How The New Soneva Soul Is Putting The Maldives On The Map For Wellness
Stretched all around you, the myriad tones of blue are simply dazzling – turquoise, cyan and peacock all swirling into one endless expanse of ocean. But ‘blue’ is the last thing you feel here – for, before you’ve even been greeted by your spa host, you are in an upbeat mood. The wooden boardwalk, which takes you to the tree-top ‘village’ is sun-baked and hot, hot, hot on your bare feet – you discarded your flip flops a long time ago – so, you hop and skip, in gleeful, child-like fashion, until you get to the shade.
Soneva Jani is found in the Maldives’ Noonu Atoll. It is one of the last resorts in the Maldives’ islands, which sit in the Indian Ocean like a string of pearls. It is located at the furthest reaches of the country – head north and the next stop is India, north east and you’ll reach Sri Lanka. It feels remote and otherworldly. It is remote and otherworldly.
Jutting out over the cobalt-kaleidoscopic waters, the new Soneva Soul Island Spa is the beating heart of the resort. Found on the east of the island, this mini village is all about elevating your wellness experience in more ways than one. Physically, you are lifted up among the trees by raised walkways, which are dotted with rustic-looking treatment huts; soulfully, you can expect to have a wellbeing experience which has been stretched to new levels and leaves you feeling naturally ‘high’.
Offering deeper and more complex health solutions than just the facials and massages usually found in tropical resorts, the concept of Soneva Soul is, in fact, the culmination of 26 years in hospitality.
Back in 1995, when Sonu Shivdasani and his Swedish wife Eva founded their first Maldivian resort – Soneva Fushi, in the remote Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – they were already one step ahead of the rest of the hospitality world.
Not only did the duo practically invent the concept of ‘barefoot luxury’ – guests literally kick off their shoes on arrival (an idea which most resorts in the Maldives have now adopted) and are then looked after by ‘barefoot butlers’ – but they were also pioneers in responsible tourism. Their ethos of offering guests the SLOW LIFE (Sustainable, Local, Organic, Wellness, Learning, Fun, Experiences) was – and still is – woven through every aspect of the resort.
When the second property – Soneva Jani – opened in 2016, a short 15-minute sea-plane ride away from Fushi, it also adopted the same ethos, this time honed to perfection. From the unforgettable experiences on offer to the stellar cuisine; from the serious marine conservation programme to the formation of the Soneva Foundation, which funds a range of global projects that have a positive environmental, social and economic impact – Soneva is a master in offering an integrated, holistic and 360° experience.
Soneva Soul is the latest innovative evolution, which is being rolled out at both properties. It taps into the growing quest by travellers for intelligent and preventative wellness. The treatments and therapies on offer, therefore, have serious credentials behind each one, and combine the latest in modern science and medicine with thousands of years’ knowledge of ancient healing.
There’s no ‘one fix for all’ approach here. Instead, it is personalised and multi-stranded – with guests able to sample from a smorgasbord of unique wellness options. What’s more, with both resorts found in idyllic, untouched settings, there’s no better place to arrive if you are in need of a reset – whether it is physical or mental.
“Wellness permeates all that we do at Soneva: our sustainable, barefoot philosophy that reconnects our guests to the earth; our life-affirming natural locations; our delicious yet health-focused cuisine; and our life-changing guest experiences,” says Sonu Shivdasani. “Soneva Soul is the culmination of everything we have learned since we launched our spa at Soneva Fushi in 1995, the very first resort spa in the Maldives. Much like Soneva, at Soneva Soul we are pioneering an approach that combines apparent opposites to offer our guests a transformative and personalised wellbeing experience.”
Personalised journeys start with consultations with in-house and visiting experts. The permanent team include an Ayurvedic doctor, Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, integrative medicine doctor as well as highly trained therapists. After a comprehensive consultation with one or more of the experts (fresh juice in hand from the tree-top juice bar), a full wellness journey is devised which supports every aspect of your life. This includes rest, recovery and regeneration as well as detoxification, movement, and optimisation, following principles such as balance, mindful living and self-care.
“Unlike other resorts, our wellness programmes are not stand-alone from everything else,” says Aurélie Denoueix, director of Soneva Soul. “Soneva is all about balancing mind, body and soul, so wellness is simply something that is integrated within your whole experience. Whether it is the organic or vegan dining, with ingredients sourced from our own gardens, or the Ayurvedic tinctures you can find alongside the eggs at breakfast – everything has been designed to be good for you. It’s why our guests are made up of 70% return visitors – there’s no where else like it. What’s more, we can tailor everything depending on where you are in your own personal ‘journey’ – whether that is wanting to kick-start a healthier lifestyle or heal following an illness; improve your fitness or simply learn how to relax better.”
While the Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors tap into ancient wisdom and herbalism to curate a spectrum of treatments, Soneva Soul also champions cutting-edge technology. On offer, therefore, are: heart rate variability testing, platelet-rich plasma (PRP therapy), nutrient IV therapy, cryotherapy, ozone therapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy. It’s like a tropical version of what you’d find in the most advanced spa in LA.
Soon to launch are all-encompassing retreats – where guests can stay and be ‘enveloped’ for weeks at a time. These will also see worldwide experts arriving to showcase their specialisms. Meanwhile, bringing a new dimension to fitness, the Soneva Soul Movement Programme champions natural free movement techniques and experiential fitness surrounded by nature – such as jungle gyms and deep-water aquatic fitness sessions. While yoga, Pranayama breathing and meditation reinforce the link between mind, body and soul, with resident yoga masters and renowned visiting experts.
You can have treatments in rooms which are open to the Pacific Ocean breeze, overlooking the lagoon, or within little, traditional spa huts. Covered with recycled rubber tiles, they vaguely resemble hornets’ nests. But, step inside and, instead of being stung, you are instantly soothed. The rounded, bare cream plaster walls are cosseting and womb-like. The white enshrined bed is like an altar to pampering.
For those who have travelled a long way to get here, the sleep programme is a good place to start. Scalp rituals with herbal compresses; meditation, sound therapy and traditional Shirodhara – an Ayurvedic practice which sees oil dripped on to your forehead –are all part of the offering. Body scans and skin analysis, culminating in a deeply relaxing Living Beauty Facial, by the German Alpine brand Amala, can also be added on.
If Soneva Jani is immersed in the deep blue, then Soneva Fushi – with its jungle setting – is all about the earth. Here, the Soneva Soul offering feels more intimate and primal, somehow.
In the spa, hand-carved doors open out to pools of water, which you cross via stepping stones. Scent pods – you place your head in them and breathe in fragranced air, such as lemon or lavender – boost your mood before your treatment.
Here, you can have an Ayuvedic Abhanga massage in a traditional Champa – or beachside hut. As the therapist, soothes your body with long-strokes, you can hear the wind whisper in the palms, the waves lap and the native Koveli birds squawk to each other. It’s just what nature intended.
Rates for Soneva Fushi start from £1,000 per villa per night based on two people sharing a one-bedroom Crusoe villa with pool. Rates at Soneva Jani start from £1,339 per villa per night based on two people sharing a one-bedroom water retreat. soneva.com