At Gili Lankanfushi in the Maldives, relaxation is no laughing matter: shoes are removed on arrival, every villa has a 'Mr Friday', and the views are blue and blissful. There are more restaurants and dining options than you’ll know what to do with, a spoiling spa, and the chance to dive for coral and swim with dolphins.
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A Meera Spa gift or a private chocolate, cheese and wine experience with Gili's sommelier
Double rooms from $1615.20, excluding tax at 23.2 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional government tax of $6.00 per person per night on check-out.
Breakfast is usually included in room rates; full-board is from US$185 per person, per night.
You’re already in heaven, but keep on indulging: Meera Spa has six overwater treatment rooms, a yoga or Tai Chi champa, steam and sauna, and an upstairs relaxation room with uninterrupted ocean views; help yourself to tea and water, or try one of the spa mocktails (listed on a menu that details their healing benefits: try a detoxifier, cleanser or energiser). Ask for a massage table with a glass floor, so you can spy on the fish darting around beneath you, or opt for the private, open-air double treatment room on the beach, shielded by greenery.
At the hotel
Beach, cinema, butler service, library, stash of CDs and DVDs, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: TV, CD/DVD player, pre-loaded iPod and iPod dock, minibar, bathrobes.
Our favourite rooms
We were seduced by the Villa Suites - you'd never guess that they're the entry-level category. These suites span 210sq m and are open-air, apart from the bedroom (which is also the only bit with air-con; everywhere else gets a sea breeze). Each of these villas has a large living room with day-beds and an overwater sundeck with two sun beds, an umbrella and stairs leading to the ocean. Upstairs, there's a large rooftop sundeck with day-beds and dining facilities.
There’s a rectangular swimming pool on the beach, surrounded by leaning palms, white sun loungers and swooping hammocks. Order drinks and refreshments poolside.
Don’t weigh down your case with toiletries: rooms are stocked with aloe vera gel, insect repellent, after-sun lotion, shampoo and conditioner in ceramic containers (avoiding plastic waste). You’ll also get a toothbrush, toothpaste and basic first aid kit if you need it. There’s a no-shoes policy here; just bring trainers for the tennis courts. Mrs Smiths might want to get a pedicure for holiday tootsies.
Each villa is looked after by a 'Mr (or Ms) Friday', a brilliant butler/companion, who you'll want to take home with you.
Little Smiths are very welcome. Extra beds for under-12s are US$55 a night. A 50 per cent food discount applies to under-12s, and under-6s eat free. Return speedboat transfers for under-12s are US$93 a child; for under-2s transfers are free.
This green, serene hotel is built from sustainable materials including plantation teak, palm wood, bamboo, pine and even telegraph poles. Bath products are organic; don’t expect your eyeballs to be offended by plastic packaging.
The one you can't see: be picked up by buggy, blindfolded and taken to a secret spot on the island. Your blindfold will be left on during dinner, so that you can fully appreciate what you're eating. (A waiter will make sure you put it In your mouth.)
Whatever the heck you like, but bring longer hemlines and short-sleeved tops for visits to the neighbouring Muslim islands. Wear sunscreen at all times: the sun is ferocious (you can buy more on the island, if you run out).
You need a week or two to just do justice to the hotel's array of eating options. Restaurant on the Beach is a sandy setting for breakfast and dinner, with shaded wooden chairs and tables positioned beneath the palms. Breakfast is a vast spread of pastries, preserves, breads and tropical fruit; dinner on some nights features cooking stations (Asian street market, Mediterranean buffet and so on) and live entertainment. By the Sea on the sunrise side of the island serves Japanese food (try the crispy soy-braised pork belly). The restaurant is perched high above the beachside forest, with views of the ocean, and boasts a copper-clad sushi and sashimi bar, sake menu and an open kitchen. At the Over Water Bar, guests can choose from choice cuts of lamb, steak, pork and duck, all cooked on a lava stone grill.
The Over Water Bar Is set over a shallow lagoon with 360-degree views of the Indian Ocean. It's an idyllic place to admire the sunset. In the middle of the bar, there's a lowered seating area with a circular cut-out hole where you can see the lagoon below and the marine life swimming by. The bar offers a buffet lunch between 12.30pm and 3pm, or you can order pizzas, salads, sushi, burgers and lobster until 6pm. Sip a ginger mint julep (Jim Beam, ginger, lime juice, mint and sugar syrup), or try one of the experimental martinis.
Dinner orders are taken until 10.30pm in the various restaurants; drinks are served until your thirst’s quenched.
Pick from an international menu of regional, Mediterranean and Asian specialties between 7am and 11pm. There are a bewildering array of breakfast options – American, Spa, Pre-dive, Asian and a la carte – and for lunch, order salads, sandwiches or pizza.
You need a transfer to reach this hotel. For approximate costs, see location information
Gili Lankanfushi has a hard-to-rival location: a little island in a large lagoon in the North Malé atoll, a 20-minute speedboat ride from Malé itself.
The main international airport is at Malé (+960 325511; www.airports.com.mv), central to both the North and South atolls: fly in from the US or the UK via Dubai with Emirates Airlines or connect from an Etihad flight into Abu Dhabi. There are numerous direct charter flights into Malé from the UK. From the airport a speedboat will take you to the island; shared return transfers are US$185 a person (excluding taxes and service charge).
Forget about it; any exploring you do will be by dhoni or speedboat.
Worth getting out of bed for
Go and say hello to the resident octopus lurking in the lagoon by the overwater bar (he seems to be most sociable around 10am). Gili Lankanfushi offers a holiday’s worth of free activities: start the day with sunrise yoga; go windsurfing, kayaking or Hobie Cat sailing; hit the tennis courts, play table tennis or go jogging. If you’re feeling too lazy to do the above, the hotel has a large selection of boardgames including chess, backgammon and trivial pursuit. You can borrow bikes or ask your Man Friday to pick you up in a buggy and drop you off somewhere on the island (you can easily get around on foot, though). Staff can also arrange day trips and excursions, including: sunset or sunrise dhoni cruises, sandbank picnics, dolphin cruises, trips to Malé and the other local islands, private movie screenings at the Jungle Cinema (or a location of your choice). Have a sushi-making class at By the Sea: the tuna tataki is scrummy.
None, but you won't go hungry. In addition to the hotel's clutch of restaurants, guests can also try different dining experiences: private barbecues on One Palm Island, a sandbank off the main island that’s reached by jetty and lit by candles and lanterns; Swing by the Sea, low-level lounge seating in the sand and a seasonal Japanese 14-course tasting menu; Leaf, in the organic vegetable and herb garden, with a low-carb or barbecue menu, and a Bedouin-inspired dining experience on Palm Beach, with an Arabian menu including lamb cooked in the ground (a method that’s traditional to the Maldives, too).
You know that you’ve reached a whole new level of hotel when you arrive to be greeted by a unicorn. That swims.
As we hop off the speedboat that whizzes Mr Smith and me from Malé to Gili Lankanfushi, our island home for the next few days, the jetty is a hive of activity. There is a fleet of buggies flanked by drivers, the hotel manager is bearing a tray of straw-spiked bottles of juice and behind him staff are offering up chilled towels and canvas bags emblazoned with ‘no news, no shoes’.
Our juices a-slurped and flip-flops popped into our bags (where they’ll remain), next – as if on cue – out glides a pure white, horned unicorn fish. By the time I’ve scrabbled around for my camera, our aquatic welcoming party is nowhere to be seen. The hotel manager consolingly tells me that there are plenty more fish in the sea and cajoles us that the sooner we check in, the sooner we can be off in search of them again.
Not needing to be told twice, Mr Smith and I bound off to our designated golf buggy. Our smiling, immaculately uniformed driver introduces herself as our Girl Friday – our own go-to girl for all we need throughout our stay – 24/7. A quick tour of the island takes us past tennis courts, a gym, infinity pool, a jungle cinema, two restaurants, a spa, and we arrive at the fork of two wooden jetties, each fringed with a handful of thatched wooden huts, just in time to see a stingray glide by and dart beneath the nearest hut.
As we pull up, a few huts along, Mr Smith and I practically trip over each other in our hurry to get the first look at our digs. We quickly twig that ‘hut’ really isn’t an appropriate word to describe the overwater palace awaiting us. A huge open living area spills out onto a deck kitted with daybeds, sunloungers and a couple of cushion-strewn rope nets. Up a spiral staircase is a terrace with a dining area, a curtained snug and another daybed which our Girl Friday informs us can be transformed into a real bed if we’d like to experience a night sleeping under the Maldivian stars. Downstairs we gleefully discover a bathroom that leads to an outdoor shower and stairs that end in the gin-clear, turquoise waters below and our own private section of coral garden. We skip through to the bedroom with its enormous, white-canopied bed bordered by floor-to-ceiling windows that gaze across endless glimmering Indian Ocean.
Just glimpsing that water has Mr Smith and I racing for our swimwear from the suitcase set handily right next to the Gili Lankanfushi dive bag containing masks, snorkels and flippers all in the right sizes. In a swoosh and a splash we’re submerged beneath aquamarine waves, honking through our snorkels at each other and waving wildly at pufferfish and reef sharks and school after school of monochrome-striped humbug damselfish. Slipping into mermaid mode, I happily fin around the coral outcrops eventually lured back to dry land when Mr Smith pops the cork on a bottle of Champagne he’s discovered chilling in an ice bucket on our deck. Glasses are soon being clinked and toasts to never leaving being made.
Hardcore sunbathing keeps us busy for the next couple of hours and we next decide our baked bodies deserve a little TLC. On the meander over to the spa I have a little grumble that time spent lying face down on a massage table is a wasted snorkeling opportunity. I eat my words as I settle onto my bed to discover a window below me that looks directly onto a star-shaped patch of coral teeming with the rainbow-bright cast of Finding Nemo. As my therapist expertly kneads every last knot from my back and a crab scuttles by, I wonder how our stay can get better.
I have the same thought at 7pm while lounging in the bar with a lemongrass mojito gazing at a spotlit pool of sea where two cuttlefish are playing an energetic game of tag. We may be floating in the middle of the Indian Ocean, but in the restaurant behind us, an army of chefs serves up handmade fresh pasta, piquillo-pepper-spiked Portuguese fish stew and a host of other Mediterranean delights via individual food stations. We decide it’s our duty to try everything, and eat until we both vow never to eat again.
This ridiculous vow is thrown out of the window when we stroll past the beach restaurant the next morning. When we’ve overcome the breakfast dilemma of choosing between 16 types of jam to spread on our freshly baked croissants, our waiter tips us into culinary nirvana when he shows us a wine cellar complete with cheese and chocolate anterooms.
Declaring myself plumper than the puffer fish encountered on our sunrise snorkel, I demand we swim it all off and drag Mr Smith into the sea and out to the Instagram-perfect hammock suspended offshore. A short snooze later and Mr Smith and I are in the dive centre for a sea life briefing from the resident marine biologist before that day’s real adventure – a snorkeling trip to a nearby reef. For the next couple of hours we intrepidly explore every last inch of reef proclaiming it the best snorkeling our long and esteemed careers have known when a pod of dolphins bobs up beside the boat.
As the sun slinks through a russet and gold tinged sky that evening Mr Smith and I declare Gili Lankanfushi an island paradise of mythic proportions. I guess we should have known that from the second a swimming unicorn made an appearance.
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