Business Tourism

Mary Gostelow dreams of Soneva Jani, in the Maldives

There is no norm in the Maldives. However, arguably the most abnormal of the whole offering is Soneva Jani, which opened in October 2016. As the speedboat arrives, I begin to see a string of topsy-turvy Heath Robinson structures, two- or three-floor sculptures on poles sticking high up out of the water. At Villa 14, swirling tubes come out of the top floor and curve down into the water (these later prove to be resin water-chutes, formed here on the island and a great marketing tool as kids persuade parents to come to this resort simply for a ride).

I am greeted at the jetty canopy, made from over 2,000 wood offcuts apparently. At the far end of the jetty is a tree of life sculpture of driftwood, a main signpost to such facilities as the three-floor Gathering, where all public activities take place. The whole thing was basically designed, from start to finish, by owners Sonu and Eva Shivdasani, plus Habita.

Villa 14 is an artwork of New Zealand eucalyptus and other sandblasted woods, including pine. Outside are two bikes, with purple fabric seats and pedal covers. My butler opens the door, surprisingly using an old-fashioned metal key. I look across a 4.5-metre-deep living room space out to the ocean. The floor has a curvilinear window in it, looking down to the blue water. The only colour is green or pale purple cushions, and apple-green ceramic toiletry covers. Thirty wood stairs lead to my rooftop, for sunbathing and al fresco dining. My 13-metre-long pool has three fixed over-hammocks and a ladder directly to the sea. I have a Francis Francis espresso machine, a Wineart two-bottle cooler, juicer and kettle, and a silver Smeg. From the bed, I look through three pairs of French windows to the water. I look up to a soaring cathedral ceiling with a panel that can slide back completely, to the open air.

Will I dine in The Gathering, atop the two-floor Observatory (with full astronomical equipment), 500 metres away at The Beach (on a separate island) or at its amazing Cinema Paradiso? After The Gathering’s beetroot and watermelon shooter cocktail, I turn to its So Fresh menu for a fabulous vegetable salad, from the working garden hidden away in the main island. Afterwards, I visit the working chocolate room and the wine room with its CICCI oenotheque machine.

In the morning, I head for the spa, all white, like the soft pyjamas worn by the multinational therapists – as well as doing treatments in the four rooms here, they do in-villa specials. I cycle for a bit of exercise. And then, sadly, the seaplane arrives.

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