We always describe the Maldives to people who have never been as “that iconic image of a plot of sand with a palm tree…1000 of those!” The diminutive sandy dots in the middle of mill pond still lagoons provides an intimacy with a gently inviting ocean. When we first visited, the resorts all sequestered us into dining rooms at mealtime. Eventually we asked if we could move our table out onto the beach by the water and they were happy to oblige. By the end of the week, a bunch of other diners had followed our lead and joined us under the stars with the mini waves lapping nearby.
These days all resort understand the charm of beach dining and offer a number of seating areas on the sand close to the water. But no standard dining venue (as opposed to specialty beach dining experiences) get you closer to the water than Shangri-La Villingili’s Javvu restaurant. Partly this proximity is due to a bit of erosion that has brought the water closer to the dining as much as the dining has approached the water. The tables are all set under a canopy of shore lining palms to that cosying up the seaside experience.
Swinging on vines is one of those iconic things that characterise legendary exotic adventure from Tarzan to Indiana Jones. Shangri-La Villingili has more of these tropical tree-to-tree transports than any other island I have been to. When visiting, I couldn’t resist grabbing one from time to time for a bit of a fly through the air. Even if you don’t fancy such swashbuckling activity, just seeing them dangling from the dense jungle canopy of the island adds to the property’s equatorial vibe.
“Half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness.” ― RayBradbury (thanks Conrad Rangali)
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.
Dance is for everyone. Whether just swaying to the romantic ballads at the resort disco or practicing more classical form with Shangri-La Villingili’s innovative ballet programme.
- “Reveal the ballerina in you or just discover a new dance fitness routine with our Ballet Master. The celebrated ballerina, Karis Scarlette, a former performer of the Royal Ballet in London and a qualified teacher from the Royal Opera House, will be our Master in Residence, passing on the joy of ballet through inspiring and fun ballet classes for all ages.”
Instruction possibilities include:
- Ballet Fitness – 60 mins – Complimentary
- Mini Ballet – 30 mins, parents to be on hand to assist with little ones. Timings: 8 a.m. or 5 p.m.
- One-to-One Private Session – 60 min – $200 per person / 90 mins – $300 per person
- Private Sunset Guided Meditation & Stretching by the Beach – 30 mins – $150 for two guests
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.”
Mothering Sunday today will see lots of blossoming plants given to cherished mums across the British Isles, but Shangri-La Villingili has a gift you can give Mother Earth at a very reasonable price. An eco-planter for the “earth” that makes up the vast majority of the Maldives isles.
Instead of larger wire mesh frames, Villingili’s reef regeneration uses smaller blocks of concrete. They don’t cut the coral grafts, but collect broken coral. They then affix these to small blocks with epoxy and set them in the lagoon for about 18 months after which they are moved to the outer reef.
The resort hosts coral planting 10:30 am every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday for a mere $25 (compared to what is often hundreds of dollars for sponsoring coral frames).
The small price doesn’t mean small scale. Activity leader Yawlng Wong took me through the presentation they give to the guests about the program which illustrated how popular and expansive the results have been. I’ve shared a few of both the photos and the informative diagrams below…
- Overall objective: To develop a hard coral nursery to provide a continuous supply of cultivated corals derived from broodstock
- Coral culture in nursery from initial fragmentation of wild colonies / ‘corals of opportunity’ collected
- Ongrowing of broodstock to become the source for all fragments to be planted in rehabilitation operations
- Encourage guest participation in coral program
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).
If you prefer a bit more secluded yoga practice in the convenience of your own back garden, then check into a Tree House Villa at Shangri-La Villingili which comes complete with its very own yoga pavilion overlooking the tranquil sea.
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.