Maldives it's become a byword for tropical island bliss and eye-popping luxury. Even if you've never been to this Indian Ocean archipelago, you'll appreciate that it is the acme of glamorous beach holiday destinations. “Paradise on earth," "bucket-list destination": Get ready to trot out the clichés, because when it comes to the Maldives every one of them is accurate. The sheer beauty of the coral reefs, the translucent ever-changing colors of the Indian Ocean, the isolation, indigenous vegetation and friendly people are legendary and rightly so—the Maldives lives up to the hype.

Strung out like pearls across an area four times the size of Wales in the Indian Ocean south west of India, the Maldives comprises 1,190 islands. Most of them are the merest slivers of sand and vegetation set above coral reefs of gorgeous colors and vivid underwater life, clustered into 26 atolls. The atolls are the visible remnants of large volcanoes that sank into the sea millennia ago. Just 200 or so of the Islands are big enough and have sufficient fresh water to have become inhabited.

Many of the villas are built on stilts out over the water, so you may actually have to walk onshore in order to get to the beach. Besides curling your toes in the sand, many people come here to sample the Maldives world-class dive spots. Others simply snorkel among the endless coral reefs. There are so many coral atolls here that our English word derives from the Maldivian name atholhu.

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