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A peek inside the Maldives’ first immersive art hotel

Azure-blue waters, glorious sunsets and uncompromising opulence – the Maldives needs no introduction. But its newest private-island hideaway is something out of the ordinary.

The Maldives evokes a certain image in the collective imagination: one of overwater bungalows, stunning beaches and some of the most covetable five-star resorts the world over. Yet somehow, amid such an extraordinary benchmark for ‘normal’, Joali Maldives – which opened in October 2018 – manages to stand out.

A short 45-minute hop on a seaplane from Malé, the resort lays claim to its own 10-hectare island in the Raa Atoll and has been hailed as the nation’s first ‘immersive art hotel’. The title is thanks to interactive feats such as a giant manta ray, inside which guests can enjoy drinks and dinner, and one installation that actively regenerates the reef as it raises awareness of coral bleaching.

Kate Powell speaks with Joali’s Area Director of Sales and Marketing, Alan Ball, for a peek into the inner workings of this exceptional resort, and a look at why distinguished travellers should be adding it to their travel wishlist in 2019.

Five-star Joali only recently opened to much acclaim. Tell us a bit about what guests can expect at the new private-island stunner.

Yes, we opened at the end of 2018 and it has been incredibly exciting to welcome guests onto the island. A lot of the buzz focused on the resort has emphasised the design and quality of the villas, the materials used and the art-immersive concept.

All of that is important and we’re thrilled with the positive reaction, however, we feel that a personalised guest experience is the most critical aspect and what guests remember most. Our General Manager, Steven Phillips, has been in the Maldives for a decade and he has assembled an incredible team on the island.

We want guests to feel welcome and relaxed the moment they’re met off their international flight and taken to our lounge at the seaplane terminal. We’ve only been open a few months and we’ve already had six couples come and stay for a second time. I always feel that guests coming again and again is the best endorsement a hotel or resort can receive.

Joali has been touted as the nation’s first “immersive art hotel”. What does this mean, and why will it appeal to luxury travellers?

Rather than guests simply looking at and admiring our art pieces, we want them to experience and immerse themselves in it. It’s art that can be climbed into or sat on. It’s fun. One very special feature is the giant manta ray created by Porky Hefer, which is set up high in the tree line and guests can have dinner or drinks within it.

The island is surrounded by interactive and experiential pieces that incorporate the surrounding nature and celebrate young creatives, including Misha Kahn, Nacho Carbonell, Porky Hefer, London-based Studio Glithero, Zemer Peled, Chris Wolston, Doug Johnston and Ardmore. Our motivation behind it wasn’t necessarily to attract more guests, but to create joy for those that do come and stay with us.

The Manta Tree House by Porky Hefer
The Manta Tree House by Porky Hefer

Joali is home to an underwater coral garden, reportedly intended to raise awareness about bleaching issues in the ocean. Can you tell us a bit about this initiative?

The piece you’re referring to was created by Misha Kahn, who is based in New York. Misha created an underwater sculpture garden using a combination of vibrantly coloured and pale mosaic tiles to reflect the coral bleaching occurring in the Indian Ocean and elsewhere around the world. Visitors to the island can snorkel or dive to interact with this piece, and coral itself will gradually attach as part of the regeneration of the reef. So in addition to being visually striking and interactive, this underwater sculpture highlights the plight of our oceans and will contribute in a positive way as it evolves and corals attach themselves to it over time.

What other pieces of art may we not have heard about yet, and do they also demonstrate this environmentally conscious ethos?

Our aim was always to preserve the nature of the island, so thousands of mature trees remained untouched throughout construction. We had this idea of ‘Art and Nature’ where each piece is made using raw, local materials and does not disturb the existing aesthetic of the island. Some of the artists we worked with created their work on the island, working closely with our architects, engineers and local Maldivians from nearby islands.

Vernacular architect Porky Hefer, who recently partnered with the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation at Art Basel, displays his signature passion for local wildlife and endangered species with his hanging ‘Heron’ chairs, which overlook the beach. The grey heron is the national bird of the Maldives and is Joali’s signature spirit animal.

Hefer’s astonishing Manta Ray hideaway, woven in situ from natural materials, is suspended in the trees for experiential dinners in the treetops. His imaginative, nature-inspired works are designed for functionality as well as style and have a message of conservation, too.

What other features of the resort do you believe distinguish Joali from other luxury Maldives destinations?

Beyond everything else, the thing we consider most important is a solid luxury experience provided without any pretentious rules or dress codes. Our commitment is to excellent service, guest comfort, our incredible food and delivering luxury in a sincere way.

You can book your Joali Maldives experience through Addicted to Maldives, a personal luxury travel concierge dedicated exclusively to Maldives.

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