Friday, May 16, 2014

HOTEL CHECK MALDIVES, Gili Lankanfushi



Once it was called Soneva Gili. Now it is Gili Lankanfushi. Select returns to this tiny island to see how it has changed almost two years after takeover. And the good news is…

It is still gorgeously Gili. And it is still so Soneva...

We are so grateful that the new owners of Gili Lankanfushi, HPL, have not changed the resort too much, and that they know a good thing when they see it. It is still very barefoot, friendly and personal. You still have your Mr and Ms Friday, an open air movie theatre, an organic garden, a rustic feel with palm thatch and whimsical touches. Thank you…

Gili Lankanfushi is a small island with three long piers of water villas stretching over the wide smooth lagoon. There is a tiny, dense jungle hiding the staff village, but the world seems vast, bright and full of sparkling, transparent turquoise water…

It surrounds your villa, it laps onto the long silken white beach lined with palms, it surrounds the lunch restaurant on stilts in the lagoon…

(Click on the photos for larger images)

Peaceful
Warm
Crystal clear, living water

Rosy sunsets,  waving palms

Rustic villas,   fringy thatch 

Long white beaches 

Jungle paths
And underwater scenes, even from your villa

WATER VILLAS

There are 45 overwater villas including 29 villas called Villa Suites accommodating up to 3 people, 8 water residences (4 people), 7 Crusoe residences (4 people) reached by boat and an extravagant Private Reserve accommodating 8 people, also reached only by boat.

See map.
Bright watery sunrises from the spacious deck
of our water villa on pier 2

Crusoe residences like islands in the radiant lagoon

The wooden water villas are very spacious (from 210 sqm), delightfully rustic and rambling. Our watervilla 31 was near the end of pier 2, the pier most favoured by repeaters as it has villas only on one side.

This villa has some whimsical formerly Soneva touches, like a tower with fringy roof over an outdoor double bed. There is also a bedroom with aircon and all-round water views, with the kind of desk that makes you want to live here and write a book, staring at the divine water.

Wide watery world from the bed
From an open living area, you step down to a generous platform with sunbeds and sofas, cargo nets and a glass panel – the latter not really needed as you can look down off the edge straight into the water.

We had a bunch of coral there complete with a little colony of black and white fishes and a big guy with coloured spots. Reef sharks and mantas swam by. A walk down the long pier is like a mini shark safari. You are bound to find them lazing on the warm sands where the water is shallow.
There are stairs down from the spacious bathroom for private skinny dipping under the villa, among visiting fish, a bath with a view, and double vanities that could make you less vain as the view pulls you away from your own image in the mirror to the smooth lagoon.

Some facts:
Villa Suite: 29 (3A or 2A + 1C), 210 sqm
Residence: 8 (4A or 2A + 2C), 250 sqm
Crusoe Residence: 7 (4A or 2A + 2C), 250 sqm
The Private Reserve: 1 (8A or 4A + 4C), 1400 sqm

F&B

Delicious, lavish buffet breakfasts eaten with toes in the soft sand on the long white beach. Lavish buffets in the overwater restaurant, or a la carte. Dinner on the sand or perhaps in the Japanese restaurant (open a few days a week). Everything fresh and full of flavour, with an emphasis on organic. The choice is wide: even biltong a South African speciality introduced by the competent, warmly friendly and amusing Food & Beverage Manager Craig Gemmell. He breezes into the meals to say hello to guests, and every time he approaches your table it lifts your spirits.

Breakfast on the beach
A vast morning buffet
Carefully labelled organic toppings to your cereal
The overwater bar for lunch and more
The Japanese Restaurant By the Sea with a view of our pier

A neat add-on to the food & beverage experience was a private wine & chocolate tasting experience in the wine cellar, built underground with organic roof  and white smooth pebbles strewn on the floor.

Wine cellar

Wines to taste

Hand made chocolates to pair
with the wines

SPA

Overwater spa

The overwater spa is a place you cannot miss. It is a good place to see coloured fish species while you give yourself over to a divine, absolutely top class massage. The marine biologist has worked to make the area under the massage cabins more appealing to fishes, with hideaway stones and so on. The glass panel at the end of your massage bed is rather generous, and the floating view irresistible.

View from your massage bed

A meditation session at the spa brought the peace of Tibetan singing bowls. The yoga platform is surrounded by a feathery, waving fringe of coconut fronds.  Here we did a hatha yoga session with a very dedicated instructor.
Yoga platform

Tibetan meditation

WATER & UNDERWATER

The waters round Gili are still and smooth, with a big defined lagoon.  You inevitably dive into the water from your deck day and night, as the water is so inviting and accessible. There is also a picturesque swimming pool on the main beach.

The coral is very close to your villa for easy snorkeling though not as bright as on reefs further out. Snorkel equipment is included. The sand bank at Gili is underwater and is said to be a good spot for snorkeling to see cartilaginous fishes. You have One Palm Island as a jump off point for snorkeling.

But you don’t need to snorkel to see the fish. Just sit on your platform or walk down your pier to see the sharks and mantas swimming by.

Reef shark cruising by our villa

Ray flying past our pier

If diving is your thing - the Padi dive centre knows where to take you for some good dives.There are over 30 dive-sites including Banana, HP Reef, Okobe Thila, Nassimo Thila, Maagiri, Manta Point. Dec-Apr is the manta and whale shark season.


SONEVA ECHOES

So Soneva

Naturally it’s so Soneva that you cannot help comparing it. Originally created by Sonu Shivdasani and his wife Eva Malmström (Eva is a former Swedish fashion model turned designer), Lankanfushi still follows their maxim of SLOW LIFE (Sustainable-Local-Organic-Wellness Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experiences).

Your villa at Gili is over water and familiarly rustic. (At the former sister resort Soneva Fushi all are rustic beach villas.) Your Mr or Ms Friday at Gili will still tell you “No news no shoes” and invite you to part with your footwear. You even get bikes though the distances are so small. Bikes are very welcome as the piers can feel rather long under the equatorial sun. You can tramp along a winding path in the shady jungle – a short way compared with the labyrinth at Soneva Fushi.  But you can be sure you will find the organic garden and the open air movie house (Jungle Cinema).

At the cocktail party on the sand the management at Gili Lankanfushi still wear the turquoise checked Soneva sulus, and there is drumming and Maldivian dancing in black and white. The service has all the warmth it ever had. Smiles flash….

As a flaming sunset set a vivid tropical ambience over glasses of bubbly,  I chatted to the F&B manager Craig, the cheerful and witty GM Steven Phillips and the charming Director of Sales Roberto Arganese. From them I learnt that Lankanfushi  has a huge number of repeaters – the figure is as high as 80 percent. You can understand that you would not to put off your happy repeaters by changing too much.

One notable change though - you now have wifi in your villa.

Service is still wonderful - highly personal. For example: we had left some chocolates in the fridge at Four Seasons Kuda Huraa. We told our Ms Friday how much we valued these handmade chocolates from Soneva Fushi.  She arranged that the chocolates were found and delivered to us. When we discovered they had melted, she found a lovely box and we were able to choose handmade chocolates made at Gili to take back to Sweden with love.

Our last evening - like so many others, we never wanted
to go..

FUTURE

There are some developments in the offing.
Among developments to come, Three Palm Island will be added to the terrain of the top private residence to make it fit for king.
As to One Palm Island. The snorkeling from there will be improved due to coral conservation efforts. At Gili Lankanfushi coral will be grown on ropes (lines) and later transplanted on the coral reef. Every rope is initially planted with 50 small, living coral fragments. The corals are nursed in the lagoon for 1 year and later the rope is transplanted to the One Palm Island reef. This will improve the health of the One Palm Island Reef

How to get to Gili Lankanfushi

20 mins by speedboat from Male international airport. You will be met at the airport and taken to the quay, where the boat is waiting.

Note: Images 11, 12 & 26 by Gili Lankanfushi, remaining images by Aleah L Stanbridge Photography

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