After a smooth 45-minute speedboat ride from Velana International Airport, we are deposited on Ozen's dome-topped jetty, where a welcome party awaits. Star-shaped necklaces crafted from palm leaves are strung around our necks as we are escorted to the "lobby", an open-air lounge centred around a rectangular pool. We are offered drinks and fresh strawberries, which we indulgently dip into bowls of fresh cream. Uba, our gently spoken butler, shows us to our Earth villa and we kick off our shoes and take in the sea views as we sort out paperwork. A therapist from the resort's spa turns up to give us a quick foot massage, rounding off one of the most thorough welcome experiences I've ever had.
Ozen is located on the island of Maadhoo, in the South Male Atoll, and operated by Atmosphere, a home-grown Maldivian hotel brand. Maadhoo consists of two sandy strips of land connected by a wooden bridge, from where you can spot baby black-finned sharks and stingrays swimming below. Jaunty turquoise bicycles are provided to help you navigate the sandy paths, or you can get from A to B by buggy.
The Earth and overwater Wind villas offer the levels of privacy expected of a destination favoured by honeymooners, but there is an unexpectedly sociable vibe at the resort's Joie de Vivre bar, where guests can relax in an infinity pool overlooking the ocean, listen to music courtesy of a live DJ or smoke some shisha. On the other end of the bridge, and spectrum, is the Elena spa, which consists of eight overwater treatment rooms. I try the Vietnamese cupping massage, which, combined with an expansive sea view, proves suitably relaxing. There is also a Padi-certified dive school onsite and you can enjoy snorkelling, fishing and dolphin- watching trips.
The Maldives may be synonymous with overwater villas, but I love that our Earth villa lies half hidden within the resort’s tropical foliage and leads directly on to a sandy stretch of beach. A private lap pool proves the perfect spot for some semi-submersed reading, as does a free-standing outdoor bath tub – we return one evening to find that this has been filled with piping hot water, bubbles and rose petals.
We arrive for lunch at The Palm restaurant within 20 minutes of stepping foot on the island and staff already know our names. That sets the tone – throughout our stay, everybody we deal with is both efficient and personable.
The Palms is an all-day dining restaurant that serves a broad selection of dishes, from mixed seafood risotto and orecchiette, to tenderloin steak and crispy fried soft-shell crab. Its breakfast offering is expansive and, on some days, even includes shakshouka. All dishes containing pork products are clearly marked. Traditions, a stilted restaurant extending out into the sea, is divided into two distinct eateries – IndoCeylon, which specialises in south-east Asian dishes rooted in Sri Lankan, Indian and Maldivian cuisine, and Peking, which offers Chinese food. The jewel in the Ozen crown is M6M, an underwater restaurant that offers five-course degustation menus featuring Alaskan crab, butter-poached lobster and Chilean sea bass. The space, six metres below the surface of the sea, feels a little claustrophobic at first, but I am soon distracted by the brightly coloured fish darting past, and by the menacing-looking, metre-long black eel that swims right up the glass just as I am starting my meal.
Stand-up paddle boarding in the lagoon as stingrays glided below; the sound of crabs scurrying across the wooden deck outside our villa; cycling to the resort's tiny ice cream hut for a mid-afternoon treat; and the fact that the resort has eliminated all single-use plastics.
That shisha cost more than $40 a pop. Even by Maldivian standards, this seems a little excessive.
Ozen offers the best kind of luxury – laid-back, relaxed and devoid of any stuffiness. The resort’s all-inclusive concept means that once you arrive, you don’t need to worry about keeping track of costs. The minibar will be stocked with beverages of your choice, you can eat as much, or as little, as you like, take part in daily snorkelling trips and yoga classes, or go kayaking, kite surfing and paddle boarding. Or you can do nothing at all.
The all-inclusive Indulgence package at Ozen by Atmosphere (ozen-maadhoo.com) costs from Dh7,082 per night.