No news and no shoes in the beautiful Maldives
As I enter the Indian Ocean directly from my villa, glass of champagne in hand, a phrase rings in my ears.
The slogan, from American comedy Parks and recreation, is the only way to describe the luxury resort Gili Lankanfushi. A one-night stay costs around €1,480 for two people.
Here, each villa overlooks the ocean, with a private lagoon just for you. Some even have a swimming pool, if the ocean proves insufficient for your needs. Your not-so-humble abode has a separate bedroom, living room and bathroom, with a gallery above with another bed if you fancy sleeping under the stars.
I think you can only justify coming to Gili Lankanfushi in the Maldives if you’re a: loaded, b: on your honeymoon, or c: looking for a reason to spend the money you saved up during the pandemic and want to tick a once-a-lifetime experience off your to-do list.
Irish Travel Agents Association chief executive Pat Dawson said the luxury travel market was holding up well here, even though inflation was biting.
“When Covid was gone, people were like, ‘Damn you only live once. Long-haul, people go for the high end. There has certainly been a recovery — there is no doubt about it. People don’t save more than a few hundred euros when traveling long distances,” he adds.
Overall, Dawson says long-haul luxury holidays make up around 10-12% of the outbound tourism market from Ireland.
Another visitor to the Maldives said her sister-in-law had gone so far as to sell her house in London and was sailing across the Atlantic with children in tow.
That’s the commitment.
I am a guest of the station, on a press trip. I know I will probably never be able to afford all of this on my own. Including flights, the trip is probably worth around €7,500 for three nights. This includes accommodation and all the trimmings, but not my very jealous, Irish other half – which would have added significantly to the cost of the trip.
As if to drive home the point, I’m reading Andrew Marr’s book on journalism and come across a paragraph about the intersection of public relations and the media.
“If you take the money, in the form of plane tickets or fancy clothes, you’ve made a deal. And you feel uncomfortable, at least a little, not delivering – a paragraph here, a little spurt or a commercially useful adjective there.
This warning seems particularly weak on the way back from the dolphin sighting. A spectacular sunset looks like a snapshot of a painting. You know this one. A large orange ball descending below the horizon, clouds partially eclipsing it, with an island in the foreground tickling the bottom of the painting. It is difficult to maintain a skeptical position.
Which is, of course, rather the point.
Other signals that I’m in a place where I probably won’t walk again come from the staff who say that some customers like to pay cash. Or when gossip is confirmed about members of the British royal family.
The resort claims it is sustainable and encourages guests to “help us protect the environment”. This seems to be a genuinely held position. Unused food is used as compost, and the resort has a strict “plastic-free” policy and recycles whatever it can on the island. The culinary team works with local fishermen to ensure that they only buy fish that has a healthy and sustainable population.
But I think this play for sustainability clashes with other elements of the resort. Every customer need is taken into account. A wealthy client requested a grand piano for his villa, for example. The station made it possible…and the piano was left untouched all week.
The savvy reader will also note that you can hardly fly to the Maldives and not leave a massive carbon footprint, but Gili Lankanfushi can hardly be held responsible.
If all this sounds like complaining, it’s not. The resort is world class. With your own butler, picture-perfect beaches, and a chef whose enthusiasm for the job would make you want to cook more than pasta for dinner, nothing seems out of reach here.
On the first evening, we participate in a wine and cheese tasting. A 2016 Malbec Jose Zuccardi is the highlight, with a fruity aroma and flavors of blackberries. The cheeses go perfectly with the wines. One of them is 70% fat. Gluttony abounds.
And yet, the station maintains a decidedly rustic atmosphere, without air or grace, which is its calling card. The “no news, no shoes” philosophy doesn’t seem to appeal to the rich and dirty patrons, who prefer other island resorts for the nouveau riche.
The food is, of course, sumptuous.
From the nearly runny beef shawarma on the first night, to the herbal tasting experience we enjoyed another night, there is a high quality dining experience to suit all taste buds. Although I must say that the Okonomiyaki beef in the Japanese restaurant seemed too rich and heavy, especially after a few glasses of wine.
A personal highlight of the trip is the snorkeling, something I have never done before. Whether it’s sharks, turtles, fish in colors reminiscent of a 1990s Adidas top, or multicolored clams, it’s a magical experience. Little swimmers, beware though… a strong current can make it difficult to swim back.
If the Maldives is on the bucket list and you have the money to spend, put Gili Lankanfushi on your list.
The vegetable menu experience with Hari, the chef. Whether it’s the risotto, the BBQ eggplant striploin, or the raw vegetable mango avocado cake, you’ll feel inspired afterward. Hari’s enthusiasm is contagious.
Return flights from Dublin to the Maldives, with at least one stopover, start from around €800. Brian flew with Qatar Airways via Doha.
Nightly B&B rates at Gili Lankanfushi start from €1,480, based on two adults sharing a villa suite. All other activities on the island are extra. Brian was a guest at the station. gili-lankanfushi.com
Snorkeling on the local reef is well worth splashing out on, as is wine and cheese tasting. You can also book a tennis lesson with a pro.