No bucket list is complete without a visit to the Maldives on it. It is one of the world's most geographically dispersed countries, as well as the smallest Asian countries by both land area and population, with less than 500,000 inhabitants.
The country is made up of 26 Atolls which are made up of around 1,190 coral islands, with less than 200 of them inhabited and around 110 of them resorts. The Maldives are best known for powder white sand beaches, striking blue lagoons and extensive coral reefs, containing a diverse range of marine life. Most resorts are exclusive Islands, with only a few sharing an Island and many have their own shallow, coral reef surrounded lagoons.
The Addu Atoll, the only one which is situated below the equator, in the southern hemisphere, is where you will find the 5* Shangri-La’s Villingili Island Resort and Spa.
Villingili, the southernmost coral Island in the Maldives, is a 5 minute speedboat ride from Gan International airport (built by the British as an air base/staging post over 60 years ago but handed back to Maldivan Government in 1976)
You can fly to Gan direct from Sri Lanka (a very recent addition, making it a great twin centre trip with Sri Lanka), or take a domestic flight from Male, which takes around 100 minutes, sometimes with a stop off at another Atoll en-route to drop off and pick up passengers.
Shangri-La Villingili Resort and Spa overview
Surrounded by a striking coral reef, this boutique-style all-villa resort is home to more than 17,000 coconut trees, over six kilometres of picturesque coastline and 2 kilometres of white sandy beaches. The resort comprises 132 tranquil villas in 9 styles from private water villas and tropical tree houses to pool villas and beachside residences.
For the ultimate experience, the Resort features two Presidential Villas. The over water Villa Muthee and the land-based Villa Laalu. All villas are extremely spacious and feature luxurious amenities, with spacious sundecks, patios, daybeds and lounge areas. Villa Muthee even has its own private Spa, where you can enjoy a range of in villa treatments.
There are 3 different areas of over-water villas on the Island, Whispering Palms, at the north-east, where you will also find access to the house reef for an amazing snorkelling experience, and 2 separate area’s in serenity bay, the furthest ones also being near the entrance to the golf course. All are similar in style and are very well furnished with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, and steps straight down into the sparkling lagoon.
All have stunning bathrooms with large circular baths, his and her basins and indoor and outdoor showers.
To the east side of the Island, you will find Fashala, the stunning fine dining restaurant, as well as many beach villas dotted along the shoreline. To the south side of the Island, overlooking the more rugged shores, you will find the tropical tree houses, Dr Ali’s Asian restaurant and the wedding pavilion.
When taking a domestic flight from Male, your Shangri-La experience starts at the airport where you are met by Shangri-La personnel, taken to domestic terminal to check in, and then escorted to the Moonima lounge where you will find plentiful seating, a small spa, refreshments and small selection of food/snacks.
Once your flight is ready for boarding, you will again be escorted by Shangri-La staff to the departure lounge to board your Dash 8, propeller plane for the flight to Gan. Don’t be surprised if you are the only holiday makers on the flight, as was the case for us.
During the flight, you pass over the equator- this is announced during the flight and Shangri-La guests presented with an Equator Crossing certificate, which is a lovely little touch.
On arrival at Gan, after collecting your luggage, you are met just outside the building by Shangri-La staff who immediately relieve you of your luggage and escort you to a nearby waiting vehicle to take you to the dock, which is literally 200 yards away, to board the speedboat. We were given life jackets to wear and refreshing cold towels.
On approaching Villingili, the water changes colour from a deep blue to the most amazing turquoise, and you can see coral and fish swimming in the crystal clear water before even docking.
We had a welcome party greet us, with fresh coconuts and flowers, and were introduced to Michael, the Islands Executive Chef who advised that nothing was too much trouble and if we couldn’t find anything on one of the restaurants extensive menu’s he would be happy, with 24 hours notice, to prepare us anything we desired.
We were then loaded into a golf cart and taken to our over-water villa to check in, Monica, our escort, pointing out the different restaurants, swimming pool, water-sports centre and golf course during the ride.
Villingili is a fairly large Island by Maldivan standards, and bicycles are provided for use by guests at each private villa, or the golf carts are only a call away if you don’t want to walk or cycle.
We had a fabulous 4 night stay where we dined at all 3 restaurants, and enjoyed a private dinner in our villa, enjoyed sunset drinks at Manzaru (inside) and the M-Lounge (on the beach), cycled around the island (several times) tried out some water sports, took a boat trip to see some more of the incredible marine life nearby including manta rays, dolphins and sea turtles and snorkelled on many occasions. They have even planted a coral garden to encourage the regeneration of coral, and you can even take part in helping them plant it.
The resort facilities
The staff were incredibly helpful and friendly and nothing was too much trouble. The food was excellent in all restaurants, with Dr Ali’s being our personal favourite.
There is a beautiful Spa, called Chi on the island where you can indulge in numerous treatments including a selection of Asian massages and Indian Ayurvedic treatments, and take Yoga classes in a unique pavilion overlooking the Indian Ocean.
There is a beautiful central area in the resort where you will find the swimming pool and Enheri Bar, water sports center and Javvu.
As well as the 2 already mentioned, there is a third restaurant on the Island, Javvu, where and amazing breakfast is served and also for al fresco dining during the day and refined Western fare in the evening. One of the signatures of Villingili is its Dine by Design philosophy – where you are encouraged to discover new dining experiences in some of the resort’s most secret locations. Whether you opt for a torch-lit dinner under the banyan trees of the resort’s jungle, a memorable lunch on the equator aboard the resort’s own luxury yacht, a spa dinner in the privacy of a meditation pavilion overlooking the ocean, a BBQ by the fire pit on the golf course, a romantic in-villa evening or a lunch of local ingredients fresh from the chef’s garden, the island’s culinary team will help you create memories that last a lifetime.
Apart from those already mentioned, Villingili offers numerous other recreational facilities including a 9-hole golf course (the only one in the Maldives), Scuba diving with a decompression chamber on site, dolphin cruises, boat charter including a luxury yacht, big game fishing and hand line fishing, supervised children’s activities with an Entertainment centre and “Cool Zone” - kids area, Cultural and historical tours of neighbouring islands, Jogging trails, Jungle trails, meditation, Health club, Outdoor swimming pool, Tennis courts, and a Badminton court.
This exclusive resort also offers a Private executive terminal at Gan International Airport, Meet and greet service at Malé and Gan airports, Private jet services, Babysitting / child care, a Wedding Pavilion, 24-hour villa host service, Complimentary airport boat transfer, Facilities for the physically challenged, a Foreign exchange counter, a Hair and beauty salon, a House doctor on call, an IT butler, Laundry and valet service, Non-smoking villas, Four retail shops, Safety deposit boxes in villa, an Eco centre and a resort Photographer, available for private shoots.
Overall a fabulous, exclusive resort where your enjoyment, privacy and discretion is a priority and you’re every whim is catered for in a stunning and luxurious jungle setting. A truly luxurious Island paradise.