MALÉ, the island capital of the Maldives, is one of the most densely populated islands on the planet, but I was stunned to see so many of its people out doing laps on motorbikes at 11pm, pausing often to check their phones. I could only imagine they were all trying to meet up, unsuccessfully.
Gili Lankanfushi is the best hotel in the world, according to TripAdvisor. The best hotel. In the world. I really wasn’t sure what to expect. In my dreams, I was marooned like Robinson Crusoe and everything was made of chocolate.
He took me to a gleaming white speedboat where another half-dozen impeccably-groomed staff waited. With a lightly scented cold towel and ginger iced tea in my hand, we glided past idyllic islands and sleek motor yachts, escorted by schools of flying fish. It was all very James Bond, with a dash of Doctor Dolittle.
At first sight, the island was impossibly beautiful, as a preschooler might draw a tropical island – turquoise water lapping against white sandy beaches and leaning palm trees.
My dream about Robinson Crusoe was right on the money. Personal butlers at Gili are known as Mr Friday. Crusoe residences sit out in the lagoon, only accessible by tender. The marooned-in-paradise Crusoe theme runs throughout in a rustic five-star style.
We trundled down sandy jungle paths, past hidden massage pavilions and discreet sunken lounge enclaves, an outdoor jungle movie theatre, organic restaurant garden, dive centre with resident marine biologist, and yoga ashram – not to mention the standard five-star stable of restaurants, bars, swimming pools, tennis court, gym, water sports centre, spa and gift shop. Beside a monolithic arched doorway that looked like the home of the Flintstones, we stopped. A glass door led to stairs disappearing underground. “This is the wine cellar and chocolate cave. You can sample the house-made chocolate here whenever you wish.”
The sandy path turned to boardwalk as we approached my villa, huge as a house. Boasting a grand sea-level deck with direct lagoon access, a bathroom with glass sea-viewing floor, and an overwater bridge to the most incredible shower ever, it even had a private lagoon plunge pool if a nudie dip tickled my fancy.
But Gili has more. On the top shelf is the Private Reserve, the largest overwater villa in the world. It sits out in the lagoon, isolated like a rustic chic castle surrounded by a dazzling moat of Evian water. Genuinely famous people come to get away from everyone, including the other guests – the sort of place Daniel Craig would love.
Gili Lankanfushi offers myriad ways to relax in a unique shabby chic style without the veneer so disappointingly familiar in larger establishments; a faultless combination of genuinely crafted eco-design with five-star facilities and a high-service ethos.
Best hotel in the world? Undoubtedly. No news, no shoes? Spot on.