By Sharifah Alhinai
Interior and exterior photos of Villa One, which houses three ensuite bedrooms, two living rooms, a kitchen, an office, a gym, a pool and interrupted access to the beach. Photography courtesy of Soneva.
As I put on my sandals to depart the breathtaking island on which my family and I had spent the last three days strolling barefoot, I could not help but recall the story of Adam and Eve’s descent from Paradise. The two knew they were no longer in Heaven when they realized that they needed to cover their bare bodies. Like my parents before me, I knew I was leaving the Soneva Fushi Resort in the Maldives—paradise on Earth—when I had to cover my feet.
The Soneva Fushi Resort, named after its founders Sonu Shivdasani and his wife Eva, is more than just another five-star hotel. Situated in the Baa Atoll, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, the resort has been a pioneer in providing back-to-nature luxury holidays since 1995. My family and I are constantly on the hunt for new and adventurous experiences and are big fans of Robinson Crusoe, by which the resort was inspired, so choosing the Soneva Fushi Resort as our next holiday destination was easy for us.
The choice was not as easy for our extended family members and friends to digest, however, given the Maldives’ overwhelming reputation as a romantic destination in the Arabian Gulf region and worldwide. Needless to say, the six of us stood out on the couples-full plane ride from Abu Dhabi to Male, the capital city of the Maldives.
Two and a half movies later, we descended onto Velana International Airport’s peninsular airstrip, which is hugged by the vast Indian Ocean on three sides.
Less than five minutes after—a record-breaking customs and luggage service in our books—we found ourselves in the open-air, ocean-view arrivals hall, being warmly greeted by two of the resort’s representatives. The duo guided us to the resort’s private lounge, where we sipped fresh juices and used the provided iPads to customize our stay at Soneva Fushi as we waited for our seaplane to arrive.
Each of us was asked a range of questions such as the type and number of pillows we would like on our beds, the scents we preferred, and whether we preferred a male or female butler and housekeeping staff (or ‘hosts’, as they are called in this resort). We thought about how great this option is for Khaleeji and Arab families, as well as female groups, who would prefer female hosts to avoid remaining veiled in the presence of males.
The road to heaven isn’t easy, as confirmed by our 30-minute seaplane ride to Kunfunadhoo Island, on which the Soneva Fushi Resort sits.
If you think landing on water would feel lighter than landing on land, you are gravely mistaken, my friend. Besides getting your neck jolted, you will soon feel nauseous from the waves rocking the plane back and forth. Never in my life did I think I could get seasick on a plane.
Catering to this possibility, however, the hosts welcomed us with stomach-soothing coconut water and refreshing cool, wet towels as soon as we stepped off the rocking seaplane and onto the awaiting speedboat. Instantly, we were as good as new. As we sped through the ocean, our butler, or ‘Mr. Friday’, collected our shoes and placed them in drawstring bags, true to the Robinson Crusoe theme and the resort’s policy of ‘no news, no shoes’. We would not see our shoes again until the very last day.
Within minutes we were finally at the Soneva Fushi Resort. Captivated by the lush green trees that awaited us at the end of the long berth and the picturesque curved coconut trees that almost kissed the glistening water, we rushed to get to shore.
“I feel like I’m in a movie set”, whispered my brother Majid, mesmerized, as we all were, once we were inside the resort.
We all nodded in awe-stricken silence as we stretched our necks upwards to gaze upon the high, green trees that were competing to reach the sky. In combination with the chirps of the native birds and the clicks of the wild geckos, they made us feel like we were in the middle of an Amazonian rainforest as opposed to an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. We would later find out that such lush vegetation cannot be found ubiquitously in the Maldives and is a product of the owners’ own initiative to increase the vegetation.
In front of us stood the resort’s lobby, a small open-air hut. All around us were hosts and hotel guests on bicycles, their faces beaming with pure joy, who nodded at us as their way of welcoming us to paradise. Everyone looked like they were experiencing the best day of their lives, and it was at that exact moment that I knew that the best days of our lives were just ahead of us.
By sunset we were settling into Villa One, a two-story, 1400 square meter, three-bedroom villa with a private gym, steam room, library, recreational space with a table tennis and billiard table, ocean-view balconies, and a kitchen and study.
We were told that the villa’s previous inhabitants included Madonna and her then husband Guy Ritchie. Being hijabis, however, us girls were perhaps most excited about the villa’s private beach access and pool because that meant that we could have the full Maldivian experience!
After settling in, we dined in Fresh in the Garden, a treetop restaurant hanging high above an herb and vegetable garden, which can only be accessed by crossing a narrow rope-and-wood bridge. As kids, it was our shared dream to visit a treehouse. That night, our childhood fantasy came true. Our senses were delighted by mouth-watering Mediterranean-inspired dishes that were prepared using fresh and aromatic ingredients from the garden below. As we sipped on the resort’s own glass-bottled and mineral-enhanced water, we noticed that the restaurant was full of families, a sight that strongly contrasted with the popular image of the Maldives as merely a couples’ destination. We would see this again and again during our stay.
Fresh in the Garden Restaurant. Photography courtesy of Soneva.
We ended our night stargazing with in-house astronomer Michael Dalley in the nearby ‘So Celestial’ Observatory. The sight of what seemed like a thousand twinkling stars, an impossible view back home in the city, hypnotized us. When we peered through the state-of-the-art telescope, Jupiter and its moons magically seemed to be a fingertip away.
As we were leaving, with our eyes still glued to the majestic sky, we were told that the Milky Way would also be visible at dawn.
The Second Day
We woke up with the sun, ecstatic about the day awaiting us. After a big breakfast at Mihiree Mithaa, an extensive beachside buffet where we were offered anything our taste buds desired, our Mr. Friday took us on a bicycle tour to discover the rest of the enchanting island resort.
We explored the island’s various secluded beaches, all different hues of blue, but all having the same powder-soft sand that we thoroughly enjoyed sinking our bare feet into. We visited the ‘So Glasscycle’ Glass Studio, where guests can learn how to blow the island’s recycled glass into masterpieces with the help of renowned visiting artists.
We passed by the Eco Centro, where the majority of the island’s solid waste is recycled and its food waste is converted to soil.
Captain Aaron Sale gave us a quick tour of Soneva in Aqua, the resort’s newest addition: a private ‘boat villa’ where you can enjoy all the resort’s benefits and services while out at sea.
Exterior and interior images of Soneva in Aqua. Photography courtesy of Soneva.
We checked out the nine-bedroom villa, perfect for when we come back with our extended family, before our inner children came out as we slid on the long waterslide in the Children’s Den, the first of its kind of playground in the Maldives.
By mid-afternoon it was time for me to face one of my great fears: diving into the mysterious ocean. After shouts from my relatives to ‘woman up’ and reassurances from the in-house marine biologists, Frederica and Maura, that everything would be all right, I ignored the summersaults in my stomach and jumped legs first into the vast Indian Ocean. I opened my eyes to a world of immense beauty and colour, which we all explored together. The peaceful whale sharks and manta rays (sometimes the size of cars) are spotted regularly from June to November.
At dusk we gathered with Fassy, the resort’s food & beverage director, and Shiyam, the executive assistant manager, over a dimly lit, cozy beach barbeque dinner.
As we munched on the luscious bounties of the land and sea, they shared tales of the country’s rich history and culture with us, from how Islam was peacefully brought to the Maldives in the 12th century by Moroccan visitor Abu Al-Barakat, to the noticeable Hindi and Arabic influences on the Dhivehi language, to the Maldivians’ collective passion for hospitality.
We also learnt that the resort organizes day trips to two nearby Maldivian islands for culture enthusiasts like us to experience the authentic Maldives.
The Third Day
With my sunglasses shading my relaxed eyes and the sun’s morning warmth as my blanket, I slipped into a shallow sleep in our villa’s poolside hammock. Though I was in the land of dreams, I could still faintly hear the sound of Abdul Majid’s latest hit blasting through our villa’s Bose hi-fi system.
Earlier, after our sunrise breakfast picnic, which was beautifully set up by our Mr. Friday on our private beach, us girls had decided to kick the boys out and have a comfortable, girls-only rest of the morning.
While they were trying out the other water activities the resort offers, from banana boats to donut rides, we fully enjoyed our private pool and beach. I woke up from my delightful nap to cool virgin mojitos, brought to us by a female host, after we had asked that no male hosts come to our villa for the next few hours.
Shortly after, our brothers returned three shades darker and pushed us to try out the remainder of the water sports with them. Together we paddle-boarded and kayaked through the crystal-clear waters, spotting the beautiful and harmless Baby Blacktip Reef Sharks beneath us as we did.
We cooled off by visiting the Chocolate Room and Ice Cream Parlor, which offer a wide selection of chocolates and over 65 flavours of ice cream, complimentary to guests day and night. While my sister Manar and I raced to meet the inspirational Sonu, the rest literally rode off into the sunset to dolphin-watch.
Later that night we all gathered around a hole in the sand to watch our dinner being cooked the traditional way. A fire was lit in the small sand hole, the tuna fish was lowered into it and all was subsequently covered with banana leaves and buried. We were so enveloped by its deliciousness once it was ready that we completely forgot that we were scheduled to watch a classic film in Cinema Paradisio, the resort’s beachside al fresco movie theatre!
Life after Soneva Fushi
Weeks later, none of us can stop reminiscing about our remarkable time at the Soneva Fushi Resort. Our stay made us feel years younger, carefree and light—the way we were when we were children. Our souls still yearn to go back there, to that place, which somehow felt like home, a home we lived in a long time ago, but had forgotten about. I cannot help but think that that was how Adam and Eve must have felt while they were on Earth.
Want to spend your next family vacation in Soneva Fushi? Follow this link to reserve: https://www.soneva.com/.
Sharifah Alhinai is the co-founder and managing storyteller of Sekka.
The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.
Last updated on 16 November 2020.