This is the era of bucket list travel, of checking off long held top spots on the dream destination list, of putting experiences over “stuff” (after all, the stuff in life didn’t help all that much in the long months being locked away with it). Facing withdrawals from so much of life, a trip to the mall did not crack the Top 10. The absence of travel, however, was keenly felt. Connecting with others, spending quality time with family also topped the list.
As borders slowly open and safeguards help keep everyone healthy and protected, many are taking this opportunity to treat themselves to a paradise that had always seemed a bit too far, a bit too luxurious, and a bit too fabulous, as if a trip there might dull all future vacations in comparison. In short, the Maldives are a memory-maker.
And if this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani can’t help but spark some serious joy.
It Takes a Villa
Whether family bonding or romantic seclusion is the aim, Soneva Fushi has a villa for that. The 63 villas and eight water retreats (each housing one to nine bedrooms) offer inventive architectural details which mirror the natural surroundings—high, airy ceilings, screened-in lounges with wide sofas, and 20-foot-high doors that open to breezes and vistas of the open sea (sunrise side) or a picturesque floating dock where seaplanes neatly slide in over an excellent snorkeling reef.
Each villa presents crescents of the private white, sugary beach (complete with hammocks slung between swaying palms), while boasting artistically tiled plunge pools with cushy loungers, and lush gardens behind bamboo privacy walls with a variety of water features (fountains, reflecting pools, mosaic underwater footpaths). The result is akin to an upscale private spa complete with a cloud-soft fluffy bed that demands to be napped upon.
Overwater villas with narrow strips of lap pools flanked by netted hammock floor insets, outdoor showers, a sunken cushioned dining table and two-story water slides into the pure azure sea look like a child’s dream come true, though no upper age requirement restricts this fun. Far from the cookie-cutter bungalows seen in French Polynesia or elsewhere in the Maldives, the innovative design elements address every whim—from the cut outs for watching the reef fish below the dinner table to the button next to the master bed which at a touch opens the bedroom roof like a stadium, for stargazing or getting rid of those pesky tan lines.
Indeed, it would be easy to spend the entire stay in such an oasis—impressively high-speed internet, hidden flatscreens, and the indoor-outdoor Bose system help those who must be reminded of the outside world—but Soneva Fushi is an island of experiences.
Choose Your Own Adventure
In an island of pristine, sandy paths canopied by lush flowering trees, biking is the preferred mode of transport. If you haven’t pedaled since you were 12, the resort offers adult-sized tricycles with baskets or barefoot butlers ready to chauffeur by cart. Stopping at a different slice of white sand beach or snorkel reef every day is certainly a valid plan, but the island offers so much more.
Visit the observatory to gaze through a state-of-the-art telescope with 3-D astronomy to explore deep space. Stop by the glass-blowing studio for a guided lesson in creating a work of art from the island’s recycled bottles. Stroll the massive organic garden for a lesson on hydroponic tech advances.
Gather the fam or meet up with new friends at Cinema Paradiso, where the guests vote on a classic or modern film under the stars (or cheer on their favorite Premiere League team) accompanied by complimentary popcorn and over 60 flavors of ice cream. Learn to scuba dive with the talented instructors at Soleni Dive Centre or earn bragging rights among your certified friends when you tell tales of the manta rays, dolphins, turtles, frog fish, reef fish (and perhaps even docile whale shark!) you encountered in the famous Baa Atoll UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
Go fishing with Rocket and his family, before returning to cook your catch with his wife’s secret marinade. Enjoy a sunset cruise with nibbles and bubbly and dozens of dolphin cavorting and doing their best acrobatics for the camera or wake early for a surf session with a local guide.
It’s true, this resort is eco to its core. You’ll see nary a piece of plastic and if it shows up on your plate, it was either grown organically here, sought locally from neighboring islands or responsibly acquired. This translates to incredibly fresh food that packs a punch of flavor. Breakfast alone is overwhelming in its variety. A veritable banquet of traditional egg and crepe offerings, cook-to-order Indian delights, Mediterranean dishes, the freshest of sushi and sashimi, local dishes and fresh pressed juices are joined by… The Rooms.
These include a charcuterie room, cheese room, fruit room, homemade ice cream and gelato room, chocolate room—each laden with dozens of gourmet options to choose from, and most open for on-demand complimentary snacking throughout the day. Lunch is similar, though a bike ride down to sushi-haven Out of the Blue earns use of their two-story waterslide and lunch in a hammock bed.
Evening only brings more temptations, each eatery with its own flair and flavor. Visiting chefs and unique dining locations (in the garden, on a deserted sandbank) add to the variety, with a common string of excellence in culinary offerings that make the property tough to beat when it comes to eats.
Learning at Soneva
The Den, a massive haven for little ones, offers organic screen-free learning through a puppet stage, dress-up chamber, Lego room, nature center garden, treehouse, and a pool with waterslide and multiple lifeguards. While each day offers a wealth of fun and natural knowledge, students can continue their remote learning with tutors here (or in their villas) or they can learn the Maldivian Way, with the Soneva Academy.
Courses in navigation, marine biology, and conservation are available daily, or for the ultimate adventure, teens can take on a three-night “Adventure of the Corbin” experience on a deserted island, following a 17th-century French galleon that was shipwrecked off the coast of Goidhoo. They will learn skills to set up camp, survive on the island, and navigate using the stars. Participants snorkel the shipwreck and learn about the Maldives’ maritime history, all while recording their adventure and producing a GoPro film.
Much like its sister property, Soneva Jani strives and achieves superstar status. Kids are certainly allowed, but the vibe skews hipper and more romantic, perhaps due to nearly all the villas being the gorgeous Wonka-like fantasy overwater bungalows. A barefoot bookseller curates tomes for relaxing (perhaps in the Insta-famous blue water hammock).
The Crab Shack was recently voted the “World’s Most Romantic Restaurant” by CNN, as it boasts toes-in-the-sand sunset dining (and the Sri Lankan Mud Crab curry is a MUST). Overseas not only impresses with an artful tasting menu of flavorful Soneva-grown produce and Indian Sea catches by “Bocuse d’Or” Award-Winning Chef Mathias Dahlgren, but guests will also love watching through the glass floors as the black tip reef sharks dart in and out of schools of jack.
Balinese, Thai, or Indian head massages are a few unique spa offerings for in between activities like snorkeling, diving, relaxing on the beach, turtle hatching with an on-site marine biologist, and an overwater Cinema Paradiso “dinner and a movie.” (Guests arrive from Male via Soneva seaplane but can opt to try both resorts using a comfortable speedboat transfer.)
The Science of a Perfect Trip
Is there a science to creating a perfect destination? The Soneva properties have long believed so. Astronomers decipher the heavens with guests over stargazing dinners or boat cruises, making the most of a sky so devoid of ambient light that constellations seem to pop out at every glance. Marine biologists both guide snorkelers to the best terrain—nearly the entire sunset side of the island is a house reef, explaining the myriad creatures to be seen—and run a conservation program where test-tube baby corals can be hand-planted to create new habitats for the sea life. (You can even get follow up pictures every six months as your little one grows.)
But perhaps the most impressive and impactful effects science has had on the island is what can’t be seen—namely, mosquitoes (and Covid, see below). Longtime lover of all things Soneva Fushi, scientist Bart Knols, PhD MBA (Managing Director of Science and Conservation) together with Akib Jahir, MSc (Integrated Pest Control Manager) was charged with devising a natural way to protect guests from the pesky pest which once ruled the island, pre-Fushi. Using a unique device which paired fermenting sugar-yeast to mimic a human’s scent and a physical funnel-bottle system that trapped the attracted mosquitoes, Bart and his team soon started harvesting thousands of the insects in each device.
They tucked the gadgets in amongst the brush and trees, around the edges of popular hangs on the resort, and soon had reduced the mosquito population of Soneva Fushi by 98 percent. His team also creates many of the natural lovely-scented hand sanitizing products used on the island.
Upon arrival, Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani guests are whisked away by private Tesla cars to the Soneva lounge, adjacent to the terminal. Guests relax and enjoy refreshments while being tested for Covid and awaiting their seaplanes. The resort built its own lab to speed the processing of the PCR testing results, usually only a few hours.
Upon landing at the resort, a special quarantine team greets and escorts arrivals to their villas. The quality of the barefoot butler service with dine-in eats and cocktails makes the few hours of quarantine spent awaiting test results fly by (and in the extremely unlikely case of a positive, the 14-day stay, which includes access to your private beach, pool, villa, and butlers/housekeeping service, is complimentary).
Repeated tests are done at intervals on property throughout the stay to ensure no late-developing positives could arise or spread, and in this way (and thanks to a private island reality with staff remaining in place, coupled with a requirement by the Maldives that all arrivals prove a negative PCR test within three days of entering) the island is essentially Covid-free.
Once the negative results are in, guests are free to wander and enjoy the entire island, mask-free and without the need to socially distance.