Christmas is now but a dream, thank God, albeit a bad one. The ‘festive’ season doesn’t get easier for those of us who suffer from CADDAD — Christmas-Affected Doom Depression and Despondency. And nor is it a bed of roses for sufferers’ loved ones, as dear Mrs Ray is often wont to point out, quite forcefully on occasion. Her gist — if I heard it right from behind the barricaded bathroom door — is that it’s one thing to kick the cat (we don’t have one, so I use Gordon’s next door) and sit in a sulk, self-medicating with magnums of cru classé claret, but it’s quite another to bang on about how much you hate it and bugger up all the fun for everyone else. If only she understood…
For the last three years, we’ve prepared for the so-called festivities by taking a calming November mini-break in the Caribbean. This year I decided to try the post-Christmas- carrot approach instead: I explained to Marina that if we got through Yuletide without her forcing me to eat turkey or mince pies, wear a paper hat or go to church, I’d take her to the Maldives; she explained that if I kept my dark, unfestive thoughts to myself and made some sort of effort to join in, she’d come.
And so it was that we found ourselves heading to the Indian Ocean. Long-haul steerage with BA is both eye-wateringly pricy and unremittingly grim, but in this instance was worth every penny and every hour (all ten and a half of them). We had survived Christmas, the kids had been left at home (with snow on its way, ha, ha) and we had five blissful days of sun, sea and sand ahead of us.
It’s a bizarre place, the Maldives, no more than a collection of 1,200 far-flung islands — of which just 200 are inhabited — spread over some 90,000 square km. It’s the lowest-lying country on earth (an average of just 1.5m above sea level) and 99.6 per cent of it is, well, water.
We were whisked from Malé airport in a ten-seater seaplane to the tiny speck of terra firma that is Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, an über-swish outpost of the Hilton chain. The island — or islands, there were in fact two joined by a footbridge — was the resort and the resort was the island. There was no escape until the next seaplane.
This worried me at first. On previous island jaunts — to Antigua, say, or St Lucia — there had been plenty of sights to see, places to go and bars to hang out in. This was more like a stationary cruise with nothing to do except enjoy what was on offer and hope you got on with your shipmates. What the heck were we going to do all day?
But so hot was the sun, so blue was the sea, so soft was the sand and so cold was the welcoming bottle of Pol Roger, that it didn’t take us long to agree that we could probably muddle through.
We installed ourselves in our villa on stilts over the ocean and kicked off our shoes, never to wear them again until we left. This was Relaxation Central.
We padded along in the sand, hand in hand, trying to count the sea’s myriad hues of blue; we ate astonishingly fine food in the resort’s seven different restaurants — highlights being teppanyaki on the beach at Koko Grill, and seafood at Ithaa, the world’s first all-glass underwater restaurant — and worked it off with a little light snorkelling; we gawped at the beauty beneath the waves, frolicking with such wonderfully named creatures as the Lemon Meringue Wrasse, Chocolate Dip Damselfish, Convict Surgeonfish and — my favourite — the Young Spotted Sweetlips; we even saw mini sharks and giant manta rays.
We had hot stone massages in the Spa Retreat and ice-cold cocktails in the Rangali Bar; and rounded things off with a fascinating blind tasting in the Wine Cellar, where I covered myself with glory by getting just one wine right out of six. Well, dammit, I was off duty.
In five short days we had had a glimpse of heaven and all Christmas spats and squabbles had been forgotten. Marina and I felt closer than ever as we sloshed our way home through the bathwater-warm shallows that last evening.
‘I’ve just remembered something,’ she whispered softly, blowing in my ear and nibbling its lobe tenderly (and she hasn’t done that in a long time). ‘You make a bit of a fuss about Easter, too, don’t you?’
Jonathan Ray is wine editor of the Daily Telegraph.
Sovereign Luxury Holidays offers seven nights, half board, at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island from £1,979 per person, including two free nights, saving over £2,200 per couple.
For information and bookings contact Sovereign on 08716640227 or www.sovereign.com