The world's most idyllic island
June 27, 2014
Gazing out of the window, I catch my first glimpse of a cluster of turquoise-ringed islands that make up Addu Atoll – the Maldives’ southern most archipelago. An airhostess taps me on the shoulder, smiles and hands me a certificate. It is addressed to me from the Shangri- La Villingili Resort, proudly announcing that we have officially just crossed the Equator.
It’s an unnecessary, but thoughtful gesture that alludes to the detail of care I am about to experience on one of the most beautiful islands, in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
The Shangri-La couldn’t be located further away from the Maldivian capital, Male, but despite the country offering more than a hundred different hotels and resorts, it continues to stand out from the pack.
The private resort covers the entirety of the 17,000sqm island Villingili, which, as one of the bigger islands in the Maldives, is no mean feat. The five-star hotel boasts 132 individual villas – that come in nine different varieties – a number of bars and restaurants, its own nine-hole golf course, a watersports centre, jungle and eco walks and an incredible Spa.
Like any far-flung destination, the fact that it is so far south means that visitors can only reach it via a 90-minute internal flight from Male. Or if that doesn’t sound appealing enough, you can opt to fly there by private jet, landing on the nearby island of Gan, where you will be met by the staff and whisked away by boat to the hotel only five minutes away. It may be an extra bit of hassle, but once you’re there it is totally worth it.
My Beach Villa could have been straight from the ‘Wish you were here’ postcard two-a-penny at the airport. The bedroom is huge, air–conditioned and complete with a walk-in wardrobe and indoor and outdoor showers. The private swimming pool, separate living room area and – thanks to the lush surrounding greenery – high levels of privacy making it an ideal place to stay for a couple.
Then, of course, there is the direct access to a perfect white-sand beach and crystal clear waters. At last count, there were seven different shades of blue.
Aside from the obvious luxuries that you receive at any five-star hotel in the Maldives, it is the Shangri-La’s focus on the little details that really hit home. The sheer size of the island allows them to push the boundaries of what they can offer a little further.
For example, many of the vegetables and spices supplied to the resort’s three restaurants (the fine-dining Fashala; Dr. Ali, which offers Arabic, Indian and Chinese menus; and the all-day diner, Javvu) are actually grown on the island in the Chef’s Garden, and more than half of its near 700-staff are locals employed from the surrounding islands.
Bicycles are provided to villa and guests are each given a mobile phone so that they can contact their personal butler at any time of the day.
Perhaps the most impressive bespoke service is the Dine by Design option. The hotel has eight niche private dining locations, which range from a beautiful torch-lit dinner in a jungle clearing surrounded by lush vegetation, to lunch or dinner aboard its luxury 21-metre sail boat, Horizon, as it sets sail for the Equator. You can’t really go wrong whichever option you pull for.
The resort’s location also gives guests the benefit of having their villa facing either the calm lagoon on the Atoll-side of the island (perfect conditions for snorkelling around the nearby reefs) or the spectacular – but rougher – ocean side. It is on the latter side where we find Chi, the spa.
Now, being a Shangri-La, high expectations come as prerequisite regarding spas. Chi is actually located in its own compound – or ‘sanctuary’ as they refer to it. Passing through the gates and seeing a large yoga pavilion surrounded by private treatment villas, immediately feels like you’ve just uncovered a hidden Buddhist monastery retreat.
The spa menu offers a thorough selection of Asian, Indian and local massages and treatments – I urge you to book the Cowrie-Shell Massage – and you have the option to have them in a private air-conditioned villa, or in an outside pagoda accompanied by the roaring of the waves hypnotically crashing over the reef.
If spa treatments aren’t really your thing – what is wrong with you? – then perhaps the island’s golf course might be more up to your speed. The nine-hole links course is a wonderful addition to island life, and is also home to the highest natural point in the country, Mount Villingili perched at a lofty 5.1 metres above sea level.
The course is open to all skill levels but, be warned, strong cross island winds make it a lot more tricky than it looks – take my word for it.
It’s hard to believe, when you’re swaying in your hammock, listening to the tide lap onto the shore, but one of the issues that plague smaller resorts in the Maldives is known as ‘Island Fever’ – an issue of boredom seeping in after several days.
This is not a problem often experienced at the Shangri-La. Using its size, location and commitment to getting the small things right, it is a paradise location where you would happily spend a week or more, and long for it once you (begrudgingly) step foot through it’s private departure gate.
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Details: visit Shangri-la.com/Maldives