For putting your mind at ease and raising your spirits there is no resort in Maldives, and few in the world I would guess, better than Soneva Gili.
Many other resorts are superior in some key aspects of a Maldives holiday, but the lack of distractions, visually and mentally, combined with mould-breaking design and fine cuisine make this place something like a sanctuary for the senses.
In startling contrast to the stolid rectangles of most rooms, Soneva Gili's water bungalows are a series of rooms, decks, landings and rooftops that seem to emerge from each other. Some spaces are under thatch, some under open sky, some open to the water below and some can be enclosed for air conditioning. The wooden boards and pillars come unadorned, the thatch is not concealed, the wooden furniture is handmade, the cotton covers are in single earthy or sunny colours. At the same time, every luxury of an exclusive resort is incorporated. This is rustic chic: rustic takes you back to a simpler time, chic skillfully delivers the modern.
The 29 Soneva Gili Villa Suites line 3 jetties. The 8 Soneva Gili Residences anchored at the end of the jetties are a little bigger and have better views. The 7 Soneva Gili Crusoe Residences are the same as the latter except they are cut adrift in the lagoon and enjoy completely clear views to the horizon. There is also a Soneva Gili Private Reserve, which has 5 separate buildings and is 6 times the size of the Residences. It would come alive with two full families (there's a terrific waterslide).
Nearly all the residences and a few of the villa suites have uninterrupted sightlines out to the horizon, filled only with shades of blue and turquoise (and the white of drifting clouds). The rumbles of the ocean, the breaking waves on the reef and the ripples around the room are sounds that reach deep inside you. A soundtrack on the entertainment system includes whale calls and birdsong. Transporting and meditational stuff, but even with a driving rock number playing, the whole place is so friendly and personal you feel you really should be naked.
From here it’s just a metaphorical step to the overwater spa. As expected it is delightful, serene and serious. Each guest is consulted on wishes and advised on therapies, and an Indian ayurvedic doctor is present to diagnose and work on specific conditions. The complex includes a gym and a relaxation room on the first floor that share the same view as the treatment room balconies – empty all the way to Australia. Two standout therapies are The Soul of Six Senses, which has two therapists "synergistically performing a facial and body massage", and the Massage Workshop, which involves 2 or 4 sessions where you learn to massage your partner.
There are no straight lines on the island. The buildings are rounded and have stucco-style finishes; nature's materials are used and left unrefined. It never feels pretentious; Soneva Gili only works hard at imitating nature, right down to the details (the mugs are dimpled, the saucers scalloped). It all helps to lift your mind out of the straight (and narrow).
Dining experiences here were always very good; now they are often sublime. A new restaurant lifted above the shoreline vegetation has a delightful nighttime ambience and marvelous Japanese Peruvian cuisine.
In the cool cellar, wine tastings and wine dinners are hosted by the sommelier or, occasionally, visiting wine growers and renowned chefs. Also in the cellar is a charcuterie and cheese store matched only by Soneva Fushi, and Conrad for the cheeses.
The bar and restaurant over the lagoon offers personal stir-fry lunches of ingredients chosen by the guests, arranged as a presentation plate and served at the table. Healthy food and fresh salads and vegetables from the resort’s own garden are prominent. The main island restaurant serves a deluxe variety of cuisines for breakfast and dinner, though with in-villa dining being at no extra charge, you need not worry about close table guests here.
Little touches of playfulness are welcoming, such as the two mattresses lying under thatch in the middle of the pool, and the hammock strung between branches in the lagoon. Also new in the lagoon is a fun swim-up bar just where the snorkeling stretch starts. It's a bit of a swim from the beach but easily reached by canoe or pontoon boat.
The snorkeling is a short stretch and nothing much to write home about. It's a similar story with the beach. The lagoon is shallow to very shallow (the West side, lagoon-facing as opposed to ocean-facing, rooms have deeper water). And there are no really good inhabited or uninhabited island nearby. Yet I would rather holiday here than just about anywhere else in the country. Especially if I were on a honeymoon or a romantic hideaway holiday. Or if I just wanted to get away from the hard-edged urban life, feel free again and be wildly pampered.
The following is probably a fairly common experience but I overheard it here: A couple were booking an excursion, they turned, stared at each other and then started laughing. They had both completely forgotten what day or date it was.
Reviewed by Adrian Neville