Drift Thelu Veliga Retreat is on a pint-sized Maldivian island that’s miles from anywhere, making it easy to give all your attention to the powdery sand, cyan surf and vibrant reefs that ring it. Reachable only by seaplane, the miniature desert island is in the South Ari Atoll, known for its populations of whale shark and manta ray, which you can swim alongside on snorkelling and scuba trips offshore. On the island, the thatched-roof villas are styled with rustic simplicity, finished with wood-beam ceilings, driftwood furniture and a neutral colour scheme that melts into the sandy surroundings. With no TVs or unnecessary tech in sight, you’ll slip seamlessly into the role of the carefree castaway, whiling the day away in the surf or overwater spa, then settling in at the beachfront bar to toast the sunset.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from $332.20, excluding tax at 23.42 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional government tax of $6.00 per person per night on check-in.
Rates include a buffet breakfast, including Asian, American and Continental options.
Whale sharks can be spotted in the South Ari Atoll throughout the year; if you’re set on swimming with a manta ray, the best time to visit is from October to May.
At the hotel
Beach, watersports centre, free WiFi throughout, laundry. In rooms: Nespresso coffee machine; tea kit; free bottled water; Thémaé bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Echoing traditional Maldivian houses, the villas have pitched roofs, driftwood furniture and local handicrafts, lending a rustic simplicity to the resort. We’d go for one of the Water Villas, which have private sun-decks and deep soaking tubs overlooking the turquoise lagoon. Ask for one at the far end of the jetty for an uninterrupted sea view.
The spa hut is perched over the shallows of the lagoon, with the treatment beds angled so that you’re looking straight out to sea. Ayurvedic, Thai, Indonesian and full-body massages are all on the menu, as are a range of facials. All the spa products are by Parisien brand Thémaé, who champion the high antioxidant properties of <i>camellia sinensis</i>, better known as the tea plant. The therapists make liberal use of the brand’s signature four-tea elixir, a powerful, skin-softening potion that rolls all the benefits of white, black, red and green tea into one.
Bring a dive-proof case for your phone and a set of portable speakers to play your desert island discs.
The sandy grounds make the hotel unsuitable for wheelchair users.
Over-13s are welcome, but the romantic atmosphere makes the hotel better suited to adults.
If barefoot dining is your thing, ask for a table on the sand.
Casual – but we wouldn’t recommend going full Tom Hanks in Cast Away…
Sunset Restaurant is in a rustic, open-sided building with a pitched ceiling and traditional thatched roof. Simple wooden tables and rattan chairs are ranged across the floor and a decked area, which offers the best sea views. The team of chefs keep the cuisine as local as possible, serving plenty of fresh seafood, often grilled on a charcoal barbecue and served with island flair. Breakfast and dinner are usually a buffet – in the evening, the chefs do show-style cooking from stations in the middle of the room – but they also do à la carte dining.
The bar is right on the beachfront, fringed by decking strewn with daybeds and sunloungers. A sandy floor, charred-wood tables and rattan armchairs take things back to basics, adding to the beach-shack vibe. In the evening, have the barman mix you one of the signature cocktails, then settle in for the sunset.
Breakfast is served from 8am to 10.30am; lunch from 12.30pm to 2.30pm; dinner from 7.30pm to 10.30pm.
The full menu is available during restaurant hours.
You need a transfer to reach this hotel. For approximate costs, see location information
Drift Retreat is on a tiny private island 90km from Malé, the capital of the Maldives.
Malé International Airport is the one to aim for. During the summer months, the best option is to fly via Doha; from November to March, you can fly directly from London Gatwick with British Airways. After touching down at Malé, you’ll take a seaplane to the resort, a flight of around 35 minutes. Return seaplane transfers are US$400 a person.
Where you’re going, you don’t need roads.
Worth getting out of bed for
One of Drift’s greatest assets is its remoteness: with no other islands in sight, you really do feel like a carefree castaway. Strolls on the beach or a spot of sunrise swimming will become your norm, and the reefs just off shore make for excellent snorkelling and scuba diving. If you’re the active type, take to the water in a sea kayak or try your hand at windsurfing. Once you’re back on land, make a beeline for the open-air spa hut, where any tired muscles will be expertly restored. As the hotel’s on a tiny, remote island, so you won’t get much further afield unless you enlist a little horsepower. You can book island hopping experiences, seaplane flights and dolphin watching sessions at reception. Another guest favourite is the whale shark experience: you’ll take a speedboat out to Whale Shark Point, where as many as 80 of the animals are thought to hang out. Once there, you’ll have a chance to snorkel or scuba dive among these gentle giants.
Your miles from the nearest land, so you’ll almost certainly be having all your meals on the island – unless you arrange a picnic on a nearby sandbar, that is.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this private island retreat in the Maldives and unpacked their underwater camera, a full account of their overwater break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Drift Thelu Veliga Retreat in the Maldives…
When it’s the middle of winter and you’re dreaming of being cast away on a desert island, we’ll wager the image you conjure up looks a lot like Drift. It’s got the powdery white sand beach and palm-flecked interior, nothing but the ocean on the horizon, and is small enough that you could walk from one side to the other in a matter of minutes. Part of the Maldives’ South Ari Atoll, it isn’t actually at the ends of the earth, but it’s far enough from the nearest civilisation that you feel completely disconnected – and we mean that in the best way possible. There’s WiFi, which is handy for posting the cache of envy-inducing shots you’ll accumulate each day, but there are no TVs or sound systems in the villas, encouraging you to connect with the island’s natural beauty and ambient soundtrack of lapping waves and rustling palms. If you want to do more than sip and sunbathe, take to the water to explore the reefs, try out kitesurfing or swim alongside mighty whale sharks – an experience that’s stirring enough make you forget that Netflix even exists.
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