The first week of February 2016, I traveled to the Maldives and enjoyed one of the best holidays of my life. You can read my trip reports here:
- Trip report: Etihad A380 First Class Apartment from London to Abu Dhabi.
- Review: Soneva Fushi, the Maldives’ most exclusive hotel.
- Review: Soneva In Aqua, the Maldives’ first floating villa.
- Trip report: Qatar Airways A380 First Class from Doha to Paris.
Today (February 17, 2016): Review of Soneva Fushi (Maldives).
- Location: Google Maps
- Hotel website: Soneva Fushi
- Tip: contact me to get a complimentary room upgrade at the time of booking
Soneva Fushi, the Maldives’ original desert island hideaway, is located in the stunning Baa Atoll, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Massive, Robinson Crusoe-style, multi-bedroom luxury villas and private residences are hidden among dense tropical foliage. In keeping with the castaway theme, many are built to resemble tree houses. All open to their own private stretch of sugar white sands, and most boast their own private seawater swimming pools. Intuitive service is provided by Mr./Ms. Friday butlers who know what you want before you want it.
In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube clip and slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- After collecting your luggage at Malé International Airport, you will be greeted by the lovely Soneva staff and whisked away to the dedicated Soneva Fushi first-class airport lounge (featuring Soneva’s signature eco-chic design), where you can wait for the connecting seaplane transfer to the resort. At the lounge, you will be offered a refreshing drink and some snacks, while a Soneva Fushi host will take care of your check-in.
- The 30 minute seaplane transfer to Soneva Fushi is a breathtaking sightseeing trip in itself. The plane flies quite low across the Indian Ocean, offering an amazing view of tiny, sugar-white island rings sparkling atop turquoise colored lagoons and the brilliant sapphire blue ocean. The watertaxi lands at Soneva Fushi International Airport, which must be one of the most amazing airports in the world: a small wooden deck just off the island’s shores. From there, it’s just a 5 minute speedboat ride to the arrival jetty of the magnificent resort.
- The (sea)plane transfers arrangements are very well-organized. Soneva Fushi has a privileged relationship with the watertaxi operator (since this is one of the oldest resorts in the Maldives) which means that waiting time at the airport on your day of arrival or departure seldom exceeds one hour. Water taxis only operate during daylight, but if you arrive or departing well after the seaplanes dock at sunset, then you will be flown by jet to Dharavandhoo airport, which serves the Baa Atoll and is a mere ten minutes by speedboat from the resort.
- Soneva Fushi comes the closest you can imagine to what a tropical paradise must be. The entire island is covered by a magnificent verdant, dense jungle and surrounded by blinding-white, palm-fringed beaches and a ridiculously clear, sparkling turquoise lagoon. From a scenic perspective, this is the most idyllic island that I have visited in this Indian Ocean archipelago nation, and its fabulous, soft-sand beaches easily rank amongst the best in the world.
- Besides being insanely beautiful, Soneva Fushi is also one of the largest islands in the Maldives, being just under 1.5km (0,9 mi) long and 0,5 km (0,3 mi) wide. Upon arrival, you will be given bicycles for the duration of your stay to get around. It’s a pure delight to cycle along the many sandy paths in the jungle and to enjoy the wonderful varieties of trees and foliage, as well as the wildlife, ranging from impressive fruit bats to cute rabbits hopping around.
- Soneva Fushi’s ‘no news, no shoes’ policy encourages a casual atmosphere among all the guests. On the speedboat to the resort, your shoes will be removed and they will be stored for the duration of your stay.
- From the moment you touch down (barefoot) on Soneva’s Fushi’s shores, your personal butler – called a Mr. or Ms. “Friday” – will be on hand with a smile and assist you throughout your stay. These Fridays are obviously handpicked for their extreme likeability and their level of discrete, intuitive service – you only have to think it, and your wish has materialised! Faali, my Mr Friday during my stay, deserves a special mention, as he is fantastic!
- The resort’s eco-chic design melts in with the Maldivian surroundings and adds to the sense of being at one with nature. All hotel buildings, including the villa accommodations, are built using local materials, topped with a palm-leaf roof, decked out in stylish bright cushions, and decorated with simple but chic furniture. This is barefoot luxury at its best, albeit in a low-key and environmentally conscious way.
- The resort’s 65, thatched-roof, multi-bedroom luxury villas and private residences are scattered along the coastline. While they are hidden among dense foliage (and hardly visible from the beach), they all overlook the Indian Ocean. The elegant and sophisticated villas are massive in scale and among the world’s largest hotel accommodations. They come in several categories, ranging from one-bedroom Crusoe villas to the 9-bedroom private reserve. Each villa aims to provide a sort of Robinson Crusoe experience, as it feels as it’s marooned on its own private island, with its own garden and stretch of white sand beach just steps away. In keeping with the castaway theme, many villas are built to resemble tree houses.
- I stayed in a spectacular Soneva Fushi family villa suite with pool, located on the sunset side of the island. The spacious bedroom featured a desk, kitchenette and a king-sized, four-poster bed with frames made with local coconut, while the open-plan living room brought the outside indoors with floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Modern conveniences like CD stereo systems and televisions with DVD players were hidden from view. The villa’s star attraction was the luxurious open-air garden bathroom with water garden, outdoor shower, indoor shower and oversized bathtub. In addition, the villa also had a separate children’s room, an observation deck on the first floor (with plush daybed), a private veranda, and a plunge pool.
- IMHO, Soneva Fushi is the best resort in the world for families with children. The newly opened children’s club, designated ‘The Den’, is nothing less than a spectacular jungle villa and a playground for the imagination, where children can explore a pirate ship, splash in two pools, and even have their own bar (for moctails). The villa also features a lego room, dress-up area, cinema, library, learning area, a music room filled with instruments, and a channel clad in roots, branches and hidden surprises, that leads to gardens filled with flowers, swings and nests tucked into the trees.
- Breakfast, lunch and dinner at Soneva Fushi are stellar culinary experiences, because of the lovely restaurant settings, the top-quality service, and the divine food (which wouldn’t be out of place in a Michelin starred gourmet restaurant in a cosmopolitan city). Mihiree Mitha, the resort’s main restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch, means “here it is” in Maldivian, and indeed, almost any dish you crave is here. The breakfast buffet is the most generous one I have ever seen at a hotel, with ovenfresh pastries, home-made jams, egg-cooking stations, and even a dedicated ham and cheese room, featuring sumptuous homemade cheeses, ham and cold cuts. At lunch, Mihiree Mitha transforms into a grazing feast with barbecue, stir fry, and salad stations, as well as wood-fired pizzas and a fresh pasta bar. Adjacent to Mihiree Mitha, you find the Down To Earth restaurant, which serves dinner and features lavish buffets (the Indian food was the best I have ever sampled around the globe). The resort’s third dining venue, By The Beach, is located on the sunset side of the island, where you can linger over Japanese and Korean inspired cuisine to the sound of rolling waves and with your toes in the sand. My favorite restaurant however is Fresh In The Garden, which is located above the resort’s herb and vegetable garden with sublime panoramas stretching beyond the jungle’s canopy, and which serves mouth-watering, Mediterranean-inspired dishes.
- A stand out among the resort’s fine dining venues is the exquisite Sobah’s restaurant, built on the uninhabited island, just 30 minutes by boat from Soneva Fushi. Sobah’s is lead by Chef Sobah, who won the ‘Best Chef in the Maldives’ Award, and serves traditional Maldivian cuisine with modern twists using traditional cooking methods. Getting to Sobah’s is half the fun, as you often spot dolphins on the way.
- Soneva Fushi has a fantastic, subterranean wine cellar. The collection of 7,000 bottles, including rare champagnes, grand cru clarets, vintage cognacs, organic and biodynamic wines, rivals the world’s finest wine collections.
- The resort has its own chocolate & ice cream parlour, which is open from noon till late night and complimentary to all guest. You can choose of over sixty constantly changing flavours of homemade ice creams and sorbets at the ice cream room. Inside the adjoining chocolate room, you can indulge in every child’s dream of never-ending chocolate: you can sample cardamom chocolate truffles, passionfruit pralines, and a continually changing profusion of confections.
- One of my favorite spots at Soneva Fushi must be the lovely Bar(a)bara, where you can sip on a coctail in cushioned hammocks suspended over the Indian Ocean while enjoying the sunset or watching the fish in the water.
- Soneva Fushi is located in the heart of the remote Baa Atoll. The latter has been declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, because it supports one of the largest groups of coral reefs in the Indian Ocean. As such, it should come as no surprise that Soneva Fushi is a diver’s dream, as it offers easy acces to the world’s most breathtaking stretch for scuba diving. The resort has its own PADI-certified dive center, and the professional scuba diving instructors guide excursions to more than 30 sites with great visibility.
- If you are not comfortable with or don’t feel like diving, then you will be happy to know that snorkeling at Soneva Fushi’s house reef is superb. I even saw turtles on multiple occasions. The dive center provides diving masks with optical lenses, which was a welcome surprise (and a first) for me for me as I wear glasses.
- As explained above, the waters surrounding Soneva Fushi hold a tremendously high biodiversity and incredible array of sea life, but the absolute highlight takes place from June to November, when you have a chance to spot (and even swim with) the graceful manta rays and elusive whale sharks in the vicinity of the resort.
- At Soneva Fushi, you can watch classic movies under the stars in a return to the old traditions of Hollywood enjoyment. The magnificent resort’s Cinema Paradiso screens classic movies in an open-air theatre, a jungle-enshrouded auditorium with cushioned loungers. Popcorn and ice cream are served complimentary.
- Hidden among the island’s wild jungle foliage, the excellent spa is a haven of calm for the mind, body and soul. You can choose from a variety of body treatments, specialist traditions and wellness therapies, ranging from soothing scrubs and oils of local coconuts to Tibetan hot stones. The spa is operated by Six Senses, a brand that’s world-famous for its wellness programs & facilities. I had a massage and it was phenomenal.
- Its remote island location in the midst of the Indian Ocean means that the Soneva Fushi has one of the best locations on earth for visibility and gazing at the stars. The resorts takes full advantage of this by having itw own observatory, where you can peer through the lenses of a state-of-the-art telescope into space.
- Environmental and social responsibilities are at the core of the resort’s philosophy. For example, Soneva Fushi has one of the largest solar power plants in the Maldives, its food is grown and sourced locally where possible, it recycles waste materials, and it preserves ecosystems (Soneva Fushi has two nature reserves on site, where turtles can nest).
- A brilliant initiative in line with Soneva Fushi’s ecofriendly policy is the stunning Glass Studio, where the Maldives’ waste glass is turned into valuable works of art. Here, you can watch world-renowned glass artists create glass art, participate in art exhibitions, learn the art of glass blowing in special courses, or even personally design your own masterpiece to take home at the Maldives’ first glass studio.
- The resort is managed by Soneva, my absolute favorite hotel brand in the world. The acronym SLOW LIFE (Sustainable-Local-Organic-Wellness Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experiences) explains the Soneva philosophy: it aims to create unforgettable, innovating, and enlightening experiences that illuminate their guest’s lives whilst treading lightly on the earth. The ethos and values it is run by are what sets Soneva on different footing as compared to other high-end hotel brands. In addition, there’s also a lot of love and romance in the story of Soneva, which was founded in 1995 by Sonu Shivdasani, an Indian-British hotelier, and his wife Eva Malmstrom, a Swedish fashion model. I have previously reviewed the fabulous Soneva property in Thailand, Soneva Kiri (you can read my review here).
- The resort offers an abundance of activities that cater to all ages and even the most discerning of tastes: a wide selection of water sports (including catamaran sailing, sea kayaking, and windsurfing) and a variety of excursions (including a visit to local villages, cooking classes, private picnic on a desert island, sunset Cruise by sailing dhoni, and private sandbank overnight experience) are available to guests, in addition to tennis, mountain biking, and astronomy classes.
- Pre-arrival communication with the resort is excellent: all my emails were answered within 24 hours (which is a blessing when you want to create your own itinerary).
- The wonderful service at Soneva Fushi is an art form. For example, room cleaning and turn down service always take place when you are in the restaurants having breakfast or dinner. The staff is the happiest and kindest I have encountered in the Maldives, and they make you feel at home. Many of the staff members have worked for Soneva Fushi since day one (more than 20 years ago) – that is testament to how they are treated and in return how they treat you as guests and friends. I can understand why Soneva Fushi has the highest number of repeat guests of all the resorts in the Maldives.
- Soneva Fushi recently launched the first floating villa in the Maldives, Soneva In Aqua. This pioneering concept combines all the benefits of the iconic resort’s services and amenities with the freedom and exclusivity associated with a private boat charter. The two-cabin boat features a spacious main cabin with a glass bottom spa and shower facilities. The second cabin offers a king-sized bed and en-suite facilities. Other features include an external raised sun and dining deck, a lower level bar and dining area plus daybeds, lounge seating and a jacuzzi. You can read my review of Soneva In Aqua here.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Soneva Fushi is hand’s down one of the best resorts in the Maldives, and my absolute favorite one in this island nation (and that means something since this paradise country is known for harboring several of the world’s most luxurious hotels). There is very little to say against Soneva Fushi as it’s beauty, accommodations, food, service, and amenities will sweep you off your feet and leave you speechless, but there are a few things it’s worthwhile noting to ensure you have the perfect stay:
- Sunsets may be spectacular at Soneva Fushi, but about 500 meters (1600 feet) off the sunset side of the island is the populated island of Eydhafushi, the capital of the Baa Atoll, which is clearly visible at the horizon (with some concrete building and high antennas). This somewhat dispels the feeling of being a castaway on an island. However, do not let this put you off, since the sunset side is still my preferred part of the island with wide beaches and superb snorkeling. And of course, there are always numerous villas on the sunrise side of the island, which are blessed with uninterrupted views of the ocean (but the beach here is narrower).
- Soneva Fushi is ultra-luxurious but this is not the place to visit if you like glitz and bling. The resort identifies itself with understated barefoot luxury. It is a laid-back lifestyle, a world of bamboos and bicycles and slow living, where everyone goes shoeless 24 hours a day.
- There’s no communal pool on the island, so make sure you splash out on a villa with a private seawater pool.
- As part of its eco-conscious commitment, Soneva Fushi does not offer over-water villas, due to the damage their construction causes to the coral. All accommodations are beach villas.
- While it is currently the Maldives best luxury resort (and has been for more than 20 years), it may loose that privileged title later this year to its soon-to-open sister resort, Soneva Jani. Expected to open in autumn 2016, the fabulous Soneva Jani resort will comprise 57 phenomenal villas, including 24 overwater villas which will only be reachable by boat and which will all have an enticing choice of either a sunrise or sunset view. There will be a further 20 one-bedroom Crusoe homes on land plus a choice of 13 three bedroom villas on the beach.
- Be warned: all your other trips will pale in comparison to the memory of a Soneva Fushi vacation.
This is the second time I have given a resort the maximum score of 10 out of 10 (the other being Soneva Fushi’s sister resort, Soneva Kiri in Thailand)!
- Location: 10/10
- Design: 10/10
- Rooms: 10/10
- Food: 10/10
- Service: 10/10
- Overall experience: exceptional: 10/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Contact me to get a complimentary room upgrade at the time of booking.
- Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Soneva Fushi (and/or receive many free perks).
- Save money: I recommend to book a stay at Soneva Fushi through a Virtuoso travel agent, which has the benefit of complimentary VIP perks (e.g. villa upgrade, breakfast, early check-in , late check-out, welcome Champagne with Maldivian tapas on arrival, one lunch for two, original handcrafted arrival and departure mementos, shoreline beach dinner, private sunset sailing by Dhoni at Baa Atoll, and a cooking class for two).
- All villas at Soneva Fushi are phenomenal. But if unobstructed ocean views are what you are looking for, then be sure to book and/or request a villa on the sunrise side of the island.
- Book a villa with a pool, since the resort has no communal pool (although the the island is surrounded by the world’s largest swimming pool).
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best weather in the Maldives is between January and April, which also means high season (and high hotel prices). The monsoon runs from May to October, peaking in June. It is worth paying higher prices and sticking to the dry season as there is nothing to do on a rainy day except drink, eat, work out or scuba dive. Especially November and December, which are often labelled as dry season months, have been very unsettled in recent years.
HOW TO GET THERE
The resort is located a 30-minute waterplane trip from Male International Airport (UVF). Check the Wikipedia page of Male International Airport for an updated list of airlines that offer flights to Male International Airport:
- From/via Asia: Bangkok Airways (via Bangkok), Tigerair (via Singapore), Singapore Airlines (via Singapore), Cathay Pacific (via Hong Kong), Air India (via Bangalore, Chennai, Thiruvanathapuram), China Eastern Airlines (via Colombo, Kunmnig), Cina Southern Airlines (via Guanghzou), Hainan Airlines (via Bejing), Korean Air (via Colombo and Seoul), Shanghai Airlines (via Shanghai), Srilankan Airlines (via Colombo), Maldivian (Chennai, Chongqing, Colombo, Dhaka, Thiruvanathapuram), Mega Maldives (via Bejing, Hong Kong, Shanghai).
- From/via Middle East: Emirates (via Dubai), Flybudai (via Dubai), Qatar Airways (via Doha), Etihad Airways (via Abu Dhabi), Oman Air (via Muscat), Turkish Airlines (via Istanbul).
- From/via Europe: Austrian Airlines (via Vienna), British Airways (via London), Thompson Airways (via London), Monarch Airlines (via London), Condor (via Frankfurt), Edelweiss Air (via Zurich), Meridiana (via Rome or Milan), Neos (via Rome or Milan), Transaero Airlines (via Moscow).