Midrange

Bolifushi (Bolifushi island; §§ 6643517; www.bolifushi .com; s/d/wb USS208/244/403; airport transfer by speedboat 30min, US$65; 55 rooms; (K)) is a supremely relaxing, intimate and laid-back resort. It's a tiny island peopled with honeymooners, families and divers from all over Europe who come for the two exceptionally pretty beaches and a good house reef close to shore.

Half of the rooms are fairly uninspiring standards, housed in blocks of two, while there are also 13 beach bungalows with terraces overlooking the sea and 15 water bungalows - nothing particularly sophisticated here but very pleasant.

The PADI dive centre runs trips to the excellent dive sites in the area and there's also good diving on the house reef, including a small wreck. Diving prices are very reasonable.

Water sports are also big here: the island is surrounded by sheltered waters and is well placed for cat sailing and not-too-strenuous windsurfing. Other activities from water-skiing to pedalo hire are available.

The restaurant serves a basic buffet breakfast, set-menu lunch and a reasonable buffet dinner. If you want to do a little snorkelling, diving and relaxing, and you're not looking for high style or haute cuisine, Bolifushi is a good choice.

On the western edge of the atoll, Club Rannalhi (Rannalhi island; §§ 6642688; www .aitkenspencehotels.com; s/d/t US$230/264/352; airport transfer 45min, US$100; 116 rooms; (K) (D) is an Italian club-style resort. It's an attractive island with tall palm trees, fine beaches and good snorkelling on the house reef, but it's so built up that there's hardly any open space left. The rooms are in two-storey blocks, modern and well finished with all the amenities, and there are 16 spacious water bungalows. The big, airy restaurant serves all buffet meals, and they're very good - plenty of pasta of course, as well as other Italian staples.

Many of the guests dive, sometimes commuting to the dive sites in South Ari Atoll. A single boat dive costs about US$44 with tank and weights, US$57 with all equipment. Open-water courses are inexpensive at US$375. Snorkelling is good on the house reef, especially the excellent coral growth on the thila 100m off the service jetty. The main attraction though, if it's your thing, is the programme of animation activities, which start with morning aerobics, continue with volleyball and dance competitions, and finish late at night with amateur theatrics and karaoke. Nearly all guests come through the Italian agent Viaggi del Ventaglio (Club Venta), but there's also a sprinkling of French, British and FITs. Club Rannalhi has an enthusiastic, animated ambience, which will put off most non-Italians, but it's a good place to come if that's your cup of tea.

The extremely friendly Vadoo Island Resort (Vaadhoo island; §§ 6643976; www.vadoo.net; s/d/wb USS228/272/590; airport transfer by dhoni Ihr, US$50, speedboat 20min, US$100; 31 rooms; (gl) has traditionally attracted divers, but today it pitches itself more as a relaxation centre. Diving remains popular though, mainly because of the resort's great location right beside Vaadhoo Kandu, with access to great dive sites in both North Male' and South Male' Atolls. While Vadoo's main market is the Japanese, there's a strong European presence too.

The resort has a wonderfully relaxed feel to it, its rustic rooms are simple and clean and its charmingly old-fashioned water bungalows - the first in the country, built in 1988 - have lots of retro charm and feature traditional furnishings while still being extremely comfortable, with great touches.

The beaches are delightful, the public areas are basic but stylish and the new Ayurveda Health Centre is the full deal, with a doctor on hand seven days a week, two treatment rooms, a traditional steam bed and a pharmacy. Packages start from US$ 174 per day (minimum three days) and a full week's therapy comes in at US$878.

The house reef is great for snorkelling, and qualified divers can make unguided dives here. It's not a great place for beginners as rental charges for basics are high -one dive with tanks and weights will cost US$33, but to include all other equipment (some of which is hired on a daily rate) will set you back an additional US$36!

The six days' unlimited diving deal is quite a bit cheaper at US$330. Dive courses feature very personalised instruction, with one instructor per two students, but you should reserve a dive course at least three weeks ahead. An open-water course costs US$625.

The rooms are all reasonably new, and quite well finished (no TV or minibar) -the cheapest ones are in the Sunrise Wing, which is a block with rooms on two storeys. Each has either a veranda or balcony. All in all, Vadoo is a highly recommended resort, full of unpretentious, easy-going charm.

Olhuveli Beach & Spa (Olhuveli island; Igl 6642788; www.olhuveli.com; s/d/wb USS340/360/495; airport trans-fer50min, US$120; 129 rooms; (g (D @) is a fantastic resort following major post-tsunami renovations and repairs. Its reopening in late 2005 has heralded the arrival of a very upmarket midrange resort in South Male' Atoll.

The main market here is Italian, followed by German and a smattering of Japanese and British visitors. The rooms are spread out along the beach in two-level blocks, but they are extremely tastefully done, furnished throughout with dark-wood four-poster beds and all featuring balconies or patios which lead straight out to the gorgeous beaches on either side of the island. There are also two rings of extremely swish water bungalows stretching over the lagoon.

The new Serena spa is popular for its Ayurvedic treatments, aromatherapy and massage. Although narrow, the beaches are attractive, and the wide lagoon is good for sailing, windsurfing and being towed around behind a motorboat. This is one of the first resorts to offer kitesurfing lessons and equipment. Snorkelling is excellent off the end of the jetty, at the edge of the reef, where turdes are common. The first-class Sea-Explorer dive centre (www.sea-explorer.net) does lots of drift dives in nearby channels, as well as doing wreck and night dives.

Overall, Olhuveli offers excellent value. It's the perfect compromise between budget prices and high standards, between romance and diving. There are some extremely good week-long accommodation packages offered through its website, so check for these too.

Rihiveli Beach Resort (Mahaana Elhi Huraa island; §§ 6643731; www.rihiveli-maldives.com; s/d/tr US$261/427/597; airport transfer Ihr, US$145; 48 rooms) is the personal creation of a Frenchman who lived here for 20 years. He has now moved on, and a legion of loyal guests are hoping that the resort will retain its natural, informal charm and quality. So far, so good. While the resort remains popular with French and Swiss visitors, it's in no fear of being overrun anytime soon.

Consisting of just 48 little bungalows, all built in a rustic style from now-illegal coral stone and with traditional thatched roofs, they have all the basics for comfort such as hot water but nothing considered superfluous, such as air-con, fridges, phones or a TV set. This is the secret of its success - Rihiveli ('silver sand') will never be overrun with your run-of-the-mill package group.

The open-air bar has a sand floor and shady trees overhead, while the restaurant is built over the lagoon and has a lovely view as well as truly mouthwatering cuisine.

The usual water sports (windsurfing, sailing, canoeing, even water-skiing) plus tennis are all included in the room price. You can wade across to two other, uninhabited islands where the resort organises regular barbecue lunches. Regular boat trips to other reefs make up for the lack of snorkelling sites next to the resort. The main diving destinations are around nearby Hathikolhu Kandu, and there's a small wreck to explore. A single boat dive organised by the Eurodiv-ers Dive School (www.euro-diver5.com) costs about US$41with all equipment. An open-water course is US$355.

With its relaxed ambience, French style and natural appeal, Rihiveli is a unique and special resort for those who appreciate the simple things. The resort was closed in summer 2006 for renovations, so it will probably be even better by 2007.

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