IoD 99 member Yasemen Kaner-White visits Gili Lankanfushi to be luxuriously at one with nature in the Maldives, refreshed and ready to tackle business again…
People throw around words like paradise too easily. Yet as soon as I reached Gili, having shot across shimmering waters on a speedy seaplane, 30 minutes north from the capital Male; paradise came to mind. Upon arrival, my shoes were put in a drawstring bag, the resort runs a no-shoes policy and I welcomed the free feeling of my naked toes on sand. My Mr Friday greeted me, whisking me to an eye-wateringly beautiful overwater villa. Made of sustainable materials, the villa hovers over the most beautiful water I’ve ever seen, irresistibly iridescent, the white sand reflection giving an uplighter effect. Walking from my bedroom, through the living room that opens to a private deck over the Indian Ocean, an open-faced wooden corridor leads to the glass shower where you can peer over to the wildlife beneath. Nature welcomed me as a family of puffer fish swam by to greet me.
The view inspired me to get my bikini on, stretch on the sunbed and grab a book; every villa comes complete with a copy of Robinson Crusoe, hinting to the adventure ahead. To cool down in-between chapters I stepped from my deck straight into the ocean, my resident, seemingly tame crab, waiting on the step for my return. It has been long known that to feel part of nature is important for our mental and physical wellbeing and as a busy entrepreneur and writer; I already felt the calming healing effect. A prior questionnaire meant Gili knew details to make my stay even more seamless, pre-chosen scented toiletries in eco-friendly packaging and size 6 flippers and snorkel, were ready waiting. Refreshed, I grabbed my bamboo bike and cycled up the wooden jetty, looking out to the giant stingray and black tipped reef sharks swimming either side, I headed to lunch. Lunch couldn’t get more local; mouth-watering Maldivian reef fish tacos accompanied by a green salad and a cucumber, tomato, mint, celery and basil healing cocktail; the ingredients all coming from Gili’s on-site organic garden.
The food offerings in Gili are phenomenal and varied from wine and chocolate tastings in the cave, to destination dinners around the resort. You’ll soon work it all off with walks, tennis, yoga, surfing, swimming to name a few and not much beats cycling on a bamboo bike around an idyllic island on which to explore. With only 45 villas, Gili never feels overcrowded, in fact you’ll see more Maldivian water hens walking around than people. I highly recommend trying some of the 20 flavours of handmade all-natural fruit ice-lollies from Fini Foni poolside café, aptly meaning ‘cold sweet’ in local lingo. Being on an island fish is a specialty; dinner in ‘By The Sea’ restaurant offers seasonal sushi with sublime ocean views. The homemade pickled ginger deserves a mention, not the usual putrid pink variety, rather just punchy and pure. You can even have a sushi making class with the resident Teppanyaki chef. I decided to walk back to my villa, knowing my bike will be there in the morning, so I could stroll along the ocean. Fruit bats swooping in front of the moon, an army of cute crabs lined by the shore and sea cucumbers ambling in the waters beside the lit up deck. Mr Friday had already set up a bed on my villa’s top deck; armed with a provided ‘star gazing’ chart, I slept beneath the stars. The ocean air did me wonders as I woke recharged and ready for another day. I took breakfast at the ‘Overwater Bar’, opting for a spicy Maldivian omelette and a pineapple, honey, ginger and lemon Spa Cocktail. I gazed out over the ocean feeling at peace. The offerings are overwhelmingly good, not one but 12 homemade jams and every exotic fruit under the sun; passion fruit, papaya, watermelon, coconut, snake fruit, mangosteen, longan, sweet tamarind, kumquat, lychee, dragon fruit and rambutan to name a few. For a fruit lover like myself, you could say I was delighted.
Next stop was Meera Spa for a 90 minute Ayurvedic treatment. The glass peephole under the spa beds, enables you to watch the curious sea creatures as you’re massaged into deep relaxation. Dreamily lethargic, luckily Mr Friday was on hand to collect me in a golf buggy to my villa, where I dressed and readied myself for a cooking class. I now know that corn oil is best when cooking a typical ‘farumas riha’ or reef-fish curry. Naturally I can bring my newly learned Maldivian cooking skills home, and use whatever whitefish I can find. Chef Aldo led a fascinating tour of the garden, with everything from edible bright blue flowers, hibiscus, marigold, verbena, fennel, red spinach, mustard leaves, curry leaves and the list goes on. Sipping on a homemade lemonade with garden herbs, he gave an insightful talk through his ’living pantry’. Huge local leaves are used to make the fences, while the organic produce, pesticide free, is kept healthy with an organic spray of mixed garlic and chili infused water, in-keeping with Gili’s environmental credentials. You can have a meal, as I did, at the 360 table, called thus because of the towering view. Chef Hari, a pioneer in the in-vogue vegan cuisine makes a must-try ambrosial aloe vera ceviche.
As important as nature is for our health and happiness, our interactions with the natural world is just as important for protecting nature and the environment. Gili gives guests plenty of opportunities to learn more about our natural surroundings. Prior to the group snorkeling, a marine biologist preps us on what we may see, at sea. Full of fascinating facts, such as, did you know how important parrotfish are? 80% of the sand in Maldives is produced by their excretion of the algae they’ve ingested having scraped it from the rocks with their handy teeth. As I left my Maldivian retreat, I was reminded, the aim of travel isn’t necessarily just to go somewhere new; rather it’s to become someone different. A less stressed, more tranquil person, ready to take on whatever your work throws at you, knowing you can close your eyes and return to the tranquility, anytime you like…
Related reads: Yasemen's previous IoD 99 blog on self-publishing your passion
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