Look! In the sunny cerulean sky! It’s a bird…it’s a plane…it’s super Best Of! “Super” because skydiving in the Maldives is perhaps one of the most eagerly anticipated Best of the Maldives activity to date. It was featured in the very first “Haven’t Seen Yet” post nearly a decade ago. Since then, I have been teased regularly by a number of announcements that skydiving was coming to the destination. A number of initiatives never seemed to get off the ground (quite literally). Even the company who eventually pulled it off, Sky Diving Maldives, posted about it months before details actually were forthcoming. Until finally they teamed up with Shangri-La Villingili for a landmark jump. The plane takes off from neighbouring Gan airport and you land on Villingili island. Guests were able to sail through the blue sky towards the blue water in a tandem jump for $699.
World Heritage Day celebrates the sites and monuments around the world which capture and preserve bits of the local history. Shangri-La Villingili has so many such relics that they have assembled a little guide history tour of their island. It starts with the dhoni displayed (see photo above) near the entrance to the resort:
- “This Maldivian dhoni was shipwrecked on the Villingili island reef during stormy weather in the late 1940s.”
But Villignili also shared the RAF heritage of the Addu atoll as an extension to the neighbouring Gan outpost. Garrison. The historical buildings include a RAF building (see photo directly below) as well as a defensive pill box (see photo bottom):
- “Administrative building of the 1st Royal Marine Coast Defense Regiment manning the shore batteries on Villingili Island, ca. 1942. In August 1941, the netlayer HMS Guardian landed Royal Navy construction crews on Addu Atoll in the Maldives Islands to begin work on a secret naval base for Britain’s eastern fleet. The British eastern fleet had left more of its base facilities in Singapore, including dry docks and repair sheds In the event of Singapore’s loss, it was to fall back on Trincomalee on Ceylon’s eastern coast. The British fleet commander wanted an alternative base somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Addu Atoll, which became known as ‘Port T.’ The 1st Royal Marine Coast Defense Regiment was dispatched to secure the atoll.”
One of the most unexpected swimming holes I’ve come across traipsing about the full extent of the Maldives was Shangri-La Villingili’s “diving pool”. I’ve seen all manner of artistically sculpted infinity pools with frothing fountains, so what was so distinctive about this simple enclosed pool tucked away in the island right next to the dive centre? That’s just it. It’s not designed to be the centre of attention, but to make students in it the opposite of the centre of attention.
Standard operating procedure for novice divers taking a PADI course during their Maldives holiday is to go through some of the introductory activities in the resort pool. It might be safe and secure from currents, sand or murky water, but it’s considerably less so to a surrounding gallery of pool loungers encircling you like an amphitheatre. Learning to dive can be a bit of a stressful experience for some, and those students’ anxiety isn’t going to be lessened by having an audience of strangers.
The diving centre pool is only available to diving centre students. Another unusual characteristic of Villingili’s pool is that it is raised up. This means that not even the random passer-by can overlook your efforts to get to grips with operating underwater. Definitely the place to learn scuba for the self-conscious.
Singles Day. November 11 is China’s anti-Valentine’s Day, a day when young people celebrate being single. A celebration of being “1” on “11-11”. But for many, it’s also an excuse to log onto Taobao and other Chinese websites. There are special half price promos everywhere. It is a celebration of (bachelorhood and bachelorettehood) which has become a national day of online shopping – looks set to become the world’s biggest day for online retail by value of goods sold. Last year, Alibaba’s sites alone sold more than $5bn worth of goods, more than three times the value sold on the US’s Cyber Monday following Thanksgiving. Coincidentally, it is also “Veterans Day” in the UK and the USA (celebrated on the anniversary of World War I Armistice). Possibly a “Veterans Day” for the survivors of the romance wars.
If you want to have your cake and eat it too matrimonially, celebrating the single life but getting the perks of marriage like a wedding dress and romantic honeymoon, then you can actually “get married without a partner in Japan”
“’Are you starting 2015 single and dreaming of your big day, but lacking the all-important ring or groom to get you there? Or is it the case that you simply dream of being dressed in a stunning traditional Japanese kimono but have never had the chance? … Cerca Travel is offering wannabe brides the chance to create the picture perfect Japanese wedding without the need to officially tie the knot.’…Cerca Travel’s President, Yukiko Inoue, has revealed that she came up with the – let’s say, novel – concept ‘to encourage women to have positive feelings about themselves’.”
Whether you are binging on some online shopping or setting up you’re the registry for your ‘solo wedding’, one of the items we most coveted in Maldives resorts shops was Shangri-La Villingili’s Digital Camera Mask for $90 (and appropriately manufactured in China).
The Maldives are renowned for their legendary sunsets, but the night time celestial displays of stars and moon are equally as dazzling on the light-pollution free skies reflecting on the glass-like seas below. The full moon is always an occasion for a special celebration and tonight’s full moon marks the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival in particular.
The event is a time of coming together with friends and family for prayers of thanksgiving for the harvest bounty. Like the American Thanksgiving holiday, there is plenty of feasting and to compliment the cornucopia of foods, Shangri-La Villingili offers the most exceptional range of Chinese libations…
- Baijiu (Chinese White Spirit) – Distilled.
- MOU TAI (mao – tai) Produced in Guizhou, Southwest China. Often referred to as Chinese vodka. Distilled from sorghum. Unique because of ‘sauce-fragrance’. Alcohol degree from 53 to 35 (the higher, the more expensive). Official alcohol beverage in Chinese governments. Claims to be one of the three most famous liquors in the world, besides cognac and whiskey.
- WU LIANG YE – Produced in Chengdu. Often known as the magic liquor of China. Purest, most authentic baijiu distiller. Complex with a fragrant peppery nose, soft and mellow on the palate
- Huangjiu (Yellow Liquor) – Fermented
- SHAOXING WINE (shao – sing). Produced in Shaoxing, Zhe Jiang. Shaoxing is the most internationally known high grade yellow wine, made for drinking and cooking. Traditionally drank both chilled and warm.
- NU ER HONG (nü-eR-hong). Produced in Shaoxing, Zhe Jiang Fermented from glutinous rice and wheat. Alcohol degree is less than 20 degrees. Traditionally drank warm. Nu Er Hong has a beautiful story. In the ancient times, when the baby daughter was born, the parent would carve or paint jars of wine and bury them underground until the daughter got married. Thereafter, the parents would dig the wines out for a feast with the guests, hence its name Nu Er Hong (Daughter Rice Wine)
- Chinese Grape Wine – Fermented
- White – Produced in Shaan Xi, Northwest China. Close proximity to Xi An, home of the Terracotta Warriors. Grace Vineyard is one of the most established winery in China, and has been in operations since 1997. The first vintage was produced in 2001. Grace Vineyards Tasya’s Reserve Chardonnay 2008. Color: Pale, straw Green. Aromas: Light oak, tropical fruits, cashews. Palate: Light oak, nuts, melon fruits. Mouth-filling with fresh acidity.
- Red – Grace Vineyards Tasya’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Color: Deep Ruby Red. Aromas: Blackberry, blackcurrant, subtle oak. Palate: Soft, medium-bodied red wine with blackberry notes. Fine tannins and light oak, good clean finish.
- Beer – TSING TAO BEER (ching-dao). Brewery was founded by German settlers in China in 1903. Tsing Tao is the number one branded consumer producted exported in China
The catalogue above is compliments of Winnie Toh (photo above) from Singapore who is herself a Certified sommelier by Court of Master Sommeliers and also received the WSET Advanced Certificate in Wines and Spirits as well as the Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence.
This occasion has made me realise how much material I have on the Maldives’ biggest guest country, China, so I am adding the tag “Chinese” today to bring together all these pieces.
“Golf is a good walk spoiled” – Mark Twain
And if you are going to “spoil” your walk, you might as well make it a great one along the coastal beauty of Maldivian paradise. According to Shangri-La Villingili (and I haven’t been able to find any examples to contradict them), their 9-hole golf course is the *only* course in the world where *every* hole is on the ocean. Of course, Scottish links are the world showcases for links play, but even the legendary St. Andrews only has its front nine on the ocean (the back nine returns inland).
I love it when Maldives resorts push their activities out to the ocean. For years, the “activities” (eg. spas, fitness centres, sports areas) were sequestered in the middle of the island. I guess this made use of this interior and they figured that people would be so busy doing their thing that they wouldn’t need breath-taking views. But the whole point of doing these activities on holiday in the Maldives is to enjoy them *with* the bonus of the enchanting ambiance. Now, the top properties put their spas and gyms and other activities right on the water which lured people to the destination in the first place.
During our Tour visit to Villingili this summer, Lori and I actually got to play a proper round of golf on this distinctive course. As I noted in my tour report, it might be just a par 3 course, but it is still a serious course – seriously laid out, seriously challenging, seriously beautiful surroundings and seriously fun. Not our best round of playing (see Twain quote above), but certainly one of the most spectacular rounds we’ve ever played.
The course does require a very precise approach game as the fairways are narrow (limited real estate) and unforgiving (eg, the big, blue ocean looming to the right of every shot). Elite golf these days is all about the approach. Everyone on Tour can drive plenty far enough with accuracy, but the birdies are made on heroic approach shots landing close to the pin or heroic putts from further away from the pin (and the former are a bit easier to achieve for a pro).
Also during our stay, I had a chance to meet one of the course designers and architect, Kai Smit, and ask him a few questions about this Olympic calibre course. As the Rio Games finish up today (including the first ever Olympic Golf Tournament), here is an in depth look at Maldives’ own tropical golf course…
• What was the inspiration to build a golf course on such limited space?
The southern tip of Villingili Island was undeveloped and the location where the Project Contractor Dormitory was located. This parcel of land was also the logistics centre for materials and equipment that had to be imported to construct the Hotel. It also served as a centre for project waste collection before shipped off the island. The Challenge was twofold, namely 1) to restore the natural habitat and environment to be consistent with the rest of the Island and 2.) try to introduce a value added recreational activity for Resort Guests without harming the environment. The orientation and scale of the peninsula lent itself to be a superb 9 hole – Par 3 Golf Course. Providing a pleasant walk at Dawn and Dusk. All Golf Holes could be routed alongside the ocean, creating 9 greens next to water and ensuring that when playing at dawn or dusk – the players did not look into the sun on the first five outward holes and the last three inward holes. The only hole that the player may look into the sun at Dawn is the signature 6th Hole that faces eastward – and what a sight that can be!
• What was the biggest challenge to building the course?
The limited supply of sand and elevation of the land . Neap tide also presented some challenges as the course is low lying and the eastern shoreline on the peninsula can experience some rough sea conditions.
• What is your favourite hole?
The signature 6th Hole with the ocean backdrop of breaking waves.
• Any tips for playing for course?
Ensure that you have enough golf balls and stay out of the ocean. Generally, the course favours the player hitting a draw as opposed to those players who like to shape the shot from left to right. Below is a photo tour of the course with the overall layout map directly below, with the individual hole layouts below that. Then following is each of the (a) tee shot views, and (b) green views.
Clubbing at its best!
(click on picture for a zoom in)
A break from the Olympics today. And I mean a real break…sort of the opposite of the Olympics. National Lazy Day today. Like the Tweet below (which does take laziness to gold medal standard).
A great training camp for laziness is Shangri-La Villingili with their villa in-pool loungers. Like the Maldives islands themselves, the loungers are situated at that perfect elevation just above the level of the water. Just low enough to be cooled by the pool water perhaps dangling one feet in, but high enough so that you don’t have to be submerged.
Take your laziness to the next level.
Watermelon Day! (honest)
One of our favourite fruits in the Maldives. The stuff you get in England is just so flavourless compared to what they serve at the resorts. It is one of those items that we probably eat close to every day during our visits (along with pina coladas). We have it in nicely cut chunks, we have it as a juice. But Shangri-La Villingili was the first time we had it as a soup (presented above by Food and Beverage Director Mohammed Asiz). Great combo – one of our favourite fruits with one of our favourite dishes, gazpacho.
Thi “Javvu Summer Gazpacho” is made with Roma tomato, watermelon, pickled jalapenos and green grapes. They also feature a delectable “Chilled Honey Melon Gazpacho” at their Fashala restaurant (organic honey melon, garden mint granite, parma ham, garlic with very subtle almost silky texture).