Visit the Maldives' Soneva Fushi for the ultimate in exclusivity

Soneva Fushi may just be the secret haven you never knew you could escape to.
Updated 10 March 2018

Visit the Maldives' Soneva Fushi for the ultimate in exclusivity

MALE ATOLL, Maldives: Few destinations ooze romance as much as these picture-perfect islands in the Indian Ocean. However, not all Maldivian islands are created equal, so for those looking to totally get away from it all, Soneva Fushi may just be the secret haven you never knew you could escape to and although the country has experienced political turmoil in its capital, the tension has not affected the airport and the multitude of far-flung island resorts, almost all of which are only accessible by seaplane or speedboat.
The Soneva experience starts well before you even take that flight into Male. As part of the reservation, you are sent a detailed questionnaire that aims to get to know you and your partner really well — from what your preferred fragrances are, right down to your favorite ice cream flavors and toppings (almond ice cream with brownie crumble topping, anyone?) — just so they can tailor the perfect experience for you.
This sort of personalized attention is what makes Soneva Fushi stand out. Neither is it one of the newest or flashiest resorts in the Maldives, nor does it boast over-the-top over-water villas that are pretty much par for course in this destination. Instead, what it offers is discreet seclusion in oversized villas nestled amidst tropical jungles, built around the local foliage so they can be barely seen from the outside, just footsteps away from the powder-white beaches.
Expansive glass walls allow the outdoors in, while oversized sofas with plump cushions all around, both outdoors and inside — for those afternoons when the odd tropical rain shower might force you indoors away from the turquoise seas and swaying palms — seem designed to encourage lounging.
The spacious villas epitomize rustic chic, with organic design and natural materials used throughout, to offer the ultimate luxury of living simply in nature — not least in the case of the jaw-dropping open-air bathroom which is sized approximately the same as average city apartments! No creature comforts are compromised though, with every conceivable mod-con at your disposal — and then some. A private butler is at your service 24/7, for example.
It is this butler who you can turn to in order to design a romance-fueled experience during your stay. While simply whiling the days away languidly, with the only choices being beach or private pool would probably be all the backdrop you need for quality time together, here it is all about the bespoke experiences, most of which are perfect for Valentine’s Day celebrations.

Splashes of orange at Fresh in the Garden #SonevaInOrange by @aja_ng #SonevaFestivalofColour

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You can also choose from one of their several private dining concepts, which range from a Robinson Crusoe-style castaway picnic on an uninhabited island, to dolphin-watching trips, to an overnight experience on a private sandbank (i.e. your own private island for the night), and jungle dinners under starlit skies. Other highlights include booking out Cinema Paradiso, their beachside cinema theatre for a magical “bbq dinner and a movie” evening; and a private stargazing session with the resident astronomer at the Maldives’ only observatory (astronomy dinner cruises on a private yacht can also be arranged).

Food clearly seems to be an essential part of the narrative, with a lot of emphasis being placed on fresh and local produce, a lot of which is grown on-site in the two organic gardens.
A not-to-be-missed experience is the vegetable garden lunch — a delightful affair where you get to pick your own salad leaves together with the charming chef, who then tosses it together into a salad course, which is followed by a delectable selection of regionally-inspired curries, made using produce from the garden, all of it enjoyed alfresco.

It’s like a heaven#moldiv #sonevafushi #resort

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In fact, growing their own produce is but one small part of the commitment to sustainability here — being green is in their bones. Conceived by hospitality industry pioneers Sonu and Eva Shivdasani (who also founded the Six Senses brand), Soneva Fushi was the first real eco-friendly resort in the Maldives and Soneva resorts have come to epitomize intelligent luxury for the discerning traveller who likes meaningful, conscientious experiences.
Not only do they minimize the environmental footprint of running a remote luxury resort, they go to great efforts to have a positive impact — from offering water in recyclable glass bottles and running their own full-scale “Waste to Wealth” recycling center, to having a glass studio where recycled glass from the region is given new life by glassblowing artists — interactive glass studio experiences are also available as a unique, tactile couple’s activity.

Of course, no trip to the Maldives is complete without some underwater action, and there is plenty of that here too with the waters of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Baa Atoll surrounding the island providing ample fodder for snorkeling or diving — which can be done on a private basis with the in-house marine biologist too.

For anyone who falls in love with this way of life — and it is hard not to, just ask the numerous loyal returners — where being in harmony with nature and each other becomes easier than ever, the island is the first in the Maldives to offer an exclusive selection of residences for private ownership. Now that is a present no one can turn down!

Saudi tourism sector in the spotlight at Arabian Travel Market

Updated 22 April 2018

Saudi tourism sector in the spotlight at Arabian Travel Market

  • Kingdom developing tourism sector as part of economic diversification strategy
  • Vision 2030 foresees 1.2 million new tourist jobs by 2030

It is the leading global event for Middle Eastern tourism and it opens on Sunday in Dubai. The Arabian Travel Market attracts the big players of the industry and the wannabes. It showcases 2,800 products to more than 28,000 potential buyers and generates deals worth more than $2.5 billion.

No wonder the world wants to be there, from spas to safaris, from Armenia to Zanzibar and all points between in both the globe and the alphabet.

But this year, one destination is set to attract more attention than any other: Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom’s tourism industry has hitherto centered primarily on the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah; last year’s Hajj attracted around 2.35 million pilgrims, with about 1.75 million of those coming from abroad.

When it comes to non-religious tourism however, it is in the unique position of creating that industry more or less from scratch, which is an enviable place to be.

“It means we are able to learn from the mistakes of others and we can take the best from everywhere,” said Amr Al-Madani, CEO of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia’s archaeological treasure house and home to the Unesco-listed Madain Saleh.

“And we are determined to offer the best in every way,” he added.

Al-Madani recently returned from presenting the plans for Al-Ula at a high-profile gala at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, an occasion that coincided with the visit of Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, the driving force behind Vision2030, the ambitious program designed to revamp not only the national economy but Saudi society as a whole.

Once regarded as practically off-limits to visitors and particularly Westerners (although that was never true), Saudi Arabia is throwing open the gates, as part of plans to diversify its economy and create jobs for its citizens.

The Kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic development plan, designed to create new revenue streams to lower its reliance on oil, envisages the creation of 1.2 million new jobs in the tourism sector by 2030.

Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority in February said it planned to invest $64 billion in its entertainment sector in the coming 10 years. This investment will include the development of a countrywide network of cinemas, following the lifting of a ban last year.

As well as opening up the 5,000-year-old wonders of Al-Ula, there are plans to develop 34,000 square kilometers of Red Sea coastline and 50 outlying islands into luxury beach resorts.

The scheme has already attracted Sir Richard Branson, founder and boss of the Virgin Group, as its first international investor. He is involved in developing the islands — which he described as “breathtakingly beautiful” — as luxury destinations, and has also visited Madain Saleh.

“This is an incredibly exciting time in the country’s history and I’ve always felt that there is inothing like getting a first-hand impression,” he said after his visit.

He praised the Crown Prince for his vision, telling Arab News, “If you want to succeed you should have an idea and a plan to implement it and just do it. He is doing that and his heart is in the right place.”

Though he is overseeing the development of the Al-Ula sites, Amr Al-Madani said one plan was to offer two-center holidays: “Some days exploring the archaeology and the nature in Al-Ula and then a few days relaxing at the beach,” he said.

As well as unspoilt beaches, the Red Sea coast also enjoys the best climate in Saudi Arabia with pleasant sea breezes offsetting the heat.

The Red Sea project is expected to generate 35,000 jobs.

The Royal Commission has already recruited the first 200 future employees who will work in Al-Ula. The group — half boys, half girls — are all high school-leavers or university students from the region. They have already begun three months of training in Riyadh, learning languages and undergoing assessment by psychologists and careers advisers and will later be dispatched to several locations in Britain and the US to continue learning.

Al-Madani said Al-Ula should be ready to receive its first tourists in three to five years, eventually accommodating a million to 1.5 million a year.