by Peter J. Bates

Monday, July 11, 2011

Paradise Found at Shangri-La's Villingili Resort and Spa - Maldives

I do not often write about individual hotels except when I discover something exceedingly exceptional. Recent examples I’ve been privileged to herald include The Upper House in Hong Kong, Fullerton Bay in Singapore, The Crosby Street Hotel in New York City, and Grace Bay in the Turks & Caicos. Now I add another one to the list – Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort and Spa (pictured above), perched on the southernmost tip of the Maldives.

Stunning & Spectacular Location
Nestled 75 miles south of the equator on Villingili Island on the Addu Atoll, this 132 all-villa resort will celebrate its second anniversary on July 26. With the choice of many major luxury hotel brands in the Maldives, how do you decide which resort to select? After all, glorious sandy beaches, shimmering turquoise water, impeccable service and superb watersports are in abundance! Often, the Maldives is associated with romantic getaways; however, if you are seeking a luxurious tropical resort that is truly family friendly, Shangri-La has perfected that with the Villingili Resort and Spa.

All Villas, All Luxury
Fabulous accommodations include Water Villas, Tree Villas, the Pearl Suite (a fabulous secluded water villa), Presidential Suite and 10 wonderful two-bed room villas ideal for families, each with a private beach and swimming pool. All accommodations are fully air conditioned and feature a comfortable layout, spacious bathrooms with separate shower and toilet stalls, outdoor showers, and large relaxing tubs. Particularly eco-friendly, all villas are fitted with solar panels to generate hot water. Service is unobtrusive, and your personal villa host (called by a pre-programmed mobile phone) looks after all your needs from restaurant reservations to activities. Like all Shangri- La properties, the resort offers complimentary high speed Internet access for those of us who wish to remain connected to the outside world!

Active Pursuits – On Land & In Water
The location lends itself to lovers of outdoor activity – from all the traditional motorized and non-motorized watersports to a fully-equipped health club and tennis courts, run by staff who willingly workout with you or hit some balls for fun! The coral reef is world-renowned so snorkeling is big even for non-swimmers (unlike many coral reefs, where non-swimmers are turned away). There’s biking around the resort, lunching on a yacht on the equator, traditional Maldivian night fishing expeditions, and spectacular jungle and wildlife tours, run by the resort’s in-house eco-center. Diving is a huge passion in the Maldives. The resort has its own dive centre, and boasts the only decompression centre on the Atoll, which serves the entire community. On my recent visit, my three boys (ages 15, 12 and 10) were captivated by the diving opportunities; they took a five-day intense diving course with 18 hours of diving instruction and are now Open Water certified (10 is the minimum age for this course)! And, there is more coming with a nine-hole golf course to be completed in December.

Soothing Spa Indulgence
Overlooking the ocean, the CHI spa features 11 treatment rooms (including several ideal for couples), yoga and an extensive menu of treatments and wellness programs. To keep spa standards at optimum levels, all the therapists are required to participate in Shangri-La’s own spa training school in the Philippines ensuring the highest levels of professionalism and service delivery.

Gastronomic Excellence
There are three different onsite food and beverage locations plus “Dine by Design” (personalized in-villa dining), beach barbecues and a themed jungle dinner experience. Local produce is central to the menu offerings; the chef has even cultivated his own walled ‘Chef’s Garden.’

A Gracious & Dedicated Team
Operationally, this resort works like clockwork. Led by General Manager Jens Moesker, who arrived at the resort two years before it opened, the resort has 600 associates, 58% of whom are locals from the surrounding islands. The resort has successfully created one of the friendliest cultures you can imagine so employee retention is very high. Many of the staff have been with the resort since before it opened, and they are all well-trained, detail-oriented, and extremely gracious.

Committed To The Community
Shangri-La has done much more for the local economy than develop and train a local workforce. As part of its commitment to the local community, Shangri-La created a cooperative with the farmers of Addu Atoll, whereby the farmers supply the resort with 38 varieties of fruit and vegetables. In 2010, the farmers delivered 73,000 kilograms of produce! In addition to supporting local economic development, this program has two main goals – offering guests fresh quality produce and minimizing the release of carbon resulting from flying in fruits and vegetables from around the world. As my oldest son aptly put it – “Mr. Moesker is not just running a resort, he’s running a small nation!”

Getting There Is Worth It
Getting to Villingili from the United States is definitely “long-haul” but the experience is made easier with direct Singapore Airlines all-business class daily service from Newark to Singapore (17 hours). The renowned Singapore Airlines service, coupled with just 100 passengers on the flight, makes this by far the most comfortable way to travel.

Spending a few days in Singapore is a great way to recover. This is definitely a city to visit – it has completely reinvented itself in the past few years. After a few days respite in Singapore, you can fly Singapore Airlines to Male in the Maldives (just over four hours). Upon arrival, you will be met by uniformed Shangri-La staff who assist you in clearing customs and immigration before transferring you to Maldivian Airlines for the one-hour flight to Gan. Onboard, you will even be presented with a certificate as you cross the equator! Once in Gan, you’ll again be greeted by uniformed Shangri-La staff, taken on a short bus ride to the jetty, and then a 20-minute speedboat ride to the resort.

Alternatively, combine a trip to the Maldives with a visit to the south of India and fly from Trivandrum in Kerala direct to Male and onward. From many U.S. gateways, the third alternative is British Airways via London and then direct to the Maldives on recently introduced service.

If you’re interested in planning a trip to the Maldives, I suggest you contact our client Greaves Tours –

In Closing
It is hard to imagine a more professionally run resort. Like many Shangri – La properties, this one is 70% owned by the company, which fully embraces local customs and the community. Often, one might regard Shangri-La for large city centre hotels or boutique properties like the stunning Shangri-La Tokyo, but the Maldives property is proof of what the hotel company is doing with luxury resort development. Shangri-La presently operates 10 resorts in the group – two in the Philippines, four in Malaysia, one in Singapore, one in Muscat, one in Fiji, and of course, one in the Maldives.

Created on a deserted island from scratch, Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort and Spa is a dreamy vacation getaway that is one of the few places I can confidently say allows the ‘globe-trotting road warrior’ in myself to actually relax.

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