A travel writer's honeymoon is not something to be taken lightly. The right destination has to be exotic yet decadent, adventurous yet romantic. Months are ticking down to my wedding this summer, and as I search for the ultimate honeymoon locale, my mind keeps returning to the Soneva Gili resort in the Maldives.
A nation of coral islands located south of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives represents pure self-indulgent escape. You see it on every paradise calendar: white sand, blue water, total privacy.
Like most tourists, I quickly departed the overcrowded island capital of Malé for the island resorts. While alcohol is illegal in Malé (my bottle of duty-free rum was even confiscated at the airport), the resorts function as their own kingdoms, accessible by boat or floatplane. On the island of Lankanfushi, just 20 minutes by speedboat from the capital, Soneva Gili has its own wine cellar, cures its own hams and serves cocktails and beer at the bar. The resort even sets its clock an hour later than the rest of the country, giving its guests more time in the day, literally running in its own time zone.
Forty-five villas built over the water branch off from the island, and are designed to be friendly on the environment and the eye. Ranging from 2,250 square feet to an incredible 15,000 square feet in the five-building "private reserve" area, the villas offer decks, large bathrooms, Bose surround-sound systems, Wi-Fi and a glass-walled shower accessible via an enclosed sea pool. Upstairs, the patio has a double bed, should you wish to sleep directly under the stars.
The attention to detail in each villa is staggering, with simple yet stylish decor that comes from spending plenty of time, thought and dollars. They call it "intelligent luxury." Every window and deck looks onto the crystal sea, in which tropical fish, stingrays and harmless, small reef sharks swim right beneath your feet. The villas, like the resort itself, are designed for couples to enjoy their privacy, pampering and relaxation. I met honeymooners from the United States, Spain, Russia, France and Japan doing exactly that.
Soneva Gili belongs to the Six Senses chain of luxury resorts and spas, well known for an elite clientele including business and showbiz celebrities. Villas start at $1,000 a night, with meals and activities extra, and I got the feeling if I had to ask how much things cost, I really didn't want to know.
On arrival, guests are greeted with a canvas bag for their shoes, labelled "No News, No Shoes." Just in case I might step on anything sharp, the beaches and boardwalks are swept every day. As for the rest of the world, well, it may as well have not existed.
Each villa has its own bikes to pedal around the resort, along three main wooden jetties holding each villa like a pea in a pod. Lit up at night, the jetties look like runways, sparkling under the canvas of stars. Lavish buffets or à la carte meals are served on the beach, at the over-water bar, or brought to the villa for a romantic candlelight dinner. The cellar, built around a large piece of wood that washed up on the beach, stocks 500 wines, and the resort grows its own organic vegetables. Staff from around the world serve every whim, organizing sunset cruises, reef dives or whatever guests ask of them.
Of course, every honeymoon needs a spa. Specifically one that accommodates couples, since the missus might not be amenable to the beautiful blond Swedish masseuse rubbing me down. International therapists work out of the Six Senses Spa, offering various massages, facials, body wraps, yoga classes and Ayurvedic treatments. The couples room has thoughtful glass-bottom windows, to admire the marine life during the massage.
The water sports, diving, snorkelling, kayaking and windsurfing are all excellent and I quickly realized that if my marriage could survive figuring out how to sail a catamaran, we'd be in calm waters. I found a well-stocked book and movie library, and a gym too, which I avoided. Somehow, even though the resort was full, the island felt sparse and empty. Those craving absolute privacy, like the occasional Russian oligarch, can book one of the seven Crusoe Residences, accessible only by private pontoon and featuring a floating sundeck.
Rising sea levels, however, are threatening the very existence of the Maldives, which is just 2.3 metres at its highest point. With its 1,192 islands spread out over 90,000 square kilometres, many will soon be completely submerged. It makes the Maldives that much more precious and exotic, like a gem slowly slipping away into the sea. The ocean villas at the Soneva Gili await honeymooners like a dream, albeit an expensive one far beyond the budget of this travel writer. It may have been a plum assignment to shoot a TV show, but I envied the couples on my solo assignment. My search for the ultimate honeymoon destination continues.