It takes a lot of confidence to take on this huge island and turn it into a super luxe resort. Shangri-La has used its experience in Hong Kong, China and East Asia to bring something familiar yet distinctive, grand yet easy-going.
Villingili is 30% bigger than the previous 'biggest resort island in the Maldives', Soneva Fushi. It's so large that different parts of the island have been given names. Serenity Bay has two water villa jetties with twenty villas each, while Whispering Palms has another twenty water villas and a number of beach villas. In between these two is The Village.
If the names of the first two regions don't quite ring true, The Village describes closely what it is. Here are little white roads curving around and between the shops, eco centre, dive centre, health club, medical centre, tennis courts, children's adventure centre, reception and main lounge. And just along the road is the main restaurant, Javvu, facing the sea and adjoining the swimming pool and watersports centre.
Sun loungers on green lawns by the pool
The whole zone is beautifully manicured, with flower beds bordering green lawns and white sand showing beneath the palm trees, whilst along the narrow white roads travel chauffeured buggies and bicycles. It's not exactly natural Maldives but it looks delightful - and perfect for guests who like controlled beauty in at least a part of their holiday environment.
The original vegetation is left, to some extent, in the middle of the island and a nature trail can be taken through it (or a dinner had in the middle of it) to the area called Palm Breeze on the far shore. Here are the Tree House Villas, a Maldives first, even if the name is only loosely accurate. The villas are built on a raised platform surrounded by shoreline trees and vegetation.
Tree House Villas
You come in through an ornate doorway, you are met by your butler and led up the stairs to the deck. Then you exhale a Wow! The pool, sunken in the deck, looks right out to sea. On one side is your lounge, on another side is your bedroom, cloakroom and bathroom. Both richly featured and furnitured. And the sound is not that of a distant rumble off the reef or a quiet lap on the shore, but a crunch and gurgle on the rocks below, a sound I've not heard from a resort room before. It is a more immediate sea feel, enjoyed from the raised comfort of your private hideaway.
As befits a luxury resort on a large island, all the rooms are suitably large and well concealed from each other. On land are 80 rooms, over water are 60 rooms and two are enormous presidential suites. Of the beach villas, 20 are twinned for friend or family use. And certainly this is a good resort for families, with facilities for young children, teenagers and parents.
Addu is a special atoll at the southern tip of the Maldives archipelago. It has its own long and proud history, culture and language. Guests here have a rare opportunity - as only the second resort and first luxury resort on the atoll - to explore the neighbouring islands and enrich their own holiday as a result. On one side is Meedhu, which has the oldest cemetery in the Maldives and some people claim it was the first island to convert to Islam. On the other side is the only causeway in the country. It joins six islands together, was built by the British and runs from the international airport of Gan, passed quiet coconut groves and beaches, up to Hithadu, with the second largest population after Male. The resort offers a variety of ways to discover and enjoy the possibilities.
Manta Rays and Wreck Dives
The diving is not as extensive as some other regions as the atoll is fairly small, but the corals here survived the bleaching event and continue to astound with their beauty and variety. And anywhere with a year-round presence of Manta rays and one of the best wreck dives around, has to be counted as top class. Unfortunately there is no access to the reef from the resort beach, although there is some decent snorkeling to be had in the lagoon.
Mention must be made of Chi, The Spa. Shangri-La take their spas seriously and you feel this straightaway. Their spa philosophy is base on the five elements of fire, earth, water, wood and metal. A sixth could almost be added here, as the signature treatment is one made up specifically for the Maldives, using the Tiger Cowrie shell and coconut oil. The therapists are carefully selected and highly trained.
Indeed, all the staff on Shangri-La that you will meet are highly trained. There is a smile at every turn and a willingness to go the extra mile for their guests. It does take a long time to get all the way down to Addu atoll and then onto Shangri-La, you will have to stay patient for those extra miles yourself, but once here, it is luxury and relaxation in a beautifully managed setting.
Reviewed by Adrian Neville