The island of Kunfunadhoo, in the northern Baa atoll, is not even a mile long and just 500 metres wide. It is best known as the home of Soneva Fushi, the top-end resort run by Sonu Shivdasani and his wife, Eva. There, behind a discreet screen of foliage in the palm and banyan tree jungle that covers the island, builders are hard at work. Some of the fortunate few have already bought and moved in to what must be among the most exclusive holiday homes in the world.
The style is all thatched roofs and wood floors, in what might be described as the “Robinson Crusoe by Armani” vernacular. Of course there is no stinting on the luxury — sunken dining areas, huge swimming pools, vast outside bathrooms, staff quarters and wine cellars. All this and, of course, a stretch of that pristine beachfront to sink the toes into while gazing out at the electric blue waters that lie beyond.
So far, six of the 24 villas in the development have been sold. One-bedroom properties start at £1.9 million. An 8,000 sq meter palace which will be ready next month is on the market for £9 million. An oil and gas magnate has an option to buy. It is, says Lynn Villadolid, managing director at Soneva Private Residences, the international resort group, “billionaires’ row.”
Three of those six buyers are French, having decided to uproot and escape the tax regime introduced in their homeland. “President Hollande was the best thing that happened to our sales,” says Villadolid.
Part of the attraction is that when they are not at home, the super-rich owners can toss the keys back to the Soneva resort, which rents their homes out at up to $30,000 (£18,600) a night. At the moment, Soneva guarantees a four percent income a year, half of which covers running costs. The other half should cover the costs of those six weeks of the year when owners are in residence. They can go from spa therapists to sommelier to speedboat skipper (to whisk them off to — yet more — remote islands).
It is a celebrity lifestyle, and indeed many celebrities are regulars. Villadolid is coy about names but noted that at a recent New Year’s Eve party, Sonu Shivdasani found three of his guests comparing their Oscar triumphs.
The Candy report says that this kind of “refined, hotel-serviced villa product” makes the Maldives a “luxury enclave with global reach.”
And of course behind the trailblazers come other, more financially accessible projects, such as the Dutch Docklands plan to build five residential developments in the North Male atoll. It has huge ambition (floating 18-hole golf course, anyone?) and its first phase of 185 villas is now on sale. Prices range from £770,000 to £1.67 million.
Indeed, across the Indian Ocean and beyond, developers and buyers are returning to a high-end holiday home property market that appeared mortally wounded by the financial turmoil of recent years. The range of possibilities and locations to buy is staggering.
The Robinson Crusoe experience, barefoot and away from it all on a strip of sand, is certainly alluring. But others will want to be plugged into super-fast Wi-Fi between sociable rounds of golf.
These days there is an island for all appetites. And for that the UHNWI may have to take some of the credit. There is something beguiling about the Great British autumn. To begin with it can seem cozy. But don’t be duped. Soon reality will dawn — sooner, in fact, than the dawn itself, which will put in a brief appearance at about midday. Most of us will have to get a vitamin shot. A lucky few will be elsewhere.