Many high-end resorts lay claim to the term “barefoot luxury,” but few epitomize the concept quite like Gili Lankanfushi in the Maldives. Their commitment to creating an atmosphere of laid-back elegance begins before you even step foot onto the property. Upon landing at Malé International Airport, a Gili staffer will whisk you away to the hotel’s private speedboat, where you’ll be handed a canvas drawstring tote that reads “NO NEWS NO SHOES.” Once you’ve tossed your sandals inside the bag, the Gili experience has officially begun.
The resort (which was once named the Best Hotel in the World by TripAdvisor) is located in the Maldives’ North Malé Atoll, just a 20-minute speedboat ride from the airport. Rather than butlers, guests are looked after by their dedicated “Mr. Friday”—a name inspired by Robinson Crusoe’s loyal confidante—who becomes your 24/7 personal assistant throughout your stay, arranging spa appointments, snorkeling with marine biologists, surf lessons with the hotel’s in-house luxury surfing operator TropicSurf, sunset cruises, dinner reservations, wine tastings in a private wine cellar and everything in between. At Gili, going above and beyond for guests is standard operating procedure. It’s not uncommon, for instance, to stroll through the property and see a toddler in the arms of a Mr. Friday, so that the child’s parents are able to enjoy a quiet cocktail at sunset. (On a recent visit, my Mr. Friday, Mamdooh, noticed me hurrying through breakfast in order to make my 10am massage on time. “No need to rush! I’ve already pushed back your appointment 30 minutes so you’ll have some time to digest,” he said casually, before disappearing into thin air like a magic genie.) Most guests become so reliant on their “Friday,” that the idea of living without one upon departing seems unmanageable. It’s this level of personalized service—plus the crystalline azure water, the picturesque Meera spa, the white sand beaches and the incredible food—that has created something of a cult following among the hotel’s well-heeled clientele.
Gili Lankanfushi is home to 45 overwater bungalows, including one villa that, at 18,300 square feet, is currently the largest in the world. Describing the hotel’s sprawling rooms in words is a decidedly difficult task (the photos, on the other hand, speak for themselves) but after several years at Gili, General Manager Steven Phillips has figured out how to articulate exactly what makes them so special. Below, Phillips gives us the scoop on the hotel’s most requested room and more.
The most requested room:
Gili Lagoon Villas, Gili Lagoon Residence and The Private Reserve
Each villa is built using environmentally friendly materials and designed with the utmost attention to detail. The over water villas offer an experience to live right by the edge of turquoise waters, with a private coral garden and sundeck, as well as a separate open-air shower linked to the bathroom. Gili Lagoon Villas and the Gili Lagoon Residence are located at a jetty with deeper waters and an uninterrupted view of the azure Indian Ocean. Guests staying in each of these villas or residence are able to enjoy the picturesque sunset against the horizon, on their private water hammock.
Celebrities who stay at The Private Reserve vary from business tycoons, sports stars and royal families to international jetsetters and artists. We are not able to list names as we need to maintain the privacy of these guests.
Gili Lagoon Villa is $1,300/night, the Gili Lagoon Residence is $1,960/night, and the Private Reserve is $12,495/night (not including taxes).
Your personal favorite:
The Private Reserve.
It’s the most exclusive villa we have to offer with ultimate privacy. Perched in the middle of a turquoise blue lagoon, 500 metres away from the main island of Gili Lankanfushi, it’s a rustic yet exceedingly luxurious property that enjoys an uninterrupted 360-degree view of the Indian Ocean. The 5-unit building is designed in a rustic style, with 1 master en-suite bedroom, 1 duplex master suite with 2 bedrooms and a guestroom with en-suite bathroom on the 2nd floor. The Private Reserve has its own spa facility, gymnasium, private cinema on the 2nd floor, fully equipped kitchen, luxury dining spaces, and a water slide installed from the top deck leading into the private lagoon swimming area.
The Private Reserve is the world’s largest standalone over water villa at 1,700sqm (or around 18,300sqf), accessible only by boat and is nearly 1000 feet away from the closest villa.