With its ultra-luxurious water retreats and fine dining over lapis lazuli waters, the Maldives’ Soneva Jani Chapter Two makes for a stunning escape.
The Maldives are known for resorts and private islands, but it turns out not all private islands are made equal. Soneva Jani is an experience that, tasked with description, would have the weightiest of thesauruses quietly making its excuses and shuffling backwards out of the room. That said, ‘opulent,’ ‘lapis lazuli,’ ‘whimsical’ and ‘out of this world’ offer a taste of the vibe – imagine Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous on an island boasting an average temperature of 28°C during the day and a balmy 23°C at night.
As soon as you step off the Soneva seaplane that whisks you from Velana International Airport to Soneva Jani Airport, you’re greeted by your barefoot butler, with a boat that takes you directly to your villa. From that moment on, your butler will be on hand to arrange everything you need to have an unforgettable stay – a tour of the island as an introduction to Soneva’s Slow Life philosophy is a great start. For all guests’ peace of mind, upon arrival to your villa you will be given a PCR test for Covid-19 and quarantined until the resort receives your results.
Recently launched, the Water Reserves are filled with 27, one- to four-bedroom over-water villas providing space, privacy and seclusion. With ultra-privacy, each villa is raised over crystal-clear ocean and includes Soneva Unlimited benefits. These include unlimited fine dining from guest chefs, all of whom hail from Michelin-starred restaurants, and access to complimentary ice cream, chocolate and a deli room, day or night.
In line with its sustainability ethos, the fine-dining restaurant Overseas by Mathias Dahlgren serves small plates of locally grown and caught ingredients. With a lifelong fascination with the way food connects family and the land, Dahlgren’s native Sweden is home to his eponymous two-Michelin-starred restaurant in the Stockholm Grand Hôtel. With Overseas, he chose to celebrate the seafood of the Indian Ocean and produce from Soneva Jani’s organic garden. Main courses include fried shrimp with spicy glass noodle salad and peanuts or hot and sour tofu with grilled bok choy. With its overwater alfresco restaurant and kitchen, Overseas offers a lunch or dinner experience you’ll be eager to repeat.
In a tranquil bay on the south side of the island, you’ll find Cinema Paradiso, the largest overwater cinema in the world. There you can take in a timeless movie as you dine on the creations of visiting chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants.
Being virtuous has never been so tantalising, with Wild by Diana Von Cranach offering a plant-based menu of innovative raw foods. Her dishes are rooted in her research of forgotten traditional recipes from Indonesia’s spice islands and Southeast Asia and include healing herbs and botanics. So Primitive is another key dinner spot on the island, just opened with a fire pit and timeless cooking techniques from grilling, searing, cooking in kettle clay pots. The lamb and rainbow trout are some of its finest carnivorous offerings, and to overlook the grilled banana with vanilla ice cream would be inexcusable.
All of those treats can be earned by taking advantage of the well-appointed gym and tennis court, and a new Soneva Wellness Centre opens in April, with a dedicated ayurvedic centre, cross-functional fitness suite, treatment rooms, and an open-air yoga pavilion. For family fun, take a boat for some guided snorkelling and enjoy some of the world’s most beautiful reefs. There’s no shortage of ways to make the most of the ocean setting, with kayaking, paddle-boarding, windsurfing, kite-surfing and catamaran sailing all at your fingertips. Even a sunset dolphin cruise in a dhoni (traditional Maldivian boat) is an experience that Soneva has managed to elevate with the addition of canapés and various beverages.
If you’ve not quite slowed down to the pace of island life just yet, help is literally at hand in the form of unlimited treatments and massages from Soneva Spa’s wellness practitioners. The 30-minute foot reflexology or neck and shoulder massage treatments come highly recommended. Soneva has the reputation as being one of the top ultra-luxury resorts in the Maldives. The family of resorts began with Soneva Fushi, built on the island of Kunfunadhoo by husband and wife Sonu and Eva Shivdasani – ‘Soneva’ is a combination of their names. A model in the 1970s and ’80s, Eva appeared on Elle and Vogue covers. She also had her own fashion brand, L’EVA. To Soneva, CEO and founder Sonu brings management expertise while Eva brings the style and design concepts. “When we first launched Soneva Fushi in 1995, we redefined tourism in the Maldives with our unique vision that pioneered the concept of sustainable luxury,” says Sonu. “After 25 years at the forefront of the global luxury tourism sector and as a bucket-list destination in the Maldives, we are always striving to evolve with our guests’ ever-changing needs,” he notes.
All Soneva resorts use natural and sustainable building materials; plastic is not found anywhere on the properties and food is grown or caught locally to reduce its carbon footprint and support the local economy. Your villa will be a whitewashed water retreat, designed in creams and whites at the direction of Eva. One of the refreshing things about each villa is its deck with a private freshwater pool, curved waterslide for kids (or adults) that descends into the lagoon, and a sunken dining area with surrounding daybeds, a swing, and catamaran nets over the ocean. The two-bedroom villas have a master bedroom on the ground floor and the second bedroom on the first floor, and each has a spacious ensuite bathroom and dressing room. The roof over the master bedroom retracts to reveal blue skies by day and a canopy of stars by night. A living room, dining room, study, pantry, guest bathroom, and large daybed are located on the ground floor, which is your access point to the lagoon and outdoor bathroom that includes a shower and sunken bathtub.
As a private island resort, Soneva Jani has always epitomised escape and tranquillity, but in this particular moment of history ‘paradise’ might be more the word you’re looking for. Book your adventure to Soneva Jani Chapter Two at Soneva.com/soneva-jani-chapter-two
- Words by Allyson Portee