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.
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.
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!