If like me you had no idea how big the Maldives were you may be forgiven for booking and staying at just one resort. A little googling whilst booking your Maldives trip though you will soon learn that there are over 100 resorts and private island villa's at your disposal which all offer very different experiences so if you are making the trek from Australia it doesn't hurt to sample a few of the gems on offer!
We had an amazing experience at the Shangri-La Hotel in Dubai during our last stop-over and so our decision was thankfully made quite simple. The Shangri-La Resort in Villingili is the brand's signature hotel in the Maldives and is at the Southern tip of the islands a short (and breathtaking) 5 minute speed-boat trip from the island of Gan. Gan is in fact the only other international airport aside from Male further north and with further development works being undertaken it has the potential to become a new gateway to South Asia and for us poor Australians floating gently in our own little continent in a galaxy far away.
Blessed yet again by perfect clear blue skies on our landing into Gan we were instantly greeted by the enormity of this fun-packed exclusive island resort. The large villas set out over long wooden piers jutting into the turquoise ocean could be seen from every window of our plane, with thick and vibrant greenery covering the atoll broken up only by the large, communal buildings and facilities dotting the island. To one end a beautiful green reserve stood out from the rest; a perfectly manicured 9 hole golf course in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the only true golf course in the Maldives I was told. I knew I would lose my husband to that place for at least a few hours, but there would be plenty of spa treatments to keep me busy nonetheless.
The Resort offers a different vibe to that of Six Senses, still a honeymooners paradise, but one that was perhaps more family friendly and seemed to encourage more activity during your stay. The water sports alone were endless with the usual list of kayaking and boarding playing second fiddle to things like kite-surfing, jet skiing, scuba diving and (my favourite) laying by the pool with a piña-colada filled coconut!
We rode our cute white vintage bicycles down the long wooden pier to our over-water villa, which from the back actually looks like it was big enough for 2 or 3 couples... Inside is split into two sections, a huge bathroom to the back with an outdoor (and indoor) shower and a huge bathtub sitting proudly in the middle of the two separate vanities. A large walk in robe connects this section to the front where the huge king-sized bed sits adorned with all the 5 star sheets and pillows, with a bar fridge and facilities built into the back of the bed head. You can arise from your slumber each morning with the touch of a button to raise the motorised blinds and reveal the large private deck overlooking nothing but blue ocean as far as the horizon. Resting one metre above the sea is your very own fish-net hammock/day-bed, perfect for that book you still haven't read, or for that travel blog you want to share with everyone.
The resort offers a large range of dining options which are all good value for money (and in US Dollars). The main dining area is 'Jaavu' where the huge international smorgasbord breakfast is served each morning. This is also a popular and very good choice for lunch and dinner and if you time your trip right you may even be treated to an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet with more options than you can poke a fork at and live local musicians to really get the party started. Portion sizes are huge too as the island embraces the chinese/eastern culture of sharing your dinner, so much so that I even opted for a kids meal one evening and was still pleasantly surprised! The other options available are the beautiful Dr Ali restaurant on the southern side of the island with its mix of the three parts of the silk road (Arabic, Chinese & Indian) and on certain evenings there is a fine dining alternative at Fashala. It was comforting to know that all of the restaurants were overseen by a talented Australian executive chef! My favourite dining alternative (that I unfortunately never tried) is the 'catch your dinner' option which combines a morning fishing charter with a customised seafood BBQ dinner! If I had any idea on how to catch a fish (without having someone throw it to me) I would have snapped up that opportunity.
The sad reality was that our trip had to come to an abrupt end. But we waved goodbye to the smiling staff on the pier with another amazing Shangri-La experience and a much better appreciation for the diversity of the resorts on offer at the Maldives. Perhaps we need to see some more of them... I dont think my husband will need convincing!
Shangri La Villingili Resort