Last year Shangri-La scored an Indian Ocean hat trick with the opening of a Sri Lanka property. Peter Ellegard outlines how the group’s three resorts stack up.
With a trio of luxury resort hotels on Indian Ocean islands, Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts serves up something of a dilemma for holidaymakers looking for a tropical island getaway.
Each has its own allure, but they all offer something different. Well established in the luxury market with 100 hotels spread across the world including London, Hong Kong-based Shangri-La is a relatively recent entrant to the Indian Ocean. Its first hotel in the region, Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa in the Maldives, opened in 2009. November 2015 saw the rebranding of popular Mauritius resort Le Touessrok, originally opened in 1978 and latterly operated by One&Only Resorts, under the Shangri-La flag after a $30 million makeover. Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa completed the trilogy when it opened in June 2016.
SriLankan Airlines direct flights between Colombo and Gan that started last December mean a Hambantota/Villingili twin-centre is a viable and convenient option.
All three resorts have golf in common. Shangri-La is the only hotel group with three golf resorts in the Indian Ocean. Le Touessrok boasts a challenging 18-hole course designed by German golf star Bernhard Langer on Ile aux Cerfs island, a 10-minute boat ride from the hotel. Hambantota also has an 18-hole course, laid out alongside and in front of the hotel through a coconut plantation, dunes and on land that was once a sapphire mine.
Villingili’s nine-hole facility is the only golf course in the Maldives, taking up the narrow southern third of the island and with several holes right on – and over – the beach. While its sister hotels attract golfers, Villingili’s course is more likely to be a bonus for golfing guests staying there rather than a deciding factor when booking.
All three properties also have Shangri-La’s branded Chi, the Spa. They each feature the typical Chi massage treatments and rituals as well as ayurvedic treatments, but Hambantota is also an Ayurveda spa, operated in partnership with respected south-east Asian Ayurveda healing centre provider, the Siddhalepa Group. A doctor assesses guests and prescribes treatments. Villingili’s signature Kandu Boli Ritual uses heated cowrie shells and coconut oil, with the masseuse singing a Maldives lullaby as she gently strokes the guest with the shells.
Where: Set on Sri Lanka’s south coast, it is one of the first beach resorts in a developing tourism area.
How to get there: Direct flights go to Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo. From here guests are picked up by the hotel’s airport butler minibus service for the journey, which takes four to five hours. Journey times will be cut when the existing highway is extended, said to be in around 18 months. A new international airport is just 20 minutes away, although flights only currently go from Dubai. A new Shangri La hotel opening in mid-November in Colombo will give twin-centre options in Sri Lanka.
Accommodation: Sri Lanka’s largest resort, it offers 300 rooms including 21 suites, all with free Wi-Fi, cable TV, bathrobes and slippers.
Spa: Twelve indoor and outdoor treatment rooms offering Chinese massages and body treatments plus Sri Lankan ayurvedic treatments.
Dining: Four restaurants and bars including the Ulpatha, which doubles as the golf clubhouse.
Other facilities: Three outdoor pools including one for children, Cool Zone Kids’ Club plus supervised children’s activities and video games room, jogging trails, health club and aquagym/fitness classes, mountain bike rental, archery, meetings facilities and a long sandy beach.
USP: Hambantota is Sri Lanka’s only golf resort, with rental golf clubs, buggies and trained caddies available. It has a seven-metre-high trapeze for guests to try their circus skills. Kadamandiya Village is a cluster of thatched huts in the hotel grounds featuring local artisans whose products guests can buy to support their families.
Ghislaine Le, resident manager, Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa, says: “The village enables guests to learn about the artistry of rural craftsmen that keep the traditions of Sri Lanka alive.”
Excursions include safaris to Yala, Udawalawe and other national parks and a bird-spotting boat safari. Who does it suit: Primarily families, also golfers and couples.
Cost: From £217 per room per night.
Where: Villingili island is located on Addu Atoll, the southernmost atoll in the Maldives and the only one below the equator.
How to get there: Direct flights take around 90 minutes from Colombo (four times a week) and 70 minutes from Maldives’ capital Male (several daily) to Gan, a former RAF base. Villingili is a five-minute speedboat ride from Gan.
Accommodation: The resort has 132 villas, including 60 water villas on stilts over the sea, tree house villas, and pool and beach villas. Allwyn Drego, general manager, Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa, says: “This is a large island for the Maldives and our water villas are 166 square metres compared to 40-50sqm on other islands.” Each has free broadband internet, TV and DVD, indoor and outdoor showers, sundeck and daybeds, with Island Hosts – butlers – on hand and bikes to roam the island.
Spa: Eleven treatment villas in a spa village surrounded by dense tropical vegetation and the beach, with meditation and yoga pavilions.
Dining: Three restaurants offering a range of cuisines plus three bars.
Other facilities: Dive centre, watersports, floodlit tennis courts, outdoor pool, children’s Cool Zone, Eco Centre where guests can learn about marine life, nine-hole golf course and five wedding and blessing locations.
USP: One of the largest and most luxurious Maldives resort islands with almost four miles of coastline and more than a mile of white-sand beach, it offers luxury, space and privacy – guests include heads of state and royalty (Prince Andrew stayed recently). Dine by Design offers intimate dining in-villa, in the jungle, in the chef’s garden, on the beach, on a chartered luxury yacht trip at the equator and atop Mount Villingili – the Maldives’ highest point at 5.1 metres above sea level. Tours visit local islands, guided by staff who live there.
The resort operates on its own time zone, an hour ahead of Maldives time, to allow guests to enjoy more daylight hours and sunset just before dinner.
Who does it suit: Couples/ honeymooners, also families (20% of guests) and celebrities wanting a tropical island hideaway.
Cost: From £480 per room per night.
Where: Set on 34 acres of beachfront on the east coast of Mauritius, Le Touessrok airport transfers take an hour. Helicopter or Porsche transfers can be arranged.
How to get there: Flights operate direct from Heathrow and via other airports including Dubai.
Accommodation: 200 rooms and suites, all offering Indian Ocean views and with direct beach access. Three beach villas offer butler service.
Spa: Eight treatment rooms offer holistic and ayurvedic treatments. In-room spa services are also available.
Dining: Six restaurants plus a bar and coffee shop.
Other facilities: 18-hole championship golf course, dive centre, watersports, jogging trails, tennis courts, archery, two swimming pools, shopping arcade, hair salon, bike rental, kids’ and teens’ clubs plus babysitting and supervised children’s activities.
USP: A top-notch golf course by a celebrated golfer on one of two nearby islands, Ile aux Cerfs. The other island (Ilot Mangenie) is exclusive to Shangri-La guests and features a chic beach club and on island butlers. Refined luxury on some of the best beaches in Mauritius.
Who does it suit: Golfers (they can also play some of the other courses on Mauritius), couples and families.
Cost: From £267 per room per night.
Book it: Kuoni has a 12-night, twin centre holiday, staying five nights at Shangri-La’s Hambantota Golf Resort & Spa and seven nights at Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa, including breakfast, SriLankan Airlines flights and transfers, from £3,207pp.
The Inspiring Travel Company has seven nights’ B&B from £1,625pp, including Emirates flights and transfers, based on travel between June 2 and August 31, 2018.