Heaven Afloat

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The world’s most luxurious resorts, enclaves of excess, have traditionally been designed as temples of indulgence: opulent accommodation with best furnishings, no expense spared. Incompatible, often, with sustainable values. But now, as generations have become more aware of caring for the planet, the desire for exclusive retreats has melded with clients’ preference, or insistence, that the environment, too, is respected, protected and enjoyed. And so the well-heeled traveller eschews air-conditioned comforts and joins rudimentary campers in the simple pleasure of sleeping under the stars: it’s just that, at the Maldives’ newest resort Soneva Jani (open October 1), the stars are revealed when the massive roof of a magnificent two-storey lagoon villa glides open to reveal the night sky.

Soneva resorts, crème de la crème of unpretentious exclusivity, are named for their creators, Sonu and Eva Shivdasani; they’re also (three in Maldives and one in Thailand) recognised as leading exponents of treading lightly on the earth. British hotelier Sonu was destined to lofty pursuits, educated at Eton, Switzerland’s Institut Le Rosey and Oxford; across the years he and his Swedish wife perfected their template, an “intelligent luxury” ethos, for the finest in holidaymaking coexisting in harmony with the environment. An enviro levy on guests at the top-notch resorts has funded reforestation in Thailand, windmills in India and innovative support programs for the people of Myanmar and Darfur.

SONEVA JANI:  Set within a crystal-clear lagoon, fringed by pure beaches and lush tropical greenery. Guests’ days are filled with morning yoga sessions, cycling island trails to the Eco Centro, discovering lagoon marine life, dolphin cruises and “Robinson Crusoe” picnics. At night the villas’ retractable roofs slide open at touch of a button. Each of 24 water villas has its own private pool and some feature slippery slides running from the top deck into the lagoon.

SONEVA FUSHI: Established 20 years ago, Fushi is considered to have set the standard for all of the Maldives’ renowned desert island “barefoot luxury” hideaways: 57 private villas each with its own stretch of beach are hidden among foliage within touching distance of a pristine coral reef and serviced by “intuitive” unobtrusive butlers.  It has a pristine UNESCO-protected biosphere reserve and is known for its legendary service. I dined “in the sky” in a tree-house pod high above the fruit, vegie and herb garden providing the produce for the resort’s unparalleled cuisine. There’s an open-air cinema, high-tech observatory, home-made chocolate and ice cream rooms, 500 wines to choose from and nine dining options.

SONEVA IN AQUA: An ultra-refined 19m two-cabin yacht with exceptionally spacious interiors sails out of Fushi, combining the benefits of the resort’s services with the freedom and exclusivity of a private boat charter. Crew comprises a captain, first officer, “Mr Friday” butler, sous chef, interior steward and therapist, and if wanted a diving host and astronomer. Guests can charter the vessel for one to seven nights and explore the Maldivian atolls at the price of a two-bedroom Fushi villa.

SONEVA KIRI: An hour by private plane south-east of Bangkok, 36 vast pool villas on beach level, hillside or cliff tops, overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. Chic furnishings, personal electric buggies, impeccable butler service, and mouth-watering organic Thai food.

All: www.soneva.com

TRAVEL BOOK OF THE MONTH: Shannon Bennett’s London – A Personal Guide to the City’s Best. For most of us outside Victoria, 40-year-old Bennett, owner of Melbourne’s superb Vue de Monde restaurant, is best known for his role in TV’s MasterChef. Many regard him as Australia’s finest chef: pupil of the magnificent Marco Pierre White (and, earlier, classmate of Curtis Stone) he opened Vue at just 24 and garnered Restaurant of the Year many times, as well as an unprecedented 19/20 in the SMH/Age Good Food Guide, becoming  globally acknowledged along the way. This new book follows his similar guides to Paris, New York, France and Provence, with Best of Europe on the way, as well as other culinary titles. Because we trust him, we can trust his guide to the luxury hotels, fine dining, restaurants (note the distinction), bars and pubs in some 13 geographical London districts. Concise, with an easy to use layout, fascinating and charming anecdotes, written in the Aussie lingo, unambiguous and clear to understand. The hardback is compact enough yet a little weighty for travel. But then you’ll want it sturdy to remain a treasured souvenir in your bookcase. A good, unusual gift for traveller friends and family, too. Hardie Grant Books. RRP $49.99.

Travel Editor, Susie Boswell

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