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
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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!


Mass tourism threatens Croatia’s ‘Game of Thrones’ town

Updated 21 September 2018
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Mass tourism threatens Croatia’s ‘Game of Thrones’ town

DUBROVNIK, Croatia: Marc van Bloemen has lived in the old town of Dubrovnik, a Croatian citadel widely praised as the jewel of the Adriatic, for decades, since he was a child. He says it used to be a privilege. Now it’s a nightmare.
Crowds of tourists clog the entrances to the ancient walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as huge cruise ships unload thousands more daily. People bump into each other on the famous limestone-paved Stradun, the pedestrian street lined with medieval churches and palaces, as fans of the popular TV series “Game of Thrones” search for the locations where it was filmed.
Dubrovnik is a prime example of the effects of mass tourism, a global phenomenon in which the increase in people traveling means standout sites — particularly small ones — get overwhelmed by crowds. As the numbers of visitors keeps rising, local authorities are looking for ways to keep the throngs from killing off the town’s charm.
“It’s beyond belief, it’s like living in the middle of Disneyland,” says van Bloemen from his house overlooking the bustling Old Harbor in the shadows of the stone city walls.
On a typical day there are about eight cruise ships visiting this town of 2,500 people, each dumping some 2,000 tourists into the streets. He recalls one day when 13 ships anchored here.
“We feel sorry for ourselves, but also for them (the tourists) because they can’t feel the town anymore because they are knocking into other tourists,” he said. “It’s chaos, the whole thing is chaos.”
The problem is hurting Dubrovnik’s reputation. UNESCO warned last year that the city’s world heritage title was at risk because of the surge in tourist numbers.
The popular Discoverer travel blog recently wrote that a visit to the historic town “is a highlight of any Croatian vacation, but the crowds that pack its narrow streets and passageways don’t make for a quality visitor experience.”
It said that the extra attention the city gets from being a filming location for “Game of Thrones” combines with the cruise ship arrivals to create “a problem of epic proportions.”
It advises travelers to visit other quaint old towns nearby: “Instead of trying to be one of the lucky ones who gets a ticket to Dubrovnik’s sites, try the delightful town of Ohrid in nearby Macedonia.”
In 2017, local authorities announced a “Respect the City” plan that limits the number of tourists from cruise ships to a maximum of 4,000 at any one time during the day. The plan still has to be implemented, however.
“We are aware of the crowds,” said Romana Vlasic, the head of the town’s tourist board.
But while on the one hand she pledged to curb the number of visitors, Vlasic noted with some satisfaction that this season in Dubrovnik “is really good with a slight increase in numbers.” The success of the Croatian national soccer team at this summer’s World Cup, where it reached the final, helped bring new tourists new tourists.
Vlasic said that over 800,000 tourists visited Dubrovnik since the start of the year, a 6 percent increase from the same period last year. Overnight stays were up 4 percent to 3 million.
The cruise ships pay the city harbor docking fees, but the local businesses get very little money from the visitors, who have all-inclusive packages on board the ship and spend very little on local restaurants or shops.
Krunoslav Djuricic, who plays his electric guitar at Pile, one of the two main entrances of Dubrovnik’s walled city, sees the crowds pass by him all day and believes that “mass tourism might not be what we really need.”
The tourists disembarking from the cruise ships have only a few hours to visit the city, meaning they often rush around to see the sites and take selfies to post to social media.
“We have crowds of people who are simply running,” Djuricic says. “Where are these people running to?“