Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 17 November 2019

Inside the world’s first underwater villa in the Maldives

The Muraka Residence is a split-level, three-bedroom luxury apartment – with an underwater bedroom

It might seem like it’s been done before, and that’s probably because it has. Everywhere from Dubai to Singapore to Zanzibar, you’ll find underwater rooms. But the world hasn’t yet seen a luxury split-level residence built on stilts atop the crystal-clear waters of the Maldives, where the bottom half of the structure is set five metres below sea level.

The Muraka, which means “coral” in Dhivehi, is a $15 million (Dh55.1m) architectural triumph engineered by M J Murphy, a company from New Zealand that specialises in aquarium technology. It forms part of the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.

In a country already littered with luxury options, this might be out of reach for the standard traveller – in low season it still costs from $22,000 (Dh80,806) a night, and in high season that balloons to $65,000 – but get a few friends together, ensure you go in low season and you’ll snag a stay you’ll never forget.

The welcome

From the moment you step off your seaplane and on to the jetty of the Conrad Maldives, or The Muraka’s own private jetty if you’re among the VIPs chartering a flight to the property, your arrival is as spectacular as your lodgings.

After some welcome sorbet, we are escorted away by The Muraka butler (guests have a dedicated butler for the entirety of their stay), whisked on to The Muraka’s private luxury jetboat and sped off, James Bond-style, to the residence.

Upon docking, we’re greeted by our affable food and beverage manager (another part of our dedicated personnel team) with a welcome drink, before being given an in-depth tour of the villa and all its intricacies.

The neighbourhood

The Muraka is set away from the rest of the hotel, with its own access bridge and jetty, so we never have to step foot on dry land. We also never have to mingle with other guests, due to the aforementioned service staff, which also includes a private chef and an on-call trainer ready to tend to our every need.

But if you do decide to venture out into the real world, you’ll find that the Conrad is more extensive than many other resorts in the Maldives; it’s made up of three islands (two are for guests, one dedicated to staff) and is full of great restaurants and spa options, and several public spaces for relaxing. Use the hotel’s dedicated buggy service if you’re feeling lazy, otherwise it’s a gorgeous walk throughout the islands, and a good way to keep your step count up while still being on a tranquil island holiday.

From Male, the Conrad is a ­relatively straightforward 25-minute seaplane ride, which makes it accessible to not only the capital, but other resorts, islands, and snorkelling and diving spots.

The room

The Muraka features two premium bedrooms – depending on whether you prefer to be above or below the water. But let’s be honest, the reason you’re dropping this much money on a hotel stay is because you’re here for the piece de resistance: the underwater residence.

After descending a spiral staircase (or taking the lift), you’ll be deposited into the heart of the villa: a bedroom and living area encased in a glass dome, offering guests an unobstructed, panoramic view of the tropical marine life. Everything has been thought of down here – there’s an electric headboard for the bed to prop up for fish-watching, a tea and coffee machine, sitting area in front of an almost theatre-like window out into the deep blue, Google speakers, and an intricate electrical system that includes underwater lighting connected to an iPad – so you can lie in bed and watch the fish float by illuminated by sky blue, purple or green.

The service

As expected, given our dedicated team of experts, the service here is exceptional. For the duration of our stay, we’re given an iPhone X to communicate with our butler, meaning that wherever we are, we can request snorkelling gear or a buggy pick up. He even pays us a quick visit when security call to inform him that his guests are snorkelling a bit far out into open water, just to check we’re adept swimmers.

The food and beverage team are second-to-none, serving up salads and pizza when all they have to go on from our lunch request is “something light?”, or a full Maldivian feast on the sunrise deck when we’ve just asked for “I don’t know, a curry or something” for dinner. A private kitchen for the chef means that whatever time you’ve requested food to be ready for, it will be on the table, piping hot.

The scene

Given that we were asked if we were on our honeymoon several times, that’s a fairly good steer as to who the ­Conrad’s clientele tend to be – but that’s typical for most places in the Maldives. The Conrad as a whole is made up of families and couples during our stay, and is known to attract a ­celebrity from time to time (Kris Jenner stayed last year). But The Muraka’s past guests are steeped in mystery, aside from one staff member letting slip that a member of the ­Bahraini royal family had visited recently.

The food

While many visit the Conrad with Ithaa, the resort’s underwater restaurant, in mind, I suggest dining in the privacy of The Muraka. The Maldivian feast we were surprised with for dinner one night was unarguably the best food we had on our trip – and consisted of 10 dishes of restaurant-quality steak, fresh seafood and delicately spiced curries. Breakfast is just as delightful.

Loved

The underwater bathroom. There’s simply nothing better than starting a day standing under a rain shower, while being stared at by a bright array of tropical fish. Each bathroom is stocked with premium Aesop products, too – not to mention a brand-new double-edged razor.

Hated

I really cannot fault a thing, which is probably about right for the price bracket.

The bottom line

A stay at The Muraka starts from $22,000 in low season, and up to $65,000 in high season. Included is all food and drink within the villa (non-alcoholic), a dedicated buggy and wave boat, and your staff. More information is at www.conradmaldives.com/stay/the-muraka

Updated: October 14, 2019 11:54 AM

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