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Lightening Up in the Maldives

Tucked away on a secluded island, the country's first wellness retreat blends ancient rituals with modern science.


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I TEND TO avoid splashy entrances. But as my seaplane pulls up to Joali Being, I embrace my moment. I step onto the jetty, aka the Gate of Zero, to a lineup of smiling hosts (how the property refers to all staff). “Marhaba!” they say (a greeting in Dhivehi, the Maldivian language), their right hands on their hearts. I am handed a refreshingly cold, scented towel and a fruity beverage before being whisked away in a golf cart by my personal jadugar, or butler (though the direct translation is “magician”).

We zoom down a sandy trail enveloped by lush coconut palm trees. There are no other guests in sight. Hot pink blooms pop out from the wild greenery that occasionally opens to grand facilities that appear to have sprouted from the land. A soundtrack floats through the air: trickling water, ocean waves, songbirds, and wind chimes. I’m utterly charmed and ponder how the Maldives is only now tapping into the wellness industry.

Of the country’s nearly 1,200 idyllic islands, just 200 are inhabited, with 80% of those owned by resorts that not-so-discreetly one-up each other. Joali Being, the recently opened sister to the art-immersive resort Joali Maldives, carves out a singular niche with biophilic design and a personalized, innovative approach to well-being that blends ancient rituals with modern science. These features intend to instill a sense of weightlessness — an alluring promise to this neurotic New Yorker, who has trouble letting go of carbs and perfectionism in equal measure. Conceived in consultation with Oxford University professor Gerry Bodeker, an expert in integrative medicine, its eclectic programs are curated around mind, microbiome, energy, and skin. Icons of these four pillars are printed across treatment and food menus, inviting guests to harmonize them as they wish.



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At my villa, an outdoor bathtub and shower in my private courtyard give way to airy interiors with palatial ceilings and windows all over. There’s a box of brainteasers to wean me off technology, a xylophone for sound therapy, and a mint-colored cruiser bike with a mini wooden vanity plate bearing my name. Outside: a private infinity pool and beach, where I later meditate alongside flying foxes and a friendly baby shark.

A philosophy of abundance (my kind of wellness) underscores the entire experience, including the culinary program, which transforms healthy eating into a playful fine-dining affair. Four earth-to-table dining venues champion local ingredients in seasonal international menus that display nutritional, allergy, and pillar information. I value this transparency, delighting in the fact that I don’t need to limit myself to salad and can relish decadent desserts under 300 calories (thank you, coconuts). I sample juicy, neon dragon fruit and matcha granola at breakfast; the grilled daily catch at lunch; and rich lobster, caviar, and chocolate at dinner — all with scrumptious mocktails, elixirs and juices, granitas, and rare teas.

My treatments kick off with an Integrative Life Assessment at Areka, the cathedral-like well-being center. I meet with an empathic naturopath, who recommends a bespoke range of holistic wellness suggestions — from all-natural flower remedies to anti-inflammatory dietary tips, based on a bioresonance machine’s remarkably spot-on readings. Next stop: the glowing glass herbology center Aktar, where herbologists develop massage oils, and which smells like fresh grass, lavender, and citrus. A Four Pillars Signature Massage and Mind Therapy follow.


The latter, it turns out, is not a “Star Trek” technique but a spinal cord and scalp massage with warm frankincense, myrrh, lavender oils, and hot stones, that sends me to heaven. Cryotherapy at Core pulls me back to earth with a surge of energy and gifts me with luminous skin.

True weightlessness comes during Watsu in the hydrotherapy hall, Kaashi, where I’m cradled and swished around an intimate, warm pool beneath a starry dome. Eyes shut, I tune into my heartbeat and breath before realizing: I’m back in my mother’s womb. It’s the lesson I need in letting go, with a bonus deep stretch. A series of workshops — mixing a custom scent, cooking Sri Lankan curry with the island’s sous chef, and tasting teas with the resident tea master — layer upon these therapies to connect me with my higher self: the liberated, inspired version of me.

While my jadugar drives me back to the Gate of Zero, the jetty’s name finally resonates: Zero, the weight I feel on my shoulders. Zero, a fresh start. The hosts wave goodbye as my seaplane takes off and I close my eyes, trying to lock in this exhilarating gratitude, joy, and optimism, so I can channel it anytime. Thankfully, I can also slip on the kimono I purchased from the boutique, a sort of Joali Being cosplay, until I return.


Fine Hotels + Resorts®

Joali Maldives is a Fine Hotels + Resorts property. When you book with American Express Travel, you’ll receive an exclusive suite of benefits including daily breakfast for two, a $100 experience credit that varies by property, guaranteed 4pm check-out, and more. Plus, book on AmexTravel.com and you can earn 5X Membership Rewards® points, or use Pay with Points, on prepaid stays. Terms apply. Learn more here.

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Our Contributors

Jackie Risser Writer

Jackie Risser is a writer at Departures. Based in Brooklyn, she has written all kinds of words for lifestyle and fashion brands, including Zola, Rent the Runway, and Self magazine. She can also do the worm.

Pankaj Anand Photographer

Pankaj Anand has worked for over a decade as a lifestyle and travel photographer, photographing on multiple continents for international features in the fields of hospitality, food, architecture, and fashion for numerous clients and global publications.


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