In 2018, Turkish serial entrepreneur and businesswoman Esin Güral Argat established Joali Maldives before expanding her empire three years later with the opening of Joali Being. On a recent visit, Prestige got the ultra-exclusive opportunity to experience what both of these resorts – and islands – have to offer.
For most, the term “luxury” denotes opulence, extravagance, and an overstated grandiose way of living. Expensive items and stunning locales are the standard markers of what luxury entails, and those who can afford it are expected to “live large”.Yet there is always room for some ambiguity.
Luxury is as conceptual as it is tangible, and what luxury truly means is distinctively influenced by each individual – reflecting a more personal dream. In short, it’s a privileged state of being that extends beyond the surface of materiality. And for many it’s the ability to experience a life that is not only comfortable and exclusive, but also deeply satisfying and fulfilling to the soul.
With these ideas in mind, Joali Maldives and Joali Being are two luxury getaway resorts ready to transform one’s definition of luxury by offering once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Situated in the remote northwest of the Maldives, a 40-minute plane ride from Malé, these distinctive properties are the handiwork of Turkish entrepreneur Esin Güral Argat, who fell in love with the Raa Atoll archipelago the first moment she laid eyes on it, back in the early 2000s.
Meaning “hammock” in Dhivehi (the official language of the Maldives), Joali, as a brand, was founded on the premise of helping travellers experience the joy of living; inviting joy to lead the way. It’s also driven by a commitment to both sustainability and female empowerment.
Esin’s dream of a uniquely artistic resort, tucked away in the stunning Raa Atoll, led to the creation of Joali Maldives, on Muravandhoo Island, which launched in 2018. The resort soon established itself as a wonderland of creativity, indulgence, and adventure.
Of course, the dream didn’t stop there. Another vision of a bespoke wellbeing resort emerged in November 2021 with Joali Being, located in Bodufushi – amid the blue lagoons of Raa Atoll. This sister resort is a wellbeing-guided oasis that blends ancient wisdom with modern science to take guests on a transformational journey.
Our journey started with Joali Being, the more serious of the properties, where guests are guided on the path to self-discovery and renewal. Our scheduled three-night stay began as we jetted off with our friends from Bangkok Airways to the airport in Malé – a comfortable five-and-a-half-hour plane ride – and ended when we reached the resort after a shortish seaplane ride.
In total it’s certainly a long haul, but Joali Being’s distance from the mainland means there aren’t many other resorts or guests nearby, providing an exclusive experience and an unfettered escape from all the usual urban surroundings.
An open-air, intricately designed, white modern structure greeted us as we descended from the seaplane, its undulating roof angled softly to envelop the space, welcoming us into its embrace without being suffocating. There we were greeted by the smiles of the Joali staff, all dressed in white – the colour signifying the possibility of transformation and new beginnings all guests were promised. It was, indeed, a sight to behold.
As much of the vegetation on the island was left untouched and preserved, the buildings that make up Joali Being are blended seamlessly into the surrounding nature. Amid the crystal-clear lagoon waters, this resort offers a stay characterised by intimacy and immersion.
We were then escorted to our private villas, which aim to combine the feeling of boundless luxury with a natural approach. There are a total of 68 guest villas, ranging from one to four bedrooms, with 34 beach villas and 34 over-water villas – each one with its own private pool.
Following the principles of biophilic design – a scientific system of architecture that integrates nature and aims to achieve harmony by eliminating negative vibrations and improving the energy flow of the island – the structure and decoration of each room is designed to reflect the resort’s underlying philosophy of “weightlessness”.
The interiors were like no other; easy on the eyes and calming to the senses. Light- coloured walls and ocean-like marbles decorate the room, while the custom furnishings and extraordinary craftsmanship elevates it, with features like bespoke doors and roof canopies creating an artistic and relaxing space.
Both the materials and the shapes of the furniture, not to mention the room itself, came together to create a rich sensory experience, summoning a feeling of lightness that bordered on the absence of gravity.
Complementing this gorgeously built and pleasingly natural environment was an even more exemplary service, as each villa comes with a personal butler – known as a “Jadugar” – on hand to chauffeur us around and ensure that our stay was always comfortable.
Dining at the resort is another eye- opening experience, with dishes that are intricately crafted and beautifully presented, always with well-being and flavour in mind. The cuisine here is further defined by an “earth-to-table” initiative, which promises ingredient traceability and meals made from fresh, locally harvested foods which, in turn, support small farms and are sustainably sourced.
The main highlight of dining at Joali Being is Flow, a large, open, and interactive dining space that features three signature kitchens: Plantae, offering vegetarian and vegan cuisine; Su, serving ocean-to-table pescatarian fare; and B’Well, featuring a delicious signature menu.
Mojo, a tropical beach sanctuary, is the resort’s other central F&B space, and it offers an ideal spot for dining and sunset aperitifs by the pool. It’s also home to the Sai Tea Lounge, which serves an incredible variety of teas, and hosts tea ceremonies and educational tea sessions led by the resort’s resident tea sommelier.
Of course, our stay would be incomplete without partaking in the resort’s immersive wellness treatments. Curated around the ‘Four Pillars of Joali Being’ – mind, skin, microbiome, and energy – each programme offers “the beginning of a transformative journey”, thoughtfully designed to meet health objectives such as deep relaxation, stress recovery, digestive reset, and more.
With the goal of creating a wellbeing experience tailored to one’s individual needs and goals, each guest undergoes a personalised wellness check, consisting of a lifestyle consultation, in order to determine the best set of programmes. My consultation revealed that I needed to focus most on the mind, which led to an itinerary consisting of three key activities.
The highlight of my programme was Watsu, a hydro-bodywork treatment that combines massage, joint mobilisation, shiatsu, stretching, and dance. Surrendering my body to the water, and relishing in the gentle feeling of being afloat, offered healing on both a physical and a mental level. I was completely caught off guard by its magical effects on my body.
Suddenly, I felt a deep sense of tranquility and awareness as I became more in tune and present with my body and mind. Under the guidance of my Watsu therapist, Josephine, I was allowed to feel safe as I relaxed and worked on undoing all the stress that was holding me back.
Cryotherapy rounded off my wellbeing programme, and while this was a treatment focused on the pillar of energy, I found that it complimented my other activities well.
As I stepped into the archipelago’s first cryotherapy chamber – with Lil Nas X blasting in my headphones – I could only feel a sense of excitement. The idea behind this device is that the therapeutic application of extreme cold promotes collagen production, which treats conditions like eczema and reverses the effects of ageing.
Cryotherapy also supports skin health by treating mood disorders like anxiety, while simultaneously increasing antioxidant levels. I left the chamber feeling like a new person, refreshed and rejuvenated.
We ended our five-night journey where the Joali story began – at the Joali Maldives resort – and leaving the wellbeing oasis behind meant our last two nights in the Maldives would be a little more indulgent and playful.
This time we were welcomed at an equally eye-popping entrance area, featuring an abstraction of a typical Maldivian roof structure designed by the Istanbul-based studio Autoban (who also designed Joali Being). The staff, meanwhile, were dressed all in pink this time, promising us a “more fun” stay before escorting us to our accommodation.
We were once again housed in private villas – accompanied by our trusty Jadugars – which are all connected by one of the longest wooden jetties in the Maldives. As one would suspect, the 73 luxurious land and over-water villas of Joali Maldives are all constructed in gorgeous tropical style. But unlike at Joali Being, these spacious villas exude a more sophisticated and earthy character, combining an understated exterior with stunning interior furnishings.
Inside they feature state-of-the-art sound systems, lounge beds, and wide-screen TVs – which stands in contrast to the villas at Joali Being which were purposefully low-tech (encouraging guests to disconnect from the distractions of the modern world).
Inspired by the ‘Maldivian Shed’, the design of the villas combines a classic structure with an art-immersive approach. The high ceilings, raw marble floors, and wood panelling all combine to offer a haven of blissful luxury, embodying island living at its finest.
These accommodations also redefine sustainable glamour with their environmentally friendly touches. The pool villas, for example, were constructed in different sizes so as not to disturb the corals in the lagoon, ensuring the preservation of the island’s natural habitat.
Joali Maldives also offers unmatched dining experiences. The resort’s culinary arts rival the indulgent opulence of its rooms, offering sweet and savoury dishes that span a broad array of flavours. What’s more, the menus can be savoured wherever one desires; from a romantic private sandbank to the super cool Manta Ray Treehouse, the possibilities are endless.
One of our best meals was at Saoke, a Japanese dining spot – designed by world- renowned restaurant architect Noriyoshi Muramatsu – that serves up delectable dishes paired with exquisite sakes. Sushi and teppanyaki are also on the menu, and there’s kotatsu seating for iron-griddle enthusiasts. Looking out across the Indian Ocean, every meal at Saoke came with a side of incredible views… including sharks!
We also spent an afternoon at Mura Bar, which is defined by airy cabanas and infinity pods. This spacious seating arrangement provided plenty of space for everyone to relax over sunset rituals and live performances. The menu here caters more to light eating rather than heavy courses, with an array of scrumptious snacks and street food delights that are perfect for casual dining.
Last, but by no means least, was a trip to the resort’s exclusive Art Studio and Gallery. Dedicated to both nurturing local artisans, and attracting art lovers, this art space hosts a number of imaginative events and workshops. And while its own collection is indeed impressive, the gallery also features interactive projects to help guests experience art in a participatory manner, thus nourishing their creative side.
As the first – and only – art immersive resort in the archipelago, Joali Maldives has created a one-of-a-kind opportunity to not only witness but also take part in a creative dialogue between international art forms and indigenous influences, craftsmanship and materials.
As a group we followed the resort’s Art Map, exploring and reflecting on the unique pieces across the island. From the architecture of Kara, to the playful materials of the ‘Evolution Chair’, we were transported to a wondrous new realm – not only seeing but also truly experiencing the
art, and the stories it could tell. For interested guests, Maison de Joali features a selection of distinctive textile products, and decorative objet d’arts for sale – along with artisanal teas – so you can take home a visually captivating souvenir from your time on this “island of joy”.
Staying at both Joali properties was a transcendental experience. I was given an unprecedented opportunity to not only reconnect with nature, but also with myself. The hustle and bustle of city life can make it difficult to appreciate the here and the now, but amidst the crystalline seas and the luscious greenery, there was nothing more luxurious than rediscovering the ability to enjoy the present.
Bangkok Airways offers four flights per week – Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday – between Bangkok and Maldives, using an Airbus A319 aircraft that consists of 120 seats in a two-class configuration of Business and Economy. Passengers with Blue Ribbon Club, Bangkok Airways’ Business Class product, have access to a separate check-in counter, lounge, and other benefits.
The outbound flight (PG 711) departs Suvarnabhumi International Airport at 9.20am and arrives at Malé International Airport at 11.45am. The inbound flight (PG 712) departs Malé International Airport at 12.45pm and arrives at Suvarnabhumi International Airport at 7.30pm.
For more information about Joali Maldives and Joali Being, click here.