When Hilton wrote Lost Horizon he conceived Shangri-la as an idyllic land of beauty and happiness, sequestrated from the hurly burly and pressure of the modern, urban world. Shangri-la hotels and resorts have a diverse portfolio of properties ranging from the iconic London Shard, to magical Muscat in Oman. Nowhere though is the brand name more appropriate than here at Villingili in the Maldives.
This little nation with it’s glittering chains of white coral islands halfway across the Indian Ocean, extraordinary sky-scapes and big smiles is about as far away from the madness of 21st century city life as you can get, whilst enjoying every luxury that a 5* resort can offer.
Having just spent three days being spoiled by a wonderful team of chefs, waiters, massage therapists, and all the staff who quietly go about their business of ensuring that nothing disturbs your sense of timeless calm, I can attest to the restorative effect of this bubble of paradise.
We have previous experience of how arduous the journey to some Maldivian islands can be, so we’re delighted that we chose to arrive via Gan (direct flights with Sri-Lankan Airlines by A320 from Colombo). The airport is small but incredibly quick to transit and Shangri-la Villingili is a 6 minute boat ride from the airport though you wouldn’t know the airport is there once you’ve been captured by the calming spirit of Shangri-la.
As we approached the landing jetty we could see the welcoming committee waiting in line with the electric golf carts and drivers already standing by. The warmth of the welcome is charming and you soon come to realise as you go about the island taking in the various beauty spots and activities that the smile is ubiquitous and genuine.
This is an all villa resort. You can choose the classic over water situation with your own private terrace, over-water “hammock” and staircase to the waiting crystal-clear turquoise waters, a tree villa with exceptional views of the rolling surf, a beach villa with private pool or for those with family a two-bedroom villa. Whichever you choose, you get incredibly spacious accommodation, a wonderful bed, privacy and a fantastic view. Oh, you also get one bike per person.
You don’t have to use the bikes because you can be ferried around by golf cart at any time of day or night, but it is a very nice way to see all the beauties of this little pearl of an island (actually about 3 km end to end). The bikes also help to burn off some of the calories in that sumptuous breakfast at Jaavu.
You can choose to kick back and chill on your terrace or balcony or at one of the island’s many peaceful little hideaways but one of the main advantages of Villingili over other Maldivian resorts is the amazing range of activities available. One of the most memorable experiences for us was playing the 9 hole golf course around the southern end of the island. They start you off with a generous allowance of balls because well, a few of them end up in the ocean. Try taking a drop ball from there!
We also tried our hand at windsurfing at the water sports centre where you can hire a Seabob, a jet ski or a more sedate ocean kayak. We spent a fascinating hour with a guide planting coral in the resort’s ocean nursery. They are working really hard to maintain the reef in sheltered spots where the bleaching effect of the sun and warming waters is less severe.
There are two beautifully maintained tennis courts (floodlit for cooler, evening play) a sandy badminton court, outdoor giant chessboard, a croquet lawn and even, over at the golf course, crown green bowls. There is also of course an abundance of marine life (including green turtles) at the house reef near the north end of the island but we saw myriad species of tropical fish and healthy coral all around our villa at Serenity Bay. Snorkel equipment is free to borrow from the dive centre where you can also arrange your scuba diving training or just hire equipment.
Although I didn’t spot any children during our stay, this is a great resort for those of you with youngsters in tow. Sign them in at the Cool Zone and go enjoy some “us time” or share any of the island’s activities together.
There are numerous dining options. Jaavu is the place for breakfast and all-day dining. The breakfast buffet has a fantastic range of local and international food. Although this is a Muslim country, the regime is very flexible so your pork bacon and eggs are available if you don’t fancy trying a delicious Maldivian tuna curry. I counted at least twenty tureens of hot food. There were no queues at the live egg station and the fruit cart was fabulous. Pick up a fresh fruit shot often with ginger or a freshly prepared coconut on your way to find a table with a stunning view of the white coral sand beach. The service was exceptional and the F&B management team were in constant attendance making sure everything was perfect.
For variety, try Dr Ali’s restaurant which is actually three restaurants in one with food from the Arabian Peninsula, Indian Ocean and China. Pan-Asian often means one fusion cuisine but here it means authentic recipes from diverse sources. Great for couples or groups with differing tastes. Dining al fresco, listening to the waves, you couldn’t feel further from the city.
Fashala doesn’t describe itself as a fine-dining restaurant but it kind of is. We had wonderful fresh seafood including great lobster, delicately seasoned by chef Marek (all the way from Pilzen in the Czech Republic). The French sommelier will advise on your wine pairings if you wish. The wines are well selected and reasonably priced considering where you are. Here you are right at the tip of the island. The name Fashala means “the edge” and it is very apt. The candlelit terrace is one of the most stunning, romantic sights I have ever seen. The perfect spot for a proposal, or for rediscovering the romance in your life.
For the ultimate romantic evening under the stars, the in-villa dining team will set up a private dining experience for you at any one of a number of exceptional locations as well as your own villa of course. We dined at the jokingly named Mount Villingili, at 17 feet claimed to be the highest point in The Maldives. It serves as the 8th tee on the golf course by day. It was the first night of the new moon and the sky was simply awesome. Make sure to download a stargazer app and take your phone to dinner.
Walking in the peaceful garden at Chi Spa you trip over a little forgotten history in the form of a Second World War bunker built by British naval engineers to deny Axis shipping access to these safe waters. Now, there is a treatment cabana on top. Having enjoyed a relaxing 30 minute massage by the pool we opted for the full hour aroma massage from two of the most sensitive therapists we have encountered. Heavenly.
Shangri-la Villingili Maldives is great for families, for active types, for peace seekers and the stressed city dweller. Easy to reach, friendly and attentive, full of surprises.
Disclosure: Our property, service and product reviews are sponsored by the proprietor or brand being appraised. All opinions remain our own and are in no way influenced by the sponsor.