Rising Tide of Quality

Gili Lankanfushi - gym vista


Every time I go to the Maldives, I am struck by the relentlessly rising tide of quality. Refurbishments, extensions, additions. Not just at the super-premium deluxe end of the market where the ever escalating arms race for wow factors marches on. But, also at the ‘regular’ 5-stars and even middle market properties. More and more resorts are playing more tasteful and appropriate soft jazz and acoustic rather than the pop chart songs which all too often jarred a sundowner. Tasteful colours and décor have replaced pervasive white walls and pedestrian prints/drawings of tropical scenes.

Some features were innovative when introduced, but are now getting more and more commonplace, eg…

  • Telescopes
  • Outdoor cinemas (made possible by the emergence of cheap, digital projectors)
  • Resort label bottled water
  • Hydroponic gardens

With such constant change, it is not surprising that after nearly 4 years of Maldives Complete, some of the early assessments on the ‘Best of the Maldives’ would reshuffle a bit. It is coming time that some of the ‘Best’ crowns get passed on to successors. I did choose the blog format so people could alert me to rivals for these distinctions. As time goes on and more research is accomplished, I’m starting to uncover some instances that trump the incumbent.

On my latest tour, I come upon a number specific features where the resort arguably surpass the reigning ‘Best of’ such as…

  • Basketball: Paradise Island has a complete, regulation court in great shape (photo below)
  • Gym Vista: Gili Lankanfushi has a broader expanse of big picture windows from a second story vista (photo above)


Paradise Island - basketball

What Else I Now Have Seen

Mirihi restaurant

After last year’s tour, I wrote one of the highest profile pieces of the blog to date called ‘What I Haven’t Seen Yet’. It got a bit of notoriety when the Maldives Tourism Promotion Board sent a copy of it around to resorts for their interest and local press felt that MTPB was taking my ideas (I clarified that I am a big supporter of MTPB efforts to promote tourism in the Maldives and they were welcome to my pieces).

During my recent visit, I came up with yet another list of stuff I haven’t seen, but might just appeal to a segment of Maldives visitors. But before I post that tomorrow, I thought that an update of the previous list was in order since I have NOW seen a few items on the list…

  • Golf Course – Shangri-la opened the biggest facility for golf yet.
  • Restaurant Deck – I said ‘Star Shaped’ as a way to optimise water proximity for the diners, but Mirihi’s circle is close allowing an inner ring and outer ring of diners to all have front and centre access to the water (see photo above).
  • Water Slide – This one was the marquee item item with the accompanying illustration on the post. Gili Lankanfushi does have one at its Private Reserve.
  • Gourmet Sausages – Sun Island and Lily Beach. Both chicken sausages, but nonetheless finally approaching the savoury quality that would be considered a standard good enough for an English fry-up.

A lot happens in a year.

Best of the Maldives: Simplicity – Gili Lankanfushi

Gili Lankanfushi - no shoes

Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Gili Lankanfushi seems like is as designed by da Vinci. A Maldivian masterpiece with artistic flair and clever creativity, but at its core a pervading since of simplicity. That quality is what draws so many people to the Maldives and back again in the first place. A week or more of the simple island life. A plot of sand and a palm tree. What more do you need?

And it all starts with no shoes. I mean, it literally all starts with no shoes. When the speed boat transfer welcomes you on board with its fresh juice in simple bottle, the very second briefing they do (after safety) is the ‘no shoes’ ritual. One of the great charms of the Maldives is the extent to which you can just go barefoot everywhere. The soft sand is not solely the domain of the turquoise seashore, but invades the reception, dining areas and pretty much every nook and cranny of the best resorts like Gili. On most of my Maldivian holidays, we take our shoes off when we get shown to our villa and we don’t retrieve them until it is time to check out.

Gili delightfully ritualises this ethos by inviting guests to remove their shoes immediately right on the transfer boat. (see above) The boat captain explains the ‘No news, no shoes’ ambience of the resort and hands out special little canvas bags for you to put your shoes in (so the staff can take you shoes to your room with your luggage). It has all warm and inviting grace of an Asian home. I always feel a bit more intimately welcomed in a home where you are encouraged to take your shoes off. I don’t wear shoes around my own house, and when I take them off in someone else’s, it’s like I’m at home myself. It is a smart move by Gili because no matter how obvious it seems to walk around shoeless, the practice so extreme in Maldive resorts and a fair degree uncommon in posh resorts around the world, that we see many people not really getting the hang of it until well into their stay by which time they’ve lost a few days of barefoot bliss.

I was intrigued to compare Gili with Mirihi which is a resort renowned for its simplicity as well and which I coincidentally also visited this tour. They are both stunning resorts made more so by this emphasis on no-nonsense naturalness. Curiously, they go about it from completely different directions. Gili is a big resort that simplifies by eschewing the little things; Mirihi is a little resort that simplifies by eschewing the big things. Mirihi has elected to avoid major items in their resort concept – TVs, pool, tennis courts. Gili simplifies by stripping away the little frills and trimmings. One of their big little touches is that they don’t garnish their drinks. No lemon slices stuck on ther side of the glass, no maraschino cherries with toothpicks in them, no little colourful parasols. All of the resort’s design reflects this approach of clean, straightforward, unadorned simplicity.

The aesthetic cousin to simplicity is nature. And nature is just as fundamental to everything at Gili. The striking seating made of tree root (see below) are found everywhere. I was regularly struck by the innovative ways in which they were able to incorporate a natural approach. They have air conditioning in the bedrooms of their villas, but otherwise all other areas (bathroom, lounge) are all refreshed naturally in the open air (which works well since all of Gili’s villas are over water). Even the coat hangers in the closets are made from sticks and coconut hemp rope.

The ‘No Shoes’ custom is just the tip of the thila to a deep and colourful simplicity that permeates Gili Lankanfushi. This simplicity is the heart of their concept and is reflected in every little detail. I won’t go into to many details here because I want to write about several as their own ‘Best of the Maldives’ features in the future

Gili Lankanfushi exemplifies simple rustic elegance.

Gili Lankanfushi - seating 2

Maldives Tour 2012 – Day 2: Gili Lankanfushi

Maldives Tour 3 - Gili Lankanfushi

Gili Lankanfushi is probably the most anticipated stop of the Tour. And it is our very first stop. When we were first planning our earliest trips to the Maldives, and compiling a massive spreadsheet of research data that would eventually evolve into Maldives Complete, our friends Andy and Linnet forwarded me a picture pulled from a travel magazine of the new extravagant water villas the likes of which none of us had ever seen. With Huvanfenfushi, it really kicked off the move by the Maldives to super-premium resorts that were built from the ground up with ‘wow’ factors such a distinctive designs, creative touches and remarkable features. I vowed that one day I would visit this magical resort.

Visiting Gili was also especially timely as it just changed ownership and branding last week The Soneva chain has sold the island to HPL Hotels and Resorts and renamed it ‘Gili Lankanfushi.’ There has been no refurbishment and pretty much all the staff hae remained the same. It’s clear that they want to preserve the distinctive concept and reputation of Gili and so no major changes are expected. They do have a new web site with all of the latest up-to-date detais.

Gili is a ‘plateau’ island (largish island sitting on a broad, raised underwater tableau) and such islands are not typically renowned for great snorkelling. But Soneva Gili is a great illustration of the power of Snorkel Spotter. The local marine biologist Vaidas Kirsys, who is used to fish surveying for his current research project, has logged a Maldives topping 21 sighting of everything on the Spotter list (lobster, ray, octopus, shark, turtle, manta). When we were there we were greeted by one of the larget reef sharks we have seen in a lagoon (well over a metre), duly logged in Snorkel Spotter. We decided to aim for Three Palm Island which was both near to our villa and where there was a sighting of an octopus logged. He didn’t find one but saw a large school of yellow snappers.

So renowned are many of Gili’s distinctions that I have already published 9 pieces about (the former) Soneva Gili. I uncovered a further 16 distinctions during my 24 hour stay. Combined with the 9 previous that takes Gili to 25 ‘distinctions’ which is the same as the ‘league leaders’ W Retreat and Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru. Without doubt, one of the top 10 resorts in the Maldives.

Great to finally see this first of it’s type first class property first hand.