The Maldives is the ultimate destination for special occasion holidays. To celebrate a big birthday, one of our Indian Ocean experts, Julli Dunman, travelled to Gili Lankanfushi, a hotel that consistently stars on the ‘world’s best’ lists. Here are her favourite things about this barefoot luxury island.
The VIP welcome
“The Gili experience starts as soon as we board their luxury speedboat. Our shoes are immediately packed away in canvas bags marked ‘no shoes, no news’, where we’re told they’ll remain during our time on the island. This is part of the ‘barefoot luxury’ philosophy and it sets the tone for the island’s Robinson Crusoe theme. Following a quick 20-minute ride through the waves, we approach the dock where a line-up of immaculately dressed staff members is waiting for us, holding their hands to their hearts as a warm gesture. “Welcome home”, says the General Manager, beaming, and introduces us to our very own Mr Friday butler.
Our Villa Suite is the most incredible room I’ve ever seen. Outside, the villa has a shabby-chic look, with an overhanging thatched roof, a driftwood chair and two bamboo bikes propped next to the door. Inside, the huge, airy living space is framed by the ocean, a thousand shades of blue. It feels like I’m on the deck of a (very luxurious) boat. I walk round in a starstruck daze as we discover the huge freestanding bathtub, the sundeck with overwater hammocks and steps straight down into the lagoon, and a hidden rooftop terrace complete with a bed – the perfect place to dine or sleep under the stars.
Gili Lankanfushi has the world’s largest overwater villa among its residences. It’s exclusive and private, so it’s not surprising that it’s a hotspot for A-listers (Richard Branson and Gwyneth Paltrow are just a few of the past guests). However, the island doesn’t have a hoity-toity atmosphere; quite the opposite. It’s total understated luxury. The vibe is so chilled and friendly and the staff treat you like family. I thought guests would be dressing up for dinner – you can if you want to – but my glitzy garments never left the wardrobe; I just relaxed and embraced the Robinson Crusoe way of life.
The island's natural beauty is simply stunning, and the ethos of Gili Lankanfushi is to keep it that way. Their passion for sustainability echoes around every corner. The resort was built with sustainable and recycled materials, plastic is banned and all food waste is composted. There's an organic garden where chefs harvest fresh vegetables and herbs which you enjoy in their daily dishes and seafood is sourced from local fishermen wherever possible. The resident marine biologist chatted with us about their coral regeneration programme. Guests can 'adopt' their own coral line to support their efforts to keep the Maldives’ underwater world beautiful.
The outstanding cuisine
My expectations about the food were pretty high staying on an island of this calibre and it didn’t disappoint. Breakfast can be served by your Mr Friday on your villa deck or in the beach restaurant, which has everything from an avocado station to a cold room filled with culinary treasures; there’s a honey bar, cold cuts, artisan cheeses and homemade chocolates. The chefs at Kashiveli restaurant put on a banquet of worldwide flavours; we loved the ‘Passage to India’ night, with aromatic curries and delicate desserts. There’s also an intimate Japanese-fusion restaurant with mouthwatering sushi, private dining for romantics and wine pairings in the underground cellar which has over 500 varieties.
If you can tear yourself away from your ocean hammock, there are plenty of things to keep you busy. You can get hands-on with sushi-making classes, get out or under on the water by surfing or diving, or head to the spa for meditative yoga which is a complimentary offering each morning. We treated ourselves to a signature massage where we had a window to the watery world below. You can book a private screening in the open-air cinema or sail at sunset on a dolphin cruise. We enjoyed the simple castaway pleasures, snorkelling straight from our villa to spot mantas, baby sharks and swirls of tropical fish and exploring the jungle on our bamboo bikes – complete with cotton pedal covers (no shoes, remember).
It’s great for families
Although this island is a dream spot for a holiday for two, it’s also great for families with kids of all ages. There are incredible family villas and your Mr Friday will help keep little ones entertained when you want some me time; plus, they’ll love the Robinson Crusoe theme – there’s even a copy of the book in each villa. I travelled with my teenage daughter and she was in her element, basking in the sun with unlimited WiFi, a butler on hand and Instagram envy from her friends back home.
The little touches
There are so many island resorts in the Maldives, so what makes Gili Lankanfushi stand out? I think it’s the next-level attention to detail. I loved the personalised service and the subtle touches, such as choosing what fragrance we wanted on our bed (Ylang Ylang was my favourite), picking from a pillow and linen menu and how the barman knew exactly how I liked my G&T.
The staff made by birthday a joyful occasion, bringing out a gorgeous cake and making a fuss, even serenading me at dinner. All the team take the time to smile, chat and ask you how your day was, and you can tell they genuinely want to hear about it. Mr Friday was only a phone call away, he helped us to arrange everything from snorkelling trips to spa treatments; he makes you feel like anything is possible.
If you’d like to follow in Julli’s (shoe-less) footsteps and experience Gili Lankanfushi for yourself, read more about this world-class island retreat or talk to one of our Personal Travel Experts.
This feature was updated on 12th July 2023. The information within this feature is correct to the best of our knowledge at the time of print. For the most up-to-date information, please contact your Personal Travel Expert. Feature by Heather Flanagan.