Every once in a blue moon you hear of a story that makes your heart jump. The kind that sends you dreaming and that you want to share with everyone you meet. The kind of story I heard over dinner at the Sun Siyam Vilu Reef resort in the Maldives. I was just enjoying my grilled fish when Shammun, the resort’s Media Manager, told me the story of Mama and Papa, a couple from Germany in their sixties and seventies who had been coming to the Vilu Reef resort for 15 years and they were currently there for the thirtieth time. 30 times!!!!!

All the staff on the island call them Mama and Papa because they see them more than they see their own parents. Every time they come to the island the staff surprise them with something new, often an incredible welcome celebration, fit for royalty. Like this one here:

That night I did in fact dream of Mama and Papa and I woke up wondering about them. The next morning I spotted them at breakfast. They were about to leave when I arrived and Mama, who is actually called Bärbel, made sure she found every server working the breakfast shift and gave them a heartfelt hug or a kiss on the cheek, thanking them and wishing them a great day. “Wow”, I said to myself, secretly admiring this woman for her warmth with these waiters. I immediately understood why they were referred to as Mama and Papa.

Later that day I met them at Nautilus, the resort’s bar overlooking the sea. Every afternoon around 4pm they come here to drink coffee, always sitting at the same table that even features a sign with their names on. Bärbel and Gerd were happy to chat to me and to my surprise they come from the same corner of Germany I grew up in – Aschersleben in Saxony-Anhalt.

They’re both retired now but Bärbel used to work as a school principal while Gerd was the head of a car repair service. They have been married 40 years. After hardship through illness, they decided to take life by the horns and go out exploring. That was in 1997. They first traveled through Europe, only to quickly expand their scope towards South America, traveling to Tobago, Jamaica, Grenada, Cuba and Mauritius. They instantly fell in love with the Indian Ocean so when they were tipped off to go see the Maldives, they were quick to book flights.

Right upon landing, Gerd and Bärbel were enchanted by the archipelago – it was love at first sight. It did however take 7 different resorts for them to finally step foot on Sun Siyam Vilu Reef which, since that day, has become their second home. “Why is this resort so much better to you then the other ones you’ve visited?” I asked them, naturally curious to hear why they love the island so much. The points they listed really resonated with me and I must say I agree on many aspects. So here we go, Gerd and Bärbel’s top 7 reasons to love Sun Siyam Vilu Reef:

1. The coffee is wonderful – a small thing but this can really make or break a holiday.

2. The island is small, which means it is easily walkable, yet allowing for the ideal mix of privacy and being sociable with other guests.

3. The Cooking Classes on offer here are just divine and the pair loves that the recipe comes in their language. One also receives spices as gifts to take home.

4. The relationship between staff and management is amicable and respectful and it shows in the way the employees deal with guests. Everyone here feels like family, and this vibe means that many guests end up connecting and becoming friends also, especially those who stay longer.

5. Barefoot luxury – everything is made to be luxurious yet approachable. One always feels a sense of comfort, even by the choice of furniture and layout of the resort.

6. Food. Both restaurants on the premises dish up an incredible wealth of dishes, never failing to be anything less than divine in taste and quality. The managers and servers always make sure guests find all that they were hoping to. Guest satisfaction is of highest priority to the staff at Sun Siyam Vilu Reef.

7. A nice mix of guests, both in age and nationality which keeps things interesting and fun. Most people who come here stay 14 days so there is almost a guarantee you will meet those people at dinner or one of the activities. In more ways than one holidaying here is holidaying with friends.

Ever since their 6th visit to the island the staff has always come up with cool new ideas, sometimes entire festivals, around the arrival of Mama and Papa. They are just as happy to see them as Gerd and Bärbel are to return to their second home and family. This has been by far my favorite travel story of the year and I can only hope that one day I will fall in love with an island so much that I will want to come back again and again.