Best of the Maldives: Raft Building Class – Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi - raft building 1

After coconut cups and tree houses, the next most iconic part of the deserted island fable is…the log raft. Now, not many Maldives guests would really want to escape their tropical paradise, but to live out the Swiss Family Robinson fantasy to the fullest, Soneva Fushi offers raft making as an activity in their The Den kids club…

“The children take part in a small auction to win different items that they will use to build a raft, this can range from wood, barrels, tyres, all sorts of items that would otherwise be thrown. They then have to build a raft and that will float, and then a race will take place.”

Raft-making is more than a Castaway knock-off. It was a common “team building” challenge on corporate offsites that I’ve attended for years. It combines a very measurable objective (staying afloat) with mild consequences for failure (getting wet).  An activity that The Professor from Gilligan’s Island would have benefitted from in his youth.  As the old joke goes, “The Professor could make a nuclear reactor out of two coconuts, but couldn’t fix a hole in a boat.”

I’ve introduced a new tag “Swiss Family Robinson” for those desert-island chic features which evoke this classic film. Admittedly, the category is dominated by Soneva.

Soneva Fushi - raft building 2

Best of the Maldives: Rope Bridge – Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi rope bridge

No “Swiss Family Robinson Chic” (with a little bit of “Indiana Jones Panache”) is complete without the treetop rope bridge. In Soneva Fushi’s case, it overlooks the lush tropical canopy leading to its “Fresh in the Garden” restaurant. They also have a more solid sinuous bridge leading to its observatory if you prefer your spectacular view to be upward rather than downward.

Soneva Fushi rope bridge

Best of the Maldives: Beams – Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi beams

One of the most striking aspects to our own house in England is its beams. We live in a 18th century hay barn and the conversion has kept as many of the original oak timber exposed as possible. This rough hewn timber style is one of Soneva Fushi’s own most defining design motifs. It exudes the all-natural, artisanal, Swiss Family Robinson aesthetic that pervades the property. Beams are up, Soni.

Soneva Fushi beams 2

Best of the Maldives: Tree House – Dusit Thani

Dusit Thani - treehouse 2

Arbor Day today celebrates those those towering stoics of landscape flora. Actually, Arbor Days have proliferated around the world (celebrated in over 40 countries on different days of the year) indicating how pervasive the world’s appreciation for trees is. But the first Arbor Day was today in1872.

You can sit under them, look up and admire them, and climb them. But at the Dusit Thani kids club, you can play in them. The “Baan Sanook” features an extended treehouse complete with walkway and Maldivian palm thatch.

The feature echoes the Dusit’s Swiss Family Robinson chic of its Devarana Spa which is also elevated to the treetops.

Hug a tree today.

Dusit Thani - treehouse 1

Maldives Tour 2014 – Day 7: Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi tour

Soneva Fushi , a love story. The resort is a heartfelt expression of love for the Maldives by the founders and owners Eva and Sonu Shivdasani. The very name “Soneva” is like two sweethearts’ names carved inside a heart, “Sonu + Eva”. They spend the majority of their time living on the island themselves, in one of the more modest two-bedroom villas, despite owning a number of other exquisite properties.

Soneva has long been a trend setter, not a fad follower. No glass floors, no water villas, no pool. The artistry of the execution is led by the Creative Director Eva. They’ve created a funky barefoot chic vibe that is imbued into every nook and cranny.

Love for guests.  Soneva meticulously tailors that aesthetic to each guest. Everything on offer is an option customized to the individual. When you arrive at the airport lounge, the hostess has you try a number of salt salts and soaps so that your villa would be supplied with your favourite. One of my pet peeves of spa treatments is when they ask where you would like the therapist to focus and then the therapist does a fairly standard treatment. I told the therapist to focus on head, neck and legs…and that was the only areas he really ever touched. I’ve never had a massage therapist so meticulously follow my brief.  Usually buffets are an exercise in quantity and quality. Like its former sibling Gili Lankanfushi, Soneva’s buffet food is near gourmet quality. Not just for a few items, but for most. For example, at their egg station they had prawns as an option for omelets. Now why don’t all resorts have this luxury ingredient on their egg stations (and crab meat too, by the way)?

Love for the unconventional.  “Sea level” is one of the defining aspects of the Maldives. Nothing, not the landscape elevation nor the seascape depth deviates much from the horizon of the sea. Still, I quite welcome the few places which provide a more vertical perspective on this paradise. Sea plane rides, mocktails at Traders Hotel “high-rise” in Male, and the occasional two story structure on a resort. Well, the majority of structures on Soneva – The villas, the spa, the signature restaurant, the observatory – are two stories which lend a more three-dimensional contour to the island.

Love for the planet.  If Park Hyatt Hadahaa is eco-obsessed, Soneva is eco-maniacal. Their reclamation and recycling area covers nearly an acre. They also have a solar panel farm that provides 3% of their electricity with aspirations to build it to 50%.

The combination of a (a) environmental, (b) vertical, and (c) family focus (they are building one of the most stunning kids clubs in the Maldives) makes the entire experience feel like you are in a real life production of Swiss Family Robinson. If the Robinson family hadn’t been rescued, but instead they stayed on their island and built it into a sustainable utopia. There are tree houses everywhere. Peg-in-hole door locks, coconut door closers, tree branch toilet roll holders. They should write a Buzzfeed article “27 Eco-Hacks for your Resort” (eg. use old jars with sand as table candle sconces). Gilligan’s Island if everyone on the Minnow were Mr. and Mrs. Thurston Powell III.

As a General Manager myself, I am intrigued not just by environmentally friendly sustainability, but by business sustainability. So many resorts have come and gone over the years and yet Soneva Fushi goes from strength to strength. The key to their success here is reinvestment. They seem to constantly be refreshing and adding to every part of the island. The villas, the offerings, the décor, the supply chain, and most critically the staff.

Having written more about Soneva Fushi than any other resort that I hadn’t yet visited and the resort commanding a high profile in lifestyle and travel press, I wondered what could be said that hasn’t already been said? Yet, I came upon “Best of the Maldives” potentials as dense as its lush vegetation. I found 4 ‘Best of’ subjects just in the Soneva airport lounge. As it turns out, over my short stay I uncovered 42 potential “Best of the Maldives” topics. Combined with the 22 already posted, Soneva Fushi tops the “Best of” league table with a stunning 64. But, it sort of seems like Soneva has an infinite supply of Best of the Maldives distinctions. Not only did I come across one every time I turned around, it’s clear that the resort has a whole parade of innovations perpetually coming down the pike. Stay tuned.

Best of the Maldives: Jungle Treehouse Restaurant – Sun Island

Sun Island jungle restaurant 2

The Maldives is turning out to be an eight-year old boy’s paradise with all of the treehouses going up, up, up. The Sun Island rendition graces its ‘Zero’ restaurant set in a plush copse of dense tropical jungle. I’m so used to the dappled blues of the ubiquitous ocean, that I was struck by the shifted palette of greens of all shades and hues backdropping this exotic dining venue. Appropriately, the restaurant specialises in ‘greens’, especially salads freshly picked from its adjacent hydroponic garden.

Very Swiss Family Robinson chic.

 

Sun Island jungle restaurant 1

Best of the Maldives: Treehouse – Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi treehouse

Do you want the ‘Robinson Family’ experience instead of the ‘Robinson Crusoe’ experience?

If you want to not just admire the trees, but sleep in them, then look into Soneva Fushi’s ‘Villa Suite and Treehouse’.

  • A walkway leads from the Villa to the Tree House
  • Situated 2.5 meters above ground level
  • 2 bunk bed (2 singles)
  • Small toilet with basin and WC
  • Balcony/Terrace
  • Air-conditioning and overhead fan

The whole concept evokes one of my earliest memories of exotic, tropical island is the movie the ‘Swiss Family Robinson’. A Disney, family version of its (probably intentional) namesake ‘Robinson Crusoe’. Not one man stranded in paradise, but a charming family. Of all of their innovative contraptions crafted from what they could scavange the most captivating was their treehouse abode. Ostensibly for protection from wild critters, but actually simply a pre-adolescently fantasy.

Soneva’s website includes a 360 virtual tour for a cinematic preview.