By Mark Silver
I REMEMBER it well. It had required a third glass of red wine before finally plucking up the courage to ask her out. I’d spent the best part of an hour flirting with the attractive waitress making her laugh, but now I couldn’t be certain whether her warm chuckling was merely to ensure a good tip.
To me, she could have been a Bond girl. To her, I was probably closer to, err, Brooke Bond than James.
Liudmila was from Russia and was working part-time at this busy restaurant in southern Spain, while I was on a short golf break.
I felt I had played a blinder during that lunch with my British charm and razor-sharp wit and, if there was any justice, deserved the chance to impress her further on a quiet date.
“You’re working very hard serving me my food,” I told her. “’Let me take you out for a lovely dinner where you will be waited on.”’
She gave my charming request some thought (actually about two seconds) before muttering an embarrassed “nyet” (“no” in Russian). My plate was swiftly cleared… and then I cleared off.
The memory brought a big smile to my face six years later as I lay on my sun-lounger on a stunning beach in the Maldives. I put my book down and looked across at the lovely lady on the adjacent sunbed to see the very same Russian- now my WIFE!
I may have been punching above my weight at the time but, Brooke Bond or not, I turned out to be just her cup of tea.
Now we were on our honeymoon at surely the most beautiful location on the planet and, my word, Liudmila was being waited on in style.
It’s the type of setting where Robinson Crusoe would have felt at home – and the Maldives boast 1,200 idyllic islands in the warm Indian Ocean, with only 200 of them inhabited and (thankfully) a smaller number still by tourists.
We spent three nights at the Hilton Iru Fushi on Noonu Atoll (an atoll is a coral island or islands encircling that inviting crystal clear turquoise water). Sorry about the cliché, but it is paradise here.
Then, somehow, we were spoilt even further at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. Both hotels matched the sort of photos you see in holiday brochures and more.
After about an 11-hour flight from London (you can fly direct or break up the journey), you either take a boat to your chosen island – there is only one hotel on each island – or experience a short seaplane ride. Do it in style and choose the latter.
While awaiting your transfer at Male airport, the Hilton and Conrad both have nice lounges to relax in – we enjoyed excellent complimentary massages, which are most welcome after a long flight and are a super entrée before the main course.
The seaplane views over the atolls, from up to 3,000ft, immediately tell you that you are arriving at somewhere special. The colours below can range from a lime green to light blue and the atolls come in all shapes and sizes.
Three things surprised me about our seven nights in the Maldives. Although the smallest country in Asia, these coral islands stretch for hundreds of miles. Secondly, it is not necessarily a case of there’s nothing to do.
And, finally, it can be somewhere to take the children, with many hotels operating well-run kids’ clubs for two to 12-year-olds.
Some hotels are small scale with perhaps just one restaurant, but both the Hilton and Conrad boast several mouth-watering dining options and a range of daily activities and excursions.
This was ideal for us as it gave the opportunity for some peaceful time sitting on the beautiful palm-tree laden beaches and also the option to (occasionally) get up and do something.
Snorkelling and diving are obviously popular activities in this part of the world and there are well-run trips to cater for all needs.
The Hilton’s Snorkelling Safari lasts for three hours and is less than £40. We chose the Lucky Dolphin Sunset Cruise, which from 5.30pm until 7.30pm did not interrupt sunbathing or supper and is good value at around £45. We got lucky and saw some dolphins while sipping champagne and enjoying some canapés.
The highlight for us was the Conrad’s Whale Shark excursion where, hopefully, you get to see this beautiful creature during a three-hour boat trip. If your guides make a sighting, you need to act fast by putting on your snorkelling gear and literally jumping in.
It was great fun and don’t be put off by the name – they are not ‘Jaws’ and totally harmless.
After months planning our wedding, the focus for us was a good rest and as much pampering as possible. We’d come to the right place. The spa treatments are simply divine and we enjoyed great massages.
Apologies must go to my therapist, Yuni, at the Hilton. Apparently I nodded off during my Swedish massage and, allegedly, was caught snoring loudly!
Just to complete the heavenly day, we indulged in Destination Dining that same evening where we were taken to a secluded spot of beach and looked after by our own personal chef and waiter, who were more than willing to accommodate any dietary requirements.
With the sun setting, it is surely the ultimate romantic experience but, again, apologies needed. The fish and meat selection were endless and I could not finish my juicy fillet steak!
The Hilton charge around just over £250 a couple, which is good value for a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is guaranteed to keep you in your wife’s good books for at least 24 hours (longer if on honeymoon)!
Another incredible experience is dining at the Conrad’s Undersea Restaurant – the only restaurant in the world built under the sea. It was constructed in 2005 and seats 14 guests for either lunch or dinner where you enjoy fantastic food and, of course, the stunning array of fish going about their business.
Don’t worry, the glass separating you is incredibly thick! Book early for this treat. If you’re just in the mood for a tasty nibble, then the Cheese and Wine Bar offers the best of the best in a refreshing, cool environment.
For me, an important ingredient for any good holiday is the people at your service. In the Maldives, you won’t find nicer folk anywhere and the staff are determined to make your holiday truly memorable.
The Maldivians have a wonderfully-relaxed outlook on life, which happily is infectious. But the standards are as professional as can be.
Waiters were always smiling when bringing complimentary fresh fruit or a cold towel as we lazed by the pool.
And just to ensure I didn’t overdo things, a friendly chap popped over to give my sunglasses a good wipe. I asked my wife to do it when he wasn’t around – ouch!
All in all it was a dream start to our new life together. Mrs Silver was probably glad she let this persistent Brit win her over in the end.
I had returned to that Spanish restaurant the following day where again my best efforts at a date had received a polite, but firm, nyet.
However, on my fourth lunch there (in a row), she finally caved in and agreed to meet me for “an hour, no more’’. That hour lasted for three and then every month (for six months) I would fly back again to meet up.
Romance blossomed and our wedding was a great success as Liudmila’s family flew to London to play a big part (the vodka bill was horrendous!) in the celebrations.
We capped it off with the perfect honeymoon. Well, the Maldives are the closest thing to paradise – after, of course, the new Mrs Silver.
* British Airways offer seven nights for the price of six at the 5* Conrad Maldives Rangali Island (www.conradmaldives.com) from £2,129 per person, based on two people sharing. The price includes return British Airways flights from Gatwick and half-board accommodation for departures between May 12 and July 31, 2013. For reservations visit ba.com/maldives or call 0844 493 0758