Story by Karla Cripps, video by Channon Hodge,
This is a resort for execs who prefer to ditch the suit and tie or the high heels — in fact you’re asked to kick off your shoes and put them in a bag as soon as you land, as part of the resort’s “no news, no shoes” motto.
“The philosophy of the Soneva brand is about slow life, it’s about intelligent luxury,” says Soneva Jani resort manager Fathimath Shaazleen.
“When the guests arrive on the island we want to make them feel relaxed.”
Soneva Jani’s typical guest?
“I would say that the travelers who come to Soneva are well traveled, they are concerned about the environment and the footprint they will be making,” says Shaazleen. “At the same time, they will be looking to have a great experience.”
Mr. and Mrs. Friday
Another highlight of Soneva is getting to know your personal host, Mr. — or Mrs. — Friday.
During a recent visit, our “Mr. Friday ” was the indefatigable Laamey, a born and bred Maldivian.
He pulled quadruple duty as concierge, raconteur, chauffeur and naturist, explaining the flora and fauna with great enthusiasm as he took us on a resort tour in a golf buggy, later joining us on a private sunset boat tour in search of dolphins (we saw several bottle-nosed beauties jumping in front of the boat).
The Mr. Friday idea was hatched at the Soneva brand’s other Maldives resort, Soneva Fushi, which opened in 1995.
“The whole concept of Soneva Fushi, the experience, was based on Robinson Crusoe. And that’s how the concept of Mr. and Mrs. Friday came in,” says Shaazleen, who has worked at all three of the brand’s resorts.
“We wanted to have someone guide the guests through their experiences while they are staying at any of the Soneva properties. That person is not a typical butler, but someone who’s more like a host.”
Due to the small number of villas, the resort feels blessedly empty and quiet — with the exception of breakfast hours, when many guests pedal their Soneva-issued bikes down the boardwalk to “The Gathering” for their first meal of the day.
Tempting as it is to stay poolside in your villa with a book, there’s a top-class water sports center offering complimentary kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, windsurfing, kite-surfing and catamarans.
Boats can be booked for private or group snorkeling and diving excursions.
Among the must-try culinary options is a private beach dining experience, available for any meal.
When hunger pangs hit outside of meal times, there’s complimentary ice cream, chocolate and cheese in “The Gathering.”
Astronomy buffs can go stargazing at the onsite observatory but for stars of a different sort there’s Cinema Paradiso, the resort’s over-water theater.
During our visit they were screening “Scent of a Woman.” Guests curled up in amongst pillows and blankets on the “catamaran nets”– all wearing Bluetooth headphones.
Why the headsets? Turns out the echoes of Al Pacino yelling “Whoo-ah” across the lagoon might spook the area’s nesting birds.
Indeed, Soneva Jani doesn’t just pay lip service to issues of sustainability and the environment.
The resort itself was built with all sustainable material. Most of the menu items are organic, and all waste is sent to the resort’s eco-center for processing.
Soneva Jani also produces its own water, which is served in glass bottles to cut down on plastic.
“It’s not just waste management, we call it the waste wealth,” says Shaazleen. “So we make sure that it’s all reused, whatever small thing it is.”