feature-maldives

I 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 paid.

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 water…

The largest over-water building in the Maldives, 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 vegetables.

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 night.

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 earplugs.

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 grounded.

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 than Maldives. 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 Magazine

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