You have got to hand it to Sonu and Eva Shivdasani, says the gal. This international pair made hospitality waves when they started putting up somewhat-eccentric over-water structures with three-floor chutes down into the Indian Ocean, as at the then-Soneva Gili, and their treehouse bamboo kids’ club and chocolate factory, as at Soneva Kiri in Thailand. Now, solely in charge of the Soneva brand, they have gone yet further. They have the added luck of having Olivia Richli as GM of their newest hotel, Soneva Jani (she is long-time Aman, and her right hand, Abhijit Ghosh, brings both Oberoi and Taj experience). Here you are, at the end of the Soneva Jani’s arrival boardwalk and, typically Soneva, the general signpost is driftwood. Look immediately to the right, and you see the three-floor-high Gathering Place, which holds most public entities.
The facilities in the Gathering Place include a three-level restaurant with an extension, an over- water boardwalk outside seating area. Back inside, in full view of the diners, is the wine cellar, chocolate factory, bar, and an open kitchen that does all production for the whole 24-villa resort – the kitchen’s massive GIGA Monobloc stove was airlifted in, in one piece. Here, too, are the superb spa, and the Technogym, with all-wall windows to let in the breeze. Look out from here along the winding ‘main road’, a ten-foot board walk that snakes, about 20 feet from one side to the other, to the end circle (here, round the circle, are the biggest units, including a four-bedroom, 12,000 sq ft villa that is owned, but in the letting pool).
I was in Villa 14, all of 4,200 sq ft (interior size) and so close to the Gathering Place I did not need my silver bicycles, with the purple saddle covers that are a house colour (purple, and pale apple green, are the only prominent colours throughout but who needs a palette when the sea and sky are such brilliant hues?). In the floor of my villa – see the video below – you can look down to the ocean through horizontal windows. As well as rooftop sun terrace, downstairs I had bedroom, office, enormous walk-in closet, pantry with enotech and Smeg fridge, and an open-ended bathroom, with outdoor tub and ladder down to the ocean. Outside, I had a 40-ft pool with three over-hung hammocks, and more steps to the ocean.
The boardwalk the other way from the Gathering Place does actually snake, again past villas and finally to the Real Island, all 388 sq miles of it. Although this is left wild, intentionally, it does hold the vegetable garden, and a stunning village, all bright colours, for the 400 team members. On the island, too, you find a couple of new tennis courts and, at the far end, unique wood stepping stones lead to Cinema Paradiso, an all-purpose facility for Prosecco and popcorn, or special events, or for watching movies on the big, Bluetooth-activated screen. First showings, I was told were of Casablanca. Sonu and Eva, with this futuristic luxury resort, you have created uniqueness yet again. NOW TOUR VILLA 14, BELOW