Laveena had a short break for Holi ( the Indian festival of colour which ushers in springtime). An early morning flight to Colombo, on Sri Lankan Airlines, was followed by a long wait at the Bandaranaike International airport. From Colombo, we boarded a flight to Male, the densely populated capital of the Maldives, a stunningly beautiful island nation in the Indian Ocean. The hour long flight to Male was a pleasant one. Indian citizens receive their entry visas for the Maldives on arrival at immigration. We collected our luggage and were greeted at the airport by a Soneva Jani representative, who first checked us in for our sea plane ride to our resort island and then drove us to the Soneva Jani lounge where we waited for over an hour for our 40 minute long sea plane ride from the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport in Malé to Soneva Jani.
The sea plane ride to heavenly Soneva Jani, the most luxurious island resort in the Maldives, was nothing short of spectacular. The aerial views of the scattered islands with their pure gleaming white ivory sand beaches and blue lagoons were breathtaking. The islands looked like green and white pearls, strung together skilfully against the backdrop of the magnificent cerulean blue ocean. Over the din of the propellors, I could hear other passengers gushing in awe, as they seemed equally amazed at the stunning sights from their windows.
When we finally landed in the lagoon surrounding the lavish Soneva Jani and stepped out onto a floating wooden platform, we were greeted by our Man Friday, Adu, a young, soft spoken Maldivian man, who lead us to the speed boat which would take us to our resort. From where we stood, our first impressions were, the pictures on the internet, although magnificent, paled in comparison to the beauty that lay before us. The wooden overwater villas looked majestic on their private slice of crystal clear lagoon. From this distance we could see the water slides which promised to make the experience of living in this paradise all the more fun and memorable. Our boat ride to the main resort island was a short few minutes. We were welcomed by a host of smiling staff members, including the hotel GM Patrick and the hotel manager Abhijit. Adu walked us to our villa, number 14, one of 18 one bedroom water villas on the 150 acre island of Medhufaru. The island is surrounded by four other untouched islands within the lagoon. The resort also has four two-bedroom water villas, one three-bedroom and one four-bedroom water villa, as well as a four-bedroom island villa. Our villa was indeed very tastefully decorated and was of a lavish size at more than 410 square metres, making it the largest entry-level villa in the Indian Ocean. Another astonishing fact is that Medhufaru island is the largest tourist island in the Maldives. From our terrace, the 360 degree view of our huge lagoon was extraordinary and what made the breathtaking views even more amazing was the fact that in this massive space there are only 25 villas, making it one of the lowest density resorts in the world.
As Adu walked us around our home for the next four days we were wowed by the fact that our villa had it’s own 13m private pool on the outdoor deck. We had a small kitchenette which also doubled up as a walk-in mini bar. From our private deck we had uninterrupted views of the stunning lagoon which served as a more than solid reminder of one of God’s infinite miracles. While we were touring our villa, a sunken dining table caught my attention as it had a glass bottom base from which I could see the ocean floor and colourful reef fish swimming underneath it. This surreal experience was mirrored in our large bathroom which not only offered jaw dropping views of the Indian ocean but also direct access to an area of the ocean which was cordoned off and therefore was very private. There were two showers, one outdoor and the other indoor. Attached to the bath area was a room which also served as a walk in wardrobe and a dressing room. There was a small study overlooking the pool and the grand blue lagoon beyond. What we also loved about the villa was the fact that there was a music system with a blue tooth option and powerful speakers. The TV was cleverly hidden in a rather victorian looking leather luggage case, the top of which had to be lifted to access the TV. Thankfully, neither Laveena nor I are TV buffs and preferred to be seduced by the natural beauty rather than get drawn in by the news of the world. After all, a key policy of the Soneva group is ‘no News and No Shoes’. Adu encouraged us to abandon our footwear and enjoy the feel of the island sanctuary on our feet over the next few days. We couldn’t wait to embrace the beauty of the powder white sand beach blanketed by the lush greenery and the 5.6 kilometre expanse of the private blue lagoon which surrounded this tropical paradise.
We stepped out for lunch a short while after settling in. Lunch was served to us at ‘The Gathering’, the heart of the resort. The menu offered us a wide choice of global cuisine and did not disappoint. My steak cut tenderly to the knife and tasted delicious. Laveena feasted on some local fish and post our lunch we surrendered to the temptations of the chocolate room which had an array of delectable sweet treats ranging from colourful macrons to gold dusted almond rocks and the most divine dark mountain chunk of nothing but pure chocolate which one had to scrape off with a rotating knife. I must have helped myself to not less than 5 swirls of that sinful dessert which sits there enticing every guest that walks past the chilling wine cellar, part of which makes up the chocolate pantry.
Post lunch we returned to our room and without wasting a moment, we changed and carefully climbed down the wooden ladder from our private outer deck into the blue vastness of the majestic ocean. The magic and coolness of the crystal clear sea-water enveloped and transported us into a calm and peaceful Zen like state. As far as our eye could see, there wasn’t a single other human, a boat, a sea plane or even a bird that we saw through the half hour we spent, one with the sea. We did see fish though. Many colourful reef fish, swimming in-between us, oblivious of our presence and at total and complete peace with the world. We returned to our room and were pleased to have received an invitation to ‘So Starstuck’, the Observatory at Soneva Jani from Abhijit, the hotel manager. Before dinner, Adu was keen to take us to a part of the island from where he promised us a sunset which would forever be etched in our minds. Dressed for dinner but bare feet, Laveena and I sat at the back of the resort buggy and were driven to the sacred spot on the island from where we witnessed a grand theatrical performance like we hadn’t ever seen before. In just a few minutes, the colour of the sky changed from a mix of white blue, a little grey and yellow, to a bright orange. The bright orange transformed into a dark orange bordering on a fiery red. Against this magnificent canvas of colours, Adu wasted no time in clicking some stunning pictures of us, moments we truly will cherish forever.
The menu at ‘So Starstruck’, the first overwater observatory in the Maldives was appealing. Amuse Bouche (ceviche of yellow tail fish with organic herbs), Duo of Asparagus with sweet prawns, salmon caviar and pistachio vinaigrette, Lamb Shank with onion soubise, red wine sauce and herbs and for dessert, Blueberry Mousse Cake and chocolate ice cream. All of this paired with a delicious Chateau Mouton Rothschild. One would never have imagined that the culinary standards on an island resort could be compared to master crafted dishes served at the best decorated restaurants across the world. That is how delicious our meal was and the fine and charming company of Abhijit most certainly helped enhance the experience.
And what made this evening unique and eternally special, was the presence of Mike Dalley, the resorts very learned and entertaining resident astronomer, who invited us on a celestial journey to the world beyond. Mike shared with us secrets of the universe we knew little or nothing about and through a sophisticated telescope which rose up through the floor, he showed us planetary systems which hitherto, for us, were confined to the pages of school books and magazines. Enchanted, we sipped on our wine and gazed at the moonlit night sky and the stately constellation of bright and mysterious stars. Peering through the lens of the state of the art telescope, we saw the plough of saturn with its almost translucent and serene curves, we saw Jupiter and could count many moons of this bright planet. Mike motored the telescope in the direction of the moon. The bright light momentarily blinded me although he did warn us not to look at it for too long. The craters were clearly visible along the surface of the moon and our jaunt with the planets that evening came to a celebratory end as we toasted to an evening which was truly out of this world. It made me realise that astronomy is indeed a very humbling experience as the evening demonstrated the fact that our planet earth is a very tiny stage in the vast cosmic arena which makes up infinity.
Post dinner, our Man Friday drove us to ‘Cinema Paradiso’, the first overwater silent cinema in the Maldives. We were given bluetooth headphones and were told the purpose behind the silence was so as to not disturb the nestling turtles and other wildlife on the island. To complete the movie experience we were served popcorn. As we settled in convinced that life couldn’t possibly get any better, in walked Hollywood superstar Will Smith, who was also a guest at the resort. In stunned silence, we continued to watch our film but couldn’t resist greeting him as at that point in time, it was just us, Will and a couple of his close friends at ‘Cinema Paradiso’ and opportunities like this do not come very often. Will’s response to us though was beyond unexpected. He asked us to come over from our over-water net beds. We did so, oblivious of the ongoing film. He reached out to say hello, asked us our names, where we were from and said, “ don’t you guys just love this fabulous piece of Soneva Paradise?” To which Laveena answered, “we are indeed ‘hitch’ed”. Will laughed at her quick wit and said that we should take a selfie. He said he was real good at it and would use my phone to do it. The photos he took added to our growing list of unforgettable experiences at this tropical haven.
When we retired to our room that night, we couldn’t resist a midnight dip in the ocean. It was beyond therapeutic. And to finish off the night in true signature Soneva style, I reached out for the button on the side of my bed and activated the retractable roof which slid back to reveal the most breathtaking sight we had ever seen. The pure whiteness of the moon bathed our room with a light so natural and bright, it had our gaze transfixed on the pure and dazzling display, playing out before our very eyes in the heavens beyond.
The next morning we feasted on a healthy breakfast of fresh fruits and fruit juices seated by the ocean. Connected to ‘The Gathering’ is a sunken outdoor seating with glass bottom floors. The feeling from this vantage point right in the middle of the blue lagoon is hard to describe and needs to be experienced. As far as the eye can see, you are surrounded by the bluest of blue waters. In the distance, right in the middle of the lagoon, there is a hammock, sleep seduction at it’s peak. We were told that during low tide, one could walk to the hammock in knee deep water. The silence here is almost electric other than the sounds of our own voices of sheer amazement. Post breakfast we cycled back to our room (the resort offers cycles to all guests as an optional mode of transport) and immediately retired on our decks to read. With Starboy’s ‘I Feel It Coming’ playing on our powerful villa stereo we relaxed on our deck chairs and sat back, engrossed in our thrillers (mine was a James Patterson Alex Cross novel), in this perfect setting. Thirty minutes into our reading with periodical stares at the stunning views around us , Laveena said that we should dip into our private pool followed by a swim in the ocean. The break was welcome and instantly rejuvenating.
At noon we had bookings at the spa. While I opted for the 60 minute Abhyanga treatment (an ancient ayurvedic oil massage which promises to help decrease the effects of ageing), Laveena selected the more exotic intuitive therapy (where the therapists work closer with you in terms of your needs and wants). Surrounded by turquoise waters on all sides, the next sixty minutes were beyond precious in terms of the feeling of extreme relaxation and complete and total harmony that we both felt as we surrendered ourselves to the soft, supple and skilled hands of our fabulous therapists. While walking back to our villa, we couldn’t help but stop by the chocolate parlour yet again. Adu was waiting to greet us when we emerged from the decadent room of extreme indulgence. He asked us if we were open to dinner on a private beach. He said that we would be treated to local Maldivian specialities and sea food BBQ on a secluded island, a boat ride away from the resort.
That evening our boatman prompted us to jump off the boat and wade through ankle deep water, to Zuhair’s island. We learnt that Zuhair was a talented Chef who would cook the catch of the day using delicious Maldivian spices. We were introduced to Zuhair who was hard at work preparing what he promised would be a spectacular dining experience. We were seated by the edge of the water on wooden deck chairs, our table romantically decorated with lanterns and flowers. When he was ready to serve, Zuhair asked us to walk up to the delicious spread he had laid out and he described how he had prepared the menu. The humility of the man does not do justice to his immense culinary skills. The food was delicious and after we were done, we decided to walk on the deserted beach, the sand cold to touch at this time of the night.
Our last day was spent by our private pool. Lazying on our deck and swimming in the ocean. We had a sunset dolphin cruise planned for the evening and we were excited to end our tropical holiday interacting with these playful and friendly mammals. As soon as the boat headed out toward the edge of the lagoon, our Man Friday Adu served us champagne and offered us some dimsums. He said it would be a few minutes before the boat got to the spot where the dolphins were. We did spend some time looking for the dolphins but when they finally did appear, we saw scores of them racing alongside the boat, gleefully leaping out of the water in near precise acrobatic formation and diving gracefully back before darting forward once again. All of this made for a delightful display of nature at its best and further enhanced our most enjoyable holiday experience at Soneva Jani.
Our incredibly beautiful and totally unique holiday at Soneva Jani, is one we will never forget. The high standards of service, the warm and friendly staff, the luxury of our villas, the tastefully designed eco friendly restaurant, the many over water experiences including kayaking, sailing and of course swimming and the spectacular world which lies below the water, something the Maldives is so very famous for, is all perfectly packaged at the Soneva Jani, a high end resort hotel which every reader must attempt to visit at least once in his or her lifetime. It is possibly the only property we have visited where we give it 10 mango stars which both Laveena and I feel is very richly deserved. We cannot wait to return.