Where the super-rich go to feel a decade younger
The nurse is asking me to clench my fist so that she can see my veins. Obediently – and with my eyes firmly shut – I do as I am told. As I wait for the sensation of the needle to break the skin, she politely asks when I last had an intravenous drip. “I think it was 1988,” I wince, “when a nasty bout of appendicitis landed me in hospital for two weeks.”
The needle goes in, I open my eyes, and I am blinded not just by the nurse’s smile, but also by the glittering Indian Ocean behind her. A stingray cruises past as I feel the drip’s cocktail of vitamins, minerals and amino acids hit my bloodstream. I make myself comfortable on the plush sofa, and survey the selection of chocolate-dipped walnuts on a tray next to me. It is all very different to that last drip, in a dim ward at London’s Charing Cross Hospital with a “Nil by mouth” sign hanging at the end of my creaky metal bed.
Welcome to Soneva Soul, a wellness “concept” that combines a luxury holiday in the Maldives with some of the most cutting-edge health technology seen anywhere in the world. A week may well set you back well over £10,000 but ask yourself this: what price eternal life?
The “concept” is a mixture of integrative medicine and more traditional Ayurvedic treatments, and the rejuvenation begins before I have even left London, during a one-hour Zoom call with one of Soneva’s doctors. We talk through everything from my diet (erratic) to my hormones (all over the place) and my energy levels (low).
The process continues the moment I land at Soneva Jani, one of the two Soneva resorts in the Maldives where you can experience Soneva Soul. One minute I am being checked into our over-water villa complete with waterslide, and being informed by my “Barefoot Guardian” that the house milk is oat (of course!), the next I am being whisked off to one of the island’s two spas to be hooked up to my first intravenous drip for nearly 40 years.
This time the drip is to counteract the effects of jet lag, rather than to pump antibiotics into my system so I don’t die of blood poisoning. I much prefer it to my last brush with an IV. I eat a couple of the walnuts, watch the ocean, and fall asleep. Rejuvenated, I am taken to another room in the spa, where I have more needles put in me, this time via acupuncture. An hour later, I return to the villa and announce to my husband that I feel like a new woman. Unfortunately, he has passed out drooling, so cannot hear me.
The next day, both fully rested, we go to breakfast, where there are – among other things – a salad bar that promises you your 15-a-day by 9am; a selection of kombucha; and cheese, chocolate and ice cream rooms for people who are feeling less wellness-inclined. You can eat whatever you want at Soneva, as long as it’s not beef (bad for the environment, so they avoid having it on menus). My husband is particularly excited by the wide variety of juices and international football players on offer.
We are at Soneva during the World Cup, and so, it seems, are many of the teams who have recently crashed out of the tournament, lured here by both the short flight from Doha and the promise of some of the best R&R on the planet. “Look, there’s…” beams my husband about 15 times a day, as we pass another young, tattooed man bearing a Christian Dior beach bag, but I am afraid to say I am too focused on my next extravagant treatment to care all that much.
There are hundreds of flashy resorts in the Maldives, of course, but what marks Soneva out is how understated – and yet detailed – it is. It knows what it is doing here – and where the Soneva brand goes, others tend to follow (its eco-credentials are such that it advises many other resorts across the atolls).
Founded in 1995 by the old Etonian Sonu Shivdasani and his Swedish interior designer wife Eva Malmstrom, Soneva Fushi was the first resort in the Maldives to combine a sort of Swiss Family Robinson shipwreck vibe with wine cellars and fine dining, and its popularity was such that another location, Soneva Jani, opened in 2016.
Wellness has always been a priority here – Shivdasani founded the Six Senses spa group at Soneva Fushi – as well as the kind of low-key luxury that allows guests to relax properly. But with Soneva Soul, they have refined this luxury to such a point that both islands now exist in their own time zone, an hour ahead of the rest of the country, so that guests get more daylight and Vitamin D.
As one doctor explains to me: “Here, we don’t just want you to go to a spa. We want you to go to your soul.” And so it is that here at Soneva you can climb into the only hyperbaric oxygen chamber in the Maldives. I can’t imagine why you would want to – it looks like something you might find on a spaceship – but it is oddly comforting to know it is there. (Apparently, it is used to treat decompression sickness experienced by divers, as well as for people recovering from serious illness).
You can have rejuvenating concoctions injected into your weary joints, relax in a flotation pod filled with Epsom salts, and have hot oil poured over your third eye (your forehead) to improve circulation and concentration. I experience this at the end of one of the best massages I have ever had – an Ayurvedic “Abhyangam” oil massage so fantastic that I don’t even express shock when the therapist suggests I buy an $800 necklace from the spa shop which will help me to “thoroughly unblock the crown chakra”. Instead, I smile sweetly, and thank her for her suggestion, before floating off to my next treatment.
We move to Soneva Fushi for the last half of our trip, where they clearly believe I have relaxed enough to bring out the big guns of the Soneva Soul programme – namely, Major Autohemotherapy. If it sounds disturbing, that’s because it is. It involves having a small amount of blood taken (though it looks pretty large to me), which is infused with ozone before being injected back into your body via yet another drip. (I should add here that all treatments are done by qualified doctors and nurses.)
“We are all about healthy ageing here,” says the nice doctor removing my blood, “not anti-ageing.” I nod along, and try not to faint at the sight of my blood in a drip above my head.
At some point during my time in the Maldives, I am reminded of that episode of The Simpsons, where Mulder and Scully are invited to Springfield to investigate the strange glowing creature that keeps appearing out of the forest every Friday night. By the end of the episode, they have discovered that the creature is actually the reclusive, ageing billionaire Mr Burns, after he has received a series of bizarre treatments to keep him alive for another week.
“That’s me,” I say to my husband, as we wait in the airport for our flight back to freezing London. “I’m Montgomery Burns.” “Yes dear,” he says, before pointing out another international footballer. But it’s true. I arrived in the Maldives a harried, sallow-faced 42-year-old with a suitcase full of HRT patches, and I am returning looking only 37, and feeling more like… well, let’s say 30, shall we?
Unfortunately for me, almost all of the youthful energy I gained during my time at Soneva Soul leeches out after 11 hours spent cramped in economy – but it was nice while it lasted, that’s for sure.
Bryony Gordon was a guest of Abercrombie & Kent (03301 734 712; abercrombiekent.co.uk), which offers a seven-night stay at Soneva Fushi from £12,895pp; or at Soneva Jani from £12,570pp, based on two sharing a Sunset Villa, half board. Also included are flights, seaplane transfers and an Essential Wellbeing Package