Walk­ing on S U N SH I N E

Belle - - Lounge -

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.

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