At a good airport hotel, staying your first (or last) night at the airport can feel like an extension to your holiday...
The small beach in front of the Hulhule Resort Hotel
The water is turquoise, the sand a brilliant white, and as I splash back towards the beach a yellow and black striped angelfish darts from my shadow. This isn't a remote atoll resort in the Maldives, but a hotel metres away from the runway at the country's international airport. How I wish all airport hotels could be like this.
Most people holidaying in the Maldives fly into Male and whiz off in speedboats or seaplanes to conquer jetlag at their resort.
I however decided to recuperate first. So after a comically short 100%-metre 'transfer' in the hotel's shuttle van, I step into the lobby of the Hulhule Island Resort.
Unlike most airport hotels, which tend towards glass and steel cubes, this one packs individuality and a welcome that actually makes you want to stay. The panoramic glass wall facing the sea and has wooden frames, ceiling fans rotate leisurely, and cheery staff wearing hibiscus patterned 'uniforms' offer me fruit punch and a cold towel.
The Hulhule lobby is airy and comfy, and not at all corporate in feel
Moments later I enter a deluxe sea-facing room and throw open the balcony door. On the pocket-sized beach, an Asian honeymoon couple are in selfie stick heaven. To the left small passenger ferries shuffle in and out of the airport's little harbour, and straight ahead on an island of its own is Male, the Maldivian capital.
The 10-hour flight and five-hour time difference have befuddled me enough to nap with the balcony door wide open - not normally clever at an airport hotel. But it isn't jets that eventually disturb my slumber - I can barely hear them - instead it's the horn of a motor launch arriving to collect more honeymooners no doubt.
Awake again and hungry, I find the fourth-floor sunset deck, where people are smoking shisha pipes and enjoying terrific views across to the dusky twinkle of Male. It's 'Thai Night' in the adjacent restaurant and I pile my plate with authentic tasting curries.
The Hulhule sundeck overlooks the main airport ferry jetties, and the capital city of Male
The waiter with the Amir Khan smile notices my surprise at the buzz of the place and offers, “Male is a dry island sir, no alcohol. But on this island we can sell alcohol. You should visit our Champs Bar -- people come on the ferries as it is the best place in town”.
Airport hotel bars generally deliver The Girl from Ipanema on loop, disinterested bar staff and stale peanuts. But at Champs Bar, Bryan Ferry’s Avalon is wafting over the busy sea-facing terrace. An attentive barman called Raju (from Kathmandu) brings over a pint of draught Carlsberg and a half football sized bowl of popcorn.
Much of what happened after that is a blur, but it was 1:30am when I finally hit the sack.
Next morning, I discover that this hotel has a free shuttle boat to Male, a lobby spa for short treatments between flights, a proper detached spa pavilion and a very decent gym. Plus there are tennis courts, a putting green and an endearingly retro pool bar and grill with yellow mosaic-sided stools and thatch roofs.
The delightfully retro Hulhule pool bar
When I bump into the longstanding General Manager, Utkarsh Faujdar from Delhi, I ask about the soundproofing. "Our 136 rooms are this quiet because they all face from the runway towards the sea," he says, "and we use metallic door surrounds and sea."
"But this is what makes me most proud," he says, pointing to a wall covered in certificates; "We've won the World Travel Awards best airport resort three times, including 2014."
A week later and I'm back in Male with a few hours to kill before the London flight. I return to the Hulhule Resort Hotel, and sit by the pool bar chugging a draft Tiger beer.
Never have I been quite so reluctant to leave an airport hotel.
Other excellent hotels within a stone's throw of a terminal...
Regal Airport Hotel, Hong Kong; is connected to the terminal by an enclosed footbridge. About a quarter of its 1,000 rooms face a runway with views as good as the soundproofing. See Regal Hotel
Hotel Novotel, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport has 612 rooms and is linked with the terminal by an underground walkway. It has five restaurants and bars, a VOUS Spa and an outdoor pool worthy of a resort. See Novotel Bangkok Airport
Hilton Airport Hotel, Munich; the 15,000-square-foot lobby is a stunner, with palm trees and a bar serving great local beers; there’s a swim up bar in the indoor pool too. See Hilton Munich Airport
Dubai International Hotel is a great fly and flop between flights option. There’s no need to clear customs or collect bags, as the 350 smart rooms are airside in terminals 1 and 3. There’s a gym and small pool. See Dubai International Hotels