Everyone expects azure skies and crystal-clear waters from the Maldives. But a jungle landscape so verdant it smacks of Borneo? Certainly, if you happen to be on Villingili island, home to half of the country's local flora in the form of lush primary forest, three freshwater lagoons and a sprawling mangrove swamp. It's there, in the Maldives' far-flung south, that you'll find the new Shangri-La Villingili Resort and Spa, www.shangri-la.com the only luxury property in the area and the fruit of five years' laborious construction owing to its remote location.
Not that seclusion is a bad thing. The Shangri-La is blessed with a 3.7-mile (6 km) coastline and fantastic snorkeling and scuba-diving sites just several swimming minutes from the well-appointed villas. Water babies may drift from one reef to another, one beach to another, each one lovelier than the last. Turtles are frequently seen, and giant manta rays are spied year-round.
While pristine water will always remain the Maldives' main attraction, you should change out of your wet suit for the resort's nature trails, which take you into a forest where age-old banyans thrive luxuriantly alongside the native bird life. In fact, afternoons, when the sun is merciless, can be spent cycling through these peaceful, shaded woods.
After roughing it out all day, you'll have earned a Maldivian curry dinner on the beach. Or you could check into the spa for a hot-stone-inspired cowrie-shell massage that is preceded by a foot treatment consisting of a grated-coconut scrub and a warm-coconut-milk bath. Then retire into one of the 142 luxurious villas. Pool villa No. 1, incidentally the cheapest category of accommodation, is perfectly sandwiched between the ocean and lagoon, and affords complete privacy. Rates from $860 a night.