Walking on S U N SH I N E
SONEVA F USHI They had me at ‘dedicated ice-cream room’. But not for Soneva Fushi the avours of the corner store. In this Maldivian milk bar you’ll choose from a menu of up to 30 avours that include organic coconut charcoal and almond, orange and Campari, and a vegan pineapple and chilli sorbet.
There are surprises aplenty to give a holiday at Soneva Fushi extra joie de vivre. The abundant organic food, for a start. Breakfast offers more stations than London’s Tube. On request: pearl oyster mushrooms from the mushroom hut, sautéed with onion in garlic oil, served with shots of watermelon and ginger juice. At night, under the Milky Way, there’s barefoot ne dining in the treetops or on the beach.
A well-tended rainforest gradually yields its secrets: an observatory; a wine cellar, stocking 7000 bottles; a glass-blowing studio; possibly the best children’s club on the planet; a jogging track; and the outdoor Cinema Paradiso, where Australian fashion in uencer Margaret Zhang recently screened her rst short lm, There’s No Space Left in C# Minor.
An archipelago of 1192 coral islands the Maldives sits in 298sqkm of the Indian Ocean, south-west of Sri Lanka and India. Visitors y into Male and go by seaplane or speedboat to their island. Soneva Fushi is located on the eastern edge of Baa Atoll, a UNESCO heritage site.
Every guest is assigned a Mr or Ms Friday, a nod to the Man Friday servant in Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe, a copy of which is in all rooms. Our Mr Friday explains the Soneva philosophy of intelligent barefoot luxury. Indeed shoes are taken from you on the speedboat ride over, not to be returned until you leave. The appeal, he says, is of all that you don’t get in the city – outdoor showers, sunken jungle baths, a kind of rustic luxury where nothing is perfect.
But cycling to breakfast through dappled sunlight with wood hens itting across sandy pathways, chameleon crested lizards scuttling up tree trunks in an embrace of birdsong feels pretty close to perfect.
Mostly you get around the island – 1.4km long by 400m wide – on bicycle or on foot. Mr Friday will collect you in a motorised buggy when it’s raining, late, too far, or you’ve had an energy bypass.
The accommodation at Soneva Fushi is effortlessly chic rather than precious. It’s full of pitted timber, driftwoods, natural fabrics and parchments, and king-sized beds with soft muslin canopies. There are 18 private villa residences and 61 villas for guests, the smallest the one-bedroom Crusoe villa, a loose- tting 235sqm. The villas and gardens are spacious. A few dozen friends over for sunset drinks? No problem. There are private pools, thickly cushioned oversized lounges, a hammock, daybeds on the sand, and the sea beyond.
The Soneva philosophy is ‘Slow Life’, an acronym for sustainable, local, organic, wellness, learning, inspiring, fun, experiences. With the latter in mind come dolphin safaris (bubbles and tuna ceviche in hand) to witness spinner dolphins practising gold-medal synchronised swimming. There are the requisite water sports, a gym and tennis court, and astronomers and marine biologists are on hand to explain the worlds above and below. soneva.com
SONEVA J ANI Soneva Jani – the bouncing baby of the Soneva portfolio – opened in November 2016. Located in the Noonu Atoll, Soneva Jani is 32 nautical miles, or an hour’s speedboat ride, north of sister resort Soneva Fushi, or 40 minutes from Male by seaplane. It’s more overwater than island, its de ning feature the Medhufaru lagoon it sits in – at 5.6km long, it’s the largest in the Maldives.
With its turrets and waterslides, Soneva Jani is like a medieval storybook village that’s nibbled on magic mushrooms. To wake up here is to have been parachuted into the centre spread of a glossy travel brochure. Endless shimmering blues, and really tough decisions around where to be – the overpool net-bed, the sunken lounge between the pool and the sea, or the swim-out hammock.
There are only 24 overwater villas and one island villa here, but development to catch up with the demand, both on the island and over the lagoon, is underway. Also under investigation (in a country where point of difference is everything) is an anti-gravity aquarium.
Soneva Jani’s three-storey communal hub, The Gathering, is all whitewashed wood and light and space, with elegant library nooks. But if The Gathering looks kind of empty, it’s because no one’s leaving home.
Because, really – while there are starry dinners with introductions to the Andromeda galaxy courtesy of a telescope on steroids, sailing and snorkelling, and an overwater screening of Gold nger after a Japanese dinner with a ne Martinborough pinot noir to talk to the wasabi sorbet – it’s all about the dazzling fairytale villas.
Overwater villas – arranged like legs on a wriggly centipede – start at 411sqm. The interiors are dove grey and putty-coloured wood with accents of purple and lavender. If there’s a style descriptor it would be ‘boatshed chic’.
There’s a little home of ce with wi- if you just can’t help yourself. Feed the addiction, then program the sound system to whatever decade rocks your boat, raid the wine fridge, eat the free chocolates, nd a sunken lounge and watch the underworld at play. You deserve this.
Ignore it for a while, because you’re too old for that, but then relent: the resort’s signature water slide – entered from your glam rooftop retreat – is guaranteed to bring out the squealing inner child.
After dark, the retractable roof above the bed, with the stars beyond, is the time for grown-ups. soneva.com
ANANTARA K IHAVAH In the Maldives, some things are a given: powdery sand, turquoise water, coral reefs, kaleidoscopic sh, starry nights. What, then, are the points of difference in paradise? For Anantara Kihavah, in the UNESCO marineprotected biosphere of Baa Atoll, there are several signature attractions.
The sky is the star. Because the Maldives is just north of the equator, explains local astronomer and resident ‘ sky guru’ Ali Shameem, stargazers get the best of both hemispheres, and there’s little light pollution to corrupt the view. Last year the resort spent US$220,000 building an observatory and Shameem has had a Meade LX200 telescope specially customised so guests could share the glamour of the galaxies.
Since opening in 2011, Anantara Kihavah has won a string of awards, many for its underwater restaurant, Sea. Manoeuvred into the resort’s reef, to a depth of 6m, the ne diner has six large picture windows, 10cm thick, through which to view a watery metropolis of dazzling sh, soft balletic corals, turtles, crabs and a moray eel.
This is indeed special-occasion dining. Chilled Champagne greets guests at the top of the stairs. A four- or seven-course menu includes lobster from the day’s catch and highly marbled Miyazaki beef – with matched wines from a cellar of 450 labels if you wish.
Then there are the prized reefs. Snorkelling the colourful wonderland that is the ‘house reef’ you can see new branches of coral growing on rope frames attached to the sea oor. An hour away by fast boat is Hanifaru Bay where you can snorkel among majestic, gliding manta rays that front-on look like a Star Wars special effect with their grill-like mouth and sci- plankton-guzzling feeders.
Anantara Kihavah has 42 overwater villas circling a shallow turquoise lagoon and 38 beach villas and residences. All have king beds, a private pool, daybeds, spacious bathrooms and indoor and outdoor showers. Bedding is light and luxurious, and there are menus for pillows and even soaps. A Villa Host takes care of your needs each day and deposits guests where they need to be.
Activities are numerous: sporty holidaymakers can kayak, sh, dive, snorkel, or go parasailing; join turtle and dolphin discovery cruises. An artist in residence conducts painting classes. The spa, with its assembly of overwater villas and cushioned daybeds, has a focus on Ayurvedic assessment and treatments. The teppanyaki restaurant, Fire, hosts Thai and Maldivian cooking classes.
In the evening, have Cinema under the Stars all to yourself or book in the family. Choose a lm. Enjoy the catering. It’s a no-brainer.