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November 27, 2021
This was a great-escape diving trip with two of my daughters in 2014 before the twins were born. I got to spend a week in this aquatic wilderness and they earned their PADI qualifications.
I hate arriving at new resorts. There’s the greeting party including the manager, smiling on the dock and ready to welcome you to their beautiful home. And I rock up jet lagged from the red-eye, half deaf from the jet engines and depressurizing descent, and semi-poisoned from cabin air. Disorientated and grumpy for 24 hours, I feel sorry turning up for them…
But the Maldives is the perfect respite from Metropolitan life, and Gili goes further to create a dreamy eco-luxury wilderness. Easier to get to than Soneva Fushi, the original ‘Robinson Crusoe’ resort, Gili is a simple 25-minute boat ride from the airport rather than a seaplane with associated wait times. That ease takes a little from the sense of remoteness, but Gili more than makes up for it.
Shoes are taken and neatly bagged for you on the private boat transfer. There’s no further requirement to wear them on the island. I love that.
AccommodationsAll the accommodations are spacious, 45 detached houses are set on stilts in the lagoon, most accessed by 3 walkway jetties, some only by boat. The Villas have that raw feel of being knocked together by settlers out of logs, rope and thatch, which adds to the romantic sense of adventure, but everything works; the air-con in the bedroom, Bose music system throughout, pre-loaded iPod. Nespresso, etc.
The WiFi was my only mini gripe. Situated at one end, this didn’t reach throughout the 90 feet wide suite. They've been boosted and sited centrally since our trip. These villas don't have their own pools but you can literally flop off the deck into the lagoon, and the main pool by the beach is excellent.
The bedroom is enclosed and the vast bath/dressing area can be too, but most of the suite is open, facing the sea, a multitude of verandas and decking with comfortable lounging spaces (perfect for a house party for your 100 closest friends) and even an upper roof deck where I slept under the stars until my daughters found out and wanted their turn. There is even a private staircase off the bathroom down to a semi-enclosed sea. Not sure if this is for skinny-dipping but I can’t imagine anyone would notice outside in the lagoon either. Nude bathing is however frowned upon in the Maldives.
StaffThe staff we came in contact with all seemed to make up a genuinely happy and willing team and that sets them apart. Man Fridays are assigned to several villas but always available and unstintingly helpful.
DiningThe food and beverage team deserve praise for the range of options, consistently high quality and the efforts that go into themed dining nights; Asian Street Markets, Mediterranean Souks, Thai, Indian etc.., often with live entertainment, all created on the beach or over the water and providing too much choice to take full advantage of. Alternatively, the Japanese restaurant ‘By the Sea’ had great food but surprisingly didn’t have a version of Miso Black Cod. I thought just about every Japanese eatery outside the Homeland had this testament to Nobu on their menu now.
ActivitiesSam the Japanese dive instructor took two of my daughters through their PADI qualification and I joined them on their first and last dive. She had a gentle and calming manner, which allowed me to enjoy my dives more than any others in the last 10 years. (I can take longer to equalize than most and I like to go down at my own pace). We also rented an underwater GoPro for $50, which was easy to use and well worth it. Files are provided next day on a USB drive. Sharks, rays, turtles and an abundance of colourful fish swim around the shallower waters of the villas too.
The island is easy to walk around, but cycles are provided as well, which my children made more use of; the younger daughter careering off the jetty into the sea as she fumbled with her sunglasses. Once we saw she was okay and laughing we regretted not having the video footage. “Look Mum no hands. Look Mum no feet. Look Mum no teeth!” came to mind.
Tucked away in different parts of the jungle are the cinema, which is a great experience even if the film wouldn’t normally drag you out of home; the tennis court, the pool table, organic garden, various little hideaways to dine or just sit quietly soaking up the purity of nature.
This was also where I conducted my first 7-day test of a sun protection hair product. It went on to become LifeSaver UV our best selling sun-cream for hair.
Complimentary yoga each morning at 8.00 am above the spa, was a paced 45 minutes of intermediate stretches and poses overlooking the sea. I so need this each morning in London.
The sea-facing gym was relatively large and well laid out with ample equipment and properly air-conditioned. All elementary, but it’s surprising how many resorts skimp on this. Gili’s gym was well designed, had a fresh ambiance and was always empty for me.
Ease of access with direct flights from London and the simple quick transfer from Male, made this a resort I would happily return to regularly. Jetty 1 Villa 18 and Jetty 2 Villa 32 give a better sense of private wilderness.
Michael Van Clarke
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