The story of Soneva is a love story. It was their love for the environment that led Sonu and Eva Shivdasani to create a collection of luxury resorts that surpassed imagination by sharing a truly authentic sustainable way of life. The respect is real. The concept is inspiring. The islands have individual personalities. Yet, each one has a familiarity that is more than just aesthetics. I am here to share with you the most recent addition to this highly desired experience; Soneva Jani.
I would like to say the day was sunny with blue skies and calm waters. But it was late May, and here in the Maldives, which meant some rain. Did this affect my excitement on the seaplane during the 40-minute journey to Noonu Atoll? Not even a little bit. We touch down on choppy waters and as I step out onto the platform, a tall slim gentleman approaches me with a warm smile on his face. Roman, my Mr Friday for the stay. He quickly helps me onto the speedboat, together with a couple more guests who are relieved to learn that it would only take a few more minutes to the island.
We dock at the jetty, and I am immediately handed a coconut as I step onto the arrival pavilion. Yes, please! I glance up as I sip on the coconut through a biodegradable straw, and could not help but smile. Talk about making a solid first impression! The structure resembles an architectural manoeuvre that one might see in a modern day art exhibit, with every inch of the pillars and the ceiling covered in thin pieces of recycled wood. Final product: Genius! Roman quickly helps me round together my belongings and we set out in a buggy. First stop, The Gathering.
The heart of Soneva Jani, The Gathering is a hub. We walk in and I am calmed by the ash colour palette running through all three floors, the giant swaying jellyfish art hanging from the ceiling that looked to be layered with recycled dried leaves, large sunken spaces that Soneva is known and loved for, catamaran net seating over the water, split level open plan spaces throughout the entire place: wooden chairs, glass stools, and cushioned daybeds that you can sink into after grabbing a book from the many shelves around the place. I can see why this is The Gathering. I could see a hint of sunshine through the rain as Roman gives me a tour of the floors. The decadent chocolate and ice cream room, a wine cellar with a selection of cheeses and cold cuts, a cute little boutique selling resort wear and jewellery, kids club, spa, gym and restaurant. After a quick lunch of Tandoori Chicken (I had to after one of the chefs showed me the tandoor oven), it is time to see the Water Retreat I would be staying in.
In typical Maldives fashion, the rain stops as we head out of The Gathering and make our way to the villa. I can finally see the clear lagoon that has been hailed as the largest in the Maldives, and the colour is an out of this world turquoise. The nearby deserted islands that make up the 5 island resort can also be spotted from a distance, and on the opposite end, the main island is visible. This is the moment I realised that Soneva Jani is the first resort in the Maldives where I did not arrive onto the main island! We make our way on the wide curved wooden pathways over the lagoon, past the castle like villas (some with water slides and four bedrooms!) and stop in front of my villa. Let me just say, I can easily survive in here for the whole stay.
Carrying the same ash colour palette from The Gathering, the villa opens up to a sunken living area with a glass bottom. Making his way through the tour, Roman shows me the kitchen space, with a wine cellar and a fridge that can very well feed a family. Moving through the kitchen, a door slides and we step into the master bedroom and an open air bathroom that is easily a Zen space. Roman was ready for me when I asked how to retract the roof above the bed, a moment I had been waiting for after seeing the Soneva video going viral on social media. He opens the bedside table, pressed a switch, and the roof opened up. In my mind, I already made plans for what I will be doing the next two nights.
If you think that is all, you are in for more. Roman then takes me upstairs to another bedroom and terrace area with cushioned seating and ocean views from my very balcony, at which point I am honestly having a hard time deciding where to sleep. Downstairs, he opens the floor-to-ceiling glass paned doors out onto the deck with the salt water swimming pool, more sunken spaces, catamaran nets and loungers. I spend a good few hours exploring the villa and yes, I can understand why one might choose to just stay in here for the whole stay.
The sun was out on full blast (trying to make up for the morning) and I head out on my tricycle to have a look around. Yes, a tricycle. Because Roman is a star, and I told him I had no idea how to ride a bicycle. I ride around the villas and head out to the main island. On the way, I stop by to have a look at the observatory, which the General Manager later tells me houses the Rolls Royce of telescopes. My ride was scenic, stopping to take a picture of a villa that I thought was more picturesque than the next until I stopped by the next. Nearer to the main island, sandbanks were forming with the low tide, creating a dreamy secluded vibe.
I make it to the main island, also home to a four-bedroom island reserve, and my destination; Cinema Paradiso. Located over the lagoon on an isolated corner of the island, this is a silent cinema where guests are provided with wireless earpieces so that the natural habitat is not disturbed.
The cinema complex also houses a restaurant, to be launched later this year offering a molecular gastronomical experience.
As I make my way across the winding pathways framed by the natural jungle, my mind wanders back to the concept of Soneva. Of barefoot intelligent luxury. Of living in harmony with nature. Of creating memories rooted in authentic experiences. More importantly, of doing sustainability and wellness right. Our wellbeing cannot be limited to a simple treatment or yoga session. It comes from a deeper place of comfort. Of knowing that the materials used to construct your holiday villa have been sourced naturally and ethically. Of knowing that the beautifully presented food on your table is farmed organically. Of reaching a place where you are able to pull together a completely holistic experience by holidaying guilt-free. Soneva has managed to create such an experience in a luxurious setting.
This September at the Hotelier Maldives Wellness Summit, a representative from the Soneva Group is expected to present a case study looking at the interconnecting factors of wellness and sustainability. For now, I leave you with this. A peek into Soneva Jani, the most recent chapter by Sonu and Eva, still continuing to redefine barefoot intelligent luxury.
Aminath Ishrath is a Contributing Editor specialising in wellness at Hotelier Maldives. She is also a freelance writer and content curator from the Maldives, with a passion for travel writing. With a Bachelor’s in International Tourism Management and a Master’s in Business Administration, Ishrath is keen to keep exploring the Maldivian travel and hospitality scene. Four things she is obsessed with; sunny days, quite beaches, lone hammocks and coconut palms! You can reach Ishrath on firstname.lastname@example.org.