Framed by coral reefs and boasting pristine white-sand beaches lapped by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and lush forest, Shangri-La’s Villingili ticks all the boxes, as tropical hideaways go. Tucked away on the most southerly atoll, at 30 acres, it’s unsurprisngly the envy of its rivals thanks to the luxury of space. The James Bond-style speedboat arrival to the resort sets the tone as guests are welcomed by ever-smiling staff, vibrant drumming, lush landscapes and fresh coconuts. Island hosts replace private butlers, who’ll ensure every whim is catered for, and the Addu Atoll even operates in its own time zone (an hour ahead of Malé) for an additional hour of sunshine.
With 132 luxurious villas ranging from private ocean retreats to tropical treehouses, there’s something for everyone. Grazia adored the much-loved water villas strung along walkways in the calm, jewel-toned lagoon. These beautiful boltholes are wonderfully spacious, with custom art and furnishings; plus there’s the swoon-worthy bed, walk-in wardrobe, outdoor shower and a decadent freestanding bathtub. And we could get used to the little touches, such as ‘Welcome Home’ written in petals on the bed upon arrival, the extensive pillow menu and the sweet treats continually appearing throughout our stay. The luxe stilted villas are ideal for those postcard-worthy sunset views, and with the giant hammock and stairs leading into the ocean, where you can spot turtles and mantra rays swimming by, it’s the perfect abode for water babies.
Those in the know should book a corner villa for uninterrupted Instagram views. Fancy sleeping like a supermodel? Check into the Presidential Villa Laalu, which has hosted everyone from Naomi Campbell to footballers and Russian oligarchs. The two-bedroom, 957sqm villa is the jewel in the resort’s crown and comes beautifully furnished, featuring curated artworks from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand, as well as its own spa pavilion, sauna, gym and private courtyard and garden.
The advantage of staying on an tropical island is the organic sea-to-table cuisine and the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables. The epicurean adventure starts with all-day dining at Javvu, which offers global cuisine, from a traditional Maldivian breakfast to an alfresco lunch using seasonal ingredients. Gourmands will adore the incredible delicacies as much as the epic views at Dr Ali’s, which pays tribute to the much-loved 19th-century Maldivian doctor, who collected exotic ingredients from his travels and creatively fused them into mouthwatering recipes. With its three distinct dining pavilions reflecting cuisines from the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea and the Arabian Gulf, it’s an eclectic feast – think freshly caught lobster, creamy curries and moreish dahi puri – courtesy of Iranian Executive Chef Hamed Ghayedi. The unique dining outposts and their elevated cuisine are excellent throughout the resort, and private experiences can also be arranged, such as supper in the jungle or a yacht lunch on the equator for the most discerning guests.
With protection of the environment and social responsibility at the core of Shangri-La’s Villingili philosophy, it leads by example, producing its own drinking water and bottling it in reusable glass bottles, reducing its plastic waste, and encouraging guests to learn more about its conservation efforts at the eco centre.
Discover the island’s nature trails and dive sites with fascinating talks by the island’s passionate marine biologists, and try coral planting – a unique way to celebrate special occasions, with regular updates once guests return home. Even the stray golf balls that end up in the crystal waters dissolve into fish food for the marine life, so it’s the full 360-degree eco experience. Shangri-La’s Villingili also proudly supports local farmers and schools through both an apprenticeship programme and a partnership to develop an occupational therapy centre for children with special needs.
With its incredible terrain, the island is one of the finest places to immerse yourself in nature. Adventure seekers will adore bombing around the forest-like trails on bikes. Although the most unforgettable activities embrace the ocean, such as dolphin spotting and scuba diving, where you get a chance to marvel at the corals and get close to sealife. But your days can be as active as you desire, with Grazia’s favourite moments spent lazing with a book in our private hammock or exploring the island by bicycle, which comes with each villa (accommodating staff can even arrange a trike or send a chauffeur-driven buggy for those too posh to pedal!).
Head to Chi, The Spa for island-themed therapies (book the signature Kandu Boli Ritual, which uses traditional tiger cowrie shells and coconut oil to knead away any knots) and hatha yoga with Dr Shraddha, which is well worth the sunrise wake-up call. It may be billed as Maldives’ first and only resort south of the equator, but it doesn’t rest on its laurels, with top-notch dining, excellent facilities including a well-equipped gym, beachfront infinity pool and impressively, the only nine-hole golf course in the country. But that aside, it’s the exceptional staff that really set this resort apart – you arrive as a stranger but leave as family, vowing to return.
- Grazia was a guest on Gulf Air’s inaugural flight to the Maldives. Bahrain’s national carrier now operates five weekly non-stop flights from the Kingdom (BIA) to Malé (MLE) on its new eco-friendly Airbus A320neo. The five-hour flights start from DHS3,095 in Economy Class and DHS9,495 in Business Class, with Gulf Air also offering stopover packages to discover Bahrain en route to Malé. Visit gulfair.com for more information.
- Villas at Shangri-La's Villingili Resort & Spa start from DHS2,020 per night. Visit shangri-la.com/male/villingiliresort for more information.