The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION TRAVEL - Chris­tine McCabe

Claim­ing The Mal­dives’ first over­wa­ter ob­ser­va­tory, with res­i­dent as­tronomer and 25 enor­mous pool vil­las — some with long slides dip­ping straight into the la­goon — Soneva Jani brings a height­ened sense of lux­ury to a re­gion awash with glam­orous digs.

Sis­ter prop­erty to the ac­claimed Soneva Fushi with its “no news no shoes” ap­proach to beach lux­ury and crew of Mr (and Ms) Fri­day but­lers, Soneva Jani fea­tures The Mal­dives’ largest over­wa­ter struc­ture, hous­ing sev­eral din­ing out­lets, a wine cel­lar, li­brary and chil­dren’s den.

There is also a “si­lent cinema” fea­tur­ing an over­wa­ter big screen where guests are pro­vided with Blue­tooth ear­phones so as not to dis­turb nest­ing birds.

The 24 stun­ning over­wa­ter vil­las and one is­land villa are strung along a large la­goon on the 61ha Med­h­u­faru, part of an un­in­hab­ited five-is­land group in the Noonu Atoll, mak­ing it one of the low­est den­sity re­sorts in the world.

Each over­wa­ter villa has a 13m pool; most have a re­tractable roof in the mas­ter bed­room for a spot of stargaz­ing from bed and there are sev­eral ar­eas of glass floor to ob­serve the ocean be­low. With one, two, three and four-bed­room op­tions, all vil­las fea­ture a top-deck din­ing area and open-air bath­room di­rectly ac­ces­si­ble from the la­goon via a stair­case, as well as a walk-in mini­bar with cof­fee ma­chine and pri­vate wine cel­lar.

The light and airy in­te­ri­ors de­signed by Soneva co-founder Eva Shiv­dasani fea­ture weath­ered tim­ber, nat­u­ral linen, re­cy­cled glass and River Red Gum shin­gle roof tiles.

A snaking jetty con­nects the far­thest-flung vil­las with the main re­sort build­ings; guests are pro­vided with bikes or can jump a shut­tle boat.

A 40-minute sea­plane flight from Male then a 60-minute speed­boat ride from Soneva Fushi, the re­sort also fea­tures a wa­ter sports and dive cen­tre, day spa and ten­nis court. DON’T MISS: A spot of star gaz­ing, ei­ther from the top deck of the Scooba Do 2 with din­ner or from the ob­ser­va­tory with its high-pow­ered tele­scope.

DIN­ING IN AND OUT: Un­der Bri­tish culi­nary di­rec­tor and Iron Chef Thai­land win­ner Kevin Fawkes, the re­sort’s var­i­ous din­ing out­lets are sup­plied by or­ganic pro­duce grown on a large farm es­tab­lished on the is­land a decade ago.

Ex­pect lo­cal seafood and var­ied menus from mezze, piz­zas and wagyu to black truf­fle risotto us­ing mush­rooms grown on the farm.

The So Imag­i­na­tive ex­per­i­men­tal kitchen pro­vides rar­efied tast­ing menus while al­fresco din­ing op­tions in­clude a Cast­away Pic­nic on a de­serted is­land.

Still peck­ish? Drop by Soneva’s fa­mous gratis cheese, cho­co­late and ice cream room.

ASK THE CONCIERGE: Book a sun­set cruise com­plete with cham­pagne and canapes; the wa­ter around the re­sort is a pop­u­lar cross­ing point for pods of dol­phins.

CHECK­ING IN: From $US1870 ($2500) a night; ALSO TRY: Six Senses Zil Pasyon, Sey­chelles; Aman­yara, Turks and Caicos.

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