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Barefoot luxury: Soneva Founder reveals Soneva Secret

Leading sustainable and carbon neutral resort operator Soneva will open Soneva Secret 2024 in the Maldives’ remote Haa Dhaalu Atoll. Its Founder and CEO reveals more.

Leading sustainable and carbon neutral resort operator Soneva will open Soneva Secret 2024 in the Maldives’ remote Haa Dhaalu Atoll. Its Founder and CEO reveals more.

During a recent trade briefing and presentation,  Founder and CEO of Soneva, Sonu Shivdasani OBE, shared details about Soneva Secret 2024 (see below) – as well as some of the founding principles that continue to shape its resorts and guest experiences. 

The responsible tourism group has been carbon neutral since 2012, and later launched its Total Impact Assessment to measure its social and environmental impact in 2016.

“The more sustainable we are, the more true we are to our Slow Life core beliefs and the more luxurious we become,” said Shivdasani. 

CEO and Founder of Soneva. Sonu Shivdasani, OBE
CEO and Founder of Soneva. Sonu Shivdasani, OBE.

Expanding on Soneva’s Slow Life mantra, Shivdasani said, “…..essentially, we’re offering our guests luxury, as well as minimising our impact on the planet and enhancing the wellbeing of our guests,” he said. 

“We do that by questioning and challenging what is luxury. This phrase intelligent luxury, and the latin origins of intelligent ‘intelligere’ – to try and understand really, what is a luxury? Essentially, it’s a misused word. Sometimes, people talk about gold taps and marble… but luxury is essentially that which is rare, that which is new to you,” he said.

Guests arriving at any Soneva resort experience the company’s ‘no news, no shoes’ policy – whereby staff take guests’ shoes on the boat after they emerge from the floatplane, allowing them to step onto the island and immediately connect with earth.

“It is meaningful and it really has an impact on our guests because they arrive on the island barefoot  with a completely different perspective – and that creates a huge amount of depth in their holiday. It’s a small gesture, but for someone living in an urban environment, it has a huge impact,” said Shivdasani. 

He pointed to increased research that shows that being barefoot is positive for us, on many levels.

Overwater Hideaway at Soneva Secret
Overwater Hideaway at Soneva Secret.

“It’s grounding and we need to earth ourselves. There are now shoes you can wear that help you earth; there are carpets you can put in your office so that you’re barefoot. We need to earth ourselves,” he said.  

“Given the context of our guests living in an urban environment, what we’re really offering is this idea of inspiring a lifetime of rare experiences,” he said. 

Earlier this year the group officially opened AquaTerra at Soneva Fushi in the Maldives: a high-tech conservation, education and science centre that serves as the hub for the not-for-profit Soneva Foundation’s Coral Restoration Program. 

Coral Propogation at Soneva.
Coral propogation at Soneva.

AquaTerra features a spawning and rearing laboratory, developed with the team from Coral Spawning Lab, to conduct assisted evolution and create heat resilient super corals, and a 3D-Printing laboratory to produce coral substrate. It is also in the process of installing a micro-fragmenting laboratory with 28 outdoor tanks that can produce up to 100,000 corals per year. 

“A lot of scientists are predicting that of what little coral we have left, 90 percent of it will have disappeared by 2030. That’s the fate of our coral here and my goal is to completely reverse that trend,” said Shivdasani.

About Soneva Secret

Beach Reserve at Soneva Secret.
Beach Reserve at Soneva Secret.

With just 14 beach and overwater villas, Soneva Secret 2024 is the first resort to open in the Maldives’ remote Haa Dhaalu Atoll. 

Its first guests will be welcomed on 10 February, 2024. The project has been in the making for 30 years.

Soneva Secret_Beach Hideaway
Beach Hideaway at Soneva Secret

Villas include the lagoon Crusoe Villas, accessible only by boat, and the Castaway, the Maldives’ first floating villa. 

Each villa is designed with direct access to the white sand beach or sparkling lagoon. As well as spacious master suites, including a roof that retracts to reveal the night sky, every villa also features adjoining bedrooms. 

Each villa comes with a dedicated Barefoot Guardian and Barefoot Assistant, on hand to curate personalised and, rare experiences for every guest. 

The resort’s 14 private chefs, one for each villa, will craft bespoke menus and unique culinary journeys, that can be enjoyed within the villa or in stunning natural settings outdoors.

Other features include:

  • Out of This World, a castaway dining tower, observatory and wine cellar in the lagoon, reachable by zipline.
  • A toes-in-the-sand firepit dining experience at So Primitive.
  • The Living Room, the island hub and casual dining and lounge venue, which is also home to a library, boutique and Soneva’s popular ice cream, chocolate and cheese and charcuterie rooms.
  • Experiences include picnics on castaway shores, sunset dolphin cruises, guided snorkelling with an experienced Marine Biologist, or navigating the night skies with a  resident Astronomer.
Overwater Hideaway at Soneva Secret.
Overwater Hideaway.

Soneva Secret 2024 can be reached via a 75-minute seaplane flight direct from Velana International Airport in Malé, a 40-minute seaplane flight from Soneva Fushi in the Baa Atoll, a 30-minute seaplane flight from Soneva Jani in the Noonu Atoll, or a full-day cruise from Soneva Fushi onboard Soneva in Aqua.

Guests can also fly directly into Kulhudhuffushi Airport in the Haa Dhaalu Atoll and take a one-hour speedboat ride to the resort.

Soneva Secret 2024 is now open for bookings, for stays from 10 February, 2024.

For more information, visit