Who says living in a bubble is a bad thing? Luxury Travel Magazine Editor Andrew Conway discovers the raw beauty of the Maldives as the first journalist to experience a new idyllic ‘glamping’ concept in Finolhu…
It’s just before dawn and the sky is as black as squid ink. I’m lying in a four-poster bed, cocooned inside a giant plastic bubble on a secluded sandbank in the Maldives, and staring up at a vast canopy of luminous white stars.
With the moon below the horizon, the sun yet to rise, and utter silence except for the occasional wave lapping quietly on the shoreline, the scene is ethereal, almost other worldly.
I’m about to drift back to sleep as another shooting star flashes across the sky, when something else – something magical – slowly drifts into view: a large object with wings and flashing red lights.
It’s too big, bright and slow to be a jumbo jet; and even in my drowsy dream-like state I dismiss any thoughts of a UFO. No, this is surely NASA’s International Space Station, flying in low orbit around the Earth as it makes its silent satellite rounds.
Welcome to the Beach Bubble, a spectacular new luxury ‘glamping’ concept – the first of its kind in the Maldives – set on Finolhu, a speck of a paradise island in Baa Atoll. And I’m the first journalist to experience it in person for a special Dream Eclipse night under the stars.
Nestled in a secluded spot along a 1.5km sandbank, far from the island’s lively retro-chic resort, the transparent beach bubble appears like a moon-craft as our dhoni approaches the sandbank about an hour before sunset.
We’re accompanied by Shabeen, our resort mojo agent (butler) and a chef, who will prepare and serve cocktails and dinner before leaving us to spend the night alone in complete solitude.
Cast aside any notions of camping. This ‘tent’ comes with a four-poster bed swathed in white sheer netting, an oversize wingback chair and foot stool in vibrant turquoise, a turntable with vintage records, solid timber floors and a soft rug underfoot.
An adjoining bathroom, accessed via a zipper door, features a standard shower and toilet, fluffy white towels, robes, and everything you’d expect in a five-star guest room. And just in case you can’t leave civilisation behind – even for a night – the beach bubble comes with high-speed WiFi and air-conditioning.
The only thing you have to remember is to close the entry door firmly before entering the bubble, so as not to let out any of the air inflating the high-tech polyester dome.
With the room inspection done, it’s time for sundowner cocktails, a gourmet three-course dinner served by candlelight at a chic chaise and table cut into the sandbank, and a nightcap as a crescent moon rises slowly overhead.
By now we’re alone, naked as God and nature intended, and lying on two sunbeds staring up at a universe of stars, shimmering in the darkness and as clear as honed crystal.
The night passes in a dream-like sequence of sleep, satellites and shooting stars, until dawn breaks and we rise early to walk to the furthest point of the sandbank, before Shabeen and his team arrive to serve breakfast at the water’s edge.
By 9am, with the morning sun beating down, the bubble is cleaned and serviced for the next guest and covered with a protective sheath, and we’re back on board the dhoni to return to the resort after a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Launched just six days before my stay, the beach bubble is the brainchild of The Small Maldives Island Co (TSMIC), a relatively new and innovative company with strong Australian connections that manages two sister luxury resorts – Finolhu and Amilla Fushi in Baa Atoll – and Huvafen Fushi just north of the capital Malé.
Like many siblings, the three resorts have very different personalities: Huvafen Fushi is small and ultra-exclusive, offering only 44 luxury overwater and island villas, a unique underwater spa and a brand new super-luxe villa called The PlayPen.
Amilla Fushi has a chilled and contemporary “island home” ambience, with 67 sleek, white overwater villas, beach villas, tropical tree houses and luxe private residences, a signature spa, and a bazaar-style collection of beachfront dining venues.
The youngest and grooviest of the three resorts is Finolhu, a 30-minute boat ride from Amilla Fushi, designed as a fun and eclectic retro-chic resort with 125 overwater and beach villas and an Instragram-perfect, toes-in-the-sand island setting.
No surprise then that Finolhu was chosen as the perfect home for the custom-designed beach bubble, created by leading Spanish design firm Eye in the Sky. Constructed using super-strong, high-tech polyester fabric, the bubble is UV-protected, fully waterproof in the event of a rain shower, and climate-controlled for all seasons.
“We wanted to create a unique and inspiring environment where guests can enjoy an incredible close-to-nature experience without compromising on high-spec design and luxurious creature comforts,” says Mark Hehir, TSMIC’s Australian CEO, curator and creative visionary.
Add to that the sheer luxury of being utterly alone for one magical night – just you, the stars and the International Space Station.