With an outdoor cinema, fine dining options including a sushi restaurant and wine cellar with 600 wines (as well as seven private dining spots), a glass-bottomed over-water spa through which you can watch marine life swim beneath you as you enjoy a full body massage, a personal butler for each guest, powder-soft white-sand beaches, turquoise lagoons, unparalleled snorkeling and diving, and gorgeous rustic-chic overwater villas that have open air showers and baths with stunning views – and even a bed on the roof that allows you to sleep under the stars, a trip to Gili Lankanfushi has long been at the top of Stylenest’s travel bucket list.
Already considered the most romantic resort in the maldives, and frequently making the Conde Nast Traveller Gold Lists, it’s no wonder Gili Lankanfushi has been voted the number one hotel in the world.
With just forty-five beautiful wooden villas that sit on stilts above the turquoise waters – some of them only accessible by private boat – the resort feels peaceful, private and exclusive. You could go a whole week without speaking to another guest if you so wished. The water villas range in size from huge to ridiculous, the largest of which is by far the largest water villa in the world.
So when Stylenest were invited to experience Gili Lankanfushi for ourselves, it was hard to contain our excitement. We arrived with high expectations, and were blown away at every turn.
Gili Lankanfushi is just a 20 minute trip by a speedboat (which has wifi, we should add) from Male International Airport, which is a big plus in itself as many of the more isolated islands can only be reached with a connecting flight on a seaplane (easily adding a few hours on to an already long journey). We were met by a host at the arrivals gate, who took our bags and led us to the resort’s private speedboat. Here, we swapped our tired shoes (placing them in one of the hotel’s signature “No News No Shoes” canvas bags) for refreshingly cold ginger cocktails and lemongrass-scented cold towels. No news, no shoes: that’s the only rule at Gili Lankfanfushi.
Windswept and beaming, we approached Gili Lankanfushi’s dock where staff stood waving at us. In one swift motion our bags were lifted onto the dock and distributed between golf buggies, whilst we were handed more cold towels and refreshments in exchange. We were then introduced to our Mr Fridays.
From the moment you arrive, guests are allocated their own personal butler called Mr Friday (named after Robinson Crusoe’s loyal assistant and dear friend). Whenever you need something during your stay, you just press a button on the villa phone and it will connect you directly to your Mr. Friday. From snorkels (also complimentary) to room service, and from arranging trips and excursions to keeping the children amused while you’re being pampered in Meera Spa, you’ll get so used to having your own personal butler you won’t know how you ever managed without them.
Our Mr. Friday led us to one of the golf buggies and took us on a tour of the island, before finally dropping us off at our very own over-water villa.
With their strong environmental commitment, Gili Lankanfushi is kept spotlessly clean, with powder soft and sugar white sand that’s raked every day and feels like it’s been sieved, and there’s not a leaf out of place. The sea is an impossibly clear turquoise filled with marine life, and the resort employs full-time marine biologists to help marine species thrive. There’s an abundance of coral, colourful fish, reef sharks and manta rays. The stunning infinity pool with its luxurious loungers almost melts into the ocean, meanwhile there are leaning palm trees with swooping hammocks that are begging to be climbed into. The colours of the sea and lush tropical vegetation are so bright that any photo automatically looks filtered, and the sunsets are unlike any we’ve ever seen – with skies so clear that at night they almost sparkle with stars. It’s the epitome of paradise.
The island is small, and the tour is short, but somehow you’ll still find yourself feeling disorientated.
The 600-metre-long island is home to 3 restaurants, a large overwater bar, an infinity pool, ice cream shack, tennis courts, an outdoor cinema, a diving and water sports centre, marine biologist centre and surf shack, yoga pavilion, organic garden (they grow their own herbs, fruit and vegetables on the island), and even an underground wine cellar. To get around, guests can mosey around on their personal bicycles or walk barefoot along the icing-sugar-like sand – or there’s a complimentary golf buggy or water taxi service.
After a whirlwind tour the buggy stopped outside our villa. When we didn’t think our jaws could drop any further, we were wrong.
Gili Lankanfushi is made up of 45 massive yet understated overwater bungalows, all built from sustainable wood and thatch and open to the elements. The villas come in four categories; Villa Suites, then Residences, then the even bigger Crusoe Residences, and finally the famous Private Reserve – the largest over-water villa in the world, spanning an incredible 1,700 square metres and accessible only via your own private boat. Although they feel open, the villas are built facing the open sea so you can’t really see anyone else, and they can’t really see you. It’s a sense of total privacy that you can rarely achieve on holiday
Our villa was a Villa Suite, and although the entry level category it was by far the biggest overwater villa we’ve ever seen – an incredibly generously sized space for just two people.
Our villa was an almost entirely open-air space apart from the air-conditioned bedroom. There’s a large open-air entrance area leading onto the fully outdoor terrace, and double doors leading to an enormous his and hers bathroom and dressing room, with steps that lead into the sea, and a glass floor through which you can see the colourful fish below, a bathtub surrounded by glass windows that opens right up, and a glass bridge over the sea leading to an open-air shower with a view. There are also stairs leading to the roof terrace where a bed can be made up with luxurious linens so you can sleep under the stars – something you should try at least once.
Outside on our patio were two bicycles labelled with our room number (10), each with a handy basket to put your things in, and with soft padded peddles that made it comfortable to cycle around barefoot. With our bags unpacked, we ventured out on our new bikes to explore the island.
From tennis, catamaran sailing, windsurfing, water skiing, surfing and scuba diving to sunrise yoga on the beach, kayaking, fishing (including big game fishing), snorkelling excursions, cooking classes, sushi making classes and wine tasting, the resort has so much to offer that you could easily spend a week (or longer) here and not get bored. Then there’s the outdoor Jungle cinema, an infinity pool, overwater cocktail bar, high tech and fully equipped air conditioned gym (with floor-to-ceiling windows with a view), sunset dolphin cruises and shark-watching on the hotel’s Riviera yacht, and even in-room board games and DVDs for cosy nights in.
Ask your Mr. Friday to bring you some snorkeling equipment (it’s free of charge) to explore the waters near your villa, or pop down to the dive center to be shown the best snorkeling spots by the island’s marine biologist, who can also teach you about the different marine species or show you their coral lines project, where the hotel (and guests) are able to grow coral to help marine life continue to thrive.
For those who don’t feel like being active but don’t want to do nothing, there’s the fabulous overwater Meera Spa where you can enjoy a full-body massage whilst looking down at the tropical fish and (harmless) reef sharks grazing on the coral below.
And then there’s the dining. Start the evening with sunset cocktails and panoramic views at the over-water bar, then eat your way around the island at one of their three main restaurants, or the Asian street-market experience set up on the beach, with six live cooking stations.
There are also seven private dining or destination dining experiences to try, from a circular wooden elevated platform in between palm trees with panoramic views and incredible sunsets (the ‘360 Table’) to dining on the beach surrounded by lanterns. Try the tasting menu at the Japanese Peruvian Fusion restaurant By The Sea, or, for something totally unexpected, try the underground wine cellar and cheese rooms to sample their 600 varieties of wine from more than 30 regions around the world.
The highlight is the Asian Street Market, for which food stalls are specially erected in the sand by the water’s edge. Here you can graze on Japanese pancakes, Chinese duck and proper Vietnamese pho.
You’ll need a week or two to just do justice to the hotel’s array of eating options, so it’s easy to overlook the salad bar in the main restaurant – but don’t. From chocolate salt, coffee salt and tumeric salt to every olive oil and vinegar you could imagine, including lemongrass infused, plus every salad leaf, vegetable, seed and nut you could think of, the salad bar needs to be tried at least once!
In the mornings you’ll find an impressive breakfast buffet laid out at Gili’s beach restaurant, where you’ll sit in shaded wooden chairs beneath the palms, feet in the sand and a banquet of exotic fruits, freshly squeezed juices (including watermelon) and Birchler mueslis, as well as pastries, breads, preserves, Maldivian cuisine, full English breakfast and even sushi. There are also a-la-carte options. Or skip the buffet and call your Mr. Friday instead for a lazy and leisurely in-villa breakfast. Enjoy your coffee, fruit and croissants whilst dangling your feet above the water from your over-water hammock (or stay in bed).
But what really sets this hotel apart from every other Maldivian resort is their genuine commitment to sustainability. Gili Lankanfushi breathes sustainability into everything they do, and every part, big and small, ties in with that philosophy.
For example, everything on the island is recyclable and made from recycled materials. The entire hotel is built from sustainable materials including plantation teak, palm wood, bamboo, pine and even telegraph poles. All rooms provide organic toiletries in refillable pretty earthenware containers, to minimise plastics use and wastage. The island’s dedicated desalinisation plant is used to provide glass bottles of still and sparkling water for all guests – thus eliminating the need for plastic water bottles, and even old linen fabric is upcycled into placemats and cute coasters. And unlike other resorts in the Maldives, Gili Lankanfushi largely produce their own ingredients, and source the others locally.
Every single process is thought out to minimise their impact. An advanced rocket composter can process up to 100% of the resort’s food waste, producing compost which in turn nurtures the island’s extensive organic herb garden. As a lot of their ingredients are grown on the island itself, nothing arrives in packaging and the hotel has minimal waste. They even treat their own water.
The island’s dedicated marine biology team monitor the health and biodiversity of the surrounding coral reef ecosystems, measuring light intensity and sea surface temperature, identifying and tracking manta ray and turtle populations, and educating guests about the underwater world while their Coral Lines project provides a nursery environment for new corals to grow, bolstering the house reef and monitoring health and survival types across coral genotypes. Guests who dive can also take the opportunity to help out in the collection of data for organisations such as SharkWatch and the Manta Trust.
Their hard work is evident in the beauty of the island, and in the awards they’ve received for their commitment to environmental conservation.
From the beautiful overwater villas you’ll never want to leave, and from world-class dining to the fabulous overwater spa – not to mention the countless activities on offer should you have the desire to leave your ocean hammock (which you won’t), you’ll be very reluctant to put your shoes back on when it’s time to leave.