If paradise exists, I’ve found it. The Maldives is a place I never expected to be visiting so soon in my life, but recently I’ve developed an itch for long haul vacations. Planes are now much more technologically advanced on-board, the food is getting better and the wines served are becoming more select. And then of course you have the before and after duty-free shopping. It all adds to that lasting experience and memory which a holiday creates. In this case that memory was created at Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa Maldives. It’s a long journey and not only requires a 12 hour flight from the UK (with a change), but a connecting domestic flight and speedboat service from the local island of Gan. As you pull up to the island, the arrival jetty leaves you gasping at its beauty and the turquoise vista around it is magnificent.
After a speedy check-in, one of the island buggy’s collected us from reception and whisked us away to our water villa, located to the south of the island. The approach is quite something – crossing a washed timber walkway which connects all of the villas together. Crystal clear turquoise waters and shallow lagoons – teeming with life and corals. Each villa is an impressive 166 sqm / 1,787 sqf in size and big enough for not just a couple, but a family of which we spied a few of.
What really made me fall in love with our villa was the open terrace. Step out of the room and your presented with balcony space galore and views which seem never-ending. You can even see the curve of the earth if you look closely and for long enough – plus enjoying some rather magnificent sunsets come an evening.
The one thing that Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa Maldives offers in abundance, apart from beauty – is privacy. You can always find a secluded spot on the beach, but mostly so on your water villa terrace. An outdoor bed, chairs for relaxing, parasols, sun beds and a hammock which overlooks the ocean. If you ever need anything, such as a refreshing freshly plucked coconut brought to the room – your personal island host is more than happy to cycle up with one.
And then there’s the inside. An incredibly comfy bed, huge ceilings, day bed and a rather dangerous mini bar at your fingertips. There’s also a pillow menu for those who really want to have the perfect nights sleep.
With a large and airy bedroom, the bathroom is even bigger. A gargantuan hallway entrance with a walk-in wardrobe and a bath almost big enough for swimming in. All of the toiletries are of the highest quality and again everything is here for you. Shavers, combs, toothbrush and toothpaste. If a bath isn’t quite your thing then the shower will be. The entire thing is outside and with pools of clear ocean either side of you. It’s incredible.
Breakfast every morning is served in the islands all-day dining restaurant, Javvu. Meaning “atmosphere” in local Dhivehi language, the restaurant is beautifully located along the beach and offers not only stunning views across the ocean, but food to die for. Served buffet style, everything can be found on offer. From fiery Chinese stir fry’s, continental ham and cheese selections, array of pastries and my favourite – traditional Maldivian tuna curry with thin roti bread. We enjoyed waking up early enough to sit at one of the beach huts for our morning meal.
Feeling energetic after breakfast, we took a stroll down to the dive centre and joined in with one of the many islands excursions – opting for an incredible couple of hours searching for dolphins. Departing from the jetty we set out across the ocean, hoping to catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures and what luck! A pod of dolphins swam and jumped next to our boat for miles. They’re so playful and it’s an experience I’ll never forget. Especially hearing them whistle to each other.
I’ve had my fair share of spa treatments over the years but never have I had one quite like I did here at Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa Maldives. We cycled from our room to the spa and as soon as you arrive you’re greeted with so much beauty. Manicured private gardens, a grand entrance and all of the natural elements on stilts surrounding the entrance in spherical form.
CHI, The Spa at Shangri-La, draws inspiration from the origins of the Shangri-La legend, a place of peace, enchantment and well-being. Here you’ll find Individual treatment villas with private gardens and steam rooms, plus a spa menu offering a selection of massages and treatments – alongside pure and utter relaxation. You’re treated to a delicious welcome drink on arrival and leave with a fresh coconut after. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a spa treatment so much and felt completely rejuvenated after.
That evening we dined at the wonderful Javvu, divulging in a pan full of some gargantuan sized prawns which didn’t disappoint. Read all about my full dining experience at Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa Maldives.
The next morning we spent most of our time exploring the island, on our bikes of course. Each villa comes with allocated amount of bikes per guest and is yours to use throughout the duration of your stay. I’ll never forget crossing the wooden walkway from our villa with those clear blue waters below us. It’s one of the best parts of the island for snorkelling too and just the right depth to not feel out of your comfort zone.
North of the island is home to one of the most magnificent chef gardens. Ingredients used in the daily cooking are plucked from these gardens and so a visit to them really needs to be experienced to realise just how serious the kitchen and island is about food. You can even dine at the centre of the garden, something I’d loved to have experienced.
Located immediately before the chefs kitchen, I’d highly recommend dropping off your bike at one of the many parking stations, changing into some appropriate footwear and taking a slow walk through the islands very own jungle. Lizards, frogs, spiders, birds and some rather large fruit bats and flying foxes can be seen in this jungle. Some of the trees here too are full of history and some very rare varieties amongst them.
Before dinner on our second night, we took a well-earned break and much-needed cocktail at M-Lounge. A trendy beachfront bar which opens just before the sunset and looks out over the crystal blue waters. When the night sky settles in, the DJ’s come out and the Champagne flows. Daily happy hour runs from 5.30pm to 7.30pm and 9pm to 11pm daily, plus a Mojito Night held every Sunday, and a Margarita Night every Friday.
My favourite restaurant on the island was Dr Ali’s. The restaurant pays tribute to a much-loved Maldivian doctor called Dr. Ali, who from 1850 to 1900 travelled across Asia and the Middle East, collecting exotic ingredients which he subsequently brought back to the Maldives. Dr Ali used these ingredients to create new recipes, injecting a sense of spice and cuisine. The menu is large in terms of size, but the quality is excellent. Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese and Middle Eastern cuisine – all with their own dedicated chefs. A sumptuous nigh-time setting, wonderful meze and a Maldivian tuna curry of dreams were just a few of my favourites.
Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa Maldives even has its own mini-village. Made for guests, you’ll find everything here from gift shops, dive centres, doctors surgery and even a jewellers selling precious jewels. We fell in love with canvas and coconut shell paintings for sale – all hand-painted by the staff.
As the sun set we tucked into dinner at the islands north-most restaurant, Fashala – meaning “the edge” in the local Dhivehi language. Here they serve a much more international menu and utilises ingredients from the surrounding waters and neighbouring farms. Fresh catch of the day, Maldivian lobsters and a wine menu to pair with it all. We loved everything here and the yellow-fin tuna steak in particular didn’t disappoint.
We really didn’t want to leave Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa Maldives and our stay here was truly something we’ll never forget. Taking in one final drink in the Manzaru bar while waiting for our boat to whisk us back to Gan airport, we reflected on our stay and everything it had to offer. Incredible food, an abundance of wildlife, water villas’ that are out-of-this-world and fleet of staff who couldn’t do anymore for you if they tried. Would we come back to Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa Maldives? Of course we would. While the journey isn’t short, it was worth every single minute of it.
Room rates at Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa are from US$645.41 (approx. £523) per night. This is based on double occupancy and includes all taxes and fees. To book, please visit www.shangri-la.com/male/villingiliresort
NB: I was invited to review and my stay was complimentary. All views are as always, my own. My views are not influenced by anyone other than my own palate and slightly poor eyesight.