‘No news, no shoes’: that’s the only rule at Soneva Jani in the Maldives, though you could add ‘no blues’ (of the emotional kind) to the formula, too. Actual blues abound, from sky to sea, in every conceivable hue and semi-hue of enticing aqua. Sibling to Soneva Fushi, Soneva Jani does the family proud: its considerable lures include an overwater cinema, star-gazing observatory, meditative labyrinth (uh huh), va-va-voom villas and the signature Soneva crowd-pleasers, including a lush, hushed spa, brilliant staff and So Cool ice-cream, cheese and chocolate rooms. This is the Maldives at its most magical.
There are simply no duds in this bunch: every single one of these palatial overwater villas is fit for Neptune and his gang. Follow this simple rule: opt for a room with a water slide or add one on. I promise you, flipper on heart, that it’s more than worth the additional US$200 daily supplement. Bombs away!
Related: More posts on Maldives
Maximise the private lagoon experience: spy on the reef’s extensive ocean life with help from the resident marine biologist. Look for sea turtles and rays in the waters of the Noonu Atoll; let the Soleni Dive Centre’s multilingual PADI instructors show you the secrets of the local dive sites. Try non-motorised watersports, including kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, surfing, windsurfing and kite-surfing. Join a catamaran expedition to spot gambolling dolphins. If you like stargazing, you’ve come to the right lagoon: while away an hour or two at the Maldives’ first overwater observatory, join an astronomical dinner cruise, have a midnight astronomy picnic, or get up early for sunrise astronomy. Admire stars of a different kind at Cinema Paradiso, the first overwater silent cinema in the Maldives.
Guests get Bluetooth headphones, so that the surrounding nesting wildlife is left in peace during the screening. (Add popcorn and prosecco, to up the ante.) Pick a holiday tome or two at the library. Browse the on-site boutique for mermaid- or merman-worthy swimwear and accessories; unwind in the spa with a signature Soneva treatment and join one of the daytrips to nearby beaches. Before you go home, head to the gardens and wander through the labyrinth, a meditative maze fashioned from a ficus hedge, designed in accordance with an ancient circular pattern. The hotel can also arrange castaway picnics, private sunrise breakfasts at North Beach, cookery classes, private-chef-prepped picnics, moonlit dinners and more
The Soneva group has strict Covid-19 precautions. Each resort has a PCR machine to test everyone on arrival. No later than 24 hours before flying you must submit a health-declaration form and provide a certificate for a negative test result from a test taken up to 96 hours before arrival, and you’ll need to fill in an Immigration Arrival Card. If you have symptoms on arrival, you’ll be isolated and tested. All passengers will be screened on, and the Airport Host greeting you will wear a mask and gloves; you’ll need to wear a mask too. Vehicles used for airport transfers will have their windows down and be sanitised. You’ll be met by your (masked) Barefoot Butler at the jetty; please keep your masks on until at your villa, which will have been sanitised. Guest luggage will be sanitised before it’s delivered.
At your villa you’ll be tested again and you must wait indoors for 24 hours until results are ready. In the meantime, guests will get a credit towards food, drink and experiences (can be used for in-villa dining). If your test is negative you can use the whole resort. If it’s positive you’ll need to isolate for 14 days. In this case, Soneva will waive the fee for the room for 14 days (charges will be for incidentals) and guests can use their villa, surrounding gardens and adjacent beach. Housekeeping and room service will be available in line with safety protocols. After 14 days or 10 days after first symptoms, you can use the resort. Guests must have their temperature taken daily by their butler, and another PCR test if staying more than five days. Cleaning measures have been increased (with a focus on door handles and produce brought into the island), hand-sanitiser is available throughout, and some changes have been made: pastry chefs will man the chocolate room and the breakfast buffet will be table service. Spa therapists are regularly tested and can wear gloves and/or a mask.
Food and Drink
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at the Gathering, an easy, breezy open-air space housed within the main building on Medhufaru Island. (Naturally, the restaurant comes with the requisite Maldivian views.) Get your five dailies at So Fresh, which dabbles in juices, salads and healthy, organic mains; opt for experimental wine tastings and wine dinners at So Imaginative. Have an out-of-this-world meal at the observatory, where up to four tables can be set up, each one linked to screens connected to the telescope. Temperature rising? Head to So Cool for free helpings of ice-cream, chocolate and cheese; you can also stock up on sushi, sashimi and wine to take back to your splendid sleeping quarters.
The relaxed Gathering Bar will keep you hydrated, whether you’re thirsty for a knee-wobblingly boozy cocktail, a zingy fresh fruit juice (tropical mango and mint or banana and passionfruit, perhaps) or a flute of ice-cold fizz. Opt for So Engaging, the chef’s table: a mystery menu for up to five guests. You can also have a private lunch or dinner on Zuhairs Island, on the secluded North Island.
Things I loved about Soneva Jani
- Each villa has its own full-size private pool and direct access to the glittering lagoon (the stuff of dreams).
- Have a rub or scrub at Soneva Jani’s overwater, lagoon-spying spa. Try a Sodashi marine body wrap, energising jet-lag recovery treatment or a nourishing coconut scrub, which includes a liberal application of coconut oil – your skin will feel softer than a buttered prawn’s.
- Bring swimwear that can withstand the gravitational pull of a pool slide. Don’t weigh your case down with sandals and stilettos: Soneva’s signature ‘no news, no shoes’ policy applies.
- The heart of the hotel is the Gathering: an open-air, two-storey building on Medhufaru that’s home to the restaurant, bar, spa, gym, library and ice-cream, cheese and chocolate rooms. Naturally, it also has a waterslide into the lagoon.
- Earth-kind products and light bulbs are used; Soneva Jani also recycles and composts. The restaurants rely on seasonal, organic produce; either grown on the islands or sourced from local suppliers. There’s even an on-site glass factory, which recycles glass for Soneva’s rooms and restaurants.
Things you should know
- Communal areas and guestrooms are wheelchair-accessible; the villas (and bathrooms) are extra spacious, too.
- Cots for under-twos are free, as are extra beds for under-sevens; kids from seven to 14 are US$60 a night; it’s US$120 a night for over-14s. Babysitting is available for US$25 per hour. Nappies, baby wipes, formula milk and baby food are available at the hotel’s shop.
- Soneva Jani occupies not one but five dreamy islands in the deliciously remote Noonu Atoll’s Medhufaru lagoon. Medhufaru is only 40 minutes by seaplane from Malé International Airport. When you arrive at Malé, you’ll be greeted by Soneva’s airport representative and escorted to the hotel’s private seaplane lounge, an eight-minute drive away. After light refreshments in the lounge, you’ll be taken to the waiting seaplane. During shoulder season, return transfers by seaplane can be arranged for US$900 an adult (ages 12-and-up) and US$450 for (aged 2–11). During high, peak and Easter season, return seaplane transfers can be arranged for US$1,100 an adult (ages 12-and-up) and US$550 a child (aged 2–11). Tots under two fly for free, but they’ll need a ticket.
- You can cruise from sister property Soneva Fushi onboard the hotel’s boat, Soneva in Aqua; the leisurely trip will take half a day. Alternatively, nip between the two hotels in a speedboat (you’ll be there in an hour).
Final Thoughts on Soneva Jani
Would you like us to prepare aromatic pillows that are placed between your pillow and pillow case? Would you prefer them in bergamot, lemongrass, orange or peppermint? Would you like that just once or daily during your stay? Can we stock your kitchen with guilty pleasures? Nuts? Crisps? Dried fruits? How about some extra room amenities? It was only the pre-arrival questionnaire, but I’ll admit we were already smitten.
Yet, nothing could have possibly prepped us for our arrival at Soneva Jani. It was an eye-popping, mind blowing, insane kind of beautiful. For starters, everything was 50 shades of blue – only the occasional passing reef sharks didn’t get the dress-code memo. Then, just like the Crusoe family, we were assigned our own ‘Mr’ Friday. I accepted the drawstring bag from him bearing the island motto: ‘No shoes, no news’ and from here on in Mr Friday would render us completely helpless – arranging our schedules, meals and even fetching our snorkelling gear…
Soneva Jani is a five-island aquatic playground where the world’s glitterati come to disconnect (or so we’ve heard; owners Sonu and Eva would never spill) and follow the prevailing ‘Slowlife’ (Sustainable Local Organic Wellness Learning Inspiring Fun Experience) philosophy. But if you’re looking for ostentatiousness, this is not your place…
The resort has a lifeline: a stilted platform over the lagoon that connects individual villas to the pristine island. At the heart of it all is the Gathering: Soneva’s giant three-storey pleasure palace where you’ll find individual rooms full of gourmet chocolates, home-made ice-cream and artisanal cheese – all limitless and free. Add a restaurant with swinging daybeds, a well-stocked wine cellar, a whisper-quiet futuristic spa, some boutique outlets and a resident professional photographer to capture every ‘Pinch-me-please-I-can’t-believe-it’ moment and suddenly our stay here seemed way too short. Barely half an hour in and I was already mourning our departure…
By the time we discovered our villa, I actually contemplated forgoing sleep. Why would any sane person miss a single moment in this place?
Then the difficult dilemmas started… Should we sink into the sunken living room couches and contemplate where the salt water pool ends and the ocean begins? Or saunter off to the glass-walled outdoor lounge to watch pretty fish glide by? How about lie on the daybed in the bathroom listening to the multi-room sound system?
I soon discovered that we could simultaneously do our, ahem, ‘business’ and watch the marine-scape thanks to bathroom’s glass panelled floor. The kitchen was stocked with our favourite bites and wines, and a private fenced-off piece of the ocean right next to the bath tub meant we were spoilt for choice even for a soak. And Soneva’s spin on a night-light? Just press the bedside button once you’re tucked in to slide open the roof and reveal the stars (a little easier than carrying your bed to the roof)…
As if downstairs wasn’t fantastic enough they went and added on another floor with perfect sunrise and sunset views. Our favourite way to get down from it in a flash? By waterslide, of course. (Mr Friday mentioned he’s had guests who never left their villa for an entire week. They must have been stuck on repeat – stairs, slide, wheeeee…)
We were tempted by Mr Friday’s itinerary of invigorating pursuits like a spot of morning yoga, cocktails by the beach, some light snorkeling or diving with the in-house marine biologist and a sunset dolphin cruise. But we couldn’t resist taking a wander around the largely deserted island on our own. By lunchtime, Mr Friday had arranged us some private cheffing, castaway-style, on the south beach and Mr Smith had almost gotten used to my abrupt mid-sentence squeals of ‘This is so amazing!’
After a posh Peruvian dinner, we ended our day on the island under yet another starry sky curled into a hammock watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion on a gigantic over-water silent screen aptly named Cinema Paradiso. Movie choice aside, it was an incredible experience.
There is so much more to do and say (especially about Soneva’s low environmental impact) but somehow we were already taking that last aerial shot from the seaplane as the lady seated behind me mouthed ‘So beautiful’. We knew we were some of the lucky few to have enjoyed a private slice of paradise. If we could only get to repeat it, please?
For more stuff like this, join the club! If you’re not already a member, you can sign up here and get tons of amazing, incredible, badass stuff that no one else can get and all your friends will be jealous.
Until next time, be jealous friends. Be jealous.
Post Credits: Mr and Mrs Smith
Get FREE access to our member’s only club and enjoy unlimited travel resources. Be the first to find out about new travel discounts and exclusive discount coupons for leading brands. Did I mention it’s all FREE? Are you in? Great! Sign up below!