‘No news, no shoes’ is the relaxed philosophy of this barefoot luxury island. Gili Lankanfushi, originally known as Soneva Gili, was the Maldives’ first all over-water villa island.
When Sonu and Eva Shivdasani (the genius team behind Six Senses hotels) sold Soneva Gili, there was much uncertainty as to whether or not the island could continue to offer the incredible quality and service levels it had become so famous for. Thankfully, if anything, the island has gone from strength to strength, and it still has some of the most spacious, rustic, over-water villas in the world.
Gili’s close proximity to Male by speedboat means that you arrive at your Maldivian paradise in a flash, day or night. As a result, the island can suffer from noise from both passing boat traffic and an adjacent party island and, therefore, isn’t as quiet and tranquil as other islands further out.
But it’s certainly beautiful. The extensive turquoise lagoon and powder-white sand beaches are as inviting as they sound. So’s the food, where the offerings and the service are second to none, with the ‘By the Sea’ Japanese Fusion restaurant winning hands down for its good value and tongue-tingling cuisine.
The house reef is some distance from the mainland and hence best accessed by kayak or paddleboard—on loan from the helpful watersports team. By all standards, it is a good house reef but the drawback is that you have to indulge in some exercise to reach it.
An adult crowd reflects the absence of beach villas or a kids’ club on Gili’s small island. Children are of course welcome and the butlers are brilliant at entertaining/babysitting. Plus, the Residence living rooms have a/c so can easily be converted into a second bedroom.
In a nutshell, Gili Lankanfushi is hard to beat for its romantic Robinson Crusoe design, unfaultable service, mouth-watering cuisine and striking accommodation.
Alex Wix |
- Daily breakfast for two
- Buffet breakfast, to be taken in the restaurant
- Room upgrade upon arrival
- Subject to availability
- Food & Beverage credit
- US$100 credit to be used during your stay (minimum stay 3 nights)
- Spa Treatment
- One 30-minute Spa treatment for two, once per stay
- Return airport transfers
- Minimum stay 5 nights
- Dining Experience
- Maldivian Tapas served in the main Bar with one glass of Champagne per person, per stay
- Early check-in / Late check-out
- Subject to availability
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
Exclusive benefits may vary by hotel or hotel group. Exclusive benefits apply when booking the Best Available Rate and are not combinable with any hotel offers or special packages unless stated.
- Detailed Review +
- Facts & Amenities +
I travelled to Gili Lankanfushi from another island in a nifty speedboat. Standing on the jetty were ten members of staff eagerly waiting to receive me with beaming smiles and immaculate linen uniforms. The GM introduced himself and his team, including my Ms. Friday who was to be my personal butler for the duration of my stay.
As expected from my early arrival, I was informed that my villa was not yet ready. I gladly accepted the opportunity to take a tour of the island with the sales manager, before being shown to a day room to freshen up. It was not long before my Ms Friday knocked on the door to escort me by boat to my Crusoe Residence, where my luggage had already been delivered and, refreshingly, no porters were lurking for a tip. I completed the check-in formalities and enjoyed some complimentary canapes and champagne before exploring my enormous villa.
Room and suites
All the individual, stilted villas are overwater, either branching off one of the three jetties or seamlessly floating in the turquoise lagoon. I was spoilt to spend my first two nights in a Crusoe Residence. Access is by a small dinghy, which I drove myself, or it is possible to summon the Gili water-taxi for a smoother and drier ride.
The entrance is through the living room with a spacious bedroom to the right and an open-air bathroom to the left. Out front is a decadent sundeck with a glass panel to watch the fish below. From here, I could directly access the ocean and wade out to my private hammock, suspended between two tree trunks and magically restrung every morning to the perfect height. My roof terrace provided the ultimate privacy, and although I didn’t indulge in the opportunity to have my bed made up there for a night under the stars, I would most certainly recommend it under more favourable weather conditions.
The general design of the villa reflects the barefoot luxury style of Six Senses with plenty of natural materials, splashes of bold colourful cushions and traditional thatched roofing. The bedroom felt quite minimalist with limited furnishings, a king-sized bed, a pre-loaded iPod and docking station, a hidden TV, and uninterrupted water views. Despite the isolated location of my villa, WiFi and mobile reception was strong enough to contact the outside world whenever I desired.
My third night was spent in a Villa Suite attached to jetty 3, to where my luggage was seamlessly transported. This is the smallest jetty where the water is deep enough to swim, and villa numbers 38-44 are fortunate enough not to suffer the jet-ski and party noise from the overlooking Paradise Island. The villa itself was technically smaller in size than the Crusoe Residence, though you wouldn’t know it. The other main difference is that the entire villa is open-air, with the exception of the bedroom.
The bathroom was almost as big as the bedroom, with a long, open-air walkway which led to a glass-walled shower and some steps leading directly into the water below. The room is glass-fronted, giving way to a deep bathtub and two separate, well-lit vanity units with sea views. The bathroom lends itself well to natural light, with the exception of the toilet which is firmly tucked away at the back for privacy. The amenities are extensive with a choice of mint or lemongrass scents. In fact, I shouldn’t have bothered to pack a wash bag as the hotel provides its own high-quality shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, aloe vera gel, after sun, insect repellent, toothbrush, toothpaste, and a first aid kit. My only criticism would be that the bottles are too big to sneak into your luggage!
Despite being a small island, there are numerous menus and dining locations to choose from. The star of the show has to be the Japanese restaurant ‘By the Sea’. When I arrived, it was fully booked for my entire stay, but I was fortunate that on one night, one of the five tables cancelled at the last minute. The fresh sashimi is beautifully presented and the signature pork belly dish is to die for. My waiter kept me entertained all evening with palm leaf origami, and even challenged me to a zen garden competition in the miniature sandpit inbuilt into the table.
The restaurant is only open for dinner and is worth booking in advance. They also offer sushi making classes in the daytime.
Other restaurant options
Breakfast on the beach is another gourmet affair with a different, daily fresh juice and smoothie suggestion, an extensive buffet and à la carte options. My eggs benedict were cooked to perfection each morning.
The main restaurant is over-water and perfectly positioned for sunset, where I enjoyed numerous inspired cocktails from the low level hammock seating each evening.
The themed cuisine night on the beach during my stay was a Mediterranean spice souk with six live cooking stations. This was most definitely a buffet to beat all buffets, with some of the most delicious homemade pasta and fresh fish I have ever tasted.
As with all luxury Maldivian hotels, there are plenty of private dining options, including the 360 organic garden table for six, a romantic dinner on One Palm Island, or a table dug into the sand.
Spa and wellness
Meera Spa follows the trend of other Gili Lankanfushi outlets by being located in an overwater retreat. The approach is professional and relaxing, so relaxing that for the first time in my life, I actually fell asleep during my jet-lag massage whilst gazing at the colourful fish through a glass floor panel.
The island often has visiting spa masters and holistic practitioners to offer more unusual techniques and programs.
Pool and beach
For a small island, the beaches are large and white in colour. The sand at one end of the island is more corally than at the other, but it is all natural. The infinity pool is just as striking in real life as it is in the website photographs, set back from the ocean in a quieter part of the island with palm trees and concrete features surrounded by water. A short kayak ride from Gili Lankanfushi will get you to One Palm Island which is well situated for private dining and snorkelling.
Non-motorised watersports are offered complimentary and the team are very knowledgeable but the chargeable options don’t come cheap.
I believe there are better hotels in the Maldives set up for children; Gili is more of a romantic island, particularly well catered to adults as all the villas are located on water. That said, I did see a few families enjoying themselves. The hotel can convert the Residence’s air conditioned living room into a second bedroom or alternatively, larger families can go all out and book the Private Reserve which even has a slide from the top deck down into the water. It is also worth noting that children under 12 pay half price on food, whilst half board is complimentary for those under 6 years of age.
Staff and service
Each villa is assigned a Mr/Ms Friday. Mine was good when challenged but didn’t go out of her way. Where I felt the service really excelled was at the ‘By the Sea’ restaurant where they pitched it perfectly. The staff were relaxed, efficient, good-humoured and attentive—some of the best service I have received in Asia and that is saying something!
There is a real mix of nationalities here who all embraced the relaxed level of luxury with informal beach attire. During the daytime, most guests holed up in the enormous villas but were sociable in the evenings and seemed relatively low maintenance.
My departure schedule and provisional bill were confirmed the night before I left. There was an error on the bill but this was resolved the next morning when I checked out. A smooth, twenty minute speedboat ride to Male airport followed the grand farewell with over ten staff waving me off from the jetty.
How to get there
20 minutes by speedboat from Male Airport
45 rooms & suites