Luxury Explorer Review

5-Star Hotel Review

Soneva Fushi


The original desert island hideaway

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Soneva Fushi


Kunfunadhoo Island, Baa Atoll, Maldives

Travel Information

International flights land at Malé's Ibrahim Nasir International Airport where Soneva have a private lounge - a 30 minute seaplane flight then takes you to Soneva Fushi

Top Tips

Don't miss dinner in a private dining nook on the sandy beach

5-Star X-Factors

Laid back luxury on one of the largest islands in the Maldives

Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi is an excellent choice for the traveller seeking ‘intelligent luxury'. Here, they ignite rejuvenation through a ‘no news no shoes’ policy and inspire you with their absolute dedication to environmental and social sustainability. 

Soneva's SLOW slogan does not only suggest reducing pace it also stands for: Sustainable, Local, Organic and Wellness. They deliver on all four without compromise. Having a genuine commitment to ecotourism means that you, the guest, feel more connected to your environment and, as a result, you feel more relaxed, even validated.

It feels like an island

Unlike many Maldivian resorts, Soneva Fushi’s residences and public spaces are not overwater, they are nestled castaway-style in foliage along the beachfront. Being barely above sea level, it feels flush with the surface of the Indian Ocean. The islands run north-south across the equator in an archipelago of 26 atolls. Soneva Fushi is 60 nautical miles northwest of Malé, in Baa Atoll – a UNESCO’s marine conservation heritage site. It is home to Kunfunadhoo Island which is, for the Maldives, considered large at 1,400 metres long and almost 400 metres wide.

No News No Shoes

After an easy exit from the International Airport you are whisked away to their cool and inviting lounge at the floating jetty. An iced flannel, scented with lemongrass, and a freshly chilled watermelon and pineapple shake is brought over, along with a check-in form. The fragrant notes and signature hues of Soneva start here. They refer to this first base affectionately as ‘Soneva Fushi International Airport’. For those fearful of flying, or small aircraft, the seaplane’s track record is outstanding and the vision below is transporting: an ultramarine ocean, dotted with tropical islands of various shapes and sizes, all surrounded by intense shades of blue: cyan, powder, azure, sapphire, turquoise, aqua… Flying from Malé to Soneva Fushi provides a breathtaking aerial view of the resplendent topography.

Around 45 minutes later, we landed smoothly on the cerulean water and stepped aboard the island’s snazzy speedboat. Before you can utter ‘wow’ your shoes are taken from your feet and placed in a recycled cloth bag with the slogan ‘no news no shoes’. With our naked feet poised towards the spray of the wake, we skimmed across to the first of four Maldivian adventures, where we were to stay for the next five days. Pulling into the transparent cyanic waters is riveting and the uplifting smiles from the line of welcoming staff, dressed in easy white linen, holding trays of homespun refreshments, works a treat. Our inexperienced soles soon felt the impact of the sun’s midday fervour on the wooden planks. Our Mr Friday, finding this initiation both familiar and amusing, quickly cooled our burning feet with ladles of water, before driving us to our residence in an open-sided buggy.

Transport here, aside from occasional buggy rides, is your ‘vintage’ bicycle, with padded pedals and high handle bars, ideal for gliding along the island’s soft, flat, (no gradients at all) sandy pathways beneath the dappled light of the richly established canopy of tropical forest.

Then the choice of accommodation

There are 65 wondrously secluded villas, nestled within palm and foliage private settings, with direct access onto the silky white beach. Whichever type of accommodation you choose, the chic and authentic castaway luxury is a natural elixir. The residences vary in size and price, from a one bedroom Crusoe Villa, to a nine bedroom Private Reserve. They are all authentic in feel, stylish without fuss, with touches of vibrant greens and tangerine adding an exotic edge to the earthy tones of the biotic (wood, rattan, bamboo, un-dyed cottons, hemp and so on), along with stone and native materials used in the furniture and fixed structures. The large private residences, facing the prime snorkeling reef, are perfect for one or more families, or a group of friends. Even though they don’t miss a luxury trick – from a slide into the sea-facing pool, to the gym or sauna, they manage to make it feel like the ultimate Maldivian hideaway by seamlessly incorporating the high-end luxuries within an all-open-to-the-elements build.

We were offered the choice between a recently renovated Crusoe Villa Suite with pool on the sunset side, or a smaller but perfectly positioned Crusoe Villa with a sunrise view.

The Villa Suite offered a private salt water pool and more space with soaring ceilings, a large open-plan sitting room with a fitted seating area upholstered in their signature apple green, with a raised coconut-wood four-poster, a sumptuous viewing deck on an upper level, as well as a few snazzy extras such as an orange SMEG fridge and walk-in closets. The open-air bathroom was, as with all the villas and residences, a verdant Zen-zone; with stepping stones over water features to showers, reclining green daybeds, twin beaten-silver vanities, ceiling fans, an enormous stone bath, along with a transporting soundtrack of trickling water and equatorial birdlife.

A simple thatch dwelling provided the essence of barefoot luxury

However, our chosen home for the next four days was more humble in stature, but with the same island decor and romantic charm.The trump card for us was an absolutely perfect setting. So we settled in quickly to our Crusoe Villa number 35 facing sunrise with uninterrupted views from our daybeds (both sunrise and sunset put on spectacular performances in the tropics). The bathroom was as special as the larger villa we declined, and the secluded sandy enclave between the villa and the sea had a swaying string hammock beneath soaring palms. About 20 steps from the terrace were two plump, white-cushioned, wooden daybeds nestled between a privacy-screen of foliage. From here it’s perhaps five more steps on the butter-soft sand before the laps of limpid water caress your liberated toes.

Our Mr Friday and the serene service overall

When you arrive you are assigned a Mr or Ms Friday or, in other hotel’s terms, a personal butler. The name given to your assistant, along with many other aspects of Soneva Fushi, was inspired from the character and island life described in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe; a book worth reading (again) before visiting Soneva Fushi. We had the great fortune of having Adu as our Mr Friday, who was outstanding, as I hear they all are. This is an exceptional service, and a great aid to your wellbeing and unfettered relaxation. He was accommodating and gracious, with a remarkable response time. This warm, easy and flexible manner was apparent in all areas of service on the island, and, it is without doubt, a serious consideration when narrowing down your choices of Maldivian resort.

The ‘intelligent’ appeal (aside from the breathtaking setting)

Soneva Fushi’s Eco Centro is a waste reduction programme designed to divert as much waste from landfill as possible and recycle on site. Without going into the technical details, this happens within secluded areas of the island, but guests are welcome to visit them and find out how their target is to create wealth from waste and reduce all landfill. There is however, one area that is a glistening attraction and very much on view, the Glass Studio. Glass that is normally wasted or landfilled is collected by Soneva Fushi from the resort and surrounding islands and literally ‘up-cycled’. The collated glass is crushed, and melted in their high-end furnace, a hothouse of creativity. By using the techniques of blowing, slumping, or casting, they create designs of greater value than the original. Their signature pieces are beautiful and on sale, and are constantly on show in the various dining venues. What’s more, you can learn this age-old skill with a master class from a real pro’ and return home with your bespoke glassware.

The Island’s interior

Of all the luxury 5-star resorts we visited in the Maldives, Soneva Fushi felt the most like a real tropical island, with its lush and established vegetation fringing the beaches and shading the interior. The plethora of foliage on Kunfunadhoo Island has aged over many years, and has been kept as natural and indigenous as possible. Around the beaches and soft sand ‘gardens’ of the residences there are plenty of sedges and grasses, as well as lofty shade-baring palms, while the interior feels like a thriving tropical forest.

The trees are spectacular; the iconic and jungle-like banyan trees are mesmerising and, in some cases gigantic, while the tall evergreens; such as the breadfruit tree, the horsetail she-oak along with the towering old pines; create a sense of forest. The heady scent of the frangipani temple clings to the maritime air as you cycle the flawless paths, while for certain months of the year the scent of beach gardenia perfumes the bathing shallows. The smells here are so fragrant, pure, fresh, and soft, I really wanted to bottle them.

With such diverse and developed vegetation there are surprisingly few animal species, unlike its spectacular abundance of marine life. However, a couple of species did stand out, especially the Indian flying fox, or fruit bat, which is the largest in the world and unlike their cousins they are active during the day and night. They love the banyan and almond trees but we watched them chatting way up in the palms above our hammock and they were always a treat to spot in flight with their exotic batman-like wingspan. There are wild rabbits, brown and white, that bred from a single female pet in the 90’s (assuming she wasn’t single before she arrived). Then there are all the birds, some with alarm calls, others with a ruak ruak shrill sound and grey Herons abound, all of which add to the allure of this soulful isle. Lizards scuttle across the sandy paths, darting away from your bicycle tire in the nick of time, geckos can be spotted ascending walls. But nothing here feels vaguely threatening above and below your feet.

Dining in and around the island

You are spoilt for choice dining at Soneva Fushi, in both variety and location. There are several highly skilled chefs from around the world, as well as the Maldives, and the attention to flavour diversity and first class service topped anywhere else we stayed. They have also kept a keen eye on their well-stocked cellar with a very impressive range of old and new world wines, with some seeming quite reasonably priced.

The vegetable garden in the interior is thriving with organic produce and is kept in spectacular condition. The organic garden, which started as a banana grove, is throbbing with laden fruit trees, such as guava, mango, avocado, fig, lemon, lime and more besides. It’s here, above the banana grove, that the treetop restaurant, ‘fresh in the garden’, is magically located, accessed via an Indiana Jones-style rope bridge crossed ‘one at a time’. The talented head chef Erin, along with his dedicated sous chefs, creates excellent nouvelle cuisine dishes using local Maldivian ingredients. After feasting on the sweetest prawns, perfectly prepared scallops, and homespun vegetables and salads, accompanied by some excellent wines, we swayed up to the domed observatory with its very serious telescope. The sky was clear, the moon almost full, and if a man were on it, this telescope would have spotted him.

There is also a mushroom hut, as well as a second herb garden that cooks and serves lunches on site; authentic vegetarian Sri Lankan cuisine served on wooden tables, shaded by trees. But of course, there is dining on the beach, on the sandbank, and, each day offers a different dining experience, from a beach barbeque to a Japanese tasting menu. Sushi is freshly made each day and can be enjoyed at every meal. The breakfast buffet is a glistening banquet of freshly prepared hot and cold delights, and I think very few opt to take this meal in their villa when they can enjoy such a splendid and bountiful selection.

The world beneath the blue

I found the most incredible snorkeling was best experienced right from our Villa 35, where you reach the reef in about five to ten minutes, depending on your flipper speed. We also snorkeled from the sexy barabaar that faces sunset where we saw both turtles and rays.

It’s best to get a chart or book and learn the names of all the reef fish, as you will be surprised by how many you tick off during your stay; and it really is the most exquisite experience. It’s still teeming along the reefs here, even though the coral is very tragically bleached from the warming of the waters. It’s good to be aware of this, as the expectation of seeing plumes of orange, or pink or red coral, is still in some visitor’s expectations but it is sadly a fact that this has fundamentally changed, not just in the Maldives, but elsewhere too, including the Great Barrier Reef. That said, bleached coral is still alive and it is important to treat it with great care and even though it has lost much of its vibrant colour, the fish are as glorious as ever. This natural aquarium, an enthralling delight for all ages, is always a few minutes from your door. There is a diving centre, a resident marine biologist and many options to create your own sea adventures.

It’s a great family island too

The ‘den’ (a genuine understatement for a child’s idea of playtime paradise), is discreetly tucked away with fabulous staff on hand all day. I saw parents looking chilled and then surprised as their little ones chose to stay in their den of contentment rather than return on time. It’s also a perfect place to introduce young ones to snorkeling and the wonders of tropical marine life.

The Dolphin Cruise that exceeded all expectation

On our last night we alighted the island’s luxury cruiser beside the super-groovy barabaar cocktail bar for a sunset journey to watch the dolphins. Around fifteen minutes in, after being served our chilled prosecco and excellent canapé on the upper deck, the engine was suddenly cut. An expectant silence consumed the boat, which rocked ever so slightly on the slow rolls of inky gold-top textured water. The sun had not yet set, but the sky above the ocean was preparing for the occasion in an almost otherworld fashion. The full moon was rising on the one side, while the sun was setting on the other, creating a vision of how I would imagine heaven: Botticelli-blue and soft pinky-white clouds on the moon-set side, and a super-sized amber sun, slipping slowly down to dusk, sending blinding star bursts across the water’s surface, on the other. The quietude was truly tangible.

Within a couple of minutes the first of around fifty pilot whales rose up to greet us, spouting a powerful plume of air, his seal-smooth skin glistening gold in the late evening sun. As he dived back down into the impossibly calm lapis lazuli folds, another one appeared, then another, then pairs, young ones, one with a tuna clenched between his jaws swam beneath us… and so it continued for around 45-soul-captivating minutes. There were only a few of us on this fortunate cruise, and only one member of the staff team had ever witnessed such an event. It was one of the most beautiful hours of my life and one that will be remembered for countless more. I believe it’s talked about daily and I suspect each day brings fresh expectation as the boat leaves for its evening adventure. Luckily I captured much of it on my camera. Pilot whales are a rare occurrence, but sighting dolphins is much more frequent and that is fabulous too. However, who knows; maybe this Soneva magic may just happen to you too…

Sophie Marchant
Sophie Marchant

Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer