A Hotel Story: Backpacking around the Maldives

A Hotel Story: Backpacking around the Maldives

have to be honest, the last time I went near a rucksack was in
the army – the Swiss army at that. The most exotic location you
were going to wake up in was a damp forest on the outskirts of
Thun, or if you were really lucky somewhere near Appenzell.

Either way, the rucksack thing didn’t really catch on with me.
No matter how much instinct or science is applied to packing the
thing, the stuff you need is always at the bottom – way at the
bottom, in that little nook where you can’t feel anything as you
grope about.

Inevitably you end up tearing all the neatly packed contents out
and then stuffing them back in, usually a little wetter and
sandier. I have strived ever since not to find myself in any travel
situation that demands such a travel bag again.

Recently though, I inadvertently got caught out. I was planning
a trip to my current favourite destination and resort to simply lie
back and soak up the sun, with the occasional walk or quick snorkel
thrown in. The destination? COMO Maalifushi in the Maldives.

Undeniably lazy, undeniably blissful.

Then a good friend harangued me (in the nicest possible way)
into trying out some different resorts, suggesting Soneva Jani, the
achingly beautiful new offering from glamour couple Sonu and Eva,
paired with the nearby original and now iconic Soneva Fushi.

I relented gladly. I planned, I coordinated, I booked, I

We were going to hit Soneva Jani followed by Soneva Fushi and then Maalifushi. Triple bliss. My
wife, teenage twins and I couldn’t wait.

Until it came to pack. Suddenly I was back in rucksack
territory. With only three days in each of Soneva Jani and Soneva
Fushi, I tried to strategically plan my suitcase so as not have to
fully unpack every time. I failed. Miserably. Everything ended up
all over the place.

But was it worth it?

Absolutely. Soneva Jani was spectacular, even more so than in
the pictures. The decks, the water, the hammocks over the water,
the cinema over water, the restaurant over water, every villa over

The largest over-water building in the
, The Gathering, may have a terrible name (one that
Stephen King could have come up with) but it houses all the
goodies: a spa, I decided, perhaps unwisely, to miss; a 24-hour
ice-cream parlour and chocolate bar; a larder with the slicing
machine and eat-all-you-can-slice policy; and an indoor-outdoor
restaurant. It’s just missing a reanimation centre for those who
can’t control themselves. Like me.

As you would expect from Soneva, it is also leading the way in
sustainability and education around recycling, reusing and banning
as much single-use plastic as possible and growing their own

At the confluence of oceanic currents, the Maldivian seas and
beaches are slowly becoming an unconscionably awful reminder of how
wasteful we are. But led by Soneva, resorts are certainly doing
more than their bit now.

The staff are charming if still working on absolute perfection.
The villas are beautifully detailed, airy and spacious, attempting
the effortless sea-kissed look that has almost a chalet feel at

The mix of guests is slightly disparate, and they tend to keep
to their villas – in particular, the ones with water slides which,
combined with children of screaming age, result in the need for

For a proper snorkel you need to take a boat because although
you are surrounded by a pristine lagoon, it is somewhat lifeless.
This is perhaps how Soneva Jani slightly feels overall, but like
any new hotel, it will no doubt settle in better with time.

Fushi is diametrically opposed –
life here is sand-based for starters – and, interestingly, this is
where Sonu and Eva have chosen to live. The place feels like it has
well and truly bedded in. and it is just on the right side of

Once again, villas are comfortable but in a style more in vogue
upon building than now – dark wood and muted colours. If I was
being really picky it does feel ever-so-slightly cramped. On the
sunrise side, villas are more spaced out and the vistas are what
you would expect; on the sunset side, views are to the local
inhabited island which isn’t the most picturesque.

Frolic in your “private” pool at your own risk – the bamboo
fencing between closely knit villas leaves little to the
imagination. Thankfully, the 70 or so children present are
corralled in “The Den” and somehow their exertions do not permeate
too much.

The food is superior to Soneva Jani‘s, with many options
and locations, some which feel more like Ibiza
. International master chefs from Japan and beyond
visit regularly for residencies if that’s your thing. Outdoor
cinema, chocolate and prosciutto also feature as do water sports, a
spa and a delightful yoga pavilion.

But don’t plan on being too spontaneous, at least during busy
times. Your personal butler, “Mr or Mrs Friday” (still not
convinced about the name), will keep you well organised, not to say
disciplined by regularly asking you to book things – playing it by
ear is not so easy here.

We finally got to Maalifushi for a week’s stay and
actually unpacked for the first time. It turns out that the
unpacking is a significant if subtle moment to take ownership of
your new space and for your city psyche to switch off. The holiday
really started here.

Maalifushi is also highly
environmentally conscious, though brags about it less. To me, it
strikes the right balance between luxury and fuss, relaxation and
boredom, service and overbearingness, water and sand.

Villas are more minimal and pared back in style, with options
both over water and on the beach. Well-spaced, it is neither
deserted nor overcrowded. Like at the other resorts, you can cycle
around but walking is even better.

The food options are more restricted (there is no 24-hour sugar
station for starters) but nonetheless delicious. The diving is
spectacular and the house reef full of life and surprises, right at
your feet. Finally I made it to the spa, COMO Shambala. I will
never know if it made up for missing out on the others but it was
heavenly and not too chichi.

I’m incredibly grateful to my friend for suggesting hotel
hopping, and glad to have seen these beautiful places. But I am not
sure that jumping from one to another really allowed me to “be” in
each. I don’t feel that I gave Jani or Fushi the chance to fully
express themselves. What it did teach me, however, was that we are
all so time-poor and perhaps the greatest travel luxury of all is
to take time.

Take yours to pick carefully where you truly want to “be”.

Alessandro Tomé is a contributing editor at Spear’s

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