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Sleeping with the fishes

Underwater villas are the new hot thing in luxury resorts. Chris Carter reports.

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Conrad Rangali Island offers a more intimate view of the Maldives' diverse marine life

Though they're undeniably sexy, it may be time to rethink overwater villas," says Phoebe Neuman in the Robb Report. They first made an appearance more than half a century ago, and are now a mainstay of luxury resorts, in places from Tahiti to Mexico. That's sparked an arms race of sorts among super-luxurious villas "sauna-clad wellness rooms and bathtubs with serious views" have become commonplace. This month, the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island resort set out to make a splash and go one better with the unveiling of its latest weapon: the underwater villa.

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The new undersea residences, named Muraka ("coral" in the local Dhivehi language), have been designed by a New Zealand-based aquarium-technology firm, and will sit nestled into the sand some 16 feet under the turquoise-blue waters of the Indian Ocean.

A kip on the seabed

When Muraka opens later this year, guests will quite literally be able to "sleep with the fishes", says Beckie Strum in Barron's Penta magazine. No need for wetsuits and snorkels, though. You will get intimate 180-degree views of the Maldives' diverse marine life from the comfort of a five-star hotel bed. The suite is essentially an acrylic tank built into the sea floor, and features a king-size bedroom, bathroom and living room.

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Nor will you wake up to uninvited fishy guests. The villa is "very safe", says Thomas Murat, who is handling the sales for the underwater suite. There will be an additional fire-escape route, and a reinforced foundation to guard against "breakdowns" caused by storms and earthquakes.

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Not all the action happens underwater, says Nikki Ekstein in Bloomberg Pursuits. The top floor has two bedrooms above water, a bathroom with an ocean-view tub, a sunset-facing deck, and an infinity-edge pool. Guests are also flown in by seaplane to be picked up in a speedboat that's theirs to use for the rest of their stay. Four butlers will be at your beckand call, along with a chef, jet skis and a fitness trainer. A 90-minute spa treatment a day is also included in the package.

Conrad Maldives Rangali Island already had experience in the sub-aquatic architectural arena, thanks to Ithaa, the resort's famous underwater restaurant, where diners enjoy eight-course feasts below a see-through, acrylic canopy.

Staying afloat

The underwater villa concept is one way to stay ahead of the competition, Martin Rinck, who oversees Hilton's luxury brands, including Conrad, tells Ekstein. The starting price of $50,000 a night may sound like a lot, but the Maldives offers a handful of private-island villas at comparable prices "and they're popular, too". Still, this is a villa for those with serious money (which is why it will be a one-off). "We need to continue meeting the expectations of travellers looking for that go big or go home' experience," says Rinck. Conrad's underwater villa may not have a slide (a mainstay of overwater villas), says Ekstein. "But it'll probably do just fine."(ConradHotels3.Hilton.com.)

Dining beneath the sea in Norway

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Its concrete walls, which slope down into the sea, are designed for mussels to cling on to, so that the structure becomes part of the marine environment. Below the entrance, there will be a champagne bar, leading to a 36-foot-wide panoramic viewing window at the far end.

Rune Grasdal, the lead architect, likens the structure to a periscope. Natural materials, such as oak, as well as lighting, are used to make the dining experience a comfortable one especially for those who might feel nervous about going eye-to-eye with what's on the menu. Head chef Nicolai Ellitsgaard will offer dishes that draw on local produce and seafood. Between meal times, Under will double up as a marine biology research centre. (See Under.no.)

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