Travelling across the Maldives, The Edition brings you reviews of the crème de la crème of Maldivian resorts, hoping to inspire your next holiday getaway. Indulge in the tropics vicariously through the experiences of our writers, and pack your bag right after!
For most, the experience at Shangri-La Vilingili begins with crossing the equator. My inner travel enthusiast stirred to life when our arrival to the Southern Hemisphere was declared over the intercom. As the announcement resonated through the cabin, flight attendants handed all Shangri-La bound passengers a certificate documenting our foray south, courtesy of the resort. Quaint!
The ensuing speedboat ride was an exercise in controlling my anticipation. Fortunately, in a mere 5 minutes, we were welcomed at Shangri-La’s arrival jetty by smiling resort staff who offered us fresh coconut water and tropical flowers nosegays, after slipping skillfully woven palm fronds pendants over our heads.
I was then formally introduced to Nasy, the lovely woman who would serve as a dedicated island host throughout my two-day reprieve at Shangri-La Vilingili. She whisked me via buggy to my room, a breathtaking Water Villa built on stilts in the resort's lagoon.
Less than a minute of excited barefoot exploration later, I concluded that the villa’s interior was equally, if not more, impressive. Tastefully furnished in shades of ivory and brown to complement its sleek wooden surfaces, the villa also seemed to be equipped with every amenity I could ever imagine needing and then some.
The bathroom offered a rich variety of options to rinse off the stress of city life between both indoor and outdoor shower areas as well as an oval bathtub.
Personally, my favourite section was the open-air terrace with its multiple lounging areas including a pair of sun lounges, a day bed and a hammock situated right above turquoise waters. Shielded from prying eyes by a wooden enclosure, the terrace was temptingly open to the sky and the sea.
Lounging, however, had to wait and I promptly headed off for an alfresco style lunch at the aptly named Javvu restaurant. ‘Javvu’, which translates to ‘atmosphere’ in the Dhivehi language, was an ideal spot for outdoor dining around the clock. I marvelled at the wide variety of options available from the restaurant’s live cooking stations, finally picking a chicken kebab to complement a generous serving of Spaghetti Bolognese before I was ushered to my table to savour the rich flavours.
After the reinvigorating meal, I was treated to a comprehensive tour of one of Maldives’ largest five-star resorts, guided by Shangri-La’s Communications Manager Ameen Mohamed.
I learned that it was the sheer extent of the 54 hectare-island that prompted the resort to equip each of its 132 residential suites with bicycles and ensure my tour was conducted from aboard the comfort of a buggy- the remaining transport option for those who preferred to avoid walking or bicycling.
Shangri-La Vilingili is replete with luxurious options. Between the Entertainment Pavilion, an Eco Centre, fully stocked gym and two tennis courts, to name just a few facilities, it quickly dawned on me that two-days would barely be enough to experience the resort in all its glory.
The environmental backdrop of all this opulence was perhaps the factor that solidified a special place in my heart for Shangri-La Vilingili.
Nestled deep in Addu, the country’s Southernmost Atoll, the resort boasts a unique natural environment. The property decided to preserve most of the island’s natural vegetation by incorporating it into the design and transforming it into a great asset by offering distinctive services such as guided nature walks or personalized jungle dining experiences.
The island is also home to three stunning mangroves. Though these natural lakes aren't a rare occurrence, to have an abundance of them, especially connected to one another makes for a rare and special ecosystem. The effect of their surfaces, often glass-smooth, reflecting the green hues of surrounding dense vegetation was a pure panoramic delight.
At any given point in time during a vacation to Shangri-La Vilingili, one is likely to spot a graceful white tern circling overhead. Although the species inhabits other tropical regions, the presence of ‘dhondheeni’ , as they are locally known, in Maldives is limited to Addu Atoll, resulting in a certain symbolic significance.
The first and largest of its kind in the country, one of Shangrila Vilingili’s most unique features is its 9-hole golf course, a novelty I was more than excited to explore later that afternoon, complete with a formal introduction to the sport. After a one-on-one lesson with the resort’s seasoned golf professional, I attempted a shot at Hole 1 which was charmingly named Manta Ray.
Although much cannot be said for my golfing talent, I can definitely attest to the beauty of the locale. Featuring both 3-par and 4-par holes, each creatively named after beloved underwater critters , the golf course is surrounded by vistas of lush greenery and the roiling waves of the Indian Ocean.
Before stepping away from the golf course, I stopped at the highest natural point in Maldives. Located at the Southern end of the resort, the area is elevated 2.4 metres (7.9 ft) above water-level. I made sure to click some Insta-worthy shots before heading back to my villa to freshen up for dinner.
A brief phone call had a buggy dropping me off at Fashala Restaurant, which is perhaps the most gastronomically adventurous out of Shangri-La’s dining choices. Following some much-appreciated guidance from the restaurant’s helpful staff, I settled for an order of Coral Reef Fish served with heirloom carrots, seaweed buerre blanc, cauliflower and yoghurt puree. I savoured the flavours of my dish in the romantic atmosphere created by warms lights and live music.
The next day dawned with as much promise as the last. Following a quick visit to Javvu’s generous breakfast buffet, I headed off to the Water Sports Centre to tick an essential item off my bucket list.
In keeping with its impressive aesthetic streak, Shangri-La Vilingili’s underwater scenery did not disappoint in the least. I soaked up the sprawling colours of the house reef as schools of equally vibrant fish zoomed past at their own natural rhythms.
The highlight of the excursion swam by just as the party was about to head back- a turtle. Elated as I was at having finally seen a member of the endangered species in its natural habitat, I listened on in palpable envy during the boat ride back to dryland as the guides talked of days where dozens turtles could be spotted.
After briefly washing up at the villa’s outdoor shower, I headed off to a treatment I didn’t know I needed. In retrospect, I should have expected nothing less of CHI, an award-winning spa.
I opted for a Kandu Boli massage, a therapeutic ‘coconut oil’ treatment that begins with placing cowrie seashells by one’s ear to evoke the sounds of ocean as a wonderfully ‘Maldivian’ segue to disconnect from the world.
Considering the spa’s spacious treatment villas, private gardens and steam rooms, I realized that the effect was purposefully and tastefully intended. I left reluctantly, knowing that I had barely sampled the exquisite range of Asian massages, Indian Ayurvedic treatments, and locally inspired treatments on the menu.
The remainder of the day was spent lounging in the open-air terrace, whiling away the time before a hosted dinner at Dr. Ali’s, the last of Shangri-La’s three restaurants. The eponymous personality was a Maldivian doctor known for wonderfully woven nature stories and enticing recipes.
While the restaurant features an array of international cuisine, I chose a dish from the Arabian Gulf Room, the Shishlik. The masterpiece consisted of grilled marinated lamb chops with mustard Dijon, onion, garlic, black pepper powder, madras curry powder, extra virgin olive oil, served with white basmati, saffron rice and grilled tomatoes. The flavours were augmented by the setting as I had chosen to eat at the outdoor area adjacent to the seawall, watching as an almost full moon shimmered on the water.
As I boarded the speedboat headed to Gan International Airport the next morning, I marvelled at just how many rich experiences could be condensed into a mere two days. Though it may have been brief, my experience at Shangri-La Vilingili was second to none.