Luxury Explorer Review

Luxury Explorer review

Soneva Jani

Maldives

Sublime private paradise

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Soneva Jani

Location

Medhufaru, located in the Maldives’ Noonu Atoll

Travel Information

35 minutes by seaplane from Soneva's private terminal at Malé International Airport and one hour by speedboat from Soneva Fushi

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Be one of the first to stay at Soneva Jani, by booking through Luxury Explorer

X-Factors

Soneva Jani is simply the most stunning and totally private over-water resort in the Maldives

Fantasy in blue

The Maldives may be awash with luxury resorts, but not all get it right. Soneva Jani has now reinvented the notion of island luxury, while being mindful of its absolute commitment to sustainability.

“Pinch me”. Those were the first words I whispered as we glided into the bluest isle of them all, Soneva Jani. We, LE contributor Jennifer and me, were picked up by the resort’s speedboat from Soneva Fushi, perhaps the most loved, barefoot-and-unwind resort in the Maldives. Soneva is renowned for its commitment to ecotourism and ‘intelligent luxury’ and, with the world now blissfully disconnected, we sped across the indigo ocean to experience their latest aqua gem.

After an easy one-hour boat journey, we arrived on the island of Medhufaru, in the Maldives’ Noonu Atoll. If you fly here directly from Malé, it’s a 35-minute seaplane journey. Anticipation was running high. Soneva Jani has only been open a few months and has already won a string of prestigious awards from ‘best resort in the Indian Ocean’, to ‘best sustainable resort’, with accolades like ‘the hottest’ and ‘most inspirational’ and so on. I was particularly keen to see how exceptional authenticity combines with extraordinary high-end pleasures, without cheating Soneva’s eco credentials? How do you create a world-class destination that redefines ‘luxury escape’?

The lingering lagoon setting

It’s nigh-on impossible to describe the impact of being surrounded by such an intensely mesmerising blue in such an exclusive setting, and it is impossible not to be spellbound. Blue comes in so many different shades, but the actual colour of this lagoon’s water is a glassy iridescent blue-turquoise that changes in intensity throughout the day, providing an omnipresent allure. This strain of aqua strokes the entire Maldivian canvas in the shallows of every atoll’s islands, but there is nowhere else that proffers from such a supreme surplus of this tint that, according to tradition and even to scientists, is calming and healing.

The snowy white and powder-soft beach on the deserted north island is ideal for sunbathing, swimming and snorkeling. It’s in easy reach on your bike or on-foot from Soneva Jani’s overwater villas and offers all day service, from fruit shakes to champagne to grilled prawns, although I suspect it takes a couple of days for many to venture out this far from their private universe.

The one-bedroom villa, facing sunset

Soneva Jani is described as ‘understated luxury’. However, having experienced real luxury redefined as a ‘castaway’ experience at Soneva Fushi, then Robinson Crusoe would have thought he’d gone to heaven at Jani, albeit a futuristic one. We were shown to our villa by our tall, slim and tanned Mr Friday; Roman. We were lost for words, a response that comes from joy mixed with amazement. Blissfully overwhelmed, Jen welled up with emotion and I was searching my vocabulary for something more than a gasp. He seemed familiar with this reaction and was fully aware that any quizzing would come after he had gone.

So questions like ‘how do I open the retractable roof above the bed for star gazing?’ Or, ‘how do I turn on the water for the private water slide, so I can slide into the sea?’ Or ‘did I just see Morgan Freeman walking on water in a white linen suit?’ are easy to work out for yourself. For the first there is a simple switch beside your bed; for the second a button beside your slide; and, for the third, it takes several blinks of your eyelids.

We stayed in a one-bedroom water villa with a private saltwater pool, sunken into an outdoor wooden deck; with loungers, daybeds, a dining area with umbrellas, all in pristine white, plus a slide from the upper deck that whooshed us into the sea lagoon reconnecting us to our inner-child. The master bedroom, with its gorgeous satin-soft white sheets that preen an enormous bed, had a retractable roof for staring up into the azure sky or starry night. There is a subtle surround sound system coming out of ‘somewhere’ and a glorious open-air bathroom off the master suite, secluded by a wooden surround with sufficient space to swim in and out of. The bathroom and deck area access the sea via wooden ladders. These villas are not only world-class, they are also vast, by any standard of luxury hotel.

The exotic island-style touches have a real Bond-like quality about them, not in terms of flash but in sheer exclusivity. However, it’s both comforting and impressive that the sustainable philosophy, spearheaded and upheld by Sonny and Eva, is absolutely paramount here where they have worked with the highest possible quality of sustainable materials. So this is where intelligent luxury is more spacious, costs more but also feels more exceptional.

The light interiors of renewable plantation wood, bamboo flooring, rattan furniture, sunken seating areas and subtle lighting, are a serene, calm and subtle complement to nature’s unparalleled exhibitionism. There is a scant Scandinavian feel from the sandblasted pine and palette of creamy ash-dove, with just a few splashes of pale and deep violet. There are also glass floors revealing the exposing seabed, rudder like fans overhead, and floor-to-ceiling glass doors that concertina from one side of the deck to the other. This tranquil blend of interior serenity opening up with nature’s wonder creates a quixotically nautical sensation like that of dreamboat.

There is small glass-encased kitchen for cooling down (it’s kept at a wonderfully chilled temperature) and stocks a fine selection of champagne, wine, spirits, and fancy deli nibbles. You could reduce your wealth quite substantially in this chill-zone but the choice to succumb, of course, is yours. Besides, your ‘welcome’ bottle of chilled vintage Piper Heidsieck kicks-off the hedonism at no extra cost. With three dining areas to choose from, depending on the time of day, it’s easy to see why some couples and honeymooners are villa bound for a day or two.

The fairytale design

Raised on stilts within the stupendous 5.6 sq km lagoon are twenty-four overwater villas built in pale, bleached wood from sustainable tree plantations with pitched light grey slate roofs, turrets, ladders, and rounded privacy screens situated either side of a winding wooden walkway, which is wide enough for golf buggies, perfect for bikes and walking, heat withstanding. There is one fabulous private villa secluded within the jungle thicket of the adjoining island, with several new ones yet to come. This island was previously a mango and banana farm so the mangled mangrove vegetation, inhabited by plate-sized crabs, pulses with an intense equatorial throb, quite different from the forested interior of Soneva Fushi. Looking back down the winding wooden path, the overwater structure appears like something out of a fairytale, while staying in one is fantastical. What’s more, this was all built on sand without any destruction to coral or reef.

Venturing beyond your watervilla

The overwater silent cinema, Cinema Paradiso, is accessed via large wooden circles spaced across the water. Viewers are provided with Bluetooth earpieces to avoid upsetting the creatures on land and sea, especially the turtles.

There is also a central hub, the heart to the resort. This soaring open plan design raised above the lagoon over three floors is known as The Gathering. It’s an easy stroll from the villas, located at the end of the windy walkway’s entrance, a few steps beyond the observatory.

The Gathering houses an extraordinary combination of facilities, all connected by glass walkways. These include a decadent chocolate and ice cream parlour, ‘So Cool’, to dip into at anytime and a sushi and sashimi shelf located in the spectacular wine cellar, along with a selection of cheeses. Soneva is renowned for its highly knowledgeable sommeliers and stacks its six-metre glass tower with impressive labels. Fifty percent of these are organic and biodynamic while the other fifty are a carefully selected combination of extraordinary premier and grand crus and modern classics. As with Soneva Fushi, we discovered delicious white burgundy at acceptable prices.

There is also a charming boutique selling local designs, beach-ware, jewellery, some beautiful Sri Lankan throws and small gifts; a crèche or kid’s club, a fantastic spa with top therapists offering treatments from Bali to the Himalayas in suites of pale wood with white beds and top-floor views across the sea, as well as a large fully equipped gym with super slick state-of-the-art machinery.

The Gathering also houses various dining venues including ‘So Fresh’, which offers spreads for every meal, along with live cooking stations and even a wood burning pizza oven. There is a vast selection of cooked and uncooked cuisine styles on offer, and you can also discuss a bespoke option with the chef. There are tasting rooms for private occasions, a chef’s table for five, and The Gathering Bar, which can be enjoyed all day on daybeds or overwater catamaran net beds. From the bar you can enjoy drinks and light snacks while watching the sea life swim beneath you.

The lagoon itself is not teeming with fish but we did see them regularly, including several puffer fish and even a ray. For good snorkeling you can go out on a boat to a nearby reef, or snorkel from the beach. For divers, the Soleni Dive Centre with multi-lingual PADI instructors will organise dives to sites rich in marine life.

Once upon a time… in a blue moon…

After complimentary sunset drinks and barbequed prawns on a small embankment of pearlescent sand, beside the curvy walkway where it meets the island, we strolled back to our villa before heading to The Gathering for dinner. From the drinks party you could see both the moon rising on the one side and the sun setting on the other. Clutching our pineapple bellinis we watched west flash streaks of dark violet and deep orange, while east appeared so peaceful in dusky twilight blue with a large rising full moon. Back on our deck we raised a glass of rosé to the deep pink horizon; and they were almost identical in colour.

The morning after was perhaps the most enchanting vision of all. The almost still sea was indiscernible from the pale dawn sky, aside from a cluster of cotton candy cumulus in snowy white with a soft rose pink surround. We gazed in pure amazement as we sipped our coffee and picked at a fan of sliced mango. Somewhere in the dreamlike distance a speedboat appeared, heading towards the jetty, it broke the silence but not the spell. It was a heartfelt reminder that our time in this aqua dream was nearly up.

I left with a true understanding of how Soneva had achieved its outstanding and exquisitely unique reputation for luxury without compromising sustainability. I saw it as an understated approach to exclusivity that fires up a visceral response by taking barefoot luxury, along with Crusoe-inspired castaway fantasies, to another level. Having conceived this idiosyncratic, yet utterly divine 5-star resort within the context of their intelligent and appealing commitment to ecotourism, Soneva has conjured something magical in a dream setting.

Sophie Marchant
Sophie Marchant


Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer