family Fun
Meanwhile, if you’re travelling with small kids, like I was, it is easy to keep them entertained at the kid’s club, replete with a splash pool to boot, slides and other fun activities. Called the PLAY kids’ club – it has an arts and crafts space, a library, a mini-kitchen, slides and a swimming pool – and is operational from 9 am to 5 pm.

A family-friendly resort, there are activities throughout the week to keep guests entertained. One of the more popular ones is a treasure hunt, where bottles with promises of presents inside are hidden in bushes all around the resort. Each day, up to five presents can be discovered while biking or walking up and down. Apart from yoga or fitness programmes (there are complimentary programmes throughout the day at the resort as well as more detailed programmes for those seeking out a wellness retreat), there are activities that promote self-discovery and individuality. The weekly roster includes gardening, bread and ice cream making, storytelling and yoga for children. The Junk Art Studio has both adults and kids making art out of waste. At the LUX* ME Spa, children and teenagers can sign up for mini-massages and tutti frutti scrubs using ingredients that look like desserts. Or if you so fancy, you can spend the day doing nothing in their lovely library by the sea, picking from a curated collection of books just made for the place. I spent my afternoons for instance, lounging on the very comfortable day bed, reading a thriller, the lulling waves offering a nice contrast to the racy book I had at hand.
A crowd favourite, however, are the ample number of swings installed in the ocean, hanging from a coconut tree, in pairs of two just hanging above the waves. It is possible to spend entire days on the strips of beach just playing with the water as the waves caress your swinging feet. If you’re looking for slightly more privacy, just head into the ocean from your room, where the overwater villas offer a private staircase right into the shallow lagoon surrounded by the ocean.
The courteous staff at the property, who have been working there for several years in some cases, treat the island as their home, and ensure that the people who land on the island feel that warmth as well. Shaufiq, for instance, is a legend over there. He’s the best man for recommendations on what to do on your trip – from water sports, to eating places and friendly anecdotes. While driving you up and down, he tells you best how your stay can be enjoyed the most.
The warm waters are somehow reflected in the warmth of the locals. This was the first time in my many visits to the Maldives that I felt immersed in the local culture, at their multi-cuisine restaurant Mixe which hosts weekly Maldivian nights. The food is very close to Indian cuisine, but different enough to spike one’s interest. The specials included a robust biryani, lamb curry, Maldivian roti, salads with local ingredients such as fresh tuna and kelp, and superb egg hoppers for breakfast.
Umami at Lux South Ari Atoll
Their modern Japanese restaurant Umami takes authenticity very seriously. Apart from sampling a meal that had a spread of sushi featuring the fresh catch of the ocean, tempura and the pork ramen bowl particularly stick out in memory. They have a range of soy sauces, some aged to sample before choosing your soy sauce for the night. A fun experience at the restaurant, a whole cart of soy sauce can be sampled or paired from to go with different dishes that  you may have ordered from the menu.
The resort’s 5 bars and 8 restaurants present distinctive menus – from Indian, East Asian, Italian to modern global cuisine. If you’re practicing mindful eating, one can still eat without worry, for every menu carries appropriate dietary labels (e.g., vegan, contains gluten, contains dairy) and features at least 30 per cent vegan, raw and vegetarian options. This makes the resort a great choice for Indians, as a large part of tourists from the country prefer a vegetarian diet. The options are varied, Umami for instance, has great choices amongst vegetarian fare. The modern Indian restaurant also has a selection of items designed to be vegan friendly or vegetarian.

ICI, the beachside ice-cream parlour serves sugar-free and vegan ice-creams and gelatos; and several of the restaurants serve vegan wines. Termed #KeenOnGreen, these healthy offerings are part of The Lux Collective’s conscious decision to offer guests their preferred food and beverage choices, keeping in mind the twin goals of eating well and sustainability.

If you’re looking for a sport, the resort has plenty to offer. From tennis, table tennis, snorkelling, kayaking, canoeing, kite surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, parasailing, scuba diving, there is enough to keep you occupied. The whale shark programme that Lux South Ari Atoll supports is one of the only ones in Maldives. Due to the temperate waters in the Maldives, whale sharks can be spotted throughout the year. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a relaxed time, just watching the clouds move, I couldn’t think of a more picturesque setting to do that in either.
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Payel Majumdar Upreti

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