“The best part of beauty is that which no picture can express” – Francis Bacon.
JOALI is like nothing we imagined, it has left us feeling mesmerized and at a loss for words. Like it has taken our imagination for a ride and brought us to a destination one can only dream of – a true paradise located in the Raa Atoll, the northern part of the Maldives. One has to see it to truly understand how such beauty is able to captivate the heart so much so that even we have to admit, we’ve left our hearts in JOALI. We are certain that if you come here, that same feeling will apply to you.
It is the best combination of contemporary art, absolute attention to design and detail, that feminine touch, aesthetic uniformity with of course the lush tropical vegetation and blossoming flowers and the stunning crystal clear waters at your immediate reach that you’re here and you know it’s worth it. It is not something which you need to think twice about – you’ll be catered for and looked after here, but more than that you won’t tire of the beauty and the absolute comfort you receive during your stay. Whether it’s your larger than average sized villas, the carefully thought out menus at each restaurant, the in-room experience, to the joyous staff that are always happy to greet you even as you pass by on the bicycles, which JOALI provides to all of its guests, including the little ones. The experience is exclusive to you and those you spend it with, an experiential keepsake that it’s no wonder that this special place has several returning guests who come here to relive such moments.
Whichever villa you opt for, you won’t be disappointed. There are three different villa categories to choose from – beach villas, water villas and family villas. Then for those with larger families or groups, JOALI offers its Residences providing either a three-bedroom ocean-facing villa or a four-bedroom beach facing villa. For the ultimate, there’s the JOALI Beach Reserve where they’ve combined two beach villas that offer 5-bedrooms as well as a 3-bedroom option. No matter what size you’re coming with there are options for family, friends and solo-travelers. On this occasion, we took up accommodation in the Water Villa with Pool which perfectly accommodated our family of three. In terms of size, the entire villa measures approximately 240 sqm. The villa itself was exceptional in terms of design, aesthetic, amenities and tech savviness. It is luxury without being boastful and what overtakes it all is the art and design aspect which features strongly through the very selective pieces, decor, interior design elements and furnishings. This is the ideal choice for someone who appreciates contemporary art as JOALI is also the only resort spearheading the immersive arts experience in the Maldives by showcasing various recognized artists’ work throughout the resort in the most subtle of manners. Therefore you’re getting an experience which is truly unlike any other resort on the island. It is a place to discover artists and their works within the different areas of the island.
The more nights spent we realized there is one word that clearly defines the JOALI experience and that is uncompromising. Nothing is taken for granted, every detail especially within the rooms and other areas of JOALI has been selectively thought-through. As soon as you step into your villa you’re taken by the sheer height and the intricately designed dark wooden panels carved with the outlines of leafs and flowers that align the corners of the room which beautifully contrasts with the cream textured walls and built in shelves and sconces. The mini bar is a thing of beauty and replete with your selection of coffees, teas and alcohol (there’s also a wine cooler) except they don’t come in miniature sizes like most resort properties, but a normal sized selection to enjoy should you wish to. There’s of course a lovely kettle and coffee machine which takes a bit of time getting used to. The bathroom area is something to take pleasure in as the standalone bathtub overlooks the panoramic ocean views. Within that same space you’ve got your two separate sinks laden with JOALI amenities and glass bottled waters as well as a vanity area that also acts like a walk-in wardrobe where men can hang their shirts to one side and women can hang their dresses on another. What we loved most about the room besides the art, design and superb comfort were the beautifully stocked amenities such as the toiletries, the beach bag and the floral designed robes for women (you may not notice but it purposely coincides with the design of the wooden panels in the room). Two types of slippers are offered, uber plush ones for the room and bamboo type slippers for outdoors. They even offer slippers for the little ones and are a reminder of how much attention JOALI pays to children that come here to experience the resort. Again this is a place that also wants you to experience beauty and thought through its amenities.
In terms of the outdoor space within the villa, you’ve got your infinity pool overlooking the immaculate ocean as well as direct access to the ocean situated below the villa. You’ll be provided complimentary snorkeling gear and we can’t recommend taking a snorkeling dip in the mornings, enough. On the deck, there is also a suspended hammock, perfect to wind-down in, take a nap or even snap a picture perfect photo-op. For those wishing to stay in the shade, there is an area to sit and relax in. To rinse off that ocean water, an outdoor rain shower is located just behind the villa, again stocked with JOALI toiletries for ease and convenience. Words don’t suffice nor do the villa’s justice and it really is a place you have to come and experience for yourselves. One aspect worth mentioning is the pre-configured control panels within the villas. At first one might feel confused with the different switches but after some time it is quite straight-forward. There is a button for controlling the blinds for example as well as buttons to adjust the lights. Of course there’s the iPad that sits on the nightstand and provides a depth of information, from house-keeping, where you can select your pillow options (they even provide maternity pillows for those expecting), dining menus, activities, in-room entertainment, room temperature adjustment to a section dedicated to artists profiles.
Nothing however, would make the JOALI experience complete without its dedicated Jadugar, a Hindi word that stands for ‘magician’. Each guest has its own dedicated Jadugar so you’ve always got a friendly face to assist you during your stay. You’ll be greeted by your personal Jadugar upon arrival and as JOALI doesn’t have a typical reception area, it is the Jadugar that handles all your queries. On this occasion our Jadugar was the lovely Vienne who truly went above and beyond to deliver an experience that left us with no issues whatsoever. Think of them as behind the scenes, putting together the hard work needed to make ones stay absolutely exceptional. What is more is that they become a part of your family during your stay. To communicate with them, your Jadugar will provide a phone so that you can either call or text them with whatever it is that you need. They are quick to respond and assist you. A perfect example is when Vienne had to organize our last-minute transfer to another resort which was quite a hassle in itself as different resorts implement their different policies regarding covid-tests of which our next resort required but never clearly communicated. Vienne worked tirelessly to coordinate and communicate between the resorts before giving us confirmation. Despite all the troubles she must’ve gone through late into the evening, Vienne, our wonderful Jadugar ensured our experience at JOALI went smoothly without interrupting us of any issues during our stay. That level of service and the magic done behind the scenes is what you can expect from your stay at JOALI.
Dining at JOALI is another beautiful experience as their culinary options and quality were in our opinion, exceptional. Just as it focuses on art and design, the culinary aspect is not compromised – whether it’s the surrounding, the thoughtfully crafted menus for adults and children alike – each restaurant presents as a character waiting for you to explore it. On our first night we had the pleasure of dining at Bellinis, their Italian restaurant with a menu crafted by two-Michelin starred chef Theodor Falser. Many a pasta dishes have we tried around the world (and we aren’t just saying this for the sake of it) but the Wagyu pasta that we had was an experience we wanted to repeat if only for our taste buds to re-ignite with that memorable texture and uber delicious flavor. The wine list is extensive as is the cocktail menu – one won’t be disappointed by the choices as they also have limited special vintages where for example only one bottle exists in the Maldives as no other resort carries such selection. There’s also the whisky and cigar lounge which we did not try on this occasion but which we’re sure is a popular pastime amongst guests.
For a great pick-me-up (and for children in particular) there’s the La Joie Cafe which serves up mouth-watering ice cream on the daily. As part of your JOALI stay, children can expect to receive a free ice cream voucher daily, where they can claim their treat at La Joie. The cafe is a cute little artisanal corner to discover some beautiful chocolate work and to satiate those sweet cravings.
Breakfast is served daily from 7am to 11am at their restaurant Vandhoo which is also where they serve South East Asian, Chinese, Mediterranean and Levant cuisines. Breakfast is extensive at JOALI, particularly for those into healthy-eating, one won’t be disappointed by the sheer variety of feel-good and nutritious options such as nuts, cereals, seeds, muesli, yogurts, fruits and smoothies. With a separate station for breads, pastries and a customized juice bar as well as a separate air-conditioned station for cold cuts and fresh fruits, it is a buffet spread you will be pleased with. A separate menu is offered for those in need of their eggs done numerous ways, pancakes and waffles and more smoothie and yoghurt/muesli options. What could be better to start your day off? Oh and the coffee was an absolute hit.
For a beach side snacking, there’s the Mura Bar where one can relax and lay about the cabanas or infinity pods. Refreshing salads, smoothies, burgers and other light eats can be expected on the menu. Our favorite was the crafted menu for kids – with their own portions and healthy options we didn’t have to worry about our little one being fed nutrituous and delicious plates. Note that they even offer a menu for babies with different options of puree’s and soft foods.
Perhaps the star of the culinary show is JOALI’s Japanese Nikkei fine-dining restaurant, Saoke. Walking into Saoke is like walking into a fantastical Sake museum as you’re instantly in awe of the extensive collection of Sake’s uniformly displayed on two glass cabinet rows that lead up to the restaurant which sits above the water. The design speaks for itself with hand chosen stones and tabletops from Thailand. We were seated on the deck overlooking the ocean which was magical in itself and can think of no better place to celebrate an occasion or to simply enjoy a menu focused on season and innovation.
This Kyoto/Peruvian influenced culinary destination is designed and commissioned by prolific architect Noriyoshi Muramatsu (known for designing restaurants such as Zuma and Roka) and serves up a very select variety of sake’s, traditional sushi’s (as well as more modern variations) sashimi, ceviche, tempura, teppanyaki and charcoal robatas. In partnership with two-Michelin starred Chef Takagi Kazuo, the menu gives you an exploration into Japanese cuisine at its finest and freshest. We highly recommend giving the Chef’s signature dishes a go and to try out the robata selections, which the restaurant is popular for. What’s more is that each dish can be paired with a recommended Sake by the restaurant’s head sommelier. Saoke also offers a separate children’s menu with portions that are ideal for them and gives them the chance to enjoy a California roll for example.
Apparently the restaurant is so popular amongst guests that getting a reservation last-minute might be near impossible. Of course speak to your Jadugar who might be able to whip up some last minute magic, as was the case for us. Overall as part of the JOALI experience, SAOKE is definitely one you wouldn’t want to miss.
As we traveled with our toddler we were more than pleased to discover JOALI’s kids club, Muramas, a bicycle ride away from our villa. Complete with an outdoor playground and pool, an air-conditioned indoor ball pit and soft play area as well as a creative area where they host arts and crafts activities daily, it was the ideal and reliable place to leave our toddler for a couple of hours. Staff were exceptionally enthusiastic and caring of the children present at the kids club and made for an easy and enjoyable time at the resort for both parents and children. Older kids may want to explore the library which sits above the gym and apparently has an entertainment area with play station and the like.
To conclude our feelings about JOALI it would have to be an absolute longing to return. This is a special place made even more special by its sheer beauty, intricacy and the uncompromising hospitality and thoughtfulness towards its guests that come here from all over the world. It is a resort of self-discovery and an appreciation for art and design in all its forms. It is time spent well and a paradise one can only dream of returning to for the lasting memory it leaves in one’s heart, mind and the senses.