Utopia, I was convinced. At least that is what it felt like as I leisurely biked to a sunrise breakfast from my overwater bungalow, across a winding teak pathway with bright blue ocean on either side. It seemed too good to be true, but at Joali’s Maldives properties, pinch-me moments are par for the course.
The new Joali brand includes Joali Maldives, opened in 2018 as the country’s first “art-immersive” hotel, and its sister resort, Joali Being, a wellness-focused option opened in November 2021. Created by Turkish entrepreneur Esin Güral Argat, the boutique properties were founded in response to the kinds of superlative accommodations that dominate the Maldives.
While other resorts in the island nation might contend for offering the largest private villa or the most expensive bottle of Champagne, Joali emphasizes its “the joy of living” philosophy. But not forgotten are modern-day creature comforts, exceptional accommodations and six-star service.
“The Maldives is a destination everyone dreams to visit once in a lifetime,” Argat tells Robb Report. “When I first arrived in the Maldives, it was love at first sight. The sea was bluer, the beaches were whiter than I imagined, nature was complete in its harmony and the people and genuine hospitality were what captured my heart.”
When conceptualizing the brand, privacy and preserving the natural environment were important to Argat, which is why she chose to develop the first property on Muravandhoo Island in the remote northern Raa Atoll, a 45-minute seaplane from capital Malé. The area is so remote, in fact, that there are no other inhabited islands in sight.
Despite its 73 accommodations, a mix of sprawling overwater bungalows and serene one-to-four-bedroom beach villas, it’s hard not to feel like Joali Maldives is a more intimate resort. This is, in part, due to Argat’s preservation of the island’s natural flora, which she built around instead of tearing it down and starting from scratch (as I learned most resorts in the Maldives do). This decision saved more than 1,000 palm trees; walking or biking through the winding sandy pathways feels like you’re traversing through a jungle.
To bring the art focus to life, Argat enlisted Istanbul-based curator No LaB to install an impressive collection of experiential, nature-inspired works throughout the property; these include pieces made both on-site and abroad with the Maldives tropical locale in mind. Each piece seamlessly weaves into the landscape, like the suspended Manta Ray Treehouse hideaway (you can book a private romantic dinner here) and Heron Chair from Porky Hefer, who recently partnered with the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation at Art Basel. Sprinkled throughout common areas and villas are sculptural furnishings and wall art, many made with recycled materials. There’s also an artist-in-residence who teaches pottery and painting classes.
Turkish architecture firm Atölye4n and design studio Autoban worked together to create villas and structures that integrate into the landscape—but with a twist. The rounded, biophilic structures have flowing, soft edges and exteriors crafted with natural materials, like local wood and bamboo, and Maldivian-style thatched roofing. But the exteriors give little away about just how spacious each villa is inside.
High ceilings make even the one-bedroom villas feel like private homes, a sense that is bolstered by the pops of color inspired by the sky at sunset, as well as textures like carved-wood headboards, terrazzo flooring, emerald-green marble, teak panels and plush rugs. To ensure you’re never too far from nature, there’s an ample outdoor lounge area, plunge pool, overwater hammock and steps leading into the ocean that provide access to the shallow waters for your morning snorkel.
Also notable is the service, which is warm and discreet rather than obsequious. Guests at Joali Maldives and Joali Being are assigned a personal butler called a Jadugar, which means “magician” in Maldivian, who can arrange everything from drawing you a bath in your deep soaking tub each night to delivering snorkel gear to your villa.
I was most impressed when my travel clothes were washed, folded and tied with a silk bow by the time I got back from dinner the first night, or when my Jadugar seemed to appear the moment any of my activities ended with a cold glass bottle of Joali-branded water (the water is desalinated and bottled on site) and a golf cart ride back to my villa.
For those who love diverse experiences, it’s possible that a private island stay might sound monotonous, but you can choose your own adventure here, from scuba diving and snorkeling excursions and myriad non-motorized and motorized water sports at the Marine Center to spa and fitness activities and a comprehensive Muramas Kids Club.
Guests can also meet with the in-house marine biologist who tirelessly works to protect the coral around the island, particularly after the 2016 coral bleaching incident (a natural occurrence that happens when coral experiences elevated ocean temperatures) that resulted in mass coral mortalities. As a response, the team founded the Reef Restoration Project and installed several coral nurseries at both properties in hopes of regenerating it.
I saw these nurseries up close and personal during my private snorkeling session, which was made even more special by a friendly visit from a resident sea turtle just off the lagoon. Joali also plays host to a family of nurse sharks that laze near the warm, shallow shores (only by night) along the edge of the overwater Japanese restaurant, Saoke.
Speaking of food, the resort has four restaurants offering different types of cuisine to keep it exciting. Don’t miss the breakfast buffet at Mura, which offers Ayurvedic health tonics to boost your energy or gut or liver health.
Because of the many dining and activity options, the resort feels just as perfect for a private, romantic honeymoon as it does for a family getaway with kids of all ages,. In fact, one patron has returned nine times since Joali’s doors first opened in 2018—a testament to how addicting the experience can be.
So when Joali Being opened in November 2021, Joali loyalists were keen to experience Argat’s next heavenly creation. The second outpost—which features 68 private overwater and beach villas and two nutritious restaurants—is located on a separate private island, Bodufushi, just a 15-minute boat ride from Joali Maldives. When I arrived at the shores of Joali Being, I was met on the arrival jetty by an otherworldly, larger-than-life sculpture I’d come to learn was called The Gate of Zero, which was inspired by the skirt of a whirling dervish and represents letting go of the ego to cleanse the soul.
Billed as the first-ever private island wellness resort in the world, Joali Being only welcomes guests aged 14 and above to maintain a more calming atmosphere. The place is led by an in-house team of naturopaths, therapists, movement specialists and nutritionists from around the world, who together offer decades of experience in modalities from Traditional Chinese Medicine to Ayurveda. The overall philosophy here is “the joy of weightlessness,” which only truly resonates after a few days of what I can describe as freedom: freedom from the outside world (WiFi is only available in your private villa), expectations and stress.
Upon arrival, each guest is assigned a personal wellbeing consultant to craft a personalized, results-driven program as part of Joali Being’s four pillars: mind, energy, microbiome and skin.
The four pillars are like the entry doors to the individual wellbeing journey,” says wellbeing manager Susanne Fische at a dinner, where we’re sipping on a warm, pre-meal elixir of beetroot, fennel and ginger to support the microbiome. “You might come with a goal in mind, but our consultants can read you like a book. Once the guests arrive, they have an emotional journey as well.”
Facilities include studios for yoga and Pilates, tennis court, soccer pitch, movement center, Technogym-outfitted fitness center, overwater meditation deck and consultation rooms with a Fit3D body scanner and QEST bioenergetic testing system. But the transformation really begins at Areka, the site of wellbeing experiences, scientific and diagnostic services and therapeutic and alternative treatments. There are several tucked-away rooms here offering a seemingly endless array of therapies, from the signature Four Pillars Massage to reiki healing, the latest facial technology and Water Rebirthing sessions.
There are also areas for hydrotherapy and sound therapy; a sensory deprivation room; saunas, salt rooms and Russian-style steams; and an outdoor Discovery Sound Path, My personal highlight, though, was Aktar, the on-site herbology center led by master herbologist Tamara Warner.
This feels like the beating heart of Joali Being: Guests can come here at any time of the day to sip on a personalized herbal tea concoction or take an herbology class to learn more about plant-based healing. All of the oils used within the treatments are also made in Aktar.
Unlike other wellness retreats, whether you choose to follow an immersion is up to you, and most consultants allow flexibility to try other treatments during the day if you choose. “We meet guests where they are,” Argat says.
At the end of the day, you still get all the benefits of being in a sublime destination. As at the original Joali, activities like snorkeling, scuba diving and deep sea fishing are also offered at Joali Being. However, Joali Being is less of a comprehensive resort experience as its sister property. Meals are portioned modestly and made using clean ingredients, and you won’t find anything overly indulgent.
There are a few different menus, each with calorie and nutrition information underneath the primarily plant-based and pescatarian dishes, and there is an extensive selection of mocktails and natural, organic and biodynamic wine. The vibe is also slow-paced, mindful and quiet, zeroing in on relaxation and individual goals. In lieu of cocktail classes, like those at Joali Maldives, or boozy dinners, there is a tea sommelier offering tea tasting classes, for example.
I was pleased to learn that Argat had future plans for more Joali properties, though future destinations and concepts are yet to be solidified. The last night of my trip, a hazy sunset of orange, light pink and pale purple spilled across the sky as I rode my bike back to my villa. I wasn’t ready to leave the paradisiacal island, but I knew I was returning home with a renewed, more mindful, sense of self.