I was a guest of Joali Maldives on a full board basis during the media launch weekend. All opinions, as always, are honest and my own.
Joali Maldives is the first resort of a new brand of hotels and resorts promising ultra-luxury experiences in a country that is filled with superlative accommodation options.
I was invited to stay at the resort during the media opening weekend as the last touches were being finalised and this is my review of Joali Maldives after my stay.
A bit more about Joali Maldives
Joali Maldives is the first resort under the luxury hospitality brand of the same name anchored in the Joy of Living. A second resort, exclusively focused on wellness, will be opening in 2020 in the Maldives and expansion plans are in the making.
Joali is the brainchild of owner and serial entrepreneur Esin Güral Argat, from Turkish-based Gürallar Group, and complements the conglomerate’s mid-range Ali Bey Hotels & Resorts with a higher-end, international brand.
The Gürallar Group has numerous other ventures in Turkey but this is their first entry into the luxury segment. There is no better place than the Maldives for a brand which promises such a exclusive level of luxury to start off from.
But how do you launch a new brand of luxury hospitality from scratch in a competitive destination like the Maldives?
You enlist the most experienced and respected professionals in the country, you pick a stunning location and you design a brand around immersive art. This is what Joali set itself to accomplish.
Did it manage to wow an expert Maldivian and luxury traveler like me, on my 7th stay in the Maldives? Read on to find out.
Arrival and check in at Joali Maldives
Joali Maldives is located in Muravandhoo island, in the Maldivian Raa Atoll, just north of the UNESCO-listed Baa Atoll, in a part of the country with far fewer resorts.
Apart from Joali, the Raa Atoll only has a couple of other accommodation options none of which is a five star property. Because this is a far less developed part of the country, there are less seaplanes filling the sky.
As soon as you land from an international flight, you will be met by the Joali staff in their pastel pink linen shirts, who will escort you to the Maldivian check-in counter in the arrivals area.
Maldivian is a smaller seaplane operator in the Maldives in comparison with the busier Trans-Maldivian Airlines, but it is the official national airline and the only one flying internally across the various domestic airports.
After check-in, you will board a bus to the seaplane terminal from Maldivian where there are only a few lounges and a larger middle area where guests from all the mid-range resorts await their flights.
As soon as we entered Joali’s airport lounge I knew this was a different type of resort.
It is difficult to offer a brand of island luxury that has not been done before in a country where there are so many other luxury resorts. But Joali’s lounge offered a glimpse of what that might entail.
Joali’s airport lounge is spacious and has an entrance hall, a small playground room for children and a larger living room facing the seaplanes departing area with floor to ceiling glass.
The lounge is tastefully designed with the same tropical plantation look of the resort itself. Light wood blends in with lots of mirrors and darker carved wooden pieces. Salmon colored fabrics and touches of tropical plants are setting the scene for what’s to come when on the island.
The staff are incredibly attentive and ready to offer any drinks, including great coffee or kombucha. The views over the blue branded Maldivian seaplanes, the quietness and the light coming in through the glass windows serenaded me and I was ready to board to paradise.
As soon as the flight was ready for boarding, we were escorted to the plane. My very heavy handbag, with camera, laptop and drone, was carried by one of the staff and, as we were leaving the lounge, we were handed pretty recycled paper bags branded with Joali’s lady with a pair of premium noise-cancelling earplugs.
The staff carried my handbag all the way to the seaplane and placed it at the back with the larger luggage pieces, and we sat at the front of the seaplane.
The seaplane stopped at another resort before landing at the Joali Maldives building, a beautiful thatched structure that reminded me and everyone of a manta, despite it being designed to mimic the ocean waves.
The entire management team at Joali were there to greet us including our butler, with his buggy at the ready to take us to our overwater luxury villa.
Check-in was done in-villa with our butler and there was little we needed to sign. He also walked us through the villa giving us details of how things worked.
A welcome bottle of Ruinart champagne and a set of handmade chocolate coconut treats were waiting for us by the bar and a 15 minute complimentary massage was a great start to the journey, although we decided to schedule it for later together with a one hour hour treatment.
The villas at Joali Maldives
My expectations for Joali were very high.
This was going to be my 7th stay at a luxury resort in the Maldives and every one of the management teams at the previous resorts were very curious to find out more about Joali’s self-proclaimed ultra-luxury. I was no exception.
The lack of a benchmark to form an idea about the new brand contributed to building an even stronger expectation and, by the time the day of traveling to Joali had arrived, I was ever so skeptical that a new brand could come up with anything substantially better than all the other luxury resorts I had visited, most of which were considered the best luxury resorts in the Maldives.
But this skepticism vanished the moment I stepped into the villa and saw the stunning interiors created by Turkish firm Autoban.
Joali villas are the exact opposite of the rustic chic intelligent luxury of Soneva Fushi, Six Senses Laamu or Gili Lankanfushi. Joali is fabulous exuberance, artful sophistication, but only where it matters.
While there are a few different villa categories, all of them are largely the same inside, save for some minor layout variations. The main difference between categories is the location and view from the villa. So let’s take a look at what to expect inside Joali’s villas.
All the villas at Joali have thatched roofs and high ceilings and were built locally with the highest quality materials, from rare marble to expensive woods. The space is very large, both inside and outside, and can easily fit a couple with children.
Inside, the cool marble floors are warmed up with thick carpets and wall panels made with wood from Austria draping between each space. Meaningful books and art pieces give the room a warm feeling and are the best expression of Joali’s Immersive Art.
Outside, wooden decks and dark terrazzo are rustic but durable and contrast with the crystal clear waters of the Maldives. Water villas have infinity pools while beach villas have shaded, tropical, jungle pools.
The interior design uses neutral tones from beige to brown, complemented with touches of salmon pink fabrics and rose copper metal details, similar to Bawah’s interiors.
The living room has sofas and armchairs and a marble, wood and pink copper bar. This is not just any bar, the standalone piece comes with a blender, a vintage espresso machine, a cocktail mixer, thermos to make your drinks to go and a selection of premium spirits and liquors.
Wines are kept in the small vertical wine fridge and the minibar fridge is well stocked with other beers and non-alcoholic drinks. No matter what drink you want to prepare, there is a glass for it. Martini glass, champagne flute, wine glass, shot glasses or plain water glasses, are all available. A bottle opener, a sharp knife and a fruit basket completed the set.
The villas at Joali have two TV sets, one in the living room and one in the bedroom, and all the electronics in the room can be operated via the tablet located by the bedside. From there you can adjust the music volume, the curtains, the AC or the TV. Thankfully, the tablet is not just a gimmick but an actually useful and intuitive tool.
The bathrooms have free standing white resin bathtubs, green Norwegian marble, walk-in rain showers and his-and-hers sinks with personalised toiletries, on one side for him and on the other for her. There are also hair straighteners, a detail courtesy of the Area Managing Director.
The toiletries are beautiful and branded with Joali’s signature female figure wearing a red hibiscus flower and palm leaves headpiece. All bath products and soaps are vegan, organic and chemical-free.
There are outdoor rain showers as well, decked with emerald green tiles and lava colored terrazzo flooring.
All the villas, as well as the entire island, are decorated with unique art pieces part of the Joali collection. They are available for purchase and regularly replaced with new ones. The art pieces give the resort an exclusive look.
Books fill the shelves in both the living room and the bedroom with evocative and well thought out titles that make for great holiday reading and decorative pieces.
I noticed several aspects which make Joali a decidedly premium accommodation option with very well thought-out details.
I already mentioned the glassware, the blenders and the hair straightener, but there are also two types of bathrobes, a fluffy and soft shower bathrobe and a silk, kimono style robe by Ardmore with a beautiful tropical design and a heron, the resort’s official bird, available for purchase from the boutique. Matching foot-hugging, white, fluffy slippers that I actually wanted to wear complemented the set.
The coat hangers have small messages, often times in French, from the resort’s female icon figure, drawn also on the amenities and on the website as the resort’s host. There is a beach bag and also a small plastic pouch to keep wet items from damaging the rest or to keep items you don’t want getting wet.
I have several pet peeves when it comes to luxury hotels and was very pleased to see that the interior designer of Joali had the same ones.
Sockets were plenty and located in actually useful places throughout the bedroom. The dressing table, inside the massive walk-in closet room, had bright lights, and lots of sockets where I could charge all my electronics.
The tablet used to operate the bedroom was actually intuitive, and not just a fancy tool that causes more issues than helps. The bathrooms have sunscreen and mosquito repellent, even if the resort had not yet managed to have the little buggers under control during our visit.
From above, you can see that the level of attention to detail that went into designing the villas is at a different notch above any other resort I stayed at before.
As I mentioned before, the villa categories vary in location and layout, although the 73 villas at Joali look largely the same inside. There are also two standout villas with three and four bedrooms aimed at larger groups.
The entry level room, if it can be called that, is the Beach Villa, set around the island and directly on the beach with access to the ocean. These five villas measure 680 square meters and come with an outdoor pool, a cabana area and lots of greenery around it providing privacy and giving the villa a jungle feel.
Inside, Beach Villas are 108 sqm and have the bedroom and living room at the front, facing the pool and beach, and the walk in closet and bathroom at the back, including an outdoor shower and bathtub secluded under the foliage.
The next level up are the Luxury Beach Villas which are similar to the entry level Beach Villas but larger in size and with a different layout.
The two Pool Luxury Beach Villas have an added pool at the back, making it two pools and a larger size of 940 sqm exterior space and 117 sqm interior space which can accommodate up to four people from the same family.
The highest level of beach villas is the Private Duplex Beach Residence with four bedrooms and two-stories which can sleep eight people in its 500 sqm built space and 1,200sqm in total size. This villa comes with its own dedicated butler.
There are 10 Water Villas which can sleep three people, a couple plus a child, and measure 100sqm inside and 240 sqm outside. They have a 27 sqm infinity pool which blends into the ocean and are located closest to the island, along the overwater jetty.
Luxury Water Villas are a notch above the entry level Water Villas with a separate living room and a larger sundeck. This is the villa I stayed at and it measured 108 sqm inside and 280 sqm outside.
The top of the range villa is the three bedroom Private Ocean Residence, located at the end of the water jetty and made of three connected buildings, each with its own master bedroom, and two infinity pools. The villa measures 400 sqm inside and 990 sqm outside.
This villa comes with its own dedicated butler and a dhoni, or small motorised boat, can be used to go back to the island as the jetty is pretty long. Or the butler can take you back and forth anytime.
One of the most important things to note for an experienced Maldives traveler is how far apart from each other the villas at Joali are. The villas are huge to start with, and that means that it will be harder for you to hear or see the neighbours. And to make this harder, there is a good amount of separation between them.
Particularly the beach villas have a lot of garden space between themselves and it will be unlikely for you to see other guests. Although a lot of Maldives resorts are designed in a way to provide privacy to their guests, they are often close together so you can still hear neighbouring guests talk. Not at Joali.
Dining at Joali Maldives
I visited the resort shortly after it opened on the weekend of the media launch. That means that some of the restaurants were opening for the first time and that the final menus of the main dining venues were not yet ready. However, the type of cuisine, the food quality and the service were already up to the standards that would expect of a resort of this category.
There are three main dining venues at Joali Maldives. The main restaurant and bar is The Mura Bar, set by the pool with more formal seating under the thatched building and casual wooden tall tables and chairs scattered on the beach under the shady palm trees.
There are also cabanas poolside and sun loungers from where you can also order food and drinks all day long. The sunsets here are splendid with incredible views over the sandbank, the pool and the overwaters villas.
The Mura Bar has its own special whiskey and cigar lounge with the same extraordinary views.
The moment I walked into The Mura Bar I felt I was at a plantation house in the Caribbean. The decor is similar to the villas with palm leaves and greenery coming in from the outside and pink copper accents, but the lazy ceiling fans and the dark wood took me to the sugar cane plantations of the Caribbean.
Here the menu is a blend of Mediterranean favorites and some Maldivian dishes. The menu is fresh and lighter, perfect for a lunch poolside.
Breakfast and dinner are served at Vandhoo Restaurant at the back of the pool, also by the beach, with a section under cover and an open one under umbrellas and on the garden. For breakfast, there is a small buffet section inside a cool room with fresh juices, salad items, cold cuts and cheeses and a fruit station where fruits are cut to order.
The breakfast menu includes typical international items as well as Joali specialities like the fluffiest white omelette I have ever had topped with poached onions and an amazingly delicious and airy vegan coconut yogurt with granola, passion fruit and mango which I just could not get enough of.
For dinner, Vandhoo serves dishes of Southeast Asia, China, Mediterranean influence and also from the Levant, Turkey and the Middle East.
Bellinis Restaurant is Joali’s champagne bar where bubblies and the famous peach cocktail are the star. The food is of Italian influence with a grandma style of cooking and lots of Italian drinks beyond the Bellini, like grappa or limoncello. The chef confessed he makes his own mozzarella on site, in the Maldives!
Joali’s most premium restaurant is the over water Japanese restaurant Saoke designed by Noriyoshi Muramatsu of Glitt and known for designing other Japanese fusion restaurants like favorite Zuma Hong Kong.
Floating over the water at the end of a sake and wine corridor, Saoke has a teppanyaki and sushi bar and stunning traditional japanese sunken Kotatsu seating. It also has both covered and outdoor seating, right under the stars.
Open only for dinner, Saoke is where you come for a special celebration, a dinner of exclusive Japanese-Peruvian Nikkei cuisine and premium sakes.
We enjoyed a very special dinner under the stars with sake and smell pairings provided by the Maldives’ most famous sommelier, former Head Sommelier at Gili Lankanfushi, Fabrice, and researcher Sissel Tolaas, in charge of Joali’s smell journeys.
Aside from the formal dining venues, Joali also offers in-villa dining as well as destination dining in several locations like inside the manta installation, one of the center art pieces at the resort.
Joali’s acclaimed sommelier is perhaps the most knowledgeable wine and spirit connoisseur that I have ever come across. We enjoyed a pairing dinner at Saoke on one of the evenings where Fabrice introduced interesting and unique pairings such as Torres 10 brandy or sherry with some of the dishes.
For those looking to learn to reproduce some of the Maldives’ local recipes, Her Kitchen will provide cooking classes.
Indulgence is never too far and a staple of the Maldives’ luxury brands is an ice cream and chocolate room. Nothing screams holiday more than the two most delicious snacks.
The facilities at Joali Maldives
Joali’s tear-shaped island is big enough to host several facilities but small enough to be walkable in less than half an hour.
There is a gym on the second floor above the library equipped with the highest range Technogym equipment, a tennis court, a large pool right on the beach and an elongated sandbank.
If you like shopping and appreciate designer pieces, or if you liked any of the items in the bedrooms, the Boutique features inspired designs and one of a kind works. I was tempted to buy the kimono robes which were beautiful and so soft.
Joali’s uniqueness comes from its immersive art experiences. The resort partnered with Turkish art curators Zeynep Ercan and Asliala Onur from No LaB to select a few art pieces which are displayed across the island, even inside the rooms, and can be discovered with the help of an Art Map.
Standout pieces include the bamboo and palm leaves manta structures, the coral pieces sculpture in the spa designed by Israeli-based artist Zemer Peled over the course of nine months, or the colorful Gaudi-inspired table and chairs by Misha Kahn found next to the pool.
I particularly enjoyed the rattan swing heron head by Porky Hefer, coincidentally, the uncle of one of the art curators. And Nacho Carbonell’s chair where you could hide away. Artists from all over the world were commissions to create unique pieces for Joali.
The pieces are on sale and can be purchased by guests although they will remain on display for a few months. The artists and pieces will continue to rotate as they get sold so that there is always a reason to return to Joali.
There is also an Art Studio and Gallery where interactive exhibitions and events will take place. Guests will not play a one-way observer role but rather be a part of the experience.
Art at Joali has a wider sense than just art pieces and encompasses all the senses. There were sound workshops and a smell tour of the island with acclaimed and fascinating researcher Sissel Tolaas, known worldwide as one of the few scientists that studies and synthesizes smells.
Joali’s ESPA spa is a destination in itself. There are land massage rooms as well as over water couple rooms with views of the ocean. The spa treatments can also be enjoyed in-villa, like we did.
This was fantastic as it allowed us to avoid the trip and because the villas are so spacious, it was easy to place the portable massage tables for the two of us. The masseuses were absolutely fantastic.
Lastly, families will be happy to see the children’s playground. It was still being finalised when I visited but you could tell it was promising. Not as large as Soneva Fushi’s Children’s Den, the largest kids club in the Maldives, but quite inviting, even to adults. Activities for children will include cooking classes, junior spas, treasure hunts, etc.
Things to do in Joali Maldives
Many people wonder if there is enough to do in the Maldives and while in some cases this may be a worry, this is not the case at Joali.
All the usual activities are available at the resort. You can use any of their water sports equipment to have a good time. There are regular and glass kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, and windsurf.
I loved using the new glass kayaks, a great way to explore the waters and see through the life underneath.
Motorised sports like banana boat or jet skies are also available. You can also go fishing or sailing. Or learn or practice wakeboarding or parasailing. You name it, the Joali staff will make it happen.
Snorkelling and diving are obviously one of the best things to do at Joali. The Raa Atoll is one of the largest and deepest atolls in the Maldives so there is plenty to see. You can borrow snorkeling gear, which our butler delivered to our room after check-in, or go on one of the snorkelling trips to the outer reef.
Snorkeling trips often see mantas, whale sharks in season (the high season for the Maldives), reef sharks or turtles. And given the smaller amount of resorts in the Raa Atoll you are less likely to see other guests.
If you like to see marine life but do not want to get wet, you can go on a submarine ride. This one does not submerge but has glass windows from where you can see through what is outside.
On land, Joali’s art focus offers the chance of exploration with the art maps provided and explanations of each of the art pieces. There will also be temporary and rotating artists and scientists who will bring unique and interesting forms of art to the resort.
When I visited there was a world renowned smell researcher and scientist offering smell tours of the island. She had synthesized various smells from around the resort and we went on a tour to find them.
There was also a sound workshop shared by a different artist where you could see how sound waves of whales are projected into lasers, or how sound waves are transformed from corn starch into solid form.
Each guest gets a bicycle to move around the resort, although you could also call a buggy every time. This is perhaps the only element of Joali which I found was an unnecessarily fashionable piece that was uncomfortable and overly complicated.
This is because the bikes were large, heavy and, even for me, measuring almost 1,7m in height, hard to ride. Also, they are the type of bikes where you need to pedal backwards to break, and if you are not used to this, it causes unnecessary complexity for no added benefit. I wish they had got regular bikes instead.
The service at Joali Maldives
How do you ensure a resort of such a price range and luxury provides only the very best? You hire the most respected professionals in the industry. This is precisely what Joali did.
Joali’s Area General Manager, Maldives veteran Steven Phillips, has a long track record with the very best of the luxury resorts in the Maldives. Before joining Joali, he was the GM at awarded Gili Lankanfushi, two times chosen best resort in the Maldives by TripAdvisor, and has been at other resorts before.
And he is not alone. Joali Maldives Resort Manager, Enver Arslan, comes from the Four Seasons, and brought with him forty of his best staff. Steven also convinced some of Gili’s best butlers and its Head Sommelier to join him and the Head Chef of Joali Ashley Goddard is ex-Soneva Fushi.
This is a star team to open a resort with: experienced, with a track record of satisfying the most demanding guests and used to go above and beyond expectations in service.
Joali’s service is anchored on the butlers called Jadugar. Each villa has an assigned “magician” whose only objective is to make all your dreams come true. To do that, guests have a mobile phone to take with them around the island and which can be used to call the butler anytime from anywhere.
A small detail on the room’s phones also showed the resort’s importance placed on service. One of the phone’s direct buttons is the GM which can be contacted anytime with feedback or complaints.
Service was all round good but the resort had just opened and some smaller details still needed to be refined and perfected. They were minor and did not affect our experience and I am sure that the entire team will be fantastic once these are ironed out.
The verdict – Review of Joali Maldives
Joali Maldives is a resort that wows. As hard as it is to offer something that has not been offered before of a more exclusive standard, Joali Maldives managed to. But before we look at the verdict, I always want to see the value for money.
Rates for the beach villas start at $2,000+ per night and can go up to almost $3,000 for the sunset luxury water villas for just bed and breakfast. Seaplanes cost an additional $900 per guest return, and you can expect to spend another $1,000 a day in food, drinks and activities. This means that a five day four night stay for two can cost upwards of $15,000.
These rates place Joali Maldives at the very top end of the most expensive resorts in the world and the most expensive in the Maldives. Was it worth the price?
Joali Maldives attracts the glitterati. An artsy, culturally attuned and curious well-traveled individual that wants to experience and learn on their vacation. They want to be surprised, they value sophistication, but don’t need to flaunt it.
The overall vibe is casual, but not as down to earth as at other luxury resorts like Gili Lankanfushi or Soneva Fushi. Joali guests are elegant, they like to dress up at night and they prefer to wear shoes than go barefoot.
Book your stay at Joali here.
If you’re unsure whether you want to stay in the Maldives or Bora Bora, I have written a comprehensive article on this topic which has an interactive guide that will help you personalise your choice. Read on for which to choose Maldives or Bora Bora.
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