Where is it?
A brief 20 minute speedboat from the capital Male on the Lankan atoll. The resort’s ethos of “No News, No Shoes” is applied in the spot – with sandals swiftly confiscated by the smiling hosts. The 45-room resort sits on a lagoon, surrounded by the open sea.
Gili reopened in December after a fire destroyed a wing of the resort. They were closed for over a year and renovated the whole area, adding villas with swimming pools and refurbishing the facilities, adding extra layers of fire safety.
Their lavish and spacious villas are built with cedar, oak and pine from a sustainable forest in New Zealand. In other places, they use driftwood – such as the tree-trunk table in the wine cellar. Their aesthetic is rustic chic – simple luxury, nothing ostentatious, with wild beaches dotted with sand grass and plainly dressed hosts and butlers flying around with drinks and snorkels.
A proud eco-resort, their live-in marine biologist speaks fondly of their work to replenish the coral reefs, line by line. Each villa comes with handy bikes made from recycled wood. Bottled water comes from the island’s desalination plant and plastic use, like footwear, is non-existent.
All the beautiful facilities of Gili Lankanfushi are dwarfed by the simple pleasure of the villas, which come with at least eight seating areas with panoramic views. From flat sofas in the lounge to a day bed on the roof, to a net hammock stretched over the sea, we were encouraged to spend as much time as possible exploring its nooks and crannies. Even the bathroom has steps into a closed area of the sea, through which a sting ray lazily swam at least once.
Cycling round the jungle-thick island, the spa emerges as a sort of wooden temple stretching into the sea. It offers massages, therapies and Aryuveda sessions, specialising in de-stress treatments and back pain for those long days in the office (or at home) working.
The gym, a post-fire addition to the property, is modern and well-equipped.
Food & drink
Dining at Gili absolutely fails to bore. The main restaurant is the Over Water Bar, which sits in the lagoon and offers 180-degree sea views. It has a bountiful à la carte menu, including sections for ‘superfoods’ and for vegan diets. The bar itself stays open until the last guest leaves – no joke.
The resident chef puts on daily lunch specials, and on Sundays runs a tandoori night. He can also organise ‘destination dining’, for adventurous guests who want to dine in the wild.
Alongside the bar is Kashiveli – dining on the sandy beach. They operate a weekly whistle-stop tour of world cuisine, putting on Asian street food markets and Brazilian barbeques. A new addition is By The Sea, a Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant which has teppanyaki as well as other Japanese specialities.
But our top pick on the resort has to be Fini Foni, the ice cream parlour where staff serve huge bowls of fresh, homemade ice cream and sorbet. The coconut sorbet is especially marvellous.
For the big drinkers, the wine cellar holds 500 different wines and champagnes. A tasting afternoon with their resident sommelier is thoroughly encouraged, but leave your schedule clear afterwards.
Gili is best known to many for its hospitality. 280 staff look after 45 rooms. Your own personal butler, known as ‘Mr Friday’ after Robinson Crusoe, is on speed dial and manages your (admittedly fairly relaxed) schedule. He can organise lessons, reservations and dining opportunities. The resort boasts of its repeat visitors, due to the almost family-like attachment guests develop towards the staff.
The resort was briefly locked down for a suspected Covid case, and the professionalism and lucidity of the staff during what could have been quite serious was impressive.
For surfers, the property is less than 15m away from some of the best waves in the region. The Surf School organises expeditions, and offers one-to-one lessons for beginners who finally managed to stand up on the board.
That the resort was closed for a year has contributed to the fact the lagoon is teeming with sea life. Snorkelling is infinitely more fun when with an expert marine biologist who can point out the different fish, turtles and coral life. On dry land the opportunities are no less. An expert tennis coach is on hand for lessons, or just a quick hit on the court. While a resident Indian ‘master’ teaches yoga and meditation most mornings.
We stayed in a villa with pool, a new addition to the property that can comfortably sleep four people. The veranda has a day bed, a small pool and a ladder for a morning dip in the warm sea.
Also eye-catching are the Crusoe residences, which are standalone villas floating in the sea. Guests and staff use boats to reach these enticingly secluded properties.
For a truly inimitable stay, the Private Reserve is a floating fortress for eight auspicious guests. Apparently loved by certain Middle Eastern royalty, the Reserve is a private estate far from the other properties, which comes with live-in staff, its own kitchen, entertainment rooms, pool, play areas and gym. Yours for just £25,000 per night.
Thrillseeking solo travellers, burned out office workers, honeymooners and couples. Be prepared to come knowing few people, and leave with a family who will await your return to their little corner of heaven, where everything is perfect – especially the coconut sorbet.
Rates start from: $1,440 (£1,092) per night on a room-only basis, based on double occupancy. Gili Lankanfushi reopened on September 3, 2020. gili-lankanfushi.com