Wednesday newsletters always feature a luxury hotel or flight review.
Last February, I enjoyed a FABULOUS holiday in the incredibly beautiful Maldives. You can read my trip reports here:
Today (May 24, 2017): Review of Soneva Jani, the Maldives’ most stunning resort.
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 absolutely 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. Currently, Soneva Jani features 24 water villas and one beach villa, although additional beach villas are planned at a later stage. Each one of the 24 water villas is superbly designed and 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 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.
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
- My review of other luxury resorts in the Maldives
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
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PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- After collecting your luggage at Malé International Airport, you are greeted by one of the members of the Soneva staff and whisked away to the dedicated Soneva lounge near the seaplane terminal, where you can wait for the connecting seaplane transfer to the resort. At the lounge – which features Soneva’s signature eco-chic design and even has a small spa room on site – guests are offered a refreshing drink and some snacks, while a Soneva host takes care of the check-in process (so that you will arrive hassle-free at the resort).
- 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. The seaplane transfers are very well-organized, since Soneva has a privileged relationship with Trans Maldivian Airways, the seaplane operator; this means that waiting time at the Soneva lounge on your day of arrival or departure seldom exceeds two hours.
- 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 materialised!
- 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 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 (four of them deserted). The main island Medhufaru is one of the largest in the Maldives, and 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. Regarding the other four islands in the lagoon, a beach club with a tented restaurant serving seafood lunches is set up on so called Zuhairs Island, while the other three remain entirely undeveloped, so there is always somewhere a place to play castaway.
- In this massive space with the islands and the lagoon, there are only 24 over water villas and one beach villa (with additional beach villas planned at a later stage). It’s one of the lowest density resorts in the world, by far. The scale of each 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 a 1,7 km (1 mi) long jetty that is connected to Medhufaru island and curves 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 retreat – 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-coloured 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 colour 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 – so-called 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. Twice weekly, there is a movie selection for both children and adults, with a focus on classic and insipirational movies. Private screenings and dining experiences can be arranged at extra charge.
- 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 jetty, the Gathering is the heart of the resort. It houses the various dining outlets (more on that below), as well as the spa, a gym, library, a boutique shop, the chocolate & ice cream parlour, 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. From what I heard, the spa may eventually move to another overwater location and a much larger, stand alone kids club is planned as well.
- 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 jetty 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 five 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. But Soneva Jani also features an exquisite tasting room (So Imaginative), a mystery dining venue (So Engaging), an intimate restaurant at the Observatory (with only four tables equipped with screens linked to the view from the telescope), a tented restaurant serving seafood lunches at Zuhairs island, and the restaurant at Cinema Paradiso.
- 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 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. 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.
- 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: read my tips for getting the best deal at a luxury hotel like Soneva Jani (and/or receive many free perks).
- Save money: contact me to receive a complimentary room upgrade at Soneva Jani at the time of booking.
- 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 (800 USD per person, 12 year and above). The seaplanes only operate during daylight, so make sure you arrive in Male before 3 pm in order, so you can move to the resort on the day of your arrival in the Maldives.
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
MY REVIEWS OF OTHER LUXURY HOTELS IN THE MALDIVES
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:
- 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), Lufthansa (via Frankfurt), Air France (via Paris).
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