The Nautilus, with just 26 rooms, is among the Maldives’ smallest luxury resorts. Once upon a time, the recipe for a successful hotel was simple: pack in as many rooms as possible and, if you really want to stand out from the crowd, include a stable and donkey. Aman then came along and started challenging the conventional wisdom that the more concrete you pour, the happier the guests. It took a while for hoteliers to realise the guest kind of mattered. Then Cheval Blanc and Velaa opened in 2013 – each with 46 and 47 rooms, respectively – and offered us two of the best resorts in the world—boom, checkmate, conventional wisdom, in your face. The trend towards smaller, more exclusive resorts in the Maldives has recently gained momentum with the launch of Kudadoo, which has only 14 rooms, and now The Nautilus. Lucky me, for I have never been truly wowed in a huge resort. Yet to limit the number of rooms means to limit the facilities, so to overcome this, the properties need something truly exceptional to stand out.
With such an intimately small island, their sales pitch is highly personalised service, excellent food, privacy and relaxation. I can save you the hassle and confirm they do all this in abundance.
The Nautilus is located in the Baa Atoll, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a mere 30-minute sea-plane flight from Male. They currently share their lounge with Milaidhoo, their sister property. It was comfortable enough that it wasn’t going to embarrass anyone. Still, even here, their very attentive service shined and was a sign of what was to come when someone came to apologise profusely that they didn’t have sparkling water as they were building a new lounge next door. Still, they may lack in the lounge department, but they already have their private plane with six seats and a three-seater sofa. We had to share it with Milaidhoo guests, but they took a bus whilst we took a car on the one-minute trip—money well spent. We then got on our boat to the island while they had to wait for another boat. Losers. When we arrived at Nautilus, it seemed half the staff lined up to greet us, offer a fresh drink, and give us a quick tour of the island.
Emphasis on quick there, as it is so tiny, there isn’t much to look at. The Nautilus, though, seems to sit well with that number. It isn’t microscopic like Kudadoo, and it certainly isn’t a monster like Reethi Rah, requiring you to take your camping gear every time you leave the villa in case you get lost. It allows them to focus heavily on personalised service, although the island isn’t half bad either. Encircled in beautiful, soft, white sand in an area famed for exceptional snorkelling and diving opportunities, The Nautilus offers a combination of overwater and beach villas whilst boasting an overwater spa and fine-dining restaurant.
The design is very simple and understated, certainly not lavish and particularly memorable. I like it, it just feels a bit basic, especially compared to the competition. If you care about everything made from the finest materials or want to be seen, this is not the place for you. It’s the place not to be seen, as it’s all about privacy.
However, in terms of how you feel, it hits the right notes. I arrived at Nautilus, took my shoes off and left them festering by my suitcase as my feet were treated to the pleasures associated with what I call barefoot luxury. Barefoot luxury shouldn’t be some squalid tent made of bamboo leaves on an island; it should be the ability to completely relax whilst not having to get your skin ripped off your feet by the poorly planned wooden piers or glass left on the beach. Check and check.
The room setup was perfect, complete with a plethora of snacks that I had asked for and the surprise of many more I had not. That personalised service was evident in the details, like the non-alcoholic champagne on ice for me and Lucie’s champagne waiting in the fridge. They also at least try to add value, which is rare in the Maldives. Daily, we benefitted from three complimentary non-alcoholic minibar items, including my preferred Alain Millat juices and four pieces of free laundry. They seemed keen on you using it, as they even had an outdoor fridge by the swing – probably deliberate, so you spilt it on five pieces of laundry, and they’re in the black again.
The basic room categories (“Houses”) will not wow, so I suggest you consider a Residence as the base room category and work your way up. At least if you find yourself in an entry-level home, you have doors separating the living room and bedroom and actually have a living room, so be grateful, as that’s far beyond the competition. All rooms have a pool too, so now I think of it, maybe they’re not that bad. The lighting system is straightforward and effective, and the blackouts are oh-so-nearly close to achieving what their name suggests. Most importantly, they offer considerable privacy, but even more importantly, they smell wonderful, using a fragrance that left me sniffing their towels like an addict.
However, even more important than the last two most important points, they have heated pools. I always ask for the pool to be the highest temperature because most properties consider that 30C. Here, they had it set to 40C, and I couldn’t tell if they or I were the lunatic.
The service was truly exceptional, largely due to each room having a dedicated butler, a rarity I’ve only previously seen at North Island or Iniala. To put it in perspective, our butler at Soneva Jani managed seven other rooms simultaneously. Impressively, the staff all knew who we were, our preferences, and allergies. Meals were custom-tailored for us without the need for requests, and the service was exceptionally warm and friendly. I can give no better compliment than saying it greatly surprised me how good it was. I could only note one flaw, which they somehow turned into a positive: when Lucie received milk for her morning coffee, it seemed spoiled. We could not be bothered to complain, but housekeeping noticed the issue during their routine room cleaning and proactively approached us with an apology.
Belonging to Relais & Châteaux, you might correctly suspect means it’s got a high focus on food. The highlight is Zeytoun, positioned over the water, overlooking the lagoon with sunset views, it offers Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. Its upper deck lounge boasts the largest collection of gin and whisky in the Maldives, whilst elsewhere, they have a Wine Cellar with over 200 labels of fine wines. Ocaso specialises in a fusion of Mexican, Japanese, and Peruvian cuisines, from its beachside grill, as well as offering teppanyaki. Thyme is their all-day, international offering, besides the pool and beachfront. Right beside it is Naiboli, their poolside bar.
Even with these options, what stood out was the customisation. They created a bespoke Italian menu for us without even being asked. What’s more, their philosophy is that there are no opening times, so if you want a Japanese meal at 2 am, it’s yours. I’m sure all their therapists are delighted with this work-life balance. I also love feeling some sense of value, even if it does mean they’ve just snuck it into the room rate, so seeing that the water is always free, and complimentary cocktails are offered every night during sunset, I tip my hat.
Everything we ate here was of an extremely high standard, which was only let down by the small buffet area for breakfast that offered a poor choice.
The Nautilus features a fully overwater spa comprising three treatment rooms, each equipped with a steam room. Additionally, there is a separate yoga studio, various relaxation areas, and a room for manicures/pedicures. Each treatment room contains a glass floor, allowing you to gaze into the water below during your treatment. They offered my best treatment throughout the trip: a hot stone massage that lasted about 80 minutes vs the booked 60. There’s also a spacious gym with a few strength equipment, but mostly cardio, a multi-purpose court designed for futsal, badminton, tennis or volleyball, and a dedicated padel tennis court. You would hope it’s a given, but a shoutout that there is a pool.
The list of amenities can rival those of much larger properties, yet it offers the added advantage of privacy, with a low likelihood of encountering many other guests. However, a slight drawback is that most amenities, while adequate, lack a standout quality. Elsewhere, you have a boutique, a kids club, and a very basic library. They do have an immense range of private yachts, though.
- I noticed a real lack of mosquitos
- Heated pool
- Lack of facilities
- Excellent service
The Nautilus offers one of the best experiences in the Maldives, with just 26 rooms, excellent service, brilliant food and a stunning island. Sure, the rooms might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but even the harshest critics won’t call them boring. And if you go with the higher room categories, even my grumbles disappear. If you’ve been to Cheval Blanc or Velaa, don’t expect to suffer some screaming fit of excitement as you walk around, but do expect to be charmed. The Nautilus will surprise you at the level they will go to to bespoke the experience for you and make you feel like you’re the most important person in the world.
So if you’re bored and looking to try something new, can’t get into your usual favourite place, or just like properties named after shells, The Nautilus is worth a look, so long as you understand the limitations. It’s currently my third favourite property in the Maldives.
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