by David Evans
Published June 27, 2015 in Escape – News Corp
MALÉ, the island capital of the Maldives, is one of the most densely populated islands on the planet, but I was stunned to see so many of its people out doing laps on motorbikes at 11pm, pausing often to check their phones. I could only imagine they were all trying to meet up, unsuccessfully.
I was equally startled in the morning by the colour of the seawater in the sunlight. Cobalt blue perhaps, with tinges of emerald and hints of sapphire. The fish must be continually astounded, given their short memories. But Malé was just an appetiser, for I was on my way to a fabled island resort.
Gili Lankanfushi is the best hotel in the world, according to TripAdvisor. The best hotel. In the world. I really wasn’t sure what to expect. In my dreams, I was marooned like Robinson Crusoe and everything was made of chocolate.
A smiling man in crisp linen attire met me at the dock. Impressively, he picked me out of the crowd and greeted me by name. I reasoned that knowing guests by sight must be part of the “world’s best” protocol – Concierge Interpol, perhaps.
“How did you know it was me?” I asked.
He took me to a gleaming white speedboat where another half-dozen impeccably-groomed staff waited. With a lightly scented cold towel and ginger iced tea in my hand, we glided past idyllic islands and sleek motor yachts, escorted by schools of flying fish. It was all very James Bond, with a dash of Doctor Dolittle.
At first sight, the island was impossibly beautiful, as a preschooler might draw a tropical island – turquoise water lapping against white sandy beaches and leaning palm trees.
Awaiting our arrival was an entourage: general manager, head chef, head butler, porters, cold-towel-giver, brow-wiper and several others. It was nice to feel important, so I allowed the James Bond fantasy to linger a little longer.
My dream about Robinson Crusoe was right on the money. Personal butlers at Gili are known as Mr Friday. Crusoe residences sit out in the lagoon, only accessible by tender. The marooned-in-paradise Crusoe theme runs throughout in a rustic five-star style.
No, make that six star. Did I say “personal butler”? A cheerful Mr Friday called Gasim introduced himself as my butler. His smile told me in an instant this wasn’t just his job, but his devoted calling.
“May I have your shoes please?” He grinned at my bewilderment. “No news, no shoes.” Gasim placed my flip-flops inside a cotton bag.
He gestured toward the electric buggy. “Jump in and I’ll give you the island tour.” It was like stepping into Willy Wonka’s glass elevator.
We trundled down sandy jungle paths, past hidden massage pavilions and discreet sunken lounge enclaves, an outdoor jungle movie theatre, organic restaurant garden, dive centre with resident marine biologist, and yoga ashram – not to mention the standard five-star stable of restaurants, bars, swimming pools, tennis court, gym, water sports centre, spa and gift shop. Beside a monolithic arched doorway that looked like the home of the Flintstones, we stopped. A glass door led to stairs disappearing underground. “This is the wine cellar and chocolate cave. You can sample the house-made chocolate here whenever you wish.”
My eyes widened. “Say that again?” I was spoiled for life. Hotel standards would be measured henceforth against the chocolate cave. This place really was Robinson Crusoe, James Bond, Doctor Dolittle and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, all in one.
The sandy path turned to boardwalk as we approached my villa, huge as a house. Boasting a grand sea-level deck with direct lagoon access, a bathroom with glass sea-viewing floor, and an overwater bridge to the most incredible shower ever, it even had a private lagoon plunge pool if a nudie dip tickled my fancy.
But Gili has more. On the top shelf is the Private Reserve, the largest overwater villa in the world. It sits out in the lagoon, isolated like a rustic chic castle surrounded by a dazzling moat of Evian water. Genuinely famous people come to get away from everyone, including the other guests – the sort of place Daniel Craig would love.
After demonstrating every feature in my small planet, Gasim left me to unravel. I began with a swim in the lagoon then showered over the ocean and stood naked in the wind, because I could. I made myself a Nespresso. Using the Wi-Fi and impressively hidden home entertainment system, I chose some relaxing music and went online to buy shares in Bose and Nestle. Gasim had said to call him anytime. Ice for a G&T? Within minutes he delivered a deconstructed igloo in a giant ice bucket. I was complete. No responsibilities except to turn up for dinner. It was now time for snorkelling in the lagoon with the reef boasting sharks, turtles, rays and stripy fish.
I spent the rest of my time at Gili Lankanfushi tasting a different Michelin-class menu every night. Honey from the honeycomb at breakfast, drinks from tropical flowers, the chocolate cave, an octopus swimming next to my lunch table, sleeping to the sound of the waves on the daybed under the stars, swimming, snorkelling, lolling around on a bicycle … I didn’t even scratch the surface of “nothing”.
Gili Lankanfushi offers myriad ways to relax in a unique shabby chic style without the veneer so disappointingly familiar in larger establishments; a faultless combination of genuinely crafted eco-design with five-star facilities and a high-service ethos.
Best hotel in the world? Undoubtedly. No news, no shoes? Spot on.
David Evans is a Lonely Planet and freelance travel photographer and writer. He travelled as a guest of Gili Lankanfushi, an HPL Resort.