When it comes to family travel, Soneva Fushi would have to be at the top of the list. A jungle island in the Maldives, this back-to-nature luxury holiday destination is a pioneer in ‘Live Green Philosophy’. Your shoes are whisked away before they hit the soft white sand to conform with the islands ‘no shoes, no news’ policy. The island lives a ‘slow life’ but is anything but boring. From the moment you get off that seaplane, life can be as adventurous or as calm as you need be. Winding our way through the jungle on bikes with Reena, known on the island as our Girl Friday, she somehow knows what we want before we want it, even though we are wanting for nothing!
How To Get There
Don’t be deterred by the distance. The flight might be on the longer side coming from Australia but the destination is perfect to fly and flop. Qantas have regular flights to the Maldivian capital, Male, via Singapore. Once you get to Male, there will be an additional seaplane flight for approx. 40 minutes so a one night stop over in Singapore is a great way to break up the flight if you’re travelling with small children. Return flights to Soneva Fushi cost US$800 an adult (12 and over), $400 a child (aged two to 11), and is free for children under two. Soneva Fushi can organise these flights for you and a hotel member of staff will look after you from the moment you land in Male to the moment you depart to Soneva Fushi.
Soneva Fushi is paradise located on the Baa Atoll, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Part of the Maldives, the island lies south west of Sri Lanka, surrounded by long reefs called Faru. Soneva Sushi is, by Maldivian standards, a large island; One kilometre long and half a kilometre wide. The island has a Robinson Crusoe feel about it with a lush green jungle.
Incredible attention to detail in the most well thought out and discreetly handled way. From the moment you arrive into Male you are whisked away to the hotels private rooms at the airport where you get your first glimpse of the team’s meticulous care. While waiting for your seaplane to arrive you will be asked to fill out very detailed questionnaire so all your needs can be met before you arrive in your villa. From the type of pillow you prefer, to your favourite music, wine, coffee, duvet, scents, body wash, snacks the list goes on…it all seems a little much that is until you walk into your villa which has been filled with all your unspoken wishes.
Soneva Fushi was the first eco-friendly luxury resort ever built, some 22years ago now, by husband and wife Sonu and Eva Shivdasani. They pioneered ‘back to nature' luxury, sustainable experiences. They were also the first to build an over water resort (Soneva Gili) not only in the Maldives, but in the world. Their brand now extends to Soneva Jani (stay tuned for that story), Soneva Blue (A private chartered yacht, pretty much a floating villa) Soneva Kiri in Thailand and I believe there are a couple more on the way. YES!!! The couple have lived on Soneva Fushi since 1995 which I thought was pretty cool, not some big hotelier out of touch with the environment that they own and develop.
Everything you can imagine being done in tropical pristine waters. Kayaking, snorkelling, diving, sailing, paddle boarding, surfing, dolphin watching. Then, on the island, there’s bike riding, glass blowing, cooking, star gazing, yoga, tai chi, open air cinema …….. seriously it keeps going. Adventures on Soneva Fushi and the surrounding islands can keep you as busy as you like. The thing is, your villa and private reef at the end of your garden is pretty damn hard to beat.
How an island can sustain dining experiences such as this is beyond me. With five star Michelin chefs on rotation, your are beyond spoilt for choice. High up in a tree house, under the stars with your feet in the sand dining or amongst the islands organic vegetable gardens (where you can pick to plate and have it made for you right there amidst the green). You will be offered the freshest, locally grown and caught, fair trade and sustainable culinary delights.
Here are a few outstanding mentions for all those holiday foodies out there:
Underground Wine Cellar - Have the islands sommelier introduce you to the underground cave, home to 7,000 bottles of rare organic and biodynamic wines, champagnes, Grand Cru clarets, vintage cognacs.
Ice Cream Parlour - Come and go as you please to sample 62 flavours of creamy goodness.
Chocolate Room - Seriously a cardamom conundrum. Truffles, pralines, candy, cakes, sweet and salty creations like you have never seen freshly made every morning.
Coffee Consultant - No lie. Being able to find bullet coffee on a tropical island is no doubt rare but home grown shiitake cold drip? Next level.
Cheese Room - No explanation needed except make sure to keep up the physical activity!!
If Robinson Crueso loved the finer things in life, you would find him here at Soneva Fushi. The villas are the perfect blend of rustic and luxury that seamlessly integrate into their natural environment. It is beyond impressive that all the villas are built from 100% sustainable materials and you will not find an ounce of plastic in any of them. Even the writing pads at the desk are made from recycled paper and the pencils are made from wooden sticks. None of the luxury elements have been sacrificed to achieve these results which is what is so impressive about the Soneva resorts. Villas can be as big or small as you need but they all maintain that ‘lost on a desert island’ feel. Notable mention in our villa was the indoor/outdoor bathroom which had you showering in the jungle surrounded by a pond and sunken bath. The villa was two levels, the upper overlooked the split pool which had a sunken lounge in the middle. If you can move out from the coolness of the expansive decks you will find yourself meandering down to your own private beach and reef.
Castaway Island meets eco-luxury. It’s tropical chic in the most minimalist sense. My favourite style tip is to explore and experiment with the local style. There is a tailor on the island (he has been there 15 years) who can whip out wonderful creations from local linen. It was my dream discovery.
Staff on the island are called hosts which I think is way more accurate term as we are being hosted on their island. Your hosts will become like friends, familiar faces you will see throughout the day. A special host for each family is known on the island as a Boy Friday or Girl Friday. Our Girl Friday, Reena became our go-to for anything we needed to know or understand. I actually cried when I said goodbye to Reena, which might explain how close you become to the incredible people who work there.
Two words, Kids Den.If you are a parent that never indulges in a kids club then it’s time to change your tune.I haven’t had much experience with them, actually none, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t one. It is more adventure HQ for small people where they gather to learn, share, create, make and connect. In fact, our children had replaced us within one afternoon with the gorgeous team. Weekly programs include stargazing in the observatory, snorkelling with a marine biologist, making trash fashion and participating in a beach cleanup. There is so much to mention here that I can’t BUT I have to say their community outreach programme where children from neighbouring islands come and use the childcare facilities was the sweetest thing. It was a wonderful way for our children to connect to the locals.
Sustainability and Design
Here is where things get really, really impressive. Guests are invited to tour the islands waste-to-wealth management centre called eco Centro. Our time spent with Gordon, who manages this area, was to be frank, mind blowing and very exciting. They have a singular goal to become carbon positive (they are already carbon neutral) which, in turn, they hope will show other islands how to follow suit.
Currently they are absorbing 8-10 tonnes a year in carbon by the below recycling programs:
A large part of the island is dedicated to a solar farm. They are working towards being 100% solar.
Glass and bottles are recycled at the plant into glassware used within the resort and sold in the Soneva Glass Studio on the island. Here you can also visit and take classes in glass blowing.
They are recycling 90% of their waste back into reusable resources such as styrofoam boxes being mixed back with cement to make highly insulated building bricks.
They have a desalination plant where ocean water goes through a reverse osmosis process. One percent is remineralised and rebottled for drinking, hence the 'no plastic bottle' policy on the island. Three percent is donated to local charities on other islands to share fresh drinking water and to help reduce the plastic bottle crises overtaking the Maldives. The rest is used for irrigation, gardens etc. They have also donated a smaller version of this plant to a neighbouring island to test the theory that other islands can also become plastic free. Legends.
Currently they are recycling 90% of the islands solid wastes and are about to open a makers studio for creatives to reuse that last 10% of unbreakable materials.
Thousands of coconuts drop from the trees every week on the island which are then collected. The flesh is used for cooking oils and the husks are burned into charcoal fire ovens and barbecues in the kitchen.
Good news, pretty much anytime of the year. There is a dry season and a wet season but both have pro’s and con’s. In general, the climate and temperature stays warm all year round, getting hotter from Dec-April in the dry season. I like things hot and no chance of rain so my tip is Dec- April.
What to Pack
Nothing. Well definitely not shoes. We got so used to not wearing them that we literally caught a flight to Sri Lanka not wearing any. Pack for adventure, paradise and relaxation. Temperature is consistent into the evening so one thing good to remember are the mosquitos do come out on dusk. Cover those freshly tanned limbs only when you have to.
To really make the most of the islands ‘SLOW LIFE Philosophy’ which stands for Sustainable - Local - Organic - Wellness - Learning - Inspiring - Fun- Experiences. Everything Soneva Fushi stands for. Trust me, if you don’t, your Boy or Girl Friday will not be happy. Isn’t that right Reena?