Velaa Private Island, Maldives: An otherworldly escape in a remote paradise


There are no mosquitos on Velaa Private Island. Or very few, anyway. The staff makes sure there’s nowhere for them to nest. Most would consider bug bites just one of those little inconveniences that come with a beach holiday. But at Velaa, no task is too trifling.

Want to watch the sunset while having dinner? The resort is on its own time zone – ‘Velaa time’ – one hour ahead of the rest of the Maldives – for this very reason. If there’s been a bit more erosion than usual one year, the team doesn’t just shrug their shoulders and say “well, that’s a naturally-occurring geological process for you”. No, they get some sand from another island and reclaim the land. It’s details like this that make the difference between a good resort and a great one, I discover when I visit Velaa Private Island in November.

Anyone who has ever been on a seaplane will tell you that it’s not the most relaxing experience. While some that transport you around the Maldives are like scaled-down commercial planes, with padded seats and little bottles of water in the armrests, the one that takes us from the capital, Malé, is more retro. The seats are plastic benches and the barefoot pilot yanks various pulleys and levers like a mad scientist. But I’m so exhausted from my 14-hour journey to the middle of the Indian Ocean that I fall asleep as soon as we hit 1,500 feet.

Having last been conscious leaving the concrete jungle that is Malé, waking up in Velaa is like walking through the wardrobe into Narnia – if Narnia was a white-sand, crystal-sea paradise averaging 30 degrees. Blinking in the glare of the beach, I disembark and am promptly handed a cool towel (the first of about 30 during my three-night stay – they really, really like cool towels at Velaa) before being ushered into a buggy.

velaa private island maldives

As we’re driven to our villa, I feel the exhaustion and discomfort of a long-haul flight almost physically fall away. Velaa is covered in dense vegetation crisscrossed by sand paths that muffle the sound of buggies and bikes going over them – the quiet is pervasive, disturbed only by the leathery flapping of fruit bats overhead. The effect of this is that you feel like you’re all alone in an enchanted tropical forest. Indeed, we encounter so few people during our stay that I assume the resort must be relatively empty (November is on the cusp of the rainy season), but I later find out that Velaa is at 60 per cent capacity that week. It’s like an optical illusion.

There’s a big glass hole in the floor of our overwater accommodation, through which you can observe silver fish slinking by. The villa has a grass roof and colonial-style ceiling beams, and sliding doors open to a terrace with double sun beds, an infinity pool and steps leading directly into the cyan sea.

As you and the rest of the world know, Maldivian beaches are beautiful – a white-to-blue ombre fringed by swaying palms – but at Velaa Private Island, they’re even better. You’re more likely to see a UFO than a washed-up Coke can here, and the staff literally sweep the beach to remove imperfections. It takes hard work to look this good. And you’ll never engage in a war of attrition over sun bed space – on the ‘public’ beaches, you’re sharing with two, three other parties tops.

If you’re the type to get itchy feet lying on a beach all day (can’t relate), there’s a bunch of stuff to do at Velaa. You can go big game fishing, or snorkelling, or take an authentic Batheli boat cruise to a deserted island, followed by dolphin watching at sunset. There’s scuba diving on the Noonu atoll, which is home to sharks, eagle rays and the largest coral restoration programme in the Maldives. And there’s water sports; thanks to a recent ACL reconstruction, we opt for the ‘sea bobs’ – motorised devices that you cling to as they speed up to 20 km per hour through the water – but Velaa possesses an arsenal of high-tech equipment from ‘electric foil surfboards’ to the latest ‘tandem jetovator’.

Sports facilities include a tennis court, squash court, climbing wall, Technogym fitness centre, football pitch, elevated yoga pavilion, and a golf course designed by Spanish pro José María Olazábal. Finally, there’s the overwater spa, which offers the standard menu of massage and facial treatments as well as the opportunity to bake and/or chill in the sauna and/or ‘snow room’.

Foodies won’t be disappointed, either. There are three restaurants on Velaa Private Island: all-day dining spot Athiri does the biggest breakfast buffet in the world, comprising everything from pastries and green juice to continental meats and Maldivian ‘mas huni’ (finely chopped tuna, onion, coconut and chilli in roshi flatbread). Grab light lunches like soft-shell crab fritters, grilled prawn Caesar and banana leaf-wrapped reef fish here, too.

The first of two specialty restaurants, Aragu, is designed as if to be underwater, with a shoal of fish sculptures swimming overhead. A live piano tinkles in the background as we work our way through a tasting menu that includes dishes such as bluefin tuna with apple salad, spanner crab and lobster aioli, and venison and Barbary duck, which stays true to the oceanic theme with a salty foam.

Then there’s Tavaru, which means ‘tower’ in the local dialect. Sure enough, this teppanyaki restaurant is housed at the top of a long, thin structure covered in an oddly-shaped canopy that makes it look like something a child might draw if asked what buildings will look like in the year 2100. You access Tavaru via an industrial-style lift, and the restaurant space is understated to the point of feeling like a caterer’s kitchen, which, in many ways, it is: you sit at benches surrounding the chefs, who cook top-grade octopus and A5 Wagyu before your eyes on an iron griddle. In the lower portion of the tower lies Velaa’s wine cellar, a wood-clad room with steep walls stacked with vintages, including a Romanée-Conti from 1978 worth a cool $50,000.

When I get back to Malé, the luggage-ferrying crowds, speedboats spluttering in the harbour and planes roaring overhead pose a stark contrast to the Velaa’s silent undergrowth and lapping waves. I feel like I’ve stumbled back through the wardrobe after years in Narnia, only for mere minutes to have passed – as though Velaa exists in a different dimension, accessible only when the bare-footed pilot sets his coordinates and pumps his pedals just so. When you enter ‘Velaa time’, the real world falls away.

Villas from $2,900 per night (around £2,360), visit

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