Isolation – used to mean better things before 2020 happened to us. The pandemic defined isolation as involuntary seclusion within the confines of your home, for the fear of falling very ill. Then the world traveled around the sun and we decided to reinstate the cheerfulness to the term – to bring back the good isolation. Having visited the absolute sanctum of good isolation once before, we decided to revisit Soneva Jani and explore its next chapter.
This stunning property could well be described as a drop of heaven on the ocean. Our previous visit was during ‘normal times’, and we were curious to know how this bastion of wellbeing and luxury kept its flags flying high during the pandemic. The announcement of ‘Chapter 2’ only added tinder to our desire to revisit the Maldives. We learned that the new chapter included Soneva Jani’s expansion to 27 new Water Reserves (or villas). Past experience taught us to expect only the best – be it the seamless integration of the resort with its surroundings or courteousness like we had never encountered before.
After getting a Covid test done my wife and I boarded a flight to Malé, leaving the rigor of everyday life behind us. The arrival is quite something because you are scooted away to the arrival lounge by the Soneva Jani team who are always delighted to welcome you with a warmth you could get used to. From here, you needn’t bother with your luggage as it’s all taken care of by the team as you relax in an eerily quiet Tesla while being driven to the lounge. The Soneva lounge mentally prepares you for the resort’s eco-chic look. We waited for our scheduled sea-plane here, relaxing on a lounger and enjoying the free WiFi while sipping a welcome fruit refreshment, while the concierge took care of all the check-in formalities. We had access to a healthy buffet to calm our rising appetite, of course, saving more space for the delicacies of the resort.
After about twenty minutes, our seaplane was ready to ferry us across to the resort. The private planes are reserved only for Soneva properties, which ensures a shorter wait time. Like the lounge, the seaplane was adorned in purple livery. The views on the short journey are spectacular and remarkably azure. After 45 minutes, we arrived at the sprawling property that greeted us with the familiar surrealism that is impossible to get used to. We were escorted to our villa and were met with a specialist who got our COVID-19 tests done. All guests are subject to this and they have to be quarantined in the villa till the reports come out, which took about 10 hours for us. But don’t let these words lead you astray. This was quite literally the best quarantine one could possibly hope for. As we settled down into our villa, we observed how Soneva Jani once again managed to intimately infuse the surroundings of the ocean with its interior design that was sustainable, yet plush.
Everything within the over-water villas was ‘open’. The doors and windows had a sense of openness that was spectacular by the day and romantic by night; it felt like the designers wouldn’t want to discount even a tiny opportunity to create an opaque barrier. The turquoise shades of the ocean seemed to fill the insides of the living spaces. Living in these villas gives you a good feeling, not only for the senses but for your conscience too. Being Soneva, you can be assured of eco-consciousness employed everywhere you go, even in the interiors and furniture, which are made using renewable plantation wood.
All along the floor, you will find glass potholes that reveal the marine life below the villa. You can head up to the upper deck using a ladder and take in the stunning views of the ocean all around you or become a part of it by sliding down the irresistible slide. Just taking the initial tour had me brimming with mixed emotions like never before. There was the deep reflective adult who thanked his stars for the best 10-hour quarantine in his lifetime and the little child who wanted to kick off his sneakers and lodge himself on the slide.
As soon as we tested negative, we were allowed to roam across the property without masks. This was especially liberating and reassuring as well since the Soneva staff is regularly tested. Each villa is assigned a personalized Mr. or Mrs. Friday. Our butler was Asma, and she was our one-point contact for all things within the property. You really needn’t go from pillar to post with this service. She spoke English fluently and patiently responded to all our requests and queries.
The open areas of the villas overlook the ocean and you have maximum privacy with only the blue ocean as your witness. This is something worth acknowledging for what could easily be the biggest and most luxurious overwater villa in the world, measuring 5,973 square feet. It was bigger than many Presidential suites I had visited before. Add to that the comfort of catamaran nets, your own private lagoon, daybeds, a retractable roof to take in the night sky, an entertainment console with a flatscreen TV and Bose sound system, and a heated freshwater pool if you don’t enjoy the salty ocean.
The real liberating feeling is being able to amble away from your villa, without a mask. Soneva Jani is spread across 150 acres and traveling from one end of the property to another is a 5.6-kilometer Thankfully, we had e-bikes at our disposal, so we could pedal around the wooden plankways that connected the villas and the common areas and switch to assisted riding as soon as we were tired. Everything is so thought through. This is when we came across the turtle hatchling, which was penned in a fence with a notice that told us the expected day of hatching. We also witnessed the coral replanting exercise, which is in line with the resort’s philosophy of giving back to nature.
Everywhere we went, was an Instagram moment waiting to happen. Everything was elegantly crafted and responsibly sourced. Even the tables and chairs across the property as well as the power cable spindles, which were made into tables, were the fruit of recycling. I was inquisitive about the absence of mosquitoes, given the size of the island and the plentiful vegetation it contains. Soneva has partnered with mosquito expert, Dr. Bart Knols, to set up chemical-free traps across the property, which means that guests do not have to endure the discomfort of fogging.
When it comes to blending sustainability with ultra-luxury, Soneva properties can even teach the best in the business a thing or two.
On the first night, we ordered the in-villa dining fare which was laid out over the glass-bottomed dining area in the villa. The restaurants on the property are something you wouldn’t want to miss though. Several fruits and vegetables are grown and sourced from the island itself. ‘Overseas’ by Mathias Dahlgren is all about organic pescatarian, vegetarian, and plant-based mains. Raw-food chef Diana Von Cranach’s restaurant, ‘So Wild’, prepares its fares with 90% of the ingredients sourced from the resort’s organic gardens. ‘So Primitive’ is the third restaurant to complete the trio and hosts a large fire around which guests are seated. All their meats, seafood, and vegetarian dishes are grilled over the common fire and served to guests.
All these attractions are housed at The Gathering, where guests mingle with one and other or simply sit back and take in the experiences. None of the restaurants here are air-conditioned, to ensure minimum carbon footprint. The natural ventilation does a fine job in keeping you cool even in the Maldivian heat.
After spending two days at the Soneva Jani, we actually forgot about the pandemic.
I may be mentioning this at the end, but the most cherished experience of my trip was ‘So Starstruck’ – a unique stargazing experience over the water where we peered through the 16” Schmidt-Cassegrain designed telescope with star-struck splendor. What made it more enriching was the insights by Soneva’s resident astronomer who elaborated on our observations over a fine meal. We spotted Sirius, the Mars, and took a good close look at the moon, among other celestial bodies. The astronomer, Maavin Munthasir, also works as the aquamarine guide at the property and he is friends with the local dolphins too. By the end of our recourse, I had come to envy his life.
Soneva’s famed spa and treatment center is one worth visiting. The resort plans to open an Ayurvedic center later in the year. Being rejuvenated by the experience is one thing, and being delicately healed by adept and well-trained hands is another altogether.
Isolation found its true definition for us at Soneva Jani. Chapter 2 promises to bring happiness and liberation to the soul of a global population that has been holed in their homes. For five days, we completely forgot that the world is battling a pandemic. We didn’t see masks or sanitizers. If Soneva Jani presented the proposition of the world’s best over-water resort, Chapter 2 simply put it beyond the comprehension of those who haven’t dwelled in its welcoming, natural, and responsible confines.
Medhufaru Island, Manadhoo, Maldives
Tel – +960 656-6666
Website – Soneva.com
A one-bedroom overwater villa at the Chapter 2 costs $2,750++ per night.
Note – I was invited to the Soneva Jani but all the opinions expressed herewith are my own.