Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.
Last March, I enjoyed a sublime holiday in the Maldives & Sri Lanka. You can read my trip reports here:
- Review: Lufthansa A330 Business Class Frankfurt to Male
- Review: Soneva Fushi, the Maldives’ original desert island hideaway
- Review: Soneva Jani, the Maldives’ most amazing resort
- Review: Shangri-La Colombo Hotel (Sri Lanka)
- Review: Wild Coast Tented Lodge (Yala National Park, Sri Lanka)
- Review: Aman tour in Sri Lanka: Amangalla
- Review: Aman tour in Sri Lanka: Amanwella
- Review: Austrian Airlines B777 Business Class Colombo to Vienna
Today: Review of Sonva Jani, the Maldives’s most exclusive resort
- Location: Google Maps
- Hotel website: Soneva Jani
Inspired by a word that means wisdom in Sanskrit, Soneva Jani is located on Medhufaru island, which is part of an uninhabited five-island cluster in the Noonu Atoll. The Maldives’ most exclusive hotel – and my favorite hotel in the world – is fringed by pristine beaches, blanketed with lush tropical greenery, and surrounded by a 5.6 km (3,4 mi) lagoon of crystal clear waters with uninterrupted 360° views of the Indian Ocean. Each one of Soneva Jani’s phenomenal water villas has a private lap pool and opens to its own stretch of lagoon, with most villas featuring slides going directly from the top deck into the lagoon below. The highlight of the villas is the retractable roof in the master bedroom, which slides back at the touch of a button so that guests can lie in bed and stargaze. In 2020, Soneva Jani added Chapter Two to its portfolio of luxurious water villas, and also introduced exciting new dining concepts and a whole new all-inclusive way to experience the best of the resort with Soneva Unlimited.
Soneva Jani features in my top 10 lists of the most insanely beautiful resorts in the Maldives, the most fabulous overwater villas in the Maldives, the best new luxury hotels of 2016, the most astonishing beach retreats in Asia, and my favorite hotels in the world.
Have you ever stayed at Soneva Jani? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.
In this review (more information and photos below my YouTube video):
- 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 their luggage at Malé International Airport, guests are greeted by the lovely Soneva staff and whisked away in one of Soneva’s carbon-free Tesla cars to the tranquil Soneva airport lounge, which features Soneva’s signature eco-chic design. Here, guests can wait for the connecting seaplane transfer to the resort: they are offered a refreshing drink and some snacks, while a Soneva Jani host takes care of the check-in prices. The Soneva lounge also has an onsite spa room. I reviewed the lounge more in detail here.
- The (sea)plane transfers arrangements are very well-organized as Soneva operates its own fleet of exclusive seaplanes, which means that Soneva is quite flexible with regards to the operating schedule and luggage limits. This is good news for guests, as waiting time at the airport is reduced and they can take more luggage on board. These DHC-6 Twin Otters are custom-painted in a magnificent grey and purple color livery, matching Soneva’s unique’s branding. On the inside, these seaplanes, which normally seat 19 passengers, only features 10 VIP seats in the Soneva layout. You can read my review of the Soneva seaplane here.
- Getting to the resort is half the fun since the 40 minute seaplane transfer to Soneva Jani is a breathtaking sightseeing trip in itself. The seaplane flies quite low over the Indian Ocean, offering an amazing view of tiny, sugar-white island rings sparkling atop turquoise colored lagoons and the brilliant sapphire blue ocean. Flying on board a seaplane in the Maldives and admiring the picture-perfect archipelago from a bird’s eye perspective is one of the ultimate experiences that the destination has to offer.
- After a 40 minute flight, the seaplane lands at Soneva Jani International Airport, which must be one of the most amazing airports in the world: a small wooden, floating deck just off the island’s shores. From there, it’s a 2 minute speedboat ride to the arrival jetty of the magnificent resort. During the speedboat trip to the resort, your shoes will be removed and slipped into a linen bag until your departure. This is in line with Soneva Jani’s ‘no news, no shoes’ policy, which encourages a casual atmosphere among all the guests.
- From the moment you touch down (barefoot) on Soneva Jani’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 materialized! IMHO, Soneva offers the best service in the hospitality service worldwide.
- One of the many highlights of the resort is its location within a 5.6 km (3,5 mi) lagoon of crystal clear waters with uninterrupted 360° views of the Indian Ocean, the largest of its kind in the Maldives. The lagoon is so huge that more than 7,000 Olympic swimming pools can fit inside it. It’s impossible to find words to describe the intensely mesmerizing blue of the lagoon’s waters. This fifty shades of blue strike the entire Maldivian archipelago and are present in the shallows of every atoll’s islands, but nowhere are they as blue and clear as at Soneva Jani. In fact, these are the most vibrant shades of blue and most stunning lagoon that I have ever seen in all my years of traveling across the globe.
- A unique feature of Soneva Jani – which sets it apart from all other resorts across the Maldives – is that its lagoon has access to no less than five islets. The main island Medhufaru – one of the largest in the Maldives – is fringed by pristine beaches and blanketed with lush tropical greenery. It was home to a farm for 10 years before Soneva Jani was conceptualized, and the extensive gardens on the isle still supply the fruits, vegetables, herbs and mushrooms to the resort’s kitchens, as well as to Soneva Jani’s sister resort, Soneva Fushi. Here, guests can wander through the Labyrinth, a meditative maze created out of ficus hedge that follows an ancient circular pattern. Medhufaru features a small beach club on its northern tip, and a much larger beach club on its southern tip. The other four islands in the lagoon remain entirely undeveloped, so there is always somewhere a place to play castaway.
- Within this massive lagoon are 51 overwater villas and a few beach villas. It’s one of the lowest density resorts in the world, by far. The scale of the villas is extraordinary, with both one bedroom (catering to couples and families with young children) and multi-bedroom villas (catering to larger travel parties) available. The overwater villas are located along two jetties that are connected to Medhufaru island and curve over the blue water like a snake. At more than 410 square meters (4413 square feet), the one bedroom villas are the largest entry-level villas in the Indian Ocean. Every water villa has a private pool (which is large enough to swim laps) and opens to its own stretch of lagoon, with some villas featuring curved slides going directly from the top deck into the lagoon below.
- During my holiday, I stayed in the resort’s lowest category villa – a one bedroom water villa – which was bigger than the presidential suites of most 5-star hotels. Spread across two floors, the villa came with its own 13 m (43 feet) long private pool on the terrace, surrounded by ample areas for sunbathing, taking in ocean vistas and perfect for watching the sunrise (the villas on the other side of the jetty have a view of the sunset). In addition to a spacious master bedroom and a kids’ sleeping area, there was a small glass-encased kitchenette, study room, walk-in wardrobe, and living area with sunken seats perfect for lounging. The sleeping area for children was conveniently located within the main bedroom (so parents can be assured their children are never too far from them in an overwater environment). The magnificent open-air bathroom – located adjacent to the master bedroom – featured a secluded, wooden surround with sufficient space to swim in and out of. Three different glass-bottomed areas in the villa guaranteed that the underwater world was never too far away. Upstairs, there was a seating lounge and a dining sala with roof deck.
- All villas feature a retractable roof in the master bedroom, which slides back at the touch of a button so you can lie in bed and stargaze. After an evening in the on-property overwater observatory (cf below), you can try to identify Orion, the Southern Cross, the Bear and more stellar constellations from your bed as you drift to sleep, with just the relaxing sound of the lapping waters outdoors. And there is no reason to worry about rain, since sensors detect an on-coming shower and automatically close the roof.
- Like all other Soneva properties, the spacious villas feature beautifully designed interiors by Eva Shivdasani, one of Soneva’s co-founders and wife of Soneva CEO Sonu Shivdasani. The eco-chic design complements the stunning Maldivian surroundings and represents barefoot luxury at its best. The soft-colored interiors are flooded with light, with a few deep purple stains adding a nice contrast. With sandblasted pine decking and Shingle Red River Gum tiles adorning the outside of the fairytale-esque villas, the insides are made from subtly weathered woods and natural materials in a color palette of white, pastel greens and mauves. The overall effect is ethereal, light and airy to encourage the ultimate state of relaxation.
- The resort features the Maldives’ first overwater silent cinema – Cinema Paradiso – at the southern tip of the main island Medhufaru. Here, you can relax on comfortable loungers under the stars and snack on fresh popcorn, while you are provided with Bluetooth headphones, leaving the surrounding nesting turtles and wildlife at peace. Several times a week, there is a movie selection for both children and adults, with a focus on classic and inspirational movies. Cinema Paradiso also features the only Peruvian restaurant in the Maldives, where you can dine on the zesty flavors of South American cuisine while taking in a classic film.
- Soneva Jani’s guests can gaze into the night sky at the twinkling jewel-like stars at the first overwater observatory in the Maldives. This popular experience has awed and amazed guests of all ages at Soneva Jani’s sister resorts, Soneva Fushi and Soneva Kiri, and the resort designers have made the observatory at Soneva Jani even better. A sophisticated telescope rises up through the floor of the observatory deck, offering enchanted views of the starry sky. The deck is surrounded by four dining tables, at which you can dine if you wish. The tables are equipped with screens linked to the view from the telescope, allowing you to dine with the stars.
- The resort features the largest overwater structure in the Maldives, the so-called ‘Gathering’, which appears like something out of a fairytale. At three storeys tall and located halfway the main jetty, the Gathering is the heart of the resort. It houses the various dining outlets (more on that below), as well as a gym, library, boutique shop, chocolate & ice cream parlor, wine cellar and kids club. The Gathering features a soaring open-sided atrium, with a maze of stairs and walkways connecting all the floors, facilities, inside and outside. There are 104,000 pieces of Red River Gum Shingles from Laos on the Gathering’s roof. Also, there’s a large slide that delivers guests directly from the Gathering’s second floor to the ocean. A Soleni Dive Centre and Marine Biology Champa are located next to The Gathering.
- Soneva Jani is one of the largest resort’s in the Maldives, and getting around does require some time (although buggy service is available 24 hours a day). All guests are also provided with bicycles or tricycles to help navigate the fun, snaking jetties that connects to the main island, home to Cinema Paradiso, tennis courts, deserted beaches, the Gardens and Labyrinth, and various walking and cycle paths. In addition, a small speed boat shuttles guests between the four untouched islands in the lagoon.
- Rooms make money, while food and beverage make reputations, and Soneva Jani does not fail to impress here as the menus are as extravagant as the resort itself. Everything is of the highest quality and presented with total care and attention, from the freshest tuna and thin pizzas, to delicate Indian curries, slow roasted lamb, and delicious salads. There are nine dining outlets in total, offering various destinations cuisines and private dining experiences, where the resort’s chefs trick your taste buds and mind with elaborate disguises.
- The main restaurant, called So Fresh, is located within the Gathering, and offers a sumptuous breakfast buffet, lunch and dinner. So Fresh has a myriad of nooks, boardwalks, decks and other spaces to choose from for dining, so every meal can be set in a totally fresh environment if you wish.
- Overseas is the brainchild of celebrated Swedish chef Mathias Dahlgren. Inspired by its spectacular location next to The Gathering, this casual, overwater restaurant serves lunch and dinner menus of plant-based and pescatarian dishes, with produce freshly picked from Soneva Jani’s organic gardens, or sustainably caught in the waters around the resort.
- So Wild by Diana Von Cranach is a fully plant-based restaurant in the midst of Soneva Jani’s organic garden. Diana’s 50 years of experience in plant-focused dining come to life in a menu that draws inspiration from Ayurveda and highlights ingredients grown at the resort.
- So Engaging is Soneva Jani’s chef’s table, which offers a mystery menu for five very special guests. Here, guests get a front row seat to the action, and converse with the chef as he prepares exciting, delicious dishes.
- So Primitive’s centerpiece is a fire pit where different cooking techniques are honored. Think roasting, grilling, searing and cooking in a kettle, clay pots (on coals), salt-crusted baking and cooking over coals. Guests choose from a menu that features fresh seafood, meats, and plant-based dishes.
- Chef Nikki heads up his Japanese kitchen at Director’s Cut Restaurant, serving modern style sashimi, black cod and other Japanese favorites with a contemporary twist. Guests enjoy a set meal while taking in a classic film at Cinema Paradiso.
- With an upstairs deck to watch sunsets from, the Crab Shack serves Sri Lankan Mud Crab curry and Alaskan crabs. A selection of rosés are the highlight of the drinks menu. The Crab Shack was voted as the ‘world’s most romantic restaurant’ on CNN.
- Seating up to 20 guests, So Imaginative is a private room perfect for celebrations. Soneva Jani’s sommeliers can create inspired wine tastings and wine dinners here, selecting the perfect pairings from the wine tower.
- So Starstruck comprises four dining tables around the first overwater observatory in the Maldives. Here, guests dine on an expertly crafted menu while a resident Astronomer is on-hand to help navigate the skies.
- When guests book a stay in any of the Chapter Two overwater or island villas, they get to experience Soneva Unlimited, an indulgent new offering that invites guests to enjoy every facet of Soneva Jani to their heart’s desire, all included in the price of the villa. Soneva Unlimited includes unlimited: dining at all bars, restaurants and in-villa dining; alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks at all bars and restaurants; visiting Michelin-starred chef dinners and experiences; wines from the Soneva Unlimited list; experiences, diving, and children’s experiences; and spa treatments. Also included under Soneva Unlimited is a dedicated Barefoot Butler, return shared seaplane transfers from Malé, daily laundry service, and daily replenishment of the in-villa minibar. The full Soneva Unlimited menu can be viewed here.
- Soneva has gained a worldwide reputation for its wine collection and Sommeliers, and at Soneva Jani, the wine is housed in a six-meter (20 feet) high glass tower and the list contains around 50% organic and biodynamic wine.
- The resort has its own chocolate & ice cream parlor, which is open from noon till late night and complimentary to all guest. You can choose from over 30 constantly changing flavors of homemade ice creams and sorbets at the ice cream room. You can also indulge in every child’s dream of never-ending chocolate by sampling cardamom chocolate truffles, passionfruit pralines, and a continually changing profusion of confections.
- The resort’s new wellness center – located on Soneva Jani’s picturesque South Beach – sets a new standard in holistic wellness, combining ancient Ayurvedic techniques with cutting-edge therapies. It has been designed to harmonize with its breath-taking beachside setting and features two indoor therapy rooms and three open-air treatment pavilions with unmatched views of the spectacular natural surrounds. The wellness center includes a dedicated Ayurvedic Clinic as well as an indoor consultation room for visiting specialists. Alongside a cross-functional fitness area, an open-air yoga pavilion includes facilities for aerial yoga. The new complex also features a retail area, featuring sustainable apparel, wellness products and accessories.
- In constructing the resort, Soneva Jani’s management kept its environmental impact as low as possible. The pools use seawater with UV filtration and the villas have been built over the sandy floors of the lagoon, with no damage to any part of the reef. Furthermore, solar PV is e a significant source of power generation at the resort, all waste-water is collected and treated on-site, and water is also produced on-site, including drinking water. Soneva’s Eco Centro Waste-to-Wealth centre ensures that waste is recycled, while the extensive vegetable garden gives local produce for the restaurants based on organic principles.
- 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, and its sister property in the Maldives, Soneva Fushi.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Never in my life have I stayed at a resort that is quite as beautiful and mesmerizing as Soneva Jani. It is without any doubt the best resort in the Maldives, re-writing the rules of Indian Ocean perfection. Phenomenally beautiful and thrillingly visionary, Soneva Jani raises the bar for luxury travel, not only in the Maldives, but around the globe. Soneva Jani will sweep you off your feet and leave you speechless, but there are a few things worthwhile noting to ensure you have the perfect stay:
- While incredibly beautiful, the lagoon is not teeming with fish (yet) although the fishes are bound to come back now that the overwater construction of the resort is finished. The good news is that the resort is surrounded by 12 km (7,5 mi) of stunning reef which circles the lagoon and can be reached by boat (unless you are a very good swimmer). It includes corals of all species, and a great deal of fish as well as huge old coral colonies creating a nice shallow 3D reefscape. Here, you may also be lucky enough to encounter beautiful sea turtles and manta rays, which are native to this area of the Maldives. There are also many dive sites with rich marine life around the resort, sure to tempt all marine enthusiasts.
- With a price tag to match the experience, Soneva Jani is one of the world’s most expensive resorts though it’s difficult to argue that it doesn’t offer value for money. It’s the ultimate in exclusive holidays and the most divine hotel in the world.
- Be warned: all your other trips, whether to the Maldives or beyond, will pale in comparison to the memory of a Soneva Jani vacation. One wonders what comes next after a Soneva Jani holiday?
- Location: 10/10
- Design: 10/10
- Pool: not applicable
- Resort grounds (beach): 10/10
- Rooms (villas): 10/10
- Food: 10/10
- Breakfast: 10/10
- Spa: 10/10
- Service: 10/10
- Value for money: 10/10
- Overall experience: exceptional: 10/10
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: contact me to receive complimentary VIP perks at Soneva Jani before any booking is made. These perks include:
- A resort credit valued at 10% of the net room revenue (when booking a Best Available Rate) or 5% of the total package revenue when booking one of the Soneva special packages. For example, if you book 7 nights at Soneva Jani at a best available rate of $2500 USD per night, you will get a resort credit of 7 x $250 USD = $1750 USD, which you can use on food, spa, and activities.
- Two personalized Soneva experiences per stay (complimentary) from the Soneva experience brochure (excluding Soneva In Aqua). You have the opportunity to select premium activities such as a private Cinema Paradiso experience with dinner; father & son picnic and mother & daughter spa; private dinner at the Starlight Table and a session at the observatory; cooking class for children and family; sunrise breakfast; and gourmet dining experience which includes chocolate and wine tasting.
- Room tip: If you can afford it, opt for a villa with a water slide. They feature the same layout as the other villas, but there is something about water slides into the perfectly sparkling turquoise lagoon that brings out the inner child in every guest.
- The round trip seaplane transfers from Male airport to Soneva Jani are on additional charges. Please be advised that seaplanes in the Maldives only operates from from 7 am to 4.30 pm. In order to make it to onto the last seaplane you need to arrive in Malé by 3.30 pm. If you arrive after the last seaplane leaves for Soneva Jani, you may take a domestic flight to Soneva Fushi and stay there for the night, before being transferred to Soneva Jani the next day.
- 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 (with low availability and very expensive room rates). 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
Getting to the Soneva Jani requires a 40-minute seaplane transfer from Male International Airport (MLE). Check the Wikipedia page of Male International Airport for an updated list of airlines that offer flights to Male International Airport.