In the past decade, the tiny island nation of the Maldives has become somewhat of a legend in the world of travel. The country, made up of 1,000 islands — many of them still uninhabited — boasts spectacular crystal clear waters, fringed by pristine beaches and blanketed in lush tropical greenery. Over 100 resorts occupy the islands, but few (if any) can match the experience of Soneva Jani.
Nestled in the uninhabited, lush Medhufaru island which sits within a large, private lagoon in the Noonu Atoll, this is out-of-earshot Maldives. One of the newest resorts in the country, it’s a scenic 45-minute seaplane ride from Malé, which itself is just a four-hour flight from Dubai, which has just resumed flights to the city. The seaplane (on board Soneva’s very own fleet) takes you to an exclusive private island — the perfect place to be stranded in your very own overwater villa with unobstructed views — just infinite shades of azure and green, which seemingly merge with dark corals and the whitest sand you’ve ever seen.
The resorts in the Maldives offer various degrees of luxury, from all-inclusive, family resorts to super-duper luxury. Soneva Jani, with just 24 overwater villas, is in a category of its own. Don’t be surprised when you arrive and everyone knows your name — this is, after all, a resort where you are assigned your very own personal host, a Mr. or Mrs. Friday.
The Mrs. Friday assigned to me, Leena, was an absolutely delightful island native who served triple duty as a concierge, chauffeur, and storyteller. Upon meeting her, she asked me to relinquish my shoes for the rest of my stay (the resort operates a ‘barefoot’ policy) and she handed me a cell phone with just one number to dial — hers — for “anything” I need.
The resort, which has been built predominantly overwater, looks like it’s been constructed on stilts. It’s an awe-inspiring feat of engineering. I stayed in a one-bedroom villa, complete with one of the resort’s signature slides that goes straight from the top floor into the sparkling lagoon.
The villa, beautifully outfitted with reclaimed, recycled, or upcycled materials, is a lesson in sustainable luxury. Every facet of the property has been considered with meticulous detail, and great attention has been paid to making sure that the resort operates in the most eco-friendly manner possible, with minimal disruption to the environment. Each villa has its own private pool, hanging catamarans, walk-in kitchen, (enormous) walk-in closet, and bicycles for every guest, as well as glass panels scattered throughout so you can watch the fish swim by under your feet. Another signature feature is the retractable roof, which offers fantastic opportunities for stargazing.
You’ll never want to leave your spacious villa, but you definitely should. There is so much to do and see here that the typical recommended four-night stay will go by quickly. First, there’s the connecting island, a 15-minute buggy ride that feels like you’ve been transported to a dense jungle of flora and fauna. Medhufaru island, the largest island at Soneva Jani, was home to a farm for ten years before Soneva Jani was launched. The extensive gardens on the isle still supply the fruits, vegetables, and herbs to the resort’s kitchens.
Tempting as it is to try and eat “clean” when you hear this, you’ll be seduced by the tantalizing menus on offer at the property. There’s “The Gathering”, a large, open-air, three-story structure with sunken chairs and overwater hammocks that houses the resort’s main restaurant. Here, you can have breakfast (which is likely the only time you’ll see other guests), lunch, and dinner, with options that range from handmade pizzas to Arabic grills and authentic Sri Lankan curries. You can also ask for anything not on the menu, and the chefs — many of whom have been tasked with only making cuisine from their own region — try their best to accommodate you. The Gathering, which operates as the heart of the resort, is the busiest and buzziest area on the property — it also houses the resort’s spa, library, fitness club, and infamous 24-hour ice cream room, with 30 different flavors of the good stuff (from traditional favorites like decadent Nutella to experimental options such as Wasabi).
Then, there are the more private dining experiences, including the Crab Shack (recently voted the world’s “most romantic” restaurant), a private sanctuary that serves up the freshest, most mouthwatering sea-to-table crabs from neighboring waters, and the Japanese restaurant, with a delectable four-course kaiseki menu and movie screenings showing in the overwater, open-air cinema. Though the atmosphere is relaxed at all the restaurants, the service is exceptional throughout, and the cuisine is consistently excellent and memorable.
For those who are more adventure-inclined, there are plenty of experiences to enjoy. The more relaxed types enjoy daily nature walks and bicycle rides along the island’s many gardens and trails, as well as a sunset dolphin cruise, which is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The more athletically inclined typically opt for tennis or the water activities, which range from scuba diving to stand-up paddleboarding, windsurfing, kite-surfing, diving, and private snorkeling. The intellectual types prefer the state-of-the-art James Bond-inspired observatory, with its 16-inch telescope that rises from the ground, to learn the secrets of cultural astronomy from the resort’s resident astronomer.
The resort is so large and the villas so private and so secluded that even when it’s at full occupancy, it feels blessedly quiet and empty. With the exception of breakfast, and perhaps some group experiences, it’s rare to meet other guests — but when you do, you can be assured they’ll be as smitten with the property as you.
The guests, who are as elegant yet laidback as the resort itself, are the type who become lifelong friends. Conversations here typically begin with a shared love for Soneva Jani and end with a promise to meet each other there again.
For more details or to book a stay at Soneva Jani, click here.