Gili Lankanfushi: A gourmet getaway in the Maldives

This island resort is the perfect destination for foodies and sun-worshippers alike. (Photo supplied)
Updated 19 May 2018
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Gili Lankanfushi: A gourmet getaway in the Maldives

  • This island resort is the perfect destination for foodies and sun-worshippers alike

DUBAI: The Maldives is one of those destinations that nature has bestowed with an embarrassment of riches. And what nature has given, numerous resorts have taken and perfected with their ultra-luxury offerings. Which is what makes choosing exactly where to go that much more difficult. And while each island has its own special charm, anyone seeking a gastronomic experience should look no further than Gili Lankanfushi.

This intimate resort, located a 20-minute speedboat ride away from Male airport in the north Male atoll, is home to just 45 over-water villas. Everything on the island ¬— and beyond, as several of the villas are perched on stilts offshore — from the villas to the restaurants and the spa, is done up in a rustic-chic style, making for a pared-back, but still luxury, setting.

The inviting villas, complete with direct access to the crystal clear lagoons; curated collection of activities including snorkeling and sunset cruises; and Insta-perfect spots — think idyllic hammocks swinging between drooping palms — are temptation enough for tourists, but it’s the gourmet offerings that make Gili Lankanfushi a must for gourmands. And with a sustainable ethos at its heart — much of the food is created using local fish, and produce from the resort’s own organic vegetable garden — you can feel good about yourself while you’re eating too much.

We’d recommend taking the Gili Tasting Journey as soon as possible after your arrival. It takes you through the island’s main dining destinations for a teaser of what each has to offer, through a mini course and beverage at each, led by the resident sommelier Fabrice Blazquez who colors the evening with enjoyable banter.

A typical evening could start with canapés at the over-water bar, the perfect sundowner spot, before moving on to the spectacular underground wine cellar, built around a tree trunk that washed up during the 2006 tsunami — a great example of how this sustainably minded resort works with the environment, rather than imposing on it. This intimate space boasts organic features and pebble floors (you’re provided heated foot pads, as everyone is expected to walk around barefoot around the island, in line with their ‘no news, no shoes’ policy) which, combined with the modernist glass and metal, make it feel as though you’re walking into an art installation.

Here you can try intricate creations such as octopus with mango salsa, and beetroot jelly with goat’s cheese mousse, after which you are led into the leafy surrounds of the organic vegetable garden. As the sunset casts a magical glow over the rustic wood ‘leaf table’ you can sample some traditional Maldivian smoked fish snacks.
You then make your way to Fini Foni, a cute ice-cream parlor which, for this tour, offers foie-gras macarons. The evening ends with sushi and sake at specialty Japanese restaurant By The Sea.

The breakfast offering, too, is superlative. And best enjoyed beachside. The morning buffet offers a range of regional delicacies, including Mas huni (tuna and coconut served with flatbread), while the a la carte menu features eggs to order — we’d recommend the Maldivian spicy omelet with tuna and curry leaves. Alternatively, keep it light and healthy with fruits, smoothies, and detoxifying spa beverages.

Personalization is key to the Gili Lankanfushi experience. Each guest’s stay is managed by a private butler, resulting in bespoke dining experiences. The island is dotted with picturesque spots perfect for romantic meals, whether a gazebo tucked away in the tropical jungle, a secluded slither of beach, the outdoor jungle cinema, or the tiny One Palm island just offshore. Pick your spot and a personal chef cooks up a three-course meal of your choice for a magical experience.

Or, if you fancy staying in and enjoying the plush décor of your villa, just order in and chill. Unusually for a resort, ordering in-villa doesn’t cost a premium. Try dinner on your upstairs terrace, after which, weather permitting, you can even sleep out under the stars.

And once the guilt sets in, there are plenty of water-based activities — diving, fishing, surfing, sailing, waterskiing — to help you work off a few pounds.


Magical Madrid: The unique charms of the Spanish capital

Madrid the capital of Spain. (Shutterstock)
Updated 13 November 2018
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Magical Madrid: The unique charms of the Spanish capital

  • Madrid is a European capital like no other
  • Madrid’s blockbuster sights regally lived up to their generations-old hype

LONDON: It was bad luck that brought me to Madrid — or perhaps fate. Midway through a two-month road trip around Southern Europe, diligently skirting the coasts of Portugal and Spain, but with no intention of venturing inland, my 20-year-old campervan broke down in the scorching Andalusian planes, some 30 km outside Seville, officially the warmest city in Europe.
My fate was sealed by the calendar as much as the location: It wasn’t just that I blamed the searing summer sun for overheating my ancient engine, but also for thwarting any chance of its repair. For the month of “Agosto,” I soon learned, the south of Spain simply shuts down. There wasn’t a garage in town with the faintest bit of interest in fixing my motor. And so, after a fortnight of shade-seeking 40-degree days and flamenco-filled nights in Seville, I impulsively rented a car and made a spontaneous six-hour road trip to Madrid. And whatever the repair bill ended up being, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Arriving exhausted at dusk, I emerged from my air-conditioned car to find the climate completely transformed, temperatures hovering in the pleasant mid-twenties, surrounded by commuters ambling amiably to street-side tavernas rather than racing to the metro — or hiding indoors like their southern compatriots.

Hurried logic (and a whiff of luck) had brought me to the south-western edge of the central Sol barrio, a maze of winding streets with colorful cafés and tapas joints that seem to be as busy for breakfast as in the early hours, entertaining a constant flow of customers and an insistent throb of lively chat. It was the perfect tonic for the breakdown blues.
Arriving without preconception or preparation had its benefits. I was free to follow whims, enjoying the kind of aimlessness which can only be bred through enforced limbo. Evenings drifted by nibbling gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns) and pimientos de padrón (padrón peppers), while practicing my newly acquired Spanish with friendly locals at Bodegas Melibea, an audaciously decorated café with wide open windows offering cooling vistas of the ever-changing street scene.

Madrid’s blockbuster sights regally lived up to their generations-old hype. The Plaza Major really could not be better named — a bright rectangular space built around the turn of the 16th century, lined with interconnected regal rows of identical three-story buildings, sporting a total of 237 tiny balconies.
Grander still is the Royal Palace of Madrid, a magnificent maze of 3,418 rooms which make it Europe’s largest royal residence. Be sure to stop at the nearby Temple of Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple donated to Spain and incongruously rebuilt in the early 1970s.
I had heard of the Prado Museum, of course, and held some inkling of its famed depth and breadth, but little could prepare me for the boggling floorplan and epic catalogue of art, which stretches from the 12th to 20th centuries. At any one time, only about 1,300 of the institution’s collection of more than 20,000 works is on display — but that still means that if you entered at 10 a.m., stayed until closing time at 8 p.m., and took zero breaks, you would have the equivalent of 27 seconds to view each work. Time is likely to be considerably tighter when an extension is unveiled next year, coinciding with the Prado’s 200th anniversary.

Temple of Debod. (Shutterstock)

More manageable and equally essential is the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, one of Europe’s greatest exhibitors of 20th-century artists which pays homage to the country’s headline exports Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí — including staging the former’s epic “Guernica,” a stark, monochrome Spanish Civil War epic which rightfully ranks among the century’s greatest cultural achievements. At 7.7 meters wide, it’s a work that no postcard or textbook reproduction can do justice to — a statement which needs to be experienced in the flesh, and studied up close, to appreciate even a jot of its power, scope or intent.
Madrid is simply magical. Not in that quaint, stately, Western European way of Vienna or Prague, nor with the pretentious powerhouse vibe of Paris or London. And nothing like the crumbling grandeur of Mediterranean neighbors Rome and Athens. It’s a European capital like no other — and it’s the one I’d move to in a heartbeat.