Gili Lankanfushi – Total Perfection in one small Maldivian Island
The Maldives are well and truly open for business and with one of the highest vaccination levels. With this particular resort already having all staff fully-vaccinated. You would also be hard pressed to find a better, year round, sun destination.
Following on from my last column, in which I recommended a great value ‘luxury’ island, here is my blow the budget, blow your mind option. If you’ve been saving your pounds during the pandemic, then I recommend you splurge them here, immediately. Don’t hesitate, don’t question, just book. You will thank me later. If you are looking for understated luxury, somewhere to get away from it all and appreciate true perfection in every way, then this is your place. It’s an island where you will create memories, live your best life and want for absolutely nothing except to never leave. It will feel like home.
Gili Lankanfushi is not only my favorite destination in the Maldives, but also my top pick globally. That’s both pre- and post- children. If I could only ever holiday in one place again, this would be it. Hands down. I have been lucky enough to visit many exceptional resorts and I’m an extremely difficult customer, so this really is an accolade.
Their philosophy is to create an authentic, eco-friendly, yet luxurious and sophisticated, Robinson Crusoesque home away from home. The reality is spectacular in every way. From the huge, beautiful villas, to the service and ambiance. Gone are the days when luxury was represented by bling. The guests here are paying for something far more philosophical. Yes, it’s expensive, but don’t expect to be vying for first place in the designer resort wear competition. Guests at Gili are paying to avoid just that. They aren’t looking to show off, they don’t need to. Instead, you might want to boast about the number of stingrays that you spotted that day at your villa, or the shoal of magnificent Picasso fish you swam with, or a face to face meeting with a magnificent turtle.
My heart truly belongs to Gili and all its wonderful staff. This is a place to regenerate the soul. To appreciate the best that life has to offer with the ones that you love. We have been privileged enough to return over the years, creating a treasured narrative. Starting out as a frazzled, young, professional couple looking for luxury and relaxation and finding so much more, to a full on, family escape, where each day brings joy and happiness to everyone in all the little details. At Gili, they believe in creating lifelong memories to treasure and in that they exceed. It’s really not unusual for my children to question the date of our return. My standard answer is either ‘soon’, (mostly wishful thinking!) or ‘are you paying?’ (also wishful thinking!). However, I’m always working towards our next trip and in my mind, there I am back on our tropical island, in true paradise. Riding my bicycle barefoot along the tree-lined, sandy paths- the pedals are padded, warm breeze in my hair, or sitting at our usual table at the water’s edge, relaxed and happy, feet in the sand. We might be having a sublime meal, laughing with our waiter, Asleem, over our latest riddle of the day, all the while in front of that picture perfect view, or overstaying breakfast again, just chatting. Time flies here.
Enough gushing, I hear you say. I apologise, it really isn’t my style! Let’s get to the practicalities. Gili Lankanfushi is situated just twenty minutes by speedboat from the airport. So, there’s no long seaplane transfer and within minutes of collecting your luggage you will be whizzed through arrivals like royalty, into the safe hands of Gili’s awaiting crew. Next, be prepared to leave your shoes at the door or more exactly on the boat, as their motto is, ‘no news, no shoes’. This is a barefoot resort. You are encouraged to leave all the worries and the pressures of the outside world, including your shoe collection, at home. On my first visit, all those years ago, I was a little skeptical. I’m a bit OCD when it comes to cleanliness. I hardly needed to worry. It’s not possible to find anything dirty here. Now, after two weeks barefoot on this totally private, perfectly maintained island, I can never bear to put my shoes back on. For at Gili Lankanfushi, there really is no need, unless you decide to play tennis with the resident pro that is, or venture to the gym or, of course, don your fins for some underwater action. The sand is as soft as you could ever imagine, it’s raked meticulously every day. The communal areas are all either on the sand or reclaimed wood, as are the villas, that all hover over the transparent lagoon on one of three jetties.
Most people cycle, including the children- they do have stabilisers and tricycles, it’s such a total pleasure and gives a little, much needed exercise, given the temptation to overindulge here, multiple times per day. The island itself is small enough to walk around in a matter of minutes, but you can get a bit of speed up along the jetties. You are given your own bicycles at the beginning of your stay. If you are lucky enough to be a repeat visitor of five times or more, you’ll even be greeted by your own name plates on the back to replace your villa number, carved just for you, out of island wood. A simple but special touch. Island living is totally outdoors, unless you count the refrigerated, state-of-the-art glass deli room beside the restaurant, or perhaps some of the rooms, complete with glass floor tiles, in the sublime spa, or the villa bedrooms.
So, you arrive by speedboat to this perfect, tiny island, white sand and swaying palms. The staff are there to welcome you with smiles- warm, friendly, yet totally authentic. Each of the 45 villas is allocated a Mr or Ms Friday. They are your own, personal hosts. There to make your holiday memorable. From the simple, practical things like packing or unpacking or confirming flights, to creating once-in-a lifetime experiences, our Mr Friday, Makif, became part of our island family. To our little ones he became a tennis buddy, driving instructor, buggy taxi service and friend with whom they shared their teddy collection. Always just a call and a smile away.
This is an all-villa island. There are ten different villa types. From the ultimate Private Reserve – the largest over-water villa in the world, which comes with a full staff, kitchen, gym, spa, cinema, waterslide, pool and boat – often rented by extended families, to the standalone Crusoe Residences, provide the ultimate in seclusion, set a short boat-ride away from the island in blissful solitude and finally, the family villas and villa suites with jaw-droppingly spectacular infinity pools. Each and every one is the ultimate in rustic, luxury, eco-chic. Constructed from reclaimed light wood and bamboo, with thatched roofs, they are eco-palaces, the stuff that dreams are made of. Bedrooms with floor to ceiling windows for walls, vast bathrooms with huge, round stone baths, complete with panoramic views of the sapphire seascape, windows that open out as if you are actually bathing at sea and semi open-air showers with secluded ocean access. There are open air living rooms that give way to vast, overwater sundecks, complete with catamaran nets and private sea access and your own sea hammock. There are rooftop jacuzzis and rooftop living areas where you can dine or sleep under the stars.
Everything here is possible and encouraged. ‘You have to sleep under the stars’, we are told. And so we did. One cloudless night, beds were made and we lay staring up at the vast canopy of shimmering stars above us. Simply unforgettable.
Of course there are all the mod cons. This goes without saying. Whatever you need is yours. Wine fridges, stocked with your personal selection, BOSE stereo system, DVD player, ipod docking station. However, the focus is on sustainable luxury and enjoying what’s on your doorstep. No tacky, tiny toiletries in wasteful plastic bottles, instead, choose your favourite essential oils, from lavender to lemongrass and your eco-friendly soaps, shampoos, bath salts. Conditioners and moisturisers are replenished in their beautiful pottery bottles without you ever needing to ask. Your preference for deeper sea and more marine life on your doorstep, or shallower seas, will likely determine your preference of jetty. Sunsets are spectacular, wherever you are.
The Maldives may have a reputation as a honeymooner’s destination but nowadays you are just as likely to encounter families and children. There’s plenty to see and do. So much to appreciate and enjoy. One firm favourite for us, was spending time with the resident marine biologist, Tiana. In charge of all that surrounds Gili, planting and tending the coral and monitoring the marine biodiversity, she also hosts regular activities. The children couldn’t wait to run off to see her each day, returning laden with origami sea creatures and bursting with knowledge of the reef and its inhabitants. A lot of the reefs in the Maldives were destroyed by a bleaching event in 1998 and resorts such as Gili are dedicated to replanting and protecting them. Their house reef is now thriving and whether snorkelling or just observing from the comfort of your sunlounger, prepare to be thrilled. For the active there’s a superb dive school, a separate surf school – Gili has some of the best breaks in the country on its doorstep – fishing, boating and watersports. Be as sporty or as relaxed as you choose.
One day, we threaded and planted a live coral line that we now monitor via a weblink! Something to give back to the place that has given so much to us and a perfect way to inspire the children and to remind us of good times. My nine year old dived with Tiana and carried the line to the coral nursery in the sea, all captured on video for a school project. So there’s no kids club as such. Instead, activities are planned on a bespoke basis. In fact, it was hard to get my children to re-adjust from the fact that they weren’t the centre of everyone’s universe and ‘no’ was an option, once we had left. When whisked away for a private yoga session in the outdoor yoga champa or private pizza-making, crafting sushi with the sushi chef or tasting chocolate, they were treated like kings. The food here is faultless and everything can be kosher. Some people bring their own kosher chefs, for others everything can be arranged, given prior notice. Mention your favourite dish to chef Harry and it will magically appear in its tastiest and most authentic form.
Gili is all about making every moment count. You never know when you might return but you will never, ever forget! Here are 10 things you must do before you leave!
As a family, we flew with Qatar, from Heathrow. Meet and Greet parking was booked through Holidayextras. It’s often cheaper and less aggravation to take your own car. Simply drive up, drop off your keys and call upon landing to have it ready to meet you just steps from arrivals. https://www.holidayextras.com/airport-parking.html
For pre-departure PCR testing we used Collinson. They are the UK’s leading Covid-19 travel testing provider and government approved for mandatory and test to release PCR tests. This makes a huge difference, as they work with a large network of labs, they’re able to process at scale. They have testing centres at Heathrow Terminals 2 and 5, Stansted, City, Luton , Manchester and East Midlands airports, as well as APH Gatwick and the 02 Arena. PCR tests take between 24-48 hours to process and the rules at this moment ask for a valid test within 72 hours of travel. Although we flew from Heathrow, we drove the 15 minutes up the M1 to the Luton Airport drive through. The process was quick and easy and we didn’t even need to leave our car. We received our result via email ready to show at the airport. These guys are consummate professionals and I highly recommend them. Collinson also offers the full gamut of other Covid-19 tests including same day test to release LAMP tests (before midnight for appointments up to 4pm), Antigen and Antibody too.
By Caron Bluestone
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