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Water slides, retractable roofs, Soneva Jani brings excitement to intelligent luxury

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In typical Maldivian fashion, it was a gloomy day in late July. But I was excited and determined to beat the South-West Monsoon rain as I boarded the seaplane to Soneva Jani, one of the most exciting new resorts in the Maldives. Since its launch in November, the resort has constantly created so much fanfare both locally and internationally. And I was eager to see it up-close-and-personal!

I am going to skip the personalised care given by the staff at the brand’s lounge at the seaplane terminal and the hassle-free check-in process —  the level of service that you generally expect from Soneva — and fast forward to the end of my 45-minute seaplane flight. As the seaplane descended, I could see the lagoon of Medhufaru from a distance. It was huge by Maldives standard, with a collection of five islands providing it with protection and a majestic view to the visitors that have never seen anything of the sorts before.

As I stepped out of the seaplane and onto the floating platform, located a few kilometres away from the resort, I was greeted by Logie Rañosa-Afsan who introduced herself as my Ms. Friday — Soneva’s own brand of butler service. The waters were choppy, making it almost impossible to stand on the platform. So we hurried to the speedboat, which would take us to the resort in a minute or two.

The concept of barefoot luxury pioneered by Soneva began on the speedboat itself where I took off my shoes and put it in a bag marked with the brand’s “no news, no shoes” slogan. I would not be seeing it, let alone needing it until I take the very last step onto the seaplane after my trip!

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To understand the story of Soneva Jani, it is important to go back in time to 1995 when Eva and Sonu Shivdasani built their first resort, Soneva Fushi on the deserted island of Kunfunadhoo in the Maldives. Inspired by the couple’s intensely personal vision of a locally-crafted villa and environmentally responsible lifestyle, Soneva Fushi opened its doors as the first ‘castaway’ resort in the Maldives, pioneering a trend for back-to-nature luxury holidays.

With the resort located in the central Baa atoll, Soneva established a blueprint for barefoot luxury holidays in the Maldives and around the world, with several firsts to its name: the Maldives’ first integrated waste management centre, first to introduce a two percent carbon levy to offset carbon emissions, and the first Art and Glass studio in the Maldives.

Fast forward 20 years, Soneva Jani is the continuation of Sonu and Eva’s own brand of luxury tourism and their environmentally responsible lifestyle, SLOW LIFE. Inspired by the Sanskrit word Jani, which means wisdom, Soneva Jani is located on the 150-acre Medhufaru island, the largest of the five islands in the 5.6-kilometre private lagoon. The resort encompasses a collection of 24 overwater villas and one island villa, with more island villas set to be built later on.

I would be making one of those overwater villas, officially called Water Retreats or Reserves, home during my stay. But before taking me there, Loglie gave me a comprehensive tour of The Gathering, the heart of the overwater villas and the central hub of operations. This three-storey overwater building — dubbed the largest overwater structure in the Maldives — houses various dining outlets as well as the spa, library, kids club, retail area and wine cellar.

The Gathering at Soneva Jani. PHOTO/ SONEVA

Built from the same untreated wood and given the same ash-coloured finishing, The Gathering lets you enjoy drinks, snacks or global favourites from a carefully crafted food menu while sitting at sunken tables with glass bottoms or lying on daybeds and overwater catamaran nets overlooking the fish-filled waters of the lagoon. After your meal, you can skip dessert and head over to the So Cool to indulge in homemade ice-cream (over 50 flavours to choose from) and handmade chocolates from in-house chocolatiers — a complimentary offering that Soneva is famous for. You can follow it up with some light reading at the reading corners where shelves stacked with an inspiring and informative selection of literature on the Maldives and its magnificent underwater world are lined with. Or just extend the calmness the jelly fish art hanging from the ceiling, which itself has been decorated with dried leaves (I was later told that over 14,000 dried leaves have been used to decorate the ceilings of different buildings in the resort), gives you by heading to the spa for a rejuvenating treatment set against the stunning views of the shimmering lagoon.

The tour had me wanting to explore The Gathering more, but it was time for me to finally enter the two-bedroom Water Reserve that had been booked for me. And so, I got on an electric buggy along with Loglie and made our way through the zigzag-like wooden pathways over the lagoon. I was “so carried away”, as a piece of wood attached to one side of the buggy proclaimed, by the lingering ocean breeze and the azure waters of the lagoon that I did not even realise when the buggy came to a stop at the entrance to my villa.

Entrance to the two-bedroom Water Reserve. PHOTO/ MALDIVES INSIDER

Even from the first glance, it appeared fairytale-esque, with sandblasted pine decking and Shingle Red River Gum tiles adorning the outside. The roof, with a little secret to be discovered once inside, was shaped in such a way that it gave the villa an overall impression of a castle from a Disney movie. The sheer size — 555 square metres to be exact — added to its grandeur, making me wanting to just stay in for the rest of my stay here.

Once the wooden door opened, I was greeted by a large living room with a sunken table like those at The Gathering set in the middle. The villas are made from subtly weathered woods and natural materials in a colour palette of white, pastel greens and mauves. The overall effect is ethereal, light and airy — all in all, encouraging the ultimate state of relaxation.

Living room of a water retreat at Soneva Jani. PHOTO/ SONEVA

On one side, a door opened to the master bedroom, where a king-sized bed sat in the middle facing the sundeck, which was accessible through floor-to-ceiling glass doors. Through the room, a sliding wooden door opened to a private kitchen and walk-in mini-bar, while separate doors led to a walk-in closet and dressing room, a dedicated toilet, and an open-air bathroom with tub, shower and lagoon access. There was a light-filled study too, but what caught my attention the most was the large outdoor deck and seating area where sun loungers and an overwater swing seat were set. The highlight of this large, spacious deck that offered unfettered access to the lagoon was the 13m salt water swimming pool with catamaran nets and the adjoining water slide, a hit amongst kids and adults alike as it allowed them to be ‘thrown’ into the lagoon in a similar fashion as with a fun slide at a carnival.

The kitchen and walk-in minibar at a water retreat at Soneva Jani. PHOTO/ SONEVA

The master bedroom of a water retreat at Soneva Jani. PHOTO/ SONEVA

The outdoor deck of a water retreat at Soneva Jani. PHOTO/ SONEVA

The outdoor shower at a water retreat at Soneva Jani. PHOTO/ SONEVA

One the other side of the living room, a staircase took me to the second floor of the villa, where a smaller bedroom and outdoor terrace area with cushioned seats formed a separate living area totally detached from your regular space. Although the night was cloudy, I could imagine myself standing at the balcony, staring at the starlit night sky and listening to the rhythm of the waves.

But I had to try out the ultimate showstopper of the villa; the retractable roof. A remote with only three buttons — two arrows (one for opening and the other for closing) and a circle in the middle — lay in the top drawer of one of the bedside tables. I pushed the button and the roof slowly glided open, revealing the night sky. Although I was told that sensors detect rain and automatically close the roof even when I was asleep, I was advised to keep the roof shut when going out or sleeping.

Retractable roof of a water retreat at Soneva Jani. PHOTO/ SONEVA

This was next-level stargazing, right from the comfort of your bedroom! But Soneva Jani takes that experience even a bit further with its overwater observatory, located right next to The Gathering. Priding on being the first overwater observatory in the Maldives, it houses the “Rolls Royce” of telescopes; a 16-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain mounted on a 20-foot mast. This telescope — the largest in the Maldives — rises from the ground of the James Bond-inspired observatory, allowing you to zoom in on Jupiter, Saturn’s rings, and the Sombrero Galaxy some 31 million light years away.

The So Startruck observatory deck also transforms into a dining venue, where four dining tables equipped with screens linked to the view from the telescope are set in a circular fashion. Weather permitting, guests sit back on cushioned seats and enjoy great food and drinks from an Eclipse set menu prepared by the chef, as the in-house astronomer takes them through a journey of the night sky and the cosmos. I was booked for this out-of-the-world dining experience, but unfortunately bad weather got in the way.

So Starstruck at Soneva Jani. PHOTO/ SONEVA

The Gathering and the observatory lead the way to the Medhufaru island, which remains largely untouched for the time being except for the extensive gardens — from its time as a farm island 10 years ago — that still supply the fruits, vegetables, herbs and mushrooms to the resort’s kitchens. As Loglie and I approached the island on the buggy, I was again “so carried away” by the powder soft white sandbanks that were forming along with the low tide. Through the thick foliage and fully-formed vegetation that lined the sides of the narrow pathways, we stopped by at the areas marked for the second phase of the resort’s development, including the space for a new restaurant, spa and island villas, until we reached an isolated corner of the island.

This tranquil bay on the southern end of the island leads to the overwater, open air Cinema Paradiso — another first in the Maldives. Crossing a pathway made from cylindrical blocks of wood, which in high tide gives an impression of a floating jetty, guests are treated to screenings of movies old and new, with sound piped in via wireless headsets, so the noise does not disturb the underwater life and nesting wildlife of the island. As guests lie on catamaran nets hanging on the water, chefs create a special menu at the adjoining restaurant, which would be officially unveiled later this year as a full-fledged dining venue, to accompany the evening’s movie.

Cinema Paradiso at Soneva Jani. PHOTO/ SONEVA

From a distance, I could see a deserted island on the north, one of the four islands in the lagoon that will remain untouched. Named after a local chef, Zuhair’s Beach is accessible by a boat, and is the perfect spot for sunning, swimming and snorkelling. But that is not all you can do here; the island is home to a dining venue specialising in local cuisine. Refreshments are served throughout the day along with delightful lunches cooked only with what the chef can catch and pick. Here, guests can taste the freshest fish, grilled, barbecued or baked in the sand.

Back in the main island of Medhufaru, I was shown the waste-to-wealth Eco Centro. This is where Soneva Jani’s aim of becoming a zero-waste resort — everything composted, reused or used in construction — actively happens. With a strong emphasis on education and training, the practical but very guest friendly Eco Centro will be fully operational soon.

From there, we headed back to The Gathering. But there was one last attraction on the way; the Labyrinth, a meditative maze created out of ficus hedge that follows an ancient circular pattern. A walk or bicycle ride through this maze is so calming and refreshing that it not only helps you rediscover yourself, but also takes you back to the concept of intelligent luxury interwoven in every aspect of Soneva Jani. With buildings made from ethically-sourced highest quality sustainable materials, homegrown produce used in the kitchens and a comprehensive waste management and recycling programme, this is the culmination of Sonu and Eva’s two-decade long knowledge and experience in coining the concepts of SLOW LIFE and intelligent luxury, which recognises the ability for luxury holiday making and care for the environment to co-exist with perfect ease.

The Labyrinth at Soneva Jani. PHOTO/ SONEVA

But it is not just a guilt-free, ethical holiday that Soneva Jani treats you to, but authentic experiences that disconnect yourself from the noisy world out there and reconnect you with the nature that you truly belong to. The “no news, no shoes” slogan is very real here, with TVs tucked away in heavy boxes and mobile phone use in public places discouraged (who needs it anyway at a place like this?). As I put on my shoes on the speedboat ride to the seaplane platform, I took one last look at the lagoon — the most vibrant shades of blue I have ever seen — and the developments around that are in perfect harmony with nature, making Soneva Jani a one-of-a-kind holistic holiday experience inspired by nothing but nature and made exciting by simple yet awe-inspiring additions.

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Experience All the Magic of Easter Candyland at Fairmont Maldives, Sirru Fen Fushi

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As the spring sunshine sparkles on the gentle waves of the Indian Ocean, Fairmont Maldives, Sirru Fen Fushi invites couples seeking the ultimate escapism and families looking to spend moments of togetherness this Easter break. Nestled in the picturesque Shaviyani Atoll, the private island retreat will transform into an Easter Candyland filled with sweet delights and confectionary creations. Whimsical and full of vibrancy, the extraordinary lineup of experiences promises guests of every generation an unforgettable escape, from indulgent feasts under the stars and colorful egg hunts to chocolate-infused treatments at Fairmont Spa. 

From 24 March to 12 April, the resort presents an immersive calendar of events and activities where guests can celebrate special moments in elevated luxury, savor exquisite culinary journeys, embark on new adventures, and make memories that will last for a lifetime. 

“Easter is a time of renewal and joyful reconnection, and our team has curated a program of experiences that celebrates the joy of Easter and the spirit of togetherness,” says Steven Stefaniuk, General Manager at Fairmont Maldives, Sirru Fen Fushi.

Dining is a sensational experience in this idyllic island paradise. Guests can savor local and global flavors at the beachfront Raha Market, indulge in Asian favorites at Kata, enjoy a spectacular by-the-sea dining experience at Azure, and taste a range of creative cocktails at Onu Onu. On 31 March, the island will host an extravagant Easter-themed lunch and pool party featuring a range of global Easter favorites and mouth-watering desserts, complete with fun activities, live music, and entertainment.

2 Fairmont Maldives Kids Club


Parents can watch in delight as their little ones spark their curiosity and imagination at the Kids’ Club and discover various Candyland-themed activities, such as arts and crafts, cupcake and cookie decorating, and egg and face painting. Furthermore, budding eco-warriors can participate in repurposing plastic waste into bespoke souvenirs at the Sustainability Lab and join ocean life conservation activities with the Marine Biology team. 

Guests can restore their inner balance and achieve renewed energy with the offerings of award-winning Fairmont Spa, including nature-inspired wellbeing sessions and the ‘Chocolate Indulgence’ treatment that soothes the body in smooth and revitalizing sensations. Moreover, active travelers can participate in sunrise yoga, beach game challenges, water sports, and interactive coaching with LUX Tennis. 

In the mood for adventure? Dive into one of the flourishing dive sites in Shaviyani Atoll with the resort’s dive partner, Sub Oceanic, snorkel the 9-km-long house reef to discover over 250 species of marine life, or join a sunset cruise in search of dozens of playful dolphins that love to leap out from the sea.

Timeless Family Fun Package – Children Under 12 Stay and Dine for Free 

The resort presents the ‘Timeless Family Fun’ package with a complimentary meal plan upgrade, Easter treats and amenities, and delightful dining experiences for the whole family. Book a 4-night stay or more in one of the resort’s spacious pool villas, offering the perfect blend of privacy and togetherness, and enjoy:

  • Complimentary upgrade from Bed & Breakfast to Half-Board package
  • Children below 12 years of age stay and dine for free    
  • Easter Sunday Lunch and Egg Hunt activity
  • Floating breakfast once during the stay  
  • Family-style beach dinner once during the stay
  • Guided tour of the Sustainability Lab and underwater Coralarium
  • 25% discount on spa treatments 

To renew and reconnect this Easter, please visit their website or email reservations.maldives@fairmont.com

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Celebrate Earth Week with Nature’s Embrace at Oaga Art Resort

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Join Oaga Art Resort from March 21st to 27th, 2024, for a week dedicated to connecting with the beauty and wonder of our planet. Immerse yourself in a program filled with creative activities, meaningful experiences, and a deep appreciation for Earth’s magic.

Unwind with Earth-inspired creativity:

March 21st, as the world celebrates Poetry Day, start your day with a poetic breakfast, followed by a lunchtime fusion of traditional Maldivian Boduberu beats and poetry called ‘Farihi’. In the evening, enjoy some poetry reading and a captivating performance by local duo “Something Lovely”.

On March 22nd, tap your feet to the lively rhythms of a Boduberu jam session at lunch. As the stars emerge, witness the artistry of a sand artist create their magic on the Raa Baa deck.

Connect with nature in a mindful way:

March 23rd, as part of Earth Hour, join a peaceful candlelit Earth Meditation and sound healing session. Later, light your own candle and take part in an art installation under the moonlight. Savour a delicious Earth-conscious buffet and enjoy unplugged music around a bonfire.

On the same day, a special coral planting cocktail is to take place during sunset at the beach. Witness firsthand the wonders of coral restoration as you help plant 60+ coral frames in Oaga’s reef nursery. This project, in partnership with Coralive, aims to completely restore the house reef by 2028. Savour refreshing cocktails and learn about the crucial role coral reefs play in our ecosystem while contributing to a sustainable future.

Celebrate Holi traditions with an eco-twist:

March 25th, witness the creation of a stunning sand mandala and participate in the traditional Full Moon ritual. Dance the night away at a vibrant Holi Full moon party with minimal lighting and glow-in-the-dark paint.

Reflect and reminisce under the stars:

March 26th, cuddle up for a captivating movie night featuring nature documentaries under the starlit sky.

A grand finale on World Theatre Day:

On March 27th, engage your children in a fun puppet show and enjoy a live performance by the energetic band Sky Rock. The week culminates with a special Earth-themed solo performance at the Kaa Kada dinner in celebration of World Theatre Day.

Beyond these highlights, Earth Week weaves its theme throughout Oaga’s daily activities. Whether it is to explore nature-inspired percussion in Take Notes sessions or to let your kids unleash their creativity with eco-friendly crafts in the Fiyoh Kid’s Club, there is something engaging for everyone.

Join Oaga and embark on a journey that reconnects you with nature, celebrates our planet, and leaves you feeling empowered to make a positive difference.

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Hurawalhi Island Resort’s Exemplary Commitment to Marine Conservation Shines in the Maldives

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Hurawalhi Island Resort, nestled amidst the stunning landscapes of the Maldives, proudly reaffirms  its steadfast dedication to marine conservation through pioneering initiatives aimed at  safeguarding the region’s diverse marine ecosystems. 

Saoirse Macklin, the esteemed Resident Marine Biologist at Hurawalhi Island Resort, emphasizes  the Maldives’ distinguished status as one of the world’s most biodiverse marine environments. “At  Hurawalhi, we prioritize the dissemination of knowledge and wonder about our marine world,”  states Macklin. “As a Marine Biologist, it’s been a privilege to inspire and educate guests about the  remarkable marine life surrounding our island.” 

Hurawalhi’s commitment to marine conservation materializes through a range of educational  experiences offered to guests. From immersive Turtle Tours, shedding light on the pivotal role of  seagrass in sustaining turtle populations, to awe-inspiring Manta Search excursions, each journey  represents an enlightening voyage of discovery. 

During these excursions, science and education take precedence, ensuring guests acquire profound  insights into the intricate ecosystems enveloping the island. As the resident Marine Biologist,  Macklin spearheads efforts to monitor and safeguard turtle and manta populations, employing  cutting-edge photo identification techniques to meticulously track and document individual  specimens during every expedition. 

Hurawalhi extends a warm invitation to guests to partake in Marine Biologist-guided reef  snorkeling experiences, providing an unparalleled opportunity to explore coral reef and seagrass  ecosystems while championing their preservation. Participants not only revel in the splendor of the  house reef but also actively engage in efforts to protect these delicate habitats. 

Furthermore, Hurawalhi’s commitment to marine conservation is evident in its ongoing projects.  The resort’s diligent monitoring and maintenance of its artificial reef program adjacent to the  iconic 5.8 Underwater Restaurant aim to rejuvenate and revitalize reef systems. In 2021, a total of  114 artificial reef frames were transplanted, laying the groundwork for reef regeneration. 

Recent initiatives include the creation of “festive frames,” crafted by guests during the holiday  season, with regular updates fostering continued guest involvement in conservation endeavors.  Annual monitoring of benthic habitats and species abundance by the Marine Biologist team is  pivotal, collecting data to track changes in habitats and biodiversity over time. This scientific  endeavor provides valuable insights into the health of Hurawalhi’s marine life and serves as a  cornerstone for future conservation efforts. 

The data collected holds immense potential, serving as a catalyst for initiatives aimed at securing  protected status for Hurawalhi and its surrounding waters. Through collaboration with  government-led conservation programs and local stakeholders, the resort aspires to designate  Hurawalhi as a protected area, ensuring its continued vitality and resilience.

In the face of unprecedented challenges to ocean conservation, Hurawalhi remains resolute in its  mission to preserve and protect the marine marvels of the Maldives. Through collective  understanding and concerted action, the resort endeavors to safeguard these invaluable ecosystems  for generations to come. 

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