Charmingly rustic Equator Village resort with its wicker furniture and billiard tables has a quintessentially English feel.
That’s not surprising since at one time it was the former RAF base of the Indian Ocean. Gan Island on the western side of the atoll was used the land as a staging post during the Second World War and up until the end of the Cold War.
From the free range chickens running amok in the grounds to the afternoon tea served daily, it is these finer details and an understanding of British (and European) culture which make this place work on many levels. Yet, despite its English feel tourism trade is predominantly German, closely followed by the Russian market.
From the moment you check in, two friendly receptionists called Fathun and Shama are on hand from morning to night ready to help with a smile. Meanwhile the jovial Sri Lankan bar and waiting staff, many of whom can speak German, English and Russian, also help to enrich the experience of staying in the resort.
Apart from the excellent English fried breakfast, there are in fact many legacies left by the Brits’ including species of tree and quaint rose-gardens in the well groomed grounds which cannot grow anywhere else on the archipelago.
The décor has remained virtually unchanged since its service days. From walking into the elegantly columned open reception, you step into a world where officers and airmen and women once dined and entertained. Relaxing on the wicker chaise longues, you are welcomed with a lemon tea and then guided into the dining hall which was converted from the original mess hall, past a small library full of German and English novels
The life and soul of the resort can be found in the bar which has an all-inclusive menu and a weekly disco gets the revolving wooden dance floor moving, which remain from its service days. The former anteroom boasts a dark oak billiard table and a dart board which hail back to the Second World War era.
Fanning out ceremoniously from elegant columned reception are a hundred-odd independent beach huts, which are in fact the former sergeants’ sleeping quarters – from the RAF blue doors of the beach hut bedrooms to the glorious Laura Ashely style paisley furnishings. These are all hallmarks of barrack accommodation, which I am well familiar with, although I must say I preferred these somewhat tropical climes.
While many of the fixtures and fittings have been painted a very un-RAF pink in the reception, the accommodation rooms remain the same as when the Brits were here with its wicker dressers and chairs that transport you back to rural England of times long gone by.
Famed for its excellent house reef, the waters host some of the best snorkelling and diving in the Maldives with its most spectacular marine life and hard and soft corals which mainly escaped the El Nino coral bleaching phenomenon.
For divers, a novel way to seek adventure is wreck diving. Although the Maldives has never seen direct combat, the British Loyalty vessel was sunk during a torpedo attack just after the Second World War. This remains one of the most challenging and interesting dives in the country.
Another legacy is the sporting facilities. The resort has a magnificent tennis court and facilities inherited from the Brits. The resort is also one of a kind in that it uniquely hires out bicycles to guests who want to enjoy the wider delights that the 13 km atoll has to offer in the nearby Maldivian villages of Maradhoo and Hithadhoo, which can be reached by the Gan causeway also built by the British.
A growing military tourism of ex-retired servicemen is evolving here. March 2010 saw the return of 50-odd retired airmen who served here more than 40 years ago. There are still a few characters who return year on year to experience the nostalgia. A new wave of culture vultures keen to explore the past life of this charming resort are now being encouraged to share the magic of this unique place.
Although it is well-established this three star resort has certain charms hard pressed to be found anywhere else on the atoll, and it will be joined by another resort later this year also aiming to capitalise on the service history – The Gan Island Club which was the former Officers’ Mess.
In the wider grounds outside the resort much culture and nods towards its history can be found, Just head left by the gate in the direction of the airport and uncover many relics of the former airbase A good starting point is the RAF Gan memorial which pays tribute to the men and women who died while serving in the Maldives (it is worth noting that no one died in combat or active service). There is also a memorial to the Indian Army and its various regiments who were stationed here during the same period.
Sadly many former buildings were bulldozed to make way for Gayoom’s ‘industrial revolution’ but the Astra cinema remains showing Bangladeshi films for the community as well as the Gan Post Office which serves the Addu Atoll.
Meanwhile, to this date the RAF Gan workshop is still in operation, albeit nowadays as a maintenance and service department for the resort and airport transportation network. Many of the tools which were once used by the Indian and British personnel are still used by the teams servicing the resort’s vehicle fleet.
The road now ends, or begins (depending on which way you look at it) at Gan International Airport, once the same airfield used by the RAF. Currently the airport receives charter flights, although with the launch of Hong Kong flights and planned expansion of Gan International Airport. Additionally there are plans to receive more international flights later this year once the development and expansion of the runway gets under way.
Because of the airport's intimate seclusion, Passengers flying by charter to most international airports can bypass the queues and stressful experience altogether with a walk along the beautiful unspoilt beach nearby where herons perch peacefully by the shore.
A nearby airport café is a bustling hub for the airport staff, aircrew and pilots. For less than 30 ruffiya you can enjoy steak submarine and fresh apple juice – saving at least $20 on the same meal in the resort as a non-inclusive guest.
Walking back to the resort you pass local women dressed in a curious mix of hijab and English country hats sweeping the leaves from the ground with home-made wicker brooms.
After an afternoon exploring, I headed back for happy hour at the bar. The sunny beach in this little Indian Ocean oasis is just a few kilometres away from the equator so why not enjoy a cocktail by the brilliant blue lagoon in the afternoon light as the palm trees sway and boats dock in.
Expect to pay on average $130-$200 per night all inclusive during peak season or $75 non inclusive
How to get there? Direct flight by Maldivian Airlines to Gan International Airport from Male International twice daily