It was like the opening scene from a James Bond film.
Male Airport, the Maldives – glamorous couple (ok, but necessary for the narrative) emerge from terminal building led by handsome young man in linen uniform carrying their luggage. The street outside is buzzing, but 50 yards away an armada of small boats line a small dock awaiting their guests.
We meander through the crowds to what can only be described as the smartest of the vessels on offer with a crew in those same linen uniforms standing proudly on deck. We’re hardly aboard before the engine kicks in and we race from the shore, a glass of refreshing cocktail already in hand.
OK, Bond would have piloted it himself and there would have been baddies and gunshots and motorbikes leaping from barges, but nevertheless we were headed for an island hideaway even Spectre himself would have approved of.
Ten minutes into the 20-minute transfer the engines stalled and excited voices competed from the front of the boat – less than 50 metres away an enormous pod of dolphins were putting on a performance that immediately made the week’s scheduled safari redundant – “you are very lucky”, beamed one of the crew.
Minutes later we were pulling alongside the jetty with a reception committee already on parade. “Welcome to Gili Lankanfushi”, they said, although “Paradise” might have been more fitting. Turquoise sea, white sand and lush green vegetation – a testament to the island’s luxury eco-resort billing. And the short golf buggy ride to our villa on stilts gave ample evidence of the sustainability ethos that is the gospel, according to Gili – preserving the natural environment and protecting the stunning but vulnerable marine ecosystem.
Our home for the next few days was a villa suite, one of just 24 overwater luxury villas (though there are 45 villas in total at the resort) spread across two floors with an open-air living room, private sun deck and rooftop terrace. Glass panels in the floor provide perfect opportunities to view the colourful and teeming marine life below – we struck lucky with several shark sightings (only small and quite timid!) and a magnificent Stingray, so close you could touch it, but that would be a bad idea.
All buildings use sustainably-sourced plantation teak, palm wood, bamboo and palm fronds, in addition to recycled telegraph poles. For that extra special guest, wanting even more “getting away from it all” time, there is The Private Reserve. Standing alone in the middle of a sparkling, turquoise lagoon, 500 metres away from the main resort, this is the largest overwater villa in the world, with master suites and guest bedrooms as well as a collection of open-plan living and dining spaces. There’s an infinity swimming pool, spacious sun decks, spa pavilion, air- conditioned gymnasium, cinema, bar and even a water slide that runs from the top deck into the sea. A private boat is also part of the package.
Food is an important part of the Gili experience. There is a main open-air restaurant where tables spill onto the beach; the overwater bar stands on stilts in the lagoon offering Mediterranean dishes, catch of the day and salads fresh from the resort’s own organic garden and there are themed evenings ranging from a Passage Through India Tandoor night to a seafood grill soiree. By The Sea is an intimate Japanese themed restaurant offering sushi, sashimi and seasonal tasting menus.
Gili also offers a host of special dining experiences under the stars for its honeymoon – or simply romantic – visitors. A private treetop table with a 360-degree view of the island, a table for two on a deserted part of the beach, or even a small boat ride out to One Palm Island, where it’s a table for two for just you, your partner and a palm tree!
Activities, if you really feel you ought to, encompass watersports, diving, snorkelling (not to be missed) sailing and fishing trips, plus cookery classes for those who really want to recreate that Maldivian fish curry at home.
And then, of course, there’s the pampering bit. The Meera spa, another house on stilts in a secluded bay, offering myriad treatments in overwater rooms all staring straight out to sea.
New for 2018, the resort is introducing a revolutionary wellness programme covering diverse treatments such as transformational breath, hypnotherapy and Ayurveda. Further developments include a restaurant relaunch from May, a new castaway family experience and a resort interior design refresh.
Last, but certainly not least, the secret ingredient that makes Gili the perfect castaway island – your personal assistant Mr Friday (and, yes, there are Miss Fridays, too). This marvellous band of personal hosts are literally there to pander to your every whim, 24/7. Now that’s what you call paradise.
Enjoy seven nights in a Villa Suite on half board at Gili Lankanfushi from £3,399 per person. This includes return international flights and speedboat transfers. Call Turquoise Holidays today on 01494 678 400 or visit www.turquoiseholidays.co.uk.