You Can Scuba Dive to an Underwater Coral Sculpture Garden at This Art Immersive Resort in the Maldives
Imagine yourself gliding and weaving through an underwater playground filled with extraordinary sculptures submerged in tropical waters. Stop imagining—that dream is now a reality.
Opened at the end of November, the Maldives welcomed Joali, the very first art-immersive luxury hotel in the country, to its sun-kissed utopia of islands. On land, the area is laced with an ever-growing collection of bespoke creations that wind their way around a total of 73 sprawling overwater and beach villas on Muravandhoo Island in the Raa Atoll. Joali exudes a “Joie de Vivre” philosophy and sustainable glamour that is grounded in a reverent art foundation.
Created by Esin Güral Argat — Vice President of the family-owned Gürallar Group, a Turkish company with over 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry — Joali was an opportunity to bring something new to the Maldives: a soulful and unconventional approach to luxury that emphasizes the intimacy of nature and art to “find the in-the-moment joys of living." These experiences seek to captivate guests’ senses and enable them to find their inner joy.
Joyful expressions of Maldivian majesty are revealed in the form of 24-hour service where personal butlers, affectionately called Jadugars, which translates to “magicians," greet you the moment you arrive at the grandiose arrival jetty. The jetty, conceived by internationally-renowned design studio Autoban, bobs above the glimmering Indian Ocean and is built in homage to the classic Maldivian roofs found in the country, replete with abstract ocean-wave flourishes. Like the jetty, Autoban imbued each of the spacious, airy villas with sustainably and ethically sourced Norwegian forest-colored marble, hand-carved wooden panels, and woven bamboo screens. Villas are further bolstered with oceanfront views, artisan amenities (made with 100% natural ingredients), and personal infinity pools.
Within Joali’s 24 acres of lush palatial paradise, the hotelier opts for a multi-layered approach to enveloping guests in nature, design, form, and function with a desire to honor the surrounding integrity of the environment above all. Global warming and coral bleaching is at the forefront of these concerns and for Argat, “Joali helps us express and share our feelings about nature to draw awareness to important issues that affect us all.”
Art is one way the property expresses these pertinent sentiments. Studio Hoick, based in South Africa, created an art map for guests to explore the grounds with and discover the hotel’s permanent and ever-growing collection, currently sitting at 60 pieces. Curated by Ala Onur and Zeynep Ercan, Concept Executors at Istanbul-based No Lab, they strived to offer a mixture of 14 upcoming and renowned artists from around the world. Of the many outstanding pieces, one is artist Misha Kahn’s Coral Sculpture Garden, where guests can scuba dive approximately 40 feet to see six ornate pieces nestled between tropical fish and coral reef. “My hope is that when you swim amongst these sculptures and through the environment, you’ll be reminded of our delicate and precious oceans and that it will inspire you to help them,” Kahn explains.
Art and nature further permeate during epicurean experiences at Joali. Of the many bespoke dining options (there are over 10), the Manta Ray Tree House, crafted by artist Porky Hefer, is not to be missed. Intimately spaced for 8-10 people, guests dine in a gigantic manta ray shaped art installation that hovers 16 feet off the ground with views of golden sand and azure waters. As Hefer is a vernacular architect and artist, it was important for him to use only local palm trees from the island and construction reflecting Maldivian craftsmanship and traditions. While watching the sunset, guests feast on an omakase menu conceived by Culinary Director Ashley Goddard. Concepts are guest driven, according to Goddard, and “no request will be unthinkable." Here, dishes are only limited by one's gastronomic imagination and Goddard takes "each one as a personal challenge."
Looking forward, Joali will continue to epitomize its philosophy of offering unconventional luxury and captivating the senses by further incorporating more experiential art components including music therapy with sound composer Gorkem Sen and the extraction of smell molecules to heighten appreciation and awareness of surroundings and sensory dining with smell researcher Sissel Tolaas.
Until then, there's still plenty of refined luxury to go around in the world’s lowest-lying nation, but Joali might just be in a league of its own.