Shangri-La Villingili is a newly opened hotel situated right at the southern-most tip of the Maldives. The hotel sits on one of the largest hotel islands of the archipelago and offers the best of both worlds: in a prime location for diving, the island is also adorned with thick beautiful vegetation that looks very much like a small rainforest. The accommodation here is the largest you will find in the Maldives, with the lead in category reaching 133m˛; the highest category reaches a huge 957m˛. The most original feature of the resort is the Tree House Villa which hangs high above the ocean, set in the jungle with its very own infinity-edged pool. Here, at the Shangri-La, you will find the Robinson Crusoe feeling you are looking for as you stroll away from the main activity of the hotel around the jungle or along the beach where you are more than likely to be completely alone. This privileged location does take a while longer to get to however, so do be patient - it will all be worth it in the end!
The Maldives consists of over a thousand islands arranged into what is commonly-known as atolls, or groups of islands, although the word ?atoll' actually denotes an island made of coral surrounded by a lagoon. Located in the largest atoll of the Maldives, the Addu Atoll, Villingili Island is situated at the southern-most extremity of the archipelago. Upon arrival at Malé airport you will need to check in for a domestic flight to Gan Airport. The flight takes 70 minutes. Once at Gan, an airport taxi will collect you and take you to a jetty where you will need to catch a speedboat - 10 minutes later you will reach the island. See our instructions below.
Around 200 islands of the archipelago are inhabited (recorded at the time of our visit in April 2010). Each hotel has its own island (unless you stay in the capital or Hulhule, the airport island). Among the 200 or so inhabited islands, some are inhabited by locals only - hotels and locals rarely mix unless in a work environment within a hotel structure. By this, we mean that there are no local villages which share a hotel's island and vice versa. Tourism and local life are kept separate. This means that there are no cultural activities on hotel islands, although most hotels tend to organise excursions to neighbouring local islands for the day.
Upon arrival at the airport, everything may seem very confusing, with people milling around all over the place looking lost - you will notice a row of hotel kiosks, and a row of Maldivian Air Taxi or Trans Maldivian Airline kiosks behind that. When you come out of the arrival doors, just look out for your host who should be waving a Shangri-La Villingili Resort placard. Go with him/her. Make sure you have bags of patience with you, as the wait may last a little longer before you board the domestic flight to Gan International Airport. Your host will have to collect all the passengers heading the same way as you before checking you in and taking you to the Shangri-La lounge, where you will be served complimentary refreshments while you wait to board the plane; there is also complimentary Wi-fi (ask the staff for the access code). The process may seem long, especially after a ten hour flight, but it is definitely worth it! Rest-assured that you will reap the benefits sooner rather than later!
Upon arrival you are given a warm welcome by the very hospitable Shangri-La staff. Once past the welcome pavilion on the jetty, guests either check in at the reception on the island or directly in the rooms. The main cluster of activity is around the arrival jetty, with a couple of restaurants and the spa and gym scattered over the island. The resort encompasses over six kilometres of picturesque coastline and almost two kilometres of white sandy beach. The landscape here is unique; it features 12 hectares of vegetation, natural lakes, thousands of coconut palms and natural trails. Due to the size of the island most guests tend to get around by taxi-buggy which can be ordered from reception 10 minutes before. However, it is a real pleasure to stroll around the stunning island which looks like a mini rainforest; the hotel organises nature walks and excursions around the island for fauna and flora lovers. It is wonder, with all this nature that there isn't a more varied fauna but there are some beautiful birds and lizards to be watched out for! Otherwise the hotel also has a very good diving and water sports centre - a snorkelling excursion is highly recommended to explore the Maldives astounding ocean floors.
The entire resort, although from the luxury Shangri-La brand, isn't pompous or over the top. Its elegance lies in its simplicity and functionality, so guests should not expect lavish interiors.
Something we found very positive about the hotel is its developing environmental values; the hotel has started desalinating its own water and bottling it in reusable glass containers which are placed all over the hotel. This has immensely reduced its waste as well as its carbon emissions from transportation of the bottled water, even if the desalination process uses up great amounts of fossil fuels.
Due to the location of the hotel, close to Gan Island, there is a rich variety of local life to be explored on the neighbouring islands, which we very strongly recommend. This is not something that can be done so easily at other hotels where the nearest local island is far away, so do make the most of this advantage.
Shangri-La rooms are without doubt the largest you will find in the Maldives! The smallest room starts at 133m˛ and the largest almost reaches the 1000m˛ mark! Although daunting at first, you get used to it very quickly! All the rooms look very similar with similar facilities and amenities; the difference lies in the location and size. There are 142 rooms altogether, including 60 Water Villas, 29 Beach Villas, 16 Tree Houses, 20 Twin Beach Villas, 15 Pool Villas and 2 Deluxe Villas. The interiors are extremely comfortable. The neutral tones of the materials and fabrics used are lifted with touches of turquoise blue. Modern and slick, there is nothing island-like or designer about the rooms, however they are aesthetically pleasing and their neutral aspect compliment the lush nature surrounding the rooms very well. Most categories have their own pool apart from the water villas which have direct access to the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. The rooms have a subtle Asian touch in its carved mirrors and decorative objects lying around the rooms making the décor different from most that we have seen. Something we noticed is that the rooms have been designed very carefully - there are all the expected mod-cons such as large flat-screen televisions, complimentary tea and coffee making facilities. However the room is design in such a way that everything is easy to find, easy and fun to use and guests rarely have to call out to enquire about something. There are also some nifty little touches such as a lap-table in case guests wish to eat their breakfast on the chaise longue out on the villa deck. Otherwise all the amenities are refill own-brand products which are placed in pretty ceramic containers. The only real downside for us was the lack of private pool on the water villa decks. Then again, we see Shangri-La's point: when you are sitting above pristine warm ocean waters, why would you want to bathe in a pool?
The hotel has two main restaurants - Dr. Ali's leads the restaurant selection with three distinctive living rooms that focus on fine cuisine from the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea and the Arabian Gulf that offers a Maldives dining experience whereas Javvu offers quality café dining during the day and refined Western cuisine in the evening. Those seeking an experience with a difference can take a cruise on a luxury yacht for lunch on the equator. Otherwise there are also three lounges to be made the most of, including the Endheri pool bar which has a live Dj on some evenings, the Fashala lounge which serves a selection of seafood but is open on selected evenings only and Manzaru which is right in the middle of the action and serves a variety of refreshments throughout the day. All the hotel's outlets are pleasant with friendly service. However we were left a little disappointed with the selection of Indian food that we ordered at Dr Ali's which was a little on the bland side.
The island is blessed with a beautiful lagoon, the better part being at the front of the resort close to the main pool. The waters are a shimmering incandescent bright blue, the sands are of a piercing white, fine as sugar, and the tall swaying palms that line the sand are as graceful as any in the paradisiacal archipelago. The advantage of the island's size is that there are lots of private little spots scattered along the beach to explore, so the choice is yours!
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