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!

Fabulous Fez: A true taste of Moroccan culture

Fez, the ancient city in Morocco's rugged interior. (Shutterstock)
Updated 17 December 2018

Fabulous Fez: A true taste of Moroccan culture

  • Fez, the ancient city in Morocco's rugged interior
  • Fez is Morocco’s cultural and spiritual capital

BARCELONA: While the name Casablanca conjures up romantic images of cinema’s golden age and Marrakech attracts the tourist hordes, visitors seeking the true Morocco should instead head to Fez, the ancient city in the country’s rugged interior.

Located north-east of the fabled Atlas Mountains, Fez is Morocco’s cultural and spiritual capital, making it both revered and envied by its rival regions. Home to the world’s oldest continuously in-use university — The University of Al-Karaouine, founded in 859 CE — Fez’s influence on the Arab world is vast.

Sited in the 1,200-year-old medina, the university is one of many must-see sights among the 9,400 streets that make up the world’s largest car-free urban area. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the labyrinthine alleyways are no trite tourist attraction — around 70,000 people call the old city home.

The construction of the neighboring Karaouine Mosque, built at the same time as the university, marks the start of Fez’s Golden Age as the capital of a sprawling empire. Wealthy families funded a vast building program of luxurious homes, palaces, religious schools and mosques, many of which still stand today.

The medina’s claustrophobic density means visitors never know what will be revealed around the next turn. Getting lost is inevitable, but the main landmarks are regularly signposted so reorienting yourself is straightforward.

Although there is plenty of accommodation available within the medina, visitors may prefer to stay in neighboring Fes el Jdid, the “new” city (built in the 13th century), which allows cars, making it easier to for airport transfers.

The old city’s two main streets, Talaa Kebira and Talaa Seghiri, can both be accessed through the ornate triple-arched Bab Bou Jeloud, the medina’s western gateway. Kebira takes you to the meat district, which is not for the squeamish – live chickens ignorantly cluck in cages next to their newly-killed and plucked friends, while camels’ heads dangle in front of some stores.

The street then meanders downhill, and butchers’ shops give way to family-run stores selling everything from ceramics to artifacts, clothing and spices.

Compared to the chaotic hustle of Marrakesh’s souks, the Fez medina is a sedate affair and haggling for goods with its courteous shopkeepers is an amusing thrill, rather than an ordeal.

Follow Talaa Kebira far enough and you’ll eventually reach Fez’s famed Chaouwara Tanneries, which have been operating for more than 750 years. To view the tanneries, enter one of the many leather shops whose roof terraces provide panoramic views over the site. Around 60 families work the stinking tanneries as a cooperative. Among them is Moustafa’s, whose ancestors have been making leather here for over 300 years.

“It is passed from father to son. We share the money every two months,” said the grey-haired Moustafa. Speaking from the roof of his cavernous leather shop, he explained the tortuous process to make the leather, involving weeks of painstaking dyeing and drying.

For visitors seeking some pampering after a tough day exploring, head to Riad Fes Maya, a few meters from Boulevard Ben Mohammed El Alaoui. Entering this 14th-century gem is like discovering a secret world. The central courtyard — once a place of political intrigue — is naturally lit by its glass roof, with tiled mosaic columns supporting the upper floors with their ornately carved window frames. There are nine suites available for guests, starting from $150 per night, including breakfast. It’s an excellent place to stay, showcasing the very best in Moroccan architecture and hospitality.

Guests and visitors alike can enjoy an authentic hammam, Morocco’s famed hot steam bath and body scrub, as well as a variety of massages, while the roof-top restaurant is Fez’s top-rated on TripAdviser.

Outside the medina, there is little to occupy visitors in the modern suburbs, but Fes el Jdid could be worth a morning or afternoon trip, the gardens of Jardin Jnan Sdil provide a soothing retreat after the medina’s sensory overload.

Of all Fez’s myriad charms, though, its greatest attraction is its people. Arab culture is justly famed for hospitality, generosity and friendliness, and Fassis show these in their every interaction.
Of course, this is a city of traders, with over a millennium of commerce hardwired into the local psyche, but — sale or no sale — the warmth of the street hawkers, shopkeepers and restauranteurs is undimmed.

Food is plentiful and delicious (we’d recommend Ali Baba Restaurant near the tanneries — be sure to sample the lemon chicken tagine), while taxis are cheap and ubiquitous — a 10-minute journey rarely costs more than $1.05. Accommodation options range from $20 a night to five-star luxury, so, whatever your budget, Fez should be an essential stop on any trip to Morocco.