The Maldives is one of the few places on earth that is even more beautiful in real life. These white-fringed blips in the middle of the Indian Ocean are a snorkelling haven and home to some of the most romantic and luxurious hotels on earth.
And though you could wake up on any of the 200 inhabited islands with a sun-drenched smile on your face, holidaymakers are often in the dark about just how different these isles can be.
Stay too close to the densely populated capital island of Malé, for instance, and you will have flights coming in overhead. Some islands also overlook Malé, so if tranquil waters are all you want to gaze upon from your slice of paradise do your homework.
Older resorts also tend to be nearer the capital as well, so it’s best to ensure your hotel is at least a 20-minute transfer by boat or seaplane to avoid any noise pollution.
We went one stop further and booked the most southerly hotel in the Maldives.
See for yourself: Shangri-La Maldives on social media
A 70-minute flight from Male, the Shangri-La Villingili Resort & Spa is about as far-flung as you can get (the next landfall south is pretty much Antarctica). And if the certificate for crossing over the Equator handed to you on your flight (I kid you not) isn’t pay off enough, the sweep of eye-wateringly white sand and the zen-like feel of this place will be.
The island is surrounded by a kaleidoscopic coral reef, so you can plop out of your water villa and drop in on the fish, turtles, manta rays and Nemos whenever the mood takes you. Some house reefs are a boat ride away (less good for snorkelling enthusiasts) so another reason to choose wisely.
Why you’ll like it
The resort occupies one of the larger sand islands (you can still cycle around it in ten minutes) but feels small and intimate.
Breakfast in bed – or rather the daybed out on your deck overlooking the fish – is a must. It remains one of the best moments of my whole holiday
The fact there was more space to play with when designing the layout means Shangri-La has ensured the villas are not bunched together. Evening dining spots also tend to be in different areas of the island, so you get the sense of dining somewhere truly different every night.
It’s worth noting that this is a real bonus… on smaller islands your choice of venue may be limited and there is more risk of cabin fever setting in after five or so (albeit stunning) days.
Dining and restaurants
Fashala is the standout restaurant in the resort, located overlooking the lagoon (you can book a private table on the sand) and serving high-end cuisine. Dr. Ali’s is an Asian-influenced restaurant and though more relaxed the food was first rate.
There is not a sniff of the all-inclusive or stockpiled here, all dishes including those in the buffet breakfast bars to the lunch venues were fresh and five-star.
Rooms at Shangri-La Villingili
Accommodation ranges from beach villas hidden by swaying palms (with private paths to the sand), tree houses in the lush interior, pool villas and on-water villas.
If you haven’t experienced life in a water villa, make no mistake, waking up to the sound of lapping waves and walking straight out of your bedroom on to your own capacious waterfront deck and jumping into the turquoise sea is about as heavenly as it gets.
Space is somewhat of a calling card for Shangri-La these days, but the size of the villas is impressive even for the Asia-based hotel brand. My water villa had a dressing area where I could happily house several of my siblings and there were more places to bathe (under the stars in the almond-shaped tub, outdoors under the rain shower, indoors in a large marble shower) than I had days on the island.
Suites are so well appointed with everything from razors and bath salts to hair bands and sandals, you could turn up here with the clothes on your back and a bikini and be perfectly preened!
For anything they haven’t thought of, there’s a mobile phone you can take around with you and a private butler to call (per room).
The only golf course on the Maldives
As most villas have their own pool (or slither of beach, or ocean deck and over-water hammock) it’s very easy to go the whole day and never see another soul. Which is pretty blissful in itself.
However, for those who are more active there are tennis courts, a scuba centre (of course), a kid’s play area, a watersports beach and Villingili is home to the only golf course in the Maldives.
Daily complimentary activities include paddleboarding, windsurfing, kayaking and Tilapia feeding.
Pause for thought
There is no denying that the holidays to the Maldives are expensive. But they are also out of this world and insanely beautiful. If these amazing atolls, one day, may cease to exist thanks to rising sea levels continue, everyone who can afford it should go. And in that vein, try to pick a hotel with proper eco credentials and one which gives to the local community. Shangri-La is one of a few hotels in the Maldives that delivers on its claims of local development, recruits Maldivian locals and has created a partnership with local farmers and formed a cooperative.
Tourism can help build great things when done properly.
Three things we loved
- The open-air showers are stunning. In the water villas, you can also open up the huge villa doors and relax in the capacious oval bath tub and look up at the stars. Just wow.
- You cannot believe just how gorgeous the water is. Villas come equipped with your own snorkel, so dive on in.
- Dine by design. If you’re going to dine on a beach, under the stars, then this is the place to do it. The staff can list all the beautiful places they can set up private dinners around the island.
High50 insider tips
- The Whispering Palms water villas are adjacent to the Villingili house reef, but the Serenity Bay water villas are more secluded and were our preferred location.
- Get a package. Food and beverages on the Maldives are very expensive as almost everything has to be imported to the island, so this is a place to plump for an all-inclusive set up.
- Breakfast in bed – or rather the daybed out on your water villa deck overlooking the fish. It remains one of the best moments of my whole trip.
Top twin-stop holiday
Maldives is a perfect twin-centre destination. We opted for a two-night stopover in Oman at the Al Husn Bar Jissah Muscat where you can enjoy the rich culture, pashmina shopping in the souks and the fabulous, relatively unknown beach life.
Oman Air flies daily, direct to Muscat. Return flights to the Maldives via Muscat are available from £587 per person, including taxes.
The Pure Maldives package at Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort and Spa costs from £595 per night including return flights from Malé to Gan for two, daily breakfast, Dine by Design, one Big Game Fishing Excursion and complimentary green fees.
Chantal Borciani is travel editor at High50, responsible for food, travel and business content. She reports on travel trends and destinations. Twitter: @ChantalBorch