Review: Soneva Fushi Maldives

Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.

I recently enjoyed an AMAZING holiday in the Maldives. You can read my trip reports here:


Today: Review of Soneva Fushi (Maldives)

In 1995, the award-winning luxury resort Soneva Fushi set the standard for all desert island barefoot luxury hideaways in the Maldives. Located in the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Soneva Fushi pairs Robinson Crusoe fantasy with intelligent luxury. Sixty-four private villas with their own stretch of beach are hidden among dense foliage within touching distance of a pristine coral reef, while 8 overwater retreats represent the largest one- and two bedroom overwater villas in the world. Highlights include the open-air Cinema Paradiso, counting Saturn’s rings in the high-tech observatory, the home-made chocolate and ice cream rooms, five hundred wines to choose from, nine fine dining venues, a treasure trove children’s Den, a new Soneva Soul spa, and a multi-purpose facility encompassing a glass gallery, boutique and studio.

Soneva Fushi features in my top 10 lists of the best luxury resorts in the Maldives, the most astonishing beach retreats in Asia, the best family hotels in the world, the world’s most insanely beautiful hotel beaches, and the best resorts in the Maldives for snorkeling.

Have you ever stayed at Soneva Fushi? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.


PROS & THINGS I LIKE
  • Upon arrival at Malé International Airport and after passing immigration, guests are met by the Soneva airport staff members, who take care of the luggage and provide assistance with the check-in at the Manta Air counters so secure the seaplane boarding passes. Once checked in for the seaplane transfer, guests are transferred to the seaplane terminal, which is located on the other side of the airport’s perimeter (a 5 min drive away). Here, guests can wait for the connecting seaplane transfer to the resort at the Soneva lounge: they are offered a refreshing drink and some snacks, while a Soneva host takes care of the check-in prices.
  • 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 15 to 19 passengers, only feature 10 VIP seats and a cabin fitted in Soneva’s signature design style. You can read my review of the Soneva seaplane here.
  • 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 seaplane 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 five minute speedboat ride to the arrival jetty of the magnificent resort. The seaplanes land at short distance from the resort as not to disturb the guests on the island.
  • Soneva Fushi is a tropical paradise unrivaled in the world. The entire island is covered by a magnificent verdant 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 ever visited in the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Maldives, 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, guests are provided bicycles for the duration of their 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 short speedboat ride from the seaplane dock to the resort, shoes are removed and stored by the Soneva staff for the duration of the guests’ stay. There is no dress code on the island, something which may come as a welcome respite compared to some of the other luxury resorts in the Maldives where a dress code at restaurants is enforced, such as a requirement for men to wear long pants (in the tropics!).
  • From the moment guests touch down (barefoot) on Soneva Fushi’s shores, a personal butler is on hand to assist them throughout their stay. These butlers 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.
  • 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 pavilions, 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 64, thatched-roof, multi-bedroom beach villas 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 rank 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.
  • During my stay, I was upgraded to a maginficent two bedroom Crusoe Suite with pool, located on the sunrise side of the island. This playfully indulgent luxury suite offered upstairs and downstairs bedrooms, a choice of sitting areas high and low, a private swimming pool and two lush open-air garden bathrooms (equipped with bathtub, shower and double sink unit). The villa offered direct access to a private stretch of beach, and personal bicycles for island exploration were provided. I made a YouTube video of this villa, as well as videos of other villa types which you can watch below:
  • Reached by a gently curving jetty near Dolphin Beach on the island’s southern tip are eight overwater villas. Called “water retreats”, these one- and two-bedroom accommodations are the world’s largest overwater villas and have been designed to ensure the utmost privacy for guests, as well as to make the most of the picture-perfect ocean vistas. Each villa comes with a large private pool and water slide. Catamaran nets let guests sit above the waves, while curved steps lead from the pool deck to the water below. When it comes to the interior, the colour palette consists of light blues, greens, and soft beiges, bringing to mind the colours of the ocean around Soneva Fushi and the verdant island jungle. With a push of a button, the retractable roof slides back above the master bed to reveal sunny skies or starlit nights.
  • A phenomenal overwater structure – called Out Of The Blue – is one of the resort’s highlights. Out Of The Blue offers an authentic Maldivian overwater experience for those guests staying in a beach villa. Besides housing terrific dining outlets (more on that below), Out Of The Blue also features a large sundeck with comfortable loungers, overwater netting, and a fun water slide, going directly from the top deck into the lagoon below, guaranteeing some great photo opportunities. Out of the Blue faces west and offers sublime views of the Maldivian sunsets.
  • IMHO, Soneva Fushi is the best resort in the world for families with children. The 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 mocktails). The villa also features a Lego room, dress-up area, cinema, library, learning area, music room, 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, with world-class restaurants, over-the-top settings, impeccable service, and divine food (which wouldn’t be out of place in a Michelin starred gourmet restaurant in a cosmopolitan city).
    • A stand out among the resort’s fine dining venues is Flying Sauces, which combines world-class gastronomy with the thrill and excitement of ziplining: after being securely strapped into safety harnesses, guests soar along a 200 m (656 ft) zipline route to reach an elevated dining platform, where a gastronomic dinner awaits them. During my stay, Singapore’s famed three Michelin-starred restaurant Odette operated an exclusive 10-week residency at Flying Sauces.
    • My favorite restaurant at Soneva Fushi 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. During my stay, Chef Mads Refslund was running a 12-month pop-up offering guests at Soneva Fushi a rare opportunity to dine with one of Denmark’s most exciting culinary talents and his team.
    • The overwater structure ‘Out of the Blue‘ houses five fine dining outlets. From delicious grilled meats and seafood, Teppanyaki, sushi and secret menus conjured by Michelin-starred chefs – guests are spoilt for choice. This area also includes So Hot – a robata grill, josper grill and pizza area.
    • Shades of Green is the Maldives’ first vegan restaurant. Chef Carsten Kyster celebrates the garden with five-course menus featuring colors, green umami or one ingredient prepared various ways. The evening begins with a tour of the garden, and guests pick, taste and smell the produce and discover hidden amuse bouches.
    • Down To Earth is a beachfront restaurant serving international cuisine, which also encompasses Carne Diem Grill by Srilankan celebrity chef Dharshan. This innovative concept is built around a unique charcoal grill created by Dharshan himself. It operates at a temperature of 750 ̊C to lock in the flavor of succulent meats, freshly-caught seafood and tender vegetables.µ
    • Out of the Sea is an intimate, rustic seaside shack, which focuses on the freshest, sustainably caught seafood. Open from 11am onwards, the menu features Mediterranean flavors, wok-fried dishes and tapas-inspired light bites
  • Soneva Fushi offers by far the most lavish breakfast buffet that I have ever encountered in any hotel in the world. It features a dedicated ham and cheese room, with sumptuous homemade cheeses, charcuterie and own-smoked salmon, in addition to an extensive menu with delicious Western and Asian dishes. You can also take your pick of more luscious delicacies straight from the wood-fired rock oven, hot and cold smoke oven and the earthen tandoor. There’s also another cold room offering an incredible variety of salads and vegetables, next to an indoor fruit counter which offers the most amazing range of fresh fruits you’ll ever see at a hotel. And after breakfast, you can always retreat to the chocolate room, where the cocoa goodness is presented in blends of up to 95%, be it in the form of mousses, cookies, drinks, bon-bons or truffles.
  • 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.
  • Soneva’s ongoing Soneva Stars program offers a kaleidoscope of one-of-a-kind experiences to Soneva Fushi’s guests. The fascinating program includes a host of visiting Michelin-starred chefs, world-renowned astronomers, celebrated sports personalities, authors, therapists and practitioners and so much more.  You can check the program & schedule of visiting experts & chefs on the Soneva Star website.
  • The resort has two chocolate & ice cream parlors, one located near the arrival jetty and at Out Of the Blue. Open from noon till late night , they both offer complimentary ice cream and chocolates to all guest. You can choose from over sixty constantly changing flavors 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.
  • 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 access to the world’s most breathtaking sites 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. Turtles and dolphins frequently pass by the island. 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. If the conditions are right, the resort takes guests to Hanifaru Bay, located only 20 minutes by speedboat from Soneva Fushi, which has one of the world’s largest population of manta rays. When time and tide align, fortunate snorkelers get to observe and capture a rolling, whirling feast where it may be possible to see hundreds of these large, yet harmless, creatures congregate to gorge themselves in the plankton-rich waters.
  • 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 – located on the island’s northern tip – screens classic movies in an open-air theatre, a jungle-enshrouded auditorium with cushioned loungers. The waves lapping the shore, the gentle rustle of the trees and the glimmering night sky will only add to the experience. Popcorn and ice cream are served complimentary. An additional option of a barbecue dinner served during the movie is available at an extra charge.
  • Soneva Fushi’s recently upgraded and expanded wellness center – Soneva Soul sets a new standard in holistic wellness. Encircled by the island’s lush jungle, the two-story wellness complex is inspired by its tranquil location, inviting guests to rejuvenate, restore and relax. The treatment menu at Soneva Soul unites two apparent opposites: traditional healing therapies and ancient rituals include Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine and herbalism; and innovative treatment methodologies include vitamin therapy and integrative medicine, such as cryotherapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy and ozone therapy. Each treatment, ritual or therapy is based upon outcomes that target your individual needs, from rest, recovery and regeneration to detoxification, movement and health optimization.
  • Its remote island location in the midst of the Indian Ocean means that Soneva Fushi has one of the best locations on earth for visibility and gazing at the stars. The resort takes full advantage of this by having its own observatory, where guests can peer through the lenses of a state-of-the-art telescope into space. The observatory is located near Fresh in the Garden Restaurant.
  • 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, guests 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.
  • 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, sunset cruise by sailing dhoni, and private sandbank overnight experience) are available to guests, in addition to tennis, mountain biking, and astronomy classes. My two favorite excursions at Soneva Fushi are the sunset dolphin cruise (which offers an opportunity to watch dozens of dolphins playing in the light of the setting sun) and the castaway picnic (in which guests are boated to an uninhabited island with a picnic basket and snorkel gear to enjoy a day in the sun).
  • 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. It’s easy to understand why Soneva Fushi has the highest number of repeat guests of all the resorts in the Maldives.
  • In 2016, Soneva Fushi launched the first floating villa in the MaldivesSoneva 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.
  • Soneva Fushi is the sister resort of Soneva Jani, which is without any doubt the most fabulous and spectacular resort in the Maldives. Soneva Jani‘s spectacular overwater villas are located in a 5.6 km (3,4 mi) lagoon of crystal clear waters with uninterrupted 360° views of the Indian Ocean. Each villa has a private pool and opens to its own stretch of lagoon, with some 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. Soneva Jani and Soneva Fushi are connected by a one hour boat trip, so you can combine the best of the world in one itinerary (beach villas at Soneva Fushi and overwater villas at Soneva Jani).

CONS & THINGS TO KNOW

Soneva Fushi is hand’s down one of the best resorts in the Maldives, and one of my absolute favorite ones 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 its beauty, accommodations, food, service, and amenities 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:

  • Sunsets may be spectacular at Soneva Fushi, but about 650 meters (2100 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 antennas). This somewhat dispels the feeling of being a castaway on an island. However, don’t be put off by this, 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.
  • 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.
  • There are two seaplane choices available: either the Soneva seaplane or the Manta Air seaplane. The Soneva seaplane is private and more comfortable (seating 10 passengers in a VIP layout), while the Manta Air seaplane carries more passengers (15 in total) and may stop en-route at other destinations before arriving at Soneva Jani. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to know upfront whether you will be transferred in a Soneva seaplane or in a Manta Air seaplane (the schedule depends on Manta Air, which also maintains the Soneva seaplanes).
  • Be warned: all your other trips will pale in comparison to the memory of a Soneva Fushi vacation.

MY VERDICT
  • Location: 10/10
  • Design: 10/10
  • Rooms: 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 get complimentary VIP perks at Soneva Fushi. This includes a discounted rate, a resort credit, and two complimentary experiences.
  • Save money: get complimentary VIP perks when booking Soneva Fushi via Virtuoso (e.g. villa upgrade, breakfast, early check-in , late check-out, and $100 USD resort credit).
  • Save money: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Soneva Fushi (and/or receive many free perks).
  • Room tip: all villas at Soneva Fushi are phenomenal. But if unobstructed ocean views are what you are looking for, be sure to book or request a villa on the sunrise side of the island.
  • Room tip: 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 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

Soneva Fushi can be reached by a 30-minute seaplane trip from Velana International Airport (MLE). Check the Wikipedia page of Velana International Airport for a continuously updated list of airlines that offer direct flights to the Maldives.


PHOTOS

Below is a selection of my photos of Soneva Fushi. To view more photos of the resort (including breakfast and the dinning experiences), click here.

SONEVA FUSHI
JETTY WITH OVERWATER VILLAS
SONEVA FUSHI
JETTY WITH OVERWATER VILLAS
SONEVA FUSHI
ONE BEDROOM WATER RETREAT
SONEVA FUSHI
ONE BEDROOM WATER RETREAT
SONEVA FUSHI
ONE BEDROOM WATER RETREAT
SONEVA FUSHI
ONE BEDROOM WATER RETREAT
SONEVA FUSHI
ONE BEDROOM WATER RETREAT
SONEVA FUSHI
ONE BEDROOM WATER RETREAT
SONEVA FUSHI
ONE BEDROOM WATER RETREAT
SONEVA FUSHI
ONE BEDROOM WATER RETREAT
SONEVA FUSHI
TWO BEDROOM BEACH VILLA: OUTDOOR SPACE
SONEVA FUSHI
TWO BEDROOM BEACH VILLA: OUTDOOR SPACE
SONEVA FUSHI
TWO BEDROOM BEACH VILLA: OUTDOOR SPACE
SONEVA FUSHI
TWO BEDROOM BEACH VILLA: LIVING ROOM
SONEVA FUSHI
TWO BEDROOM BEACH VILLA: GARDEN BATHROOM
SONEVA FUSHI
TWO BEDROOM BEACH VILLA: MASTER BEDROOM
SONEVA FUSHI
TWO BEDROOM BEACH VILLA: UPSTAIRS TERRACE
SONEVA FUSHI
BEACH ON THE SUNSET SIDE
SONEVA FUSHI
BEACH ON THE SUNSET SIDE
SONEVA FUSHI: BEACH ON SUNSET SIDE
BEACH ON THE SUNSET SIDE
SONEVA FUSHI
BEACH ON THE SUNRISE SIDE
SONEVA FUSHI: BEACH ON SUNRISE SIDE
BEACH ON THE SUNRISE SIDE
SONEVA FUSHI
BEACH ON THE SUNRISE SIDE
SONEVA FUSHI
BEACH ON THE SUNRISE SIDE
SPA AT SONEVA FUSHI: SONEVA SOUL
SPA AT SONEVA FUSHI: SONEVA SOUL
SPA AT SONEVA FUSHI: SONEVA SOUL
SPA AT SONEVA FUSHI: SONEVA SOUL
SPA AT SONEVA FUSHI: SONEVA SOUL
SPA AT SONEVA FUSHI: SONEVA SOUL
SPA AT SONEVA FUSHI: SONEVA SOUL
SPA AT SONEVA FUSHI: SONEVA SOUL
SONEVA FUSHI
OUT OF THE BLUE
SONEVA FUSHI: OUT OF THE BLUE
OUT OF THE BLUE
SONEVA FUSHI: OUT OF THE BLUE
OUT OF THE BLUE

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1 Comment

  1. If planning on doing a vacation to both Soneva Jani & Fushi, which would you recommend to start your vacation with and which of the 2 to end the vacation with?

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