Gili Lankanfushi is a tiny private island in the Maldives. Formerly known as Soneva Gili, “Gili” means “small coral island” in Dhivehi, the local language. The island is about ten hours from the UK, and then just 20 minutes by speedboat from the airport at Malé. The Good Spa Guide was lucky enough to be invited to sample Gili Lankanfushi’s new Meera Spa.
The motto at Gili Lankanfushi is "No news, no shoes". When you arrive, you're encouraged to remove your footwear and make your way around the island barefoot, or possibly on the bicycle left thoughtfully outside your villa. You move onto "Gili time" -- an hour later than the local time -- so that you can make the most of the daylight, with sunrise around 7am and sunset around 7pm. The air stays warm past sunset, though, perfect for enjoying cocktails and watching the moon rise over the Indian Ocean. The TV in your bedroom is discreetly covered over: you'd have to make an effort to stay in touch with the outside world -- and why would you want to?
Gili Lankanfushi resort has a strong environmentally friendly ethos -- the fish is sustainable and only line caught; the linens are unbleached and undyed. You are encouraged to take your plastic home with you for recycling, as this is difficult in the Maldives. During the full-moon dinner on the palm beach, all the pathways are lit by the moon and the moon only. Yes, Gili Lankanfushi manages to make eco-luxury look smart.
Gili Lankanfushi measures only 600 metres long by 200 metres wide. You could jog round its perimeter in 12 minutes -- although it's best not to try that in the full heat of the day -- but the island offers its own world of experiences. At the PADI diving school, you can try not only diving but also a variety of water sports including snorkelling and kayaking, or book to go on a sunset dolphin safari (Maldivian dolphins specialise in synchronised acrobatics, I discovered). There is a sunny and well-equipped fitness centre at Gili Lankanfushi, a jungle cinema, a library, a tennis court, an underground wine cave (well, you need somewhere cool to sip your Chardonnay and eat your chocolate), a swimming pool, a beach straight out of paradise, and, of course, the Meera spa.
Gili Lankanfushi is a 5-star resort with just 45 villas, some accessible only by boat, all built from traditional and natural materials. As each villa is over the water, you're never far away from the marine environment. You can see the sea beneath the floorboards, hear it lapping at your private patio as the tide rises and falls, and watch the yellow and blue fish beneath as you relax on your over-water sundeck. From your sundeck, there are steps down to the sea, and each villa also has a private area for ocean bathing and a roof-top terrace.
Gili Lankanfushi villas have a comfortable lounge and air-conditioned bedroom with mosquito-netted bed. They are light, airy and provide everything you could need for your stay: plentiful towels, robes, lotions, potions, and even toothpaste. Of course, if there is anything you do suddenly need, your personal Mr or Ms Friday is on hand to arrange it for you, 24 hours a day. Whether you need to book a spa visit, borrow a DVD or rearrange your flights, your personal assistant is a phone-call away. The standards of service are exceptional: I was impressed when someone put a bookmark in my book when they had to move it to tidy my table, so I wouldn't lose my page.
The spa at Gili Lankanfushi is the first Meera Spa in the world -- a change from its previous incarnation as a Six Senses Spa. The spa is in its own separate villa, also over the water, where glass panels beneath the treatment beds allow you to be hypnotised by the fish darting in the sea below. Meera means "ocean" in Sanskrit, and the sea is never far away at Gili Lankanfushi. The tone of the spa is natural, with wooden floors, open verandas for relaxing, and natural, organic products on the treatment menu.
The food we ate at Gili Lankanfushi was consistently excellent. In the Peruvian-Japanese fusion "By the Sea" restaurant, on the sunrise side of the island, I tried some of the freshest fish I have ever encountered -- partly because it had been in the water that morning. Everything was delicious, from the starter of endamame with rock salt to the sushi, to the pisco pear and saké sorbet for dessert. All the ice-cream is home-made. Vegetables and herbs come from the organic gardens on the island.
Gili Lankanfushi has a laid-back approach to breakfast: if you can't get to the restaurant by 10.30am, you can order it in your villa at any time during the day for no extra charge. Lunch at the balmy and breezy Overwater Bar is a buffet which changes every day; you can choose from salads and soup, to freshly made-for-you grilled meats or stir-fries. In the evenings, the menu at the main restaurant is also varied, fresh and local (and more-ish).
Our abiding memories of Gili Lankanfushi are not only of the natural beauty of the island -- the crystal-clear, turquoise waters, the white sand, the green coconut trees -- but also of its atmosphere. As the island is private, with just staff and other guests around, it's easy to get used to not locking your door when you leave your villa. The pace is unhurried; the staff couldn't be more helpful (one whipped out a spanner and adjusted the height of my bicycle the instant he saw me struggling with my short legs), and you soon feel part of the Gili Lankanfushi "family".
Over one thousand islands make up the nation of the Maldives, but a visit to just this enchanting one is worth the journey.
Room rates at Gili Lankanfushi start at around 1,400 US dollars (around £900) a night.
Qatar flights to the island of Malé depart from London Heathrow and travel via Doha. Visit qatarairways.com for current prices.
3rd May 2013
Warm floors when you put your bare feet upon them; heated treatment beds; soft towels; attention to detail, so that your treatment room looks and smells beautiful when you arrive in it.
Cold floors when you put your bare feet upon them; therapists who use your treatment time to write up a list of product "recommendations" that they hope you will purchase.
Behind the scenes