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All 1,200 of the Maldives islands are gems, but it pays to know which ones have been polished up to sparkle the most By Miriam Cain Sparkling seas 42Isea& iIAUTUMN 2008 maldives

AUTUMN 2009I sea& iI43 aboardashore Nature's way Adrift in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives landmass totals just 300 square kilometres ( 115 square miles), while the ocean area is over 107,500 square kilometres ( 41,500 square miles). Step ashore and you are, in fact, walking on the coral- encrusted summit of a range of submerged volcanoes. Over thousands of years since the undersea volcanoes formed, coral grew and, on breaking the surface of the ocean it gathered sand, creating thousands of atolls. Within these atolls, which were protected from the breakwaters of the outer reefs, more sand drifted until white dunes pushed up into the air. The Maldives' picture- per-fect palm trees came from coconuts drifting on the monsoon winds from Africa and anchoring on the sand. ? T oday's overcrowded world makes it tricky to locate even one remote island paradise, so it comes as something of a shock to discover that when you head to the Maldives, the dilemma comes not in finding a remote island but singling just one out from the 1,200 on offer. The testing choice is slightly eased when you take into account that only 200 of them are inhabited; it is made almost easy when you then learn that, of these, 85 are crowned with luxury resorts. Well, perhaps not exactly easy. Each resort vies with each other for best/ latest/ most divine facilities and experiences, making a firm decision almost impossible. You simply have to set aside the next 80 odd years to visit each one, or - far more preferable - boat- hop between several in one trip.