‘No news, no shoes’: that’s the only rule at Soneva Jani in the Maldives, though you could add ‘no blues’ (of the emotional kind) to the formula, too. Actual blues abound, from sky to sea, in every conceivable hue and semi-hue of enticing aqua. Sibling to Soneva Fushi, Soneva Jani does the family proud: its considerable lures include an overwater cinema, star-gazing observatory, meditative labyrinth (uh huh), va-va-voom villas and the signature Soneva crowd-pleasers, including a lush, hushed spa, brilliant staff and So Cool ice-cream, cheese and chocolate rooms. This is the Maldives at its most magical.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £2483.98 ($3,302), including tax at 25.44 per cent.
Rates include breakfast.
The heart of the hotel is the Gathering: an open-air, two-storey building on Medhufaru that’s home to the restaurant, bar, spa, gym, library and ice-cream, cheese and chocolate rooms. Naturally, it also has a waterslide into the lagoon...
At the hotel
Five islands; private lagoon; private beaches; overwater observatory and resident astronomer; overwater silent cinema; gardens with a labyrinth; water slides; watersports and dive centre; ice-cream, chocolate and cheese rooms; boutique; gym; library; free WiFi throughout. In rooms: your own Barefoot Butler, desk, TV, DVD player, iPod dock, Soneva bath products, minibar and a kitchenette with a sink, kettle and tea- and coffee-making facilities.
Our favourite rooms
There are simply no duds in this bunch: every single one of these palatial overwater villas is fit for Neptune and his gang. Follow this simple rule: opt for a room with a water slide or add one on. We promise you, flipper on heart, that it’s more than worth the additional US$200 daily supplement. Bombs away!
Each villa has its own full-size private pool and direct access to the glittering lagoon (the stuff of dreams).
Have a rub or scrub at Soneva Jani’s overwater, lagoon-spying spa. Try a Sodashi marine body wrap, energising jet-lag recovery treatment or a nourishing coconut scrub, which includes a liberal application of coconut oil – your skin will feel softer than a buttered prawn’s.
Bring swimwear that can withstand the gravitational pull of a pool slide. Don’t weigh your case down with sandals and stilettos: Soneva’s signature ‘no news, no shoes’ policy applies...
Communal areas and guestrooms are wheelchair-accessible; the villas (and bathrooms) are extra spacious, too.
Little Smiths of all ages are very welcome. Cots for under-twos are free, as are extra beds for under-sevens; kids from seven to 14 are US$60 a night; it's US$120 a night for over-14s. Babysitting is available for US$25 per hour.
All ages; water-babies will be in seventh heaven.
Any – the villas are huge and come fully kitted out.
None, but a dedicated kids’ club is in the works.
Little Smiths can try a wide range of activities, including catamaran trips, nature trails, beach expeditions (including sand-castle construction). Older kids can safely explore the island; there are smaller bicycles and tricycles for them to borrow, and they can enjoy the watersports and snorkelling, or just flop down with some popcorn to watch films at the open-air cinema.
Each villa has its own pool, plus direct access to the eye-popping lagoon. The lagoon is very calm and there is no need to worry about currents or tides, but little feet may need jelly shoes to avoid scrapes.
Children are welcome at all times. The restaurants have high-chairs, as well as soft toys and drawing materials to keep little ones busy. There are children and infant menus, as well as half-portions available. The chefs can adapt their menus for special diets, too. The bar serves mocktails, milkshakes and smoothies; staff are happy to whip something up if it’s not on the menu.
Babysitters can be organised with a day’s notice (US$25 an hour).
No need to pack
Nappies, baby wipes, formula milk and baby food are available at the hotel’s shop.
Earth-kind products and light bulbs are used; Soneva Jani also recycles and composts. The restaurants rely on seasonal, organic produce; either grown on the islands or sourced from local suppliers. There’s even an on-site glass factory, which recycles glass for Soneva’s rooms and restaurants.
Opt for So Engaging, the chef’s table: a mystery menu for up to five guests. You can also have a private lunch or dinner on Zuhairs Island, on the secluded North Island.
Island dreaming: pearl-white layers; splashes of blue/Chanel Bleu; a shell or two...
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at the Gathering, an easy, breezy open-air space housed within the main building on Medhufaru Island. (Naturally, the restaurant comes with the requisite Maldivian views.) Get your five dailies at So Fresh, which dabbles in juices, salads and healthy, organic mains; opt for experimental wine tastings and wine dinners at So Imaginative. Have an out-of-this-world meal at the observatory, where up to four tables can be set up, each one linked to screens connected to the telescope. Temperature rising? Head to So Cool for free helpings of ice-cream, chocolate and cheese; you can also stock up on sushi, sashimi and wine to take back to your splendid sleeping quarters.
The relaxed Gathering Bar will keep you hydrated, whether you’re thirsty for a knee-wobblingly boozy cocktail, a zingy fresh fruit juice (tropical mango and mint or banana and passionfruit, perhaps) or a flute of ice-cold fizz.
Dinner is served until 10.30pm; drinks are mixed at the Gathering Bar until midnight.
Breakfast can be brought to your villa at any time of day.
You need a transfer to reach this hotel. For approximate costs, see location information
Soneva Jani occupies not one but five dreamy islands in the deliciously remote Noonu Atoll’s Medhufaru lagoon.
Medhufaru is only 40 minutes by seaplane from Malé International Airport. When you arrive at Malé, you’ll be greeted by Soneva’s airport representative and escorted to the hotel’s private seaplane lounge, an eight-minute drive away. After light refreshments in the lounge, you’ll be taken to the waiting seaplane. During shoulder season, return transfers by seaplane can be arranged for US$900 an adult (ages 12-and-up) and US$450 for (aged 2–11). During high, peak and Easter season, return seaplane transfers can be arranged for US$1,100 an adult (ages 12-and-up) and US$550 a child (aged 2–11). Tots under two fly for free, but they’ll need a ticket. Give Smith24 a ring if you’d like them to sort your flights to Malé.
You can cruise from sister property Soneva Fushi onboard the hotel's boat, Soneva in Aqua; the leisurely trip will take half a day. Alternatively, nip between the two hotels in a speedboat (you’ll be there in an hour).
Worth getting out of bed for
Maximise the private lagoon: spy on the reef’s extensive ocean life with help from the resident marine biologist. Look for sea turtles and rays in the waters of the Noonu Atoll; let the Soleni Dive Centre’s multilingual PADI instructors show you the secrets of the local dive sites. Try non-motorised watersports, including kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, surfing, windsurfing and kite-surfing. Join a catamaran expedition to spot gambolling dolphins. If you like stargazing, you’ve come to the right lagoon: while away an hour or two at the Maldives’ first overwater observatory, join an astronomical dinner cruise, have a midnight astronomy picnic, or get up early for sunrise astronomy. Admire stars of a different kind at Cinema Paradiso, the first overwater silent cinema in the Maldives. Guests get Bluetooth headphones, so that the surrounding nesting wildlife is left in peace during the screening. (Add popcorn and prosecco, to up the ante.) Pick a holiday tome or two at the library. Browse the on-site boutique for mermaid- or merman-worthy swimwear and accessories; unwind in the spa with a signature Soneva treatment and join one of the daytrips to nearby beaches. Before you go home, head to the gardens and wander through the labyrinth, a meditative maze fashioned from a ficus hedge, designed in accordance with an ancient circular pattern. The hotel can also arrange castaway picnics, private sunrise breakfasts at North Beach, cookery classes, private-chef-prepped picnics, moonlit dinners and more.
None – you’re in the middle of an off-the-map Maldivian lagoon, after all.
Would you like us to prepare aromatic pillows that are placed between your pillow and pillow case? Would you prefer them in bergamot, lemongrass, orange or peppermint? Would you like that just once or daily during your stay? Can we stock your kitchen with guilty pleasures? Nuts? Crisps? Dried fruits? How about some extra room amenities?
It was only the pre-arrival questionnaire, but I’ll admit these Smiths were already smitten.
Yet, nothing could have possibly prepped us for our arrival at Soneva Jani. It was an eye-popping, mind blowing, insane kind of beautiful.
For starters, everything was 50 shades of blue – only the occasional passing reef sharks didn’t get the dress-code memo. Then, just like the Crusoe family, we were assigned our own ‘Mr’ Friday. Mr Smith accepted the drawstring bag from him bearing the island motto: ‘No shoes, no news’ and from here on in Mr Friday would render us completely helpless – arranging our schedules, meals and even fetching our snorkeling gear…
Soneva Jani is a five-island aquatic playground where the world’s glitterati come to disconnect (or so we’ve heard; owners Sonu and Eva would never spill) and follow the prevailing ‘Slowlife’ (Sustainable Local Organic Wellness Learning Inspiring Fun Experience) philosophy. But if you’re looking for ostentatiousness, this is not your place…
The resort has a lifeline: a stilted platform over the lagoon that connects individual villas to the pristine island. At the heart of it all is the Gathering: Soneva’s giant three-storey pleasure palace where you’ll find individual rooms full of gourmet chocolates, home-made ice-cream and artisanal cheese – all limitless and free. Add a restaurant with swinging daybeds, a well-stocked wine cellar, a whisper-quiet futuristic spa, some boutique outlets and a resident professional photographer to capture every ‘Pinch-me-please-I-can’t-believe-it’ moment and suddenly our stay here seemed way too short. Barely half an hour in and I was already mourning our departure…
By the time we discovered our villa, I actually contemplated forgoing sleep. Why would any sane person miss a single moment in this place?
Then the difficult dilemmas started… Should we sink into the sunken living room couches and contemplate where the salt water pool ends and the ocean begins? Or saunter off to the glass-walled outdoor lounge to watch pretty fish glide by? How about lie on the daybed in the bathroom listening to the multi-room sound system?
Mr Smith discovered he could simultaneously do his, ahem, ‘business’ and watch the marine-scape thanks to bathroom’s glass panelled floor. The kitchen was stocked with our favourite bites and wines, and a private fenced-off piece of the ocean right next to the bath tub meant we were spoilt for choice even for a soak. And Soneva’s spin on a night-light? Just press the bedside button once you’re tucked in to slide open the roof and reveal the stars (a little easier than carrying your bed to the roof)…
As if downstairs wasn’t fantastic enough they went and added on another floor with perfect sunrise and sunset views. Our favourite way to get down from it in a flash? By waterslide, of course. (Mr Friday mentioned he’s had guests who never left their villa for an entire week. They must have been stuck on repeat – stairs, slide, wheeeee…)
We were tempted by Mr Friday’s itinerary of invigorating pursuits like a spot of morning yoga, cocktails by the beach, some light snorkeling or diving with the in-house marine biologist and a sunset dolphin cruise. But we couldn’t resist taking a wander around the largely deserted island on our own. By lunchtime, Mr Friday had arranged us some private cheffing, castaway-style, on the south beach and Mr Smith had almost gotten used to my abrupt mid-sentence squeals of ‘This is so amazing!’
After a posh Peruvian dinner, we ended our day on the island under yet another starry sky curled into a hammock watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion on a gigantic over-water silent screen aptly named Cinema Paradiso. Movie choice aside, it was an incredible experience.
There is so much more to do and say (especially about Soneva’s low environmental impact) but somehow we were already taking that last aerial shot from the seaplane as the lady seated behind me mouthed ‘So beautiful’. We knew we were some of the lucky few to have enjoyed a private slice of paradise. If we could only get to repeat it, please?