A bucket-list-worthy experience at Gili Lankanfushi Maldives
Now that international travel and flying restrictions are easing up as more and more countries are welcoming back tourists, you may want to make your first trip aboard in a long while extra special. If the alluring atolls of the Maldives come to mind, a stay at Gili Lankanfushi Maldives may prove to be a bucket-list-worthy experience.
The barefoot bliss begins the moment you step onto a speedboat that will whisk guests from the Velana International Airport to Gili Lankanfushi Maldives in about 20 minutes. You'll be asked to take your shoes off but, no worries, they will be stored away and placed in your villa bathroom. Two things less to be worried about before arriving at the paradise resort.
I couldn't help but feast my eyes on the atoll on which Gili Lankanfushi Maldives is located -- surrounded by a sparkling turquoise lagoon, so clear that you can see coral reefs, as the boat approaches the jetty. After a warm welcome, I took a golf cart ride to my villa, passing by towering trees and fine white sand while being given a summary of the key facilities of Gili by my "Mr Friday", the resort's term for a personal butler.
From a bird's eye view, Gili consists of one main atoll roughly in an oval shape with three wooden jetties branching out of it. These branches lead to three groups of overwater villas while more exclusive units are built separately away from the main island as standalone and are accessible through pontoon boats.
Having reopened on Dec 1, 2019 following major renovation, Gili Lankanfushi Maldives offers 45 thatched villas spanning 10 tiers from Villa Suite to The Private Reserve. Each type is a manmade marvel in itself and blends luxury with rustic edges in a way that doesn't feel intrusive to the pristine natural surroundings.
A stay here starts large at 210m² in a two-storey Villa Suite. The first thing that will catch your eye is the open-air living area equipped with a sun deck where you can relax on a catamaran net while looking up to the starry night or descend a short ladder to swim in the crystal clear lagoon. A trip to the spacious bathroom is an experience in itself as it features a big bathtub placed between two basins, ample closet space, a semi-outdoor shower and another short ladder down to the private water garden (where I came across a school of tiny fish one morning). From the living area, you can go up to the rooftop terrace with a daybed and a dining table, which your Mr or Ms Friday can transform into a romantic overnight, weather permitting. The vaulted ceiling in the bedroom adds extra spaciousness and a sense of sanctuary as you lay on a big comfy bed while looking out to the horizon where teal water and gentle blue sky meet. There's a chart of marine life you may chance upon during your stay, too. Moreover, various pieces of furniture are custom made, using a variety of upcycled materials.
The other tiers offer the same chic-meet-rustic vibe and similar layout but greater in sizes and add-ons. If the ocean isn't enough, you can opt for Villa, Residence or Family Villa with Pool for that extraness. The Residence with Pool offers the best infinity edge pool effect, in my opinion, as its 24m² rectangular pool seamlessly and beautifully blends with the sea at the right angle. Its sundeck also features a large catamaran net extended out into the ocean. The Family Villa with Pool, the new type to the accommodation range, features two ensuite bedrooms, a 32m² L-shaped swimming pool and an extended walkway to a family room with living space, dining area, pantry and powder room to offer a sense of home away from home.
If you want to add a sense of adventure and extra privacy, board a pontoon off the island for one of seven standalone Crusoe Residences. At 250m², it comes with an air-conditioned living room with two daybeds, a private hammock hung over the sea for your IG game and more.
The most awe-inspiring of all is the vast 1,700m² Private Reserve, the largest overwater villa in the world, which is built 500m away from the main island. It offers four spacious bedrooms, a private open-air cinema, an infinity-edge pool with Bose sound system, an air-conditioned gym, a private couples' spa with sauna, steam room, indoor and outdoor treatment pavilion and (most importantly) a two-storey waterslide that drops you right into the crystal clear lagoon.
Every meal at Gili feels like an occasion. Start your day at Kashiveli Restaurant where you can enjoy a breakfast of international flavours on the beach and if you're lucky you may get to meet the resident grey heron. Do check the Cold Room at Kashiveli where you can find premium cold cuts, artisan cheeses, homemade chocolates and a pigeon hole cabinet filled with various tonics.
While you can help yourself to fresh fruits, bread, pastries and more from the counters, there's also a breakfast menu that comes with specials of the day. You can certainly indulge with the like of grilled unagi or poached egg served on a bed of bacon and bread or opt for something more healthy. Definitely a highlight I looked forward to every day of my stay. Come back here for a theme night such as an Asian Street Market dinner where you stroll down different stalls to sample diverse Asian flavours from Thailand to Sri Lanka.
By The Sea. (Photos: Gili Lankanfushi Maldives)
Japanophiles should stop at By The Sea for a Japanese fusion dinner where you can sample different rice rolls from nigiri, uramaki to temaki, or have them as a mixed platter. While you wait for your order, you can enjoy a tabletop Zen garden kit, too.
Standing on stilts in the lagoon, Overwater Bar offers a vantage point to enjoy a stunning sunset, twilight sky and uninterrupted ocean view with a cocktail in hand. This is also where you can enjoy a superfood menu for lunch or indulge in a succulent grill for dinner. The bar also hosts a theme night on certain days to make your dinnertime more special.
As varied as its dining offers, Gili also offers a timetable jam-packed with activities and excursions throughout the day. By jam-packed, I mean from as early as 6.30am private fishing to a jungle cinema at 9.30pm. Many of them are complimentary, including yoga and guided snorkelling with a resident marine biologist at One Palm Island to learn about Gili's coral lines project and swim up to the 15m drop-off zone. If you want to cook your own lunch and eat it, book a Maldivian cooking class where you'll be guided step-by-step on the process to make aromatic fish curry. There's also a cocktail party on Wednesday where guests and the management team mingle in a relaxed setting on the beach over light bites and drinks. I enjoyed a live drum performance and free massage there, too.
The Private Reserve.
Obviously, you can take it easy all day long or choose a day full of activities, though if you choose the latter, stop by Meera Spa for a well-earned treatment that will send you to paradise. Don't worry about transportation to enjoy different activities during your stay as your Mr or Ms Friday will gladly be your chauffeur. Rasheed, my Mr Friday, got me a tricycle (I can't ride a bicycle) and a book from the library on top of everything else.
During a Gili stay, you're bound to experience little but magical moments that remind you that you're a guest in the house of Mother Nature. You may spot a tiny crab crawling on a wooden ladder as you descend into the lagoon, a ray gliding gracefully as you pass it while you're on a boardwalk, or a puffer fish hanging out in the water garden below your bathroom. Breathtaking vistas and Instagrammable moments are aplenty. The trees are lush and shady. The lagoon and the beach are so pristine, revealing so many shades of blues I'm not aware exist.
A stay at Gili Lankanfushi Maldives is definitely a memorable and unique experience worthy of being added to your bucket list. Gili truly takes you away from the usual humdrum of everyday life, lets you forget about your daily grind (and shoes) for a while and ushers you into a special world that's best to experience yourself. Whether it's an indulgence or an adventure that you're after, Gili Lankanfushi Maldives has you covered. The island resort is offering several packages designed with different travellers in mind from solo, couples to surfers. Visit gili-lankanfushi.com.
Asian Street Market dinner.