Join Branson and the Beckhams in the Maldives

With its crystal-clear seas, the Maldives offers the ultimate retreat for celebrities and urban entrepreneurs. Now they can buy a home there.

Holiday homes don't come much more exclusive than those in the Maldives. For a start, foreigners can only buy property on a handful of the 2,000 islands that make up this Indian Ocean idyll.

Then there is the issue of the neighbours: Richard Branson, Madonna, Paul McCartney and the Beckhams have all enjoyed downtime there.

And you can see why. If you like soft, white sand beaches, clear-as-crystal tropical seas and splendid isolation in an exceptional spot, then this is the place to be — so long as you have a shedload of money.

British Airways flies direct non-stop from London to Male, the capital, in 10 hours and then it's a speedboat or seaplane journey to your chosen island.

The Maldives has had its problems in recent years. The Islamist government, formed after a bloodless coup last year, promptly issued a ban on spas. The ban only lasted briefly but was an almighty shot in the foot, as pretty much the sole source of the islands' income is tourism. Global warming means there is much debate about the effect of rising sea levels on the islands, which have an average elevation of less than five feet, making this the lowest lying country in the world.


In bud: The 5 Lagoons, the biggest floating development in the world — with the first 18-hole floating golf course — is in the planning. It will offer two- to four-bedroom houses and villas from £640,000 and whole islands from £6.4 million

In almost all the islands, property is only available on short-term lease — currently a maximum of 50 years — and all building materials apart from sand and a little wood must be brought in from abroad. The only off-plan project there to date, 12 Blues, launched amid much fanfare in 2010 but even the country's president arriving to lay the first stone on the totally undeveloped Lundufushi island, failed to prevent the project sinking financially without trace.

Despite all these issues, tourism figures have more than doubled since 2003 with 900,000 visitors heading there each year.

Homes are for sale at Soneva Fushi, a long-established and eye-wateringly expensive resort 30 minutes by seaplane from Male. It comes garlanded with prestigious awards. Leading luxury travel magazine Condé Nast Traveller put it in its top 100 worldwide resorts and it's not hard to see why.

The resort espouses "intelligent luxury" with no gold taps, no marble or any trace of bling. Homes are handcrafted using eucalyptus wood and palm tree leaves on the roof, decorated with simple wooden furniture and outdoor showers, in a stripped-back style. The dress code is "no shoes" and guests freewheel around the island on old-fashioned sit-up-and-beg bikes.

"For urban entrepreneurs living in polluted, congested cities, what is truly luxurious isn't a branded restaurant or a bottle of Cristal but experiences you cannot have in New York or London," says Sonu Shivdasani, chief executive and owner of Soneva Resorts. "They appreciate a simple life, walking barefoot in the sand when you are used to high heels and business suits. That's what we mean by intelligent luxury."


Pared-back perfection: homes at Soneva Fushi, the first luxury resort in the Maldives, are for sale from £1,985,000 for a two-bedroom suite. Call 020 7016 3740

Soneva Fushi was the first luxury resort in the Maldives. Eton- and Oxford-educated Sonu and his Swedish ex-Vogue model wife, Eva, bought the 100-acre island in 1995 and live there for half the year. The resort has 52 per cent repeat guests, an impressive figure in the ever-expanding world of five-star resorts and strong eco-credentials.

At Soneva Fushi, plastic bottles are banned, 85 per cent of all rubbish is recycled and it has more solar panels than anywhere else in the Maldives. Homes start from £1,985,000 for a 3,300sq ft two-bedroom Crusoe suite. These are certainly lifestyle purchases but Sonu says a rental yield of four per cent is proven to be possible. Only 16 private residences will be built to add to the existing 50 hotel residences. Eight homes have been sold to date.

* Soneva Fushi for sale through Savills (; 020 7016 3740; 

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