By John O’Ceallaigh
When I visited Joali resort in Raa Atoll in the Maldives shortly before its opening in 2018, I was told about its founders’ plans to build another property dedicated entirely to wellness nearby; it would be an alternative to the sombre medispas in Europe and the occasionally woo-woo options in Asia. It seemed like a good idea at the time – it was weird, in a destination so beautiful, tranquil and restorative, that nobody had done it already. Given everything that’s happened since, it seems like an even better proposition now.
Opening this month, Joali Being is being billed as the first “nature-immersive wellbeing island retreat” in the country. The branding is confusing to me: “nature-immersive” perhaps refers to the fact the property has been built according to biophilic design principles, which considers how nature can be integrated into architecture to enhance our wellbeing, or it could acknowledge that the island’s wooded interior has more or less been left wild. It might have something to do with all the opportunities guests will have to explore the underwater world, though that applies to every resort in the country.
Much more interesting, I think, is how the guest experience will be structured. Joali Being’s wellness concept is built on four pillars – mind, skin, microbiome and energy – and every arrival will complete an in-depth consultation with a personal wellbeing consultant before commencing a completely personalised programme. They might wish to regain a sense of vitality and mental clarity; they may be there to ‘rebalance’ their weight; programmes will help with sleep problems, hormonal issues and digestive complications.
Making sure guests stay on track will be a retinue of on-site nutritionists, naturopaths, therapists and movements specialists, alongside the expected personnel. Every villa will have its own jadugar; that’s a Dhivehi word meaning ‘skilled magician’, but here it can more prosaically be translated as butler.
A focal point for all guests will be Areka, Joali Being’s wellbeing centre and a facility that will provide scientific therapies, diagnostic services, educational programmes, specialised therapeutic interventions and alternative-healing treatments, alongside extensive fitness facilities. In total, there will be 39 distinct treatment venues, including a hydrotherapy hall with a sensory deprivation room, a Russian banya, a salt inhalation room, a sound therapy hall and an overwater meditation deck. Aktar will be the resort’s herbology centre, where a resident herbalist will teach arrivals about the healing power of plants through interactive workshops.
Food will obviously be a huge focus too, with the produce on offer predominantly being locally harvested foods that support small-scale Maldivian farmers and are sustainably sourced. Meals will be taken in a grand and airy dining hall known as Flow, featuring three distinct dining options: Plantae will focus on vegetarian cuisine; Su will serve seafood; B’Well will offer Joali Being’s signature menu. Wherever they choose to dine, guests with more complex or specific dietary requirements will be able to collaborate with the resort’s nutritionists to ‘co-create’ their own balanced and replenishing menus.
The emphasis on wellbeing will extend into guest accommodation, with each of the 68 beach and overwater villas featuring private pools and incorporating touches such as ‘meditative-balancing’ musical instruments and wellbeing games alongside customised minibar set-ups.
I thought the villas at the original Joali, which seem to have drawn inspiration from the striking Jean-Michel Gathy-designed villas at LVMH’s Cheval Blanc Randheli – were exceptionally beautiful and one of that resort’s key selling points. Like its predecessor, this sister property has been designed by Turkey’s impressive Autoban so I’ve high expectations: while images haven’t been released yet, these renderings are knockout. (I most recently encountered Autoban’s work when I stayed at the newly opened Iniala Beach House in Malta over the summer, where they again did a beautiful job.)
While another wellness-centred property, the recently unveiled Kagi Maldives Spa Island, has opened in the country since I first heard of those plans for Joali Being back in 2018, it isn’t marketed at quite so high a level and I expect most travellers will agree it isn’t as beautiful. With the likes of Germany’s forthcoming and highly advanced medispa Lanserhof Sylt launching soon in Europe, I expect there’s an expectant demographic of rich wellness consumers that has long been hoping for similarly elevated and progressive holiday options to be made available to them in the Indian Ocean.
Rates at Joali Being start from $2,142 per night, B&B; the resort’s Immersion Programmes start from $1,665 per person based on a five-night Joali Being Discovery Programme. All bookings must be for a minimum of five nights.
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