Life | An Azure Paradise

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An Azure Paradise
Text by Falguni Kapadia
Published: Volume 21, Issue 11, November, 2013

Villas on stilts with magnificent views...lagoons of turquoise bliss...restaurants that are a gourmet’s delight...‘Chi’ that is a sanctuary for the soul.... Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa, Maldives is a veritable cocoon of luxury

Our departure from Male to Gan goes with clockwork precision. As soon as we land at the airport we are whisked off to the comfortable transport awaiting us; the baggage follows directly to the resort. So, scarcely feeling the effect of the short journey, I look forward to the blue oasis of calm and comfort in Villingili Island, Addu Atoll. And Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa, Maldives more than meets our expectations.

The resort is a treat even to my artistic eye. It rests beautifully in the palm of the island of Maldives and is surrounded by a lagoon of turquoise bliss. As we – my husband and daughter are along to enhance the joys of my holiday – discover the Shangri-La is a tropical resort like no other. We are greeted at the arrival pier by the staff and escorted to our villa – and even as we stroll towards it, the sight of the vast Indian Ocean envelops us with a deep sense of awe at Nature’s immense bounty.

The villas – each built on stilts in the resort’s lagoon – afford ample privacy, magnificent views and, of course, all modern-day conveniences. As the waters lap against the sun-kissed beach, we discover easily how the evocative world – you could call it a man-made pearl in the ocean – of the Shangri-La invites you to experience exotic grandeur and sumptuous facilities.

We love the Maldivian villa which is the ultimate abode for couples and families who are enveloped in sheer comfort and pure solace. With a very small daughter, my mind is at peace knowing that her needs are swiftly catered to. For Shangri-La Resorts leaves no tables unturned when it comes to providing us with a befitting home away from home, especially in terms of catering to our individual needs. In fact, our personalised villa host ensures that what we desire is offered, as soon as it is articulated.

When we step out for lunch at Javvu, we walk into a gourmand’s paradise. Even though all three of us are vegetarians – and Maldives is after all a seafood paradise – we are quite spoilt for choice. Quality fare from various regions awaits our picking – and we dip into the culinary offerings with an appetite that has been whetted by the ambience of the place. For our evening meals we choose to dabble in Western fare. Our palates are amply satiated and our stomachs are filled to bursting through our three-day stay at the resort.

Apart from Javvu where we find ourselves every morning, Dr Ali’s and Fashala tempt us to indulge in our afternoon brunches and evening dinners as grand gourmet dinners and a Villingili Ocean Treasure BBQ are prepared to woo us. And, we find out, the resort can also provide a romantic meal for two, a private family yacht meal or a torch-lit dinner under the banyan tree! What more can one dream of – for there will always be a seafood platter, a Mediterranean steak or a traditionally served Vietnamese noodle soup to relish. In fact, there is a plethora of natural foods, healthy options, small bites, loaded platters and, of course, fine-dining plates that gratify our aesthetic sense as well. Sheer hedonism and greed drive us on till we can eat no more. After such luxuriant repasts during our stay, lulled by the scent of the ocean in the very air, sleep comes quickly.

But, before we rest at night, we decide not to confine ourselves to the room – even though we leave its well-appointed ambience with great reluctance. On the first day, Daniela, who has greeted us on our arrival, takes us across most of the expanse of the resort so that we can explore each nook and corner of what it has in store for us. I can understand my daughter’s excitement at the vastness of it all – for it is mirrored in our feelings that are stirred by what is paradoxically a plush sanctuary for the soul.

On one of the days, after a leisurely breakfast we embark on a cultural tour by car. We drive around and learn that though the island is traditionally known for its beaches and natural beauty, it also has a rich historical heritage. I note with interest that the island of Gan was once cryptically referred to as ‘Port T’, a strategic British naval base during the Second World War. After the war, control of the island was handed to the Royal Air Force, until the British left Addu in 1976. And the Historical Tour that we undertake is an afternoon ramble among the remnants of the British occupation of Addu.

It is, if truth be told, quite difficult to leave the comfortable cocoon that the resort is to explore outside territory. For amongst the quintessential comforts found in the Deluxe Pool Villa and Tree House Villa, the Shangri-La invites you to further experience the best of tranquility and timeless luxury like never before. The tastefully decorated and extremely spacious Multhi and Laalu Villas welcome you to a wealth of grandeur and glory.

Although I delicately step into the clear waters of the pool, my husband and daughter take to the waters as if they were to the element born. True, that my little one is held safely by her father – but the hours spent in the pool pass swiftly in fun and play. On one such occasion when the two are engaged in imbibing the natural elements, I seek solace in Chi, the Spa. In traditional Chinese philosophy, ch’i or ‘Qi’ is the universal life force that governs well-being and personal vitality. For good health to be maintained, it is believed that ch’i must flow freely within the body and, when blocked, ‘dis-ease’ and illness follow. Movement is therefore a key element in releasing blockages. The spa at the resort is indeed a place of personal peace, enchantment and well-being. I find that the secluded sanctuary is in its own spa village with individual treatment villas offering a ‘spa within a spa’ environment. That afternoon, I just peep into the unique yoga pavilion overlooking the Indian Ocean before disappearing into my individual treatment villa with its private garden and steam room. The spa menu offers a selection of Asian massages and Indian Ayurvedic treatments, alongside locally inspired treatments and specific wellbeing programmes. My treatment of choice is the Kandu Boli special treatment. For almost an hour, I am transported to another zone – and emerge in a relaxed stupor, all the cares and stresses of everyday life have been eased out of my mind and body.

Although my daughter at two is too small to participate in all the fantastic children’s activities offered by the resort, we do a walkaround of the Cool Zone for children. It is the perfect place for kids to spend hours with toys, some educational in nature and lots of land and beach-based activities to ensure that they too have as much of a fun-filled vacation as their parents do.

For those who enjoy their outdoor sports, golfing is an ideal activity here. The first of its kind in the Maldives, The Villingili Golf Course is nestled on seven-and-a-half hectares at the southern end of Villingili Island. Each of the nine holes offers spectacular sights, even as you tee off. In fact, the golf course has been designed by Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts as a fun, recreational golf course which is meant for both aficionados and beginners alike. I try my hand at one strike…and realise that golfing is more serious business than I thought it would be. So, we choose instead to take several walks down the scenic pathways. And, on a couple of occasions we clamber on bicycles and pedal across long stretches of the manicured landscape – enjoying every bit of our moments under the sun.

Of particular mention here is the Dolphin Cruise. We hop on to a boat and spend an hour and a half exploring the surrounding waters. Our eyes are kept wide open for the many spinner dolphins that live in the area.

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