Soneva Fushi in the Maldives – by Darina Allen
For me the word ‘resort’ immediately rings alarm bells – not my kind of holiday. So when I was invited to cook a Slow Food dinner and give a cookery class in exchange for a few days holiday on a remote island resort in the Maldives called Soneva Fushi, I was a bit ‘iffy’. The name meant nothing to me but when I mentioned it in passing to a well travelled friend he was adamant that this was not an opportunity to pass up – after all it was chosen as Resort of the Year and Best Island Retreat 2010 By Conde Nast Traveller!
One can fly directly from Gatwick to Malé, an easy 10 hour flight.
From there, it’s a thrilling thirty minute hop on a sea plane to the tiny pontoon in the sea rather grandly named Soneva Fushi International Airport.
This flight was possibly the most spectacular I’ve ever encountered, flying over miles of atolls, reefs and lagoons, surrounded by azure blue water, breathtakingly beautiful and almost surreal.
Another few minutes by motor boat and we were there but not before our shoes had been confiscated, everyone walks bare foot on the island! It looked utterly beautiful, just like those tempting travel ads on TV except it is very real. A tiny palm fringed island with white sandy beaches that slope gently into the clear blue sea. The villas are all tucked between the trees towards the surrounding lagoon. Soneva Fushi remoteness is central to its charm, the ultimate in barefoot sophistication and large enough not to be bored yet small enough to get round easily – the island is just one and half kilometres in length and half a kilometre wide. All the villas had bikes so we could pedal along the sandy paths around the island. It only takes a few minutes to cycle to the Turtle beach, the Dive centre or the Six Senses Spa. Cycling my bike under the jungle canopy with my hair billowing in the breeze was so exhilarating, I felt as though I was eighteen again! Soneva Fushi has a strong environment policy, with a resident permaculturalist and a resident marine biologist who is deeply knowledgeable about the coral reefs and totally passionate about sustainable fishing. Her name was Kate, and I have a soft spot for her because she took me snorkelling for the first time at sixty two years of age. I was sure I was a lost cause , because I’m a particularly ‘scardy’ swimmer, but lovely Kate was undaunted – she trussed me up in a life jacket, showed me how to spit on the goggles to keep the lens clear and launched me gently off the wooden steps of Bar (a) Bara. It was SO amazing, like swimming in an aquarium of exotic tropical fish, you can’t imagine the courage it took but now I wish I’d started forty years ago. The other highlight of our visit was meeting permaculturalist Mark Garret. He spent ages showing us around the organic vegetable and fruit gardens and explaining the principals of this totally logical sustainable system of agriculture – permaculture.
The owners of Soneva Fushi, Sonu and Eva Shivdasani, are completely committed to creating an interconnected holistic system and they are well on their way to doing just that. Growing vegetables in the tropics has its challenges, not just water; the soil here is highly acidic and lacking in nitrogen so Mark and his team of local gardeners are gradually introducing the missing elements through nitrogen fixing plants and compost. Mark has introduced a 21 day Berkley composting system which is proving to be highly successful and uses the available waste material from the island- leaves, paper, cardboard, coffee grinds… Priyantha Gallege also grows both shitake and oyster mushrooms very successfully in
Saw-dust, dolomite, magnesium sulphate, red rice husk and soy bean powder mixture.
I’m looking forward to replicating his experiments here in Shanagarry.
So how about the food? Well there was was lots of it and in true resort style a myriad of choices so it didn’t really matter how ‘picky’ an eater you are, there are many delicious options for everyone. For me some of the highlights were the sublime fresh fruit on the breakfast buffet I think I can truly say that no where else in the entire world have I found such an amazing selection of beautifully ripe fruit, mangoes and papayas at the peak of perfection, lychees, rambutans, mangosteens, guavas, chermoyas, pineapples, pomegranates, three different varieties of bananas and melons…There were also chunks of fresh coconut straight out of the shell and foamy freshly squeezed juices. This area was Sirisene’s pride and joy. He rose at 4 am each morning to have his delectable array ready for guests. The cheese and cured meat and salami room was another surprise, a temperature controlled space with marble and glass shelves to display a variety of cheese and cured meats in beautiful condition, not easy at the best of times but a truly remarkable achievement in a tropical environment. Once again this was the pride and joy of another local chap with the biggest smile called Ravi Jayawardene He knew all about the cheeses, where they came from and was delighted to share his passion.
All the breads, desserts, ice creams and sorbets were also freshly made every day and were to be found in the Eversoneva room again at the edge of the eating area. Stephen Wheeler from the UK is the ‘big boss’ who coordinates all these eating options, there are forty chefs. He and his team were so welcoming and supportive. I had great fun cooking with his boys both in the Fresh in the Garden restaurant and the main kitchen. It was fantastic to have such lovely ingredients to cook with, some directly from the organic vegetable gardens. We stayed in the littlest villa – thatched and perfect for two but there are many options – the very essence of a castaway’s fantasy. Thirty three villas have private pools and the larger Jungle Reserve and Retreats incorporate the very first Maldives tree houses. I was so delighted to be able to just chill in my ‘lounger’ to just read a book or watch the sunset. Sporty types can do some serious or gentle diving from the Padi dive centre and course snorkelling – the sea is deliciously warm.
Several times a week there’s a film in the open air Paradiso cinema under the stars, or you can climb up to the observatory for an astronomy session. And then there’s the Six Senses Spa – names by Conde Nast Traveller as the Best Overseas Spa 2006 – seriously pampering.
For me who arrived as a serious sceptic, Soneva Fushi really worked its magic and I find myself wondering how soon I can return – for me it was a perfect place to relax one can choose to be reclusive or gregarious – there is no forced fraternisation which can be an excruciating element of some resorts. It was difficult to tear ourselves away from the island but this seems to be a perennial problem for guests, almost everyone we met had been before and several people for the eighth time!
I feel this place has an intangible kind of magic that is hard to describe, the ultimate in barefoot luxury and you get your shoes back at the end!
What does it cost?
A seven night stay at Suneva Fushi can cost from USD 8250.00 for a double room with gorgeous sea views, private outdoor sitting area, private garden, it’s like a little luxurious home away from home. Do enquire about special package deals.
How to Get There
British Airways fly from Heathrow, Stanstead and Gatwick to Malé International Airport three times a week.
Maldavian Air Taxi fly at regular intervals. Soneva Fushi also has a private sea plane.
Soneva Fushi by Six Senses
Kunfunadhoo Island, Baa Atoll, Republic of Maldives
Tel: +960 660 0304, Fax: +960 660 0374
Places of Interest
There are lots of islands close by to explore and picnic on.