Magnificent, Magical Maldives

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Susie samples the barefoot luxury of the Indian Ocean’s finest resorts.

A classic tropical island, essential elements: Talcum-powder sand. Froth-tipped waves flashing frivolous white frills, tickling the shoreline. Transparent baby-blue tinted water, like looking into a clear sky to infinity. Swaying palms curved in graceful arcs. The sun’s warm, just perfect for drinking its rays deep down into the soul, for frolicking in the lagoon, for developing the feel-good patina of a light bronze tan. A G&T; a frozen pineapple daiquiri. Peaceful, sublime isolation in the world’s premier water playground, the Maldives.

Then, like a mirage, a shimmering glass-faced cavern – a glamorous, see-through cool room, in fact – looms up. The full-height window that forms its entire front wall and portal is chilled, frosted inside with patches of icy, gel-like condensation, melting slowly, dripping temptingly at the edges, luring us inside to discover the deep cocoa shades of thousands of hand-made chocolates arranged in rows on silver salvers on timber tiers, moulded in the shape of turtles, cupcakes, logs, fish … and displayed on decorative dark chocolate “branches”, where chocolate sand crabs cling, and chocolate olives hang down among the leaves. It’s a visual wonderland: an indulgent gourmet counterpoint to the natural simplicity of this beautiful island, Soneva Fushi.

Such is the place that we dwell in this week: uber-luxurious accommodation, just 57 villas in all, enveloped in a glorious natural coral-reef environment, flecked with unexpected lavish touches like the chocolate cave.

Or, lying nearby on the palm-dotted sandy shore, a similar crystalline oasis holds in its refrigerated galley a maze of wondrous ice creams (e.g, honeycomb; orange & Campari) and sorbets (limoncello; rocket leaf) made here by hundreds of chefs and patissiers in the island’s massive, discreetly hidden, kitchens. And, next: another glass chamber, of delicatesse: jamon, prosciutto, salamis and exquisite cheeses, not made on-site, these; instead, air-expressed from the finest food centres of Italy, France, Spain and beyond.

Delicious, taste-tempting experiences are just one trademark of the luxury and style that envelope guests on Fushi: your white stucco villa – vast sleeping and sitting spaces, bigger than many homes. Mine: at 400sq m, one of the smallest; tucked at the end of a sandy pathway just wide enough for bicycles and a golf buggy. White mozzie-netted canopies on tall timber four-posters set with crisp white linens under a lazy ceiling fan (plus air-con, of course) and colourful Indian cotton kasbah cushions set around wide sofas in the entertainment arena.

The Indian Ocean on your beachfront doorstep, the watery leitmotif further embellished by your private swimming pool with sultan-style daybed, sun lounges and a hammock. Then, to the rear, a high-walled jungle-pond enclave with deep open-air spa bath and shower. Bose speakers run throughout, inside and out; there’s a personal bar and Vintec refrigerated cabinet brimming with champagne, top-line wines and beers and the world’s most exotic tea and coffee, and a spacious dressing room, generous luggage storage and wardrobe reserve.

Special thoughtful touches include, but aren’t at all limited to, binoculars in the desk drawer and fragrant sachets in your choice of lemongrass or a suite of similar fragrances placed under your pillows in the evenings.

Then there’s your personal butler. Don’t feel like stirring for tennis, cycling, spa or scuba from your cushioned nirvana beside the villa pool? Your Mr Friday will summon up ice creams, chocolates, charcuterie, all unlimited, included in your tariff, or your choice from the in-room dining, or a la carte menus, around the clock. Butlers on Fushi, it seems, never sleep.

The marvellous marine activities on offer comprise some stunning experiences: dive excursions to select secret spots, a romantic secluded dinner on an isolated sandbank. And then there’s the opportunity to simply bathe in the Soneva brand of sheer solitude, equally breathtaking.

Choose a villa on the sunrise side of the island. Also check Fushi’s “Residences”: absolute indulgence, designed for groups.

Explore the possibilities at:

Ever so, never so, perfect…

Just launched: the world’s newest, most exclusive overwater villas

Soneva Fushi was the first uber-luxe resort in the Maldives. Soneva not only pioneered and stamped its brand on this sublime style of escape but pretty much holds the copyright for desert island indulgence.

While many others have followed Soneva into this Indian Ocean paradise, most are mere repeats of resorts everywhere, attempting as an aside – inevitably failing – to copy the Soneva recipe. Most are too crowded with too many villas, for profit’s sake. Some are simply shabby, so beware.

The exquisite appeal of the Soneva brand is its signature barefoot luxury attitude – “No news; No shoes” – the slow life, or Robinson Crusoe done with ultra-chic finesse.

The moment we step aboard our seaplane (after dark, transfers are by luxury speedboat) on arrival in the Maldivian capital, Male, we’re handed a silk drawstring bag and our private butler invites us to stow our shoes for the duration: it’s the beginning of the ineffable, carefree feeling of freedom experienced during barefoot suppers in dining rooms with softly caressing sandy floors, ditto the bars, and in the chocolate, ice cream and charcuterie stores … as well as in and on the pure blue heaven of the Indian Ocean.

Soneva is an amalgam of the founders’ names: Sonu and Eva – he an alumnus of Eton and Oxford and the earth’s most prominent eco-hospitality developer; she a former top Swedish model whose impeccable taste in design gives the world’s four Soneva resorts their exclusive, incomparable flair.

Soneva experiences include innovations such as dinner suspended above a herb garden; open-air cinema with the screen rising out of the ocean; sumptuous beachside breakfasts with oranges and watermelons squeezed to order, every possible tropical fruit carved ready for plucking from a dazzling, fresh and fragrant display, and bacon and eggs at the snap of your fingers in whatever style you command. At dinner, the cornucopia of offerings must surely be the world’s most magnificent: on top of a 20-metre long buffet of tiers of sushi, curries, grilled lamb cutlets, lavish salads and – truly – around 50 other dishes, there’s a wood-fired pizza oven awaiting your individual invention and a massive a la carte menu as well.

Two months ago I was the lucky first Aussie journalist invited to visit the couple’s newest iteration – the ultimate castaway experience of sublime Soneva Jani (pictured left) – at present, just 15 deliciously private, vast, overwater villas with outstanding, astounding appointments in one of the world’s lowest-density luxury resorts: boom nets for lolling above your private pool (and, at whim, sliding over the side into the water); water chutes for the fastest route from your top floor alfresco terrace into the lagoon; lounging pods elevated mid-air at the end of your private “jetty”/walkway; overwater swinging seat-shells and hammocks; a gliding retractable rooftop: lie in bed at night and gaze at the oh-so-miraculous star-studded sky.

At The Gathering, the central restaurant and spa complex (though you need never go near it if you prefer total seclusion: your butler awaits) the wine selection’s so extensive the sommelier abseils up and down its sheer glass facade. There’s Thai by a leading Thai chef; teppanyaki by a top Japanese exponent, and so on.

This is a resort dedicated to ultimate intimacy, the best place on earth to spoil yourself (or, parents, to surprise and delight a honeymoon couple.) As the Sonevas’ motto says: Eva so neva so perfect.

Millionaire for a moment

Our travel editor steps aboard a private 20m luxury yacht

She’s my own private 20-metre luxury yacht with, just for now, my own crew and chef, ready to sail solely at my will across the glorious Indian Ocean. She’s Soneva in Aqua, a “floating villa” launched just a year or so ago. So totally exclusive. Something for a Packer or a Gates? Yes, for the level of ultimate refinement. But otherwise she comes at merely the approximate cost, meals included, of a two-bedroom villa on her mooring-island base, Soneva Fushi. Her two cabins (up to four adults, two children) are augmented below decks by a superb galley where your chef, butler and steward create and deliver dream cuisine, snacks, and fresh-caught fish dinners right from the deep, served on the open deck as the elite vessel offers peaceful vistas across the ever-mutating blue-hued atolls.

For me, the piece de resistance was not the main stateroom with its polished timber floors, tanned fine leather-clad cupboards and gleaming his ‘n’ hers basins but the romantic appointment of the Jacuzzi at the foot of the bed – moreover, with a glass-bottomed viewing portal revealing the ocean floor, allowing guests to marvel at tropical fish, rays and other sea life by day and, illuminated, at night. Sheer heaven. Another standout of Soneva in Aqua is her spacious interiors, not yacht-like at all, most especially her large bathrooms with proper showers and loos. Crew variously comprises captain, first officer, Mr Friday butler, chef, interior steward and, on request, a dive master, therapist and astronomer, dependent on the duration and design of the charter, for from one to seven nights.

Soneva Resorts, the three Maldivian retreats featured on this page plus the Thai destination, Soneva Kiri, are world environment award winners for avant-garde, genuine eco-awareness. Their SLOW life ethos, they say, doesn’t refer only to the muted Soneva pace of living: it stands for Sustainable, Local, Organic and Wellness – “a cleaner, healthier way of living, beneficial for both guests and the environment”. Try, for example, Fushi’s fresh picked-from-the-garden rocket salad, crisp lettuce, organic vegies and multiple mushroom varieties.

Sun-kissed days are filled with soothing pursuits from, for instance, a sunrise breakfast on Fushi’s sandbank, morning yoga among the treetops, snorkelling the gentle transparent house reef with a marine biologist, world-class diving, sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, picnicking on a deserted island, sunset champagne dolphin-spotting cruises, evenings watching the stars on the outdoor cinema screen or, with its resident astronomer, from the Fushi Observatory.

Despite the Sonevas’ adult delights, children are not the least neglected: both Fushi and Kiri feature a tropical fairyland, a kids’ personal compound known as the Den. The dens offer music rooms, games rooms and dress-up rooms, pools and cinema.

The philosophy: to inspire children and create lifelong happy memories.

Focus Travel Editor Susie Boswell travelled to the Maldives via Singapore, courtesy of British Airways. She was hosted courtesy of the Sonevas: Soneva Jani, Soveva Fushi and Soneva in Aqua. Photos: Main, Soneva Jani, and waterslide – Stevie Mann; Sandbank picnic, Sandbank dinner, Yacht stateroom – Richard Waite; Open-air bath – Cat Vinton; Chocolatier – Antonina Gern; Chocolate display, Mr Friday butler – Susie Boswell.

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