The Family Holiday I’ll Never Forget (Liv Tyler, Gwyneth Paltrow & Teresa Palmer Love it Too)



It’s not every week you jump on a plane and head to a Sonvea resort, which celebrities such as Liv Tyler, Gwyneth Paltrow, Teresa Palmer and more frequent...

And it’s probably why a few months later, I still can’t stop thinking about the best family holiday we’ve ever been on. No wonder it’s the original barefoot luxury brand. The motto at Soneva? No news, no shoes. Why? Because without shoes you feel everything.

It was one of those holidays – the kind that will stay with you forever. It was also a bit of a milestone for us – the first holiday with kids in tow that has gone pretty smoothly. There were meltdowns (aren’t there always? But it was just that bit easier). It has taken us a few years – our kids are now 4 and 5 – to get to the stage where we can take a holiday with our kids and not feel like we need a holiday when we arrive home. It’s also always refreshing to spend a week with your husband away from the daily grind (school drop-offs and pick-ups, washing, cooking, cleaning, bills) to remind yourself that you’re also a couple, not just sleep-deprived parents.

Last December, after a big year for our little family, we flew to the spectacular and unspoilt island of Koh Hood, Thailand, to stay at Soneva Kiri, which is located three hundred and fifty kilometres southeast of Bangkok and 80 kilometres off the Thai mainland. It was, without question, the most wonderful family holiday we’ve ever been on. We knew it’d be wonderful from the minute we landed in Bangkok and were escorted to a private check-in for Soneva Kiri (yes, they have their own check-in at the airport). An hour later, we were on a private plane headed to the island of Koh Kood, where the resort is located. 45 minutes later, we landed in paradise. We’d never been on a private plane before and it’s safe to say, we won’t be jumping on one again soon, so it was an experience to treasure forever.


Happy snaps from our holiday


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Koh Hood is Thailand’s fourth largest island and remains remarkably unspoilt. The island is home to 2,000 villagers, mostly fishermen. Surrounded by untamed jungle, pristine beaches and fishermen going about their business, Soneva Kiri will blow your mind while at the same time, slow it right down. It’ll make you reconnect. It’ll make you appreciate how utterly precious your kids are (of course, we all know this but sometimes, it takes slowing down to really appreciate this). And it’ll remind you how important it is to make sustainability a priority in your life. The way we treat our environment will impact our children’s future. Soneva has set up the SLOW LIFE Symposium which convenes business leaders, scientists, NGOs, renowned thinkers and policymakers to help accelerate progress towards environmental sustainability. No wonder they were awarded the Butterfly Mark, powered by Positive Luxury, in recognition of their commitment to social and environmental sustainability.

Sonvea – a successful collection of world-class hotels, resorts, residences and spas based on a vision of locally crafted villas and an environmentally responsible lifestyle – was founded by couple Sonu and Eva (hence the name of the resort brand). The Shivdasanis built their home in the Maldives back in 1995 as well as their first resort, Soneva Fushi. Creating the very first eco-friendly luxury resort was the chance of a lifetime and it inspired them to keep growing. In 2001, they opened Soneva Gili, the world’s first overwater resort. In 2009, Gili was followed by Soneva Kiri in Thailand. You can even buy a ‘Private Residence’ in one of their resorts (which you’ll want to do the minute you land – sadly my husband said it was out of our budget). They’re the first developer to offer luxury homes for foreigners in the Maldives.


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The acronym SLOW LIFE, meaning Sustainable-Local-Organic-Wellness Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experiences, explains the Soneva philosophy. “Intelligent luxury” for Sonu and Eva is all about inspiring their guests to embrace this SLOW LIFE philosophy. Luxury, here, means putting your shoes away for the duration of your stay, something we can’t do in our urban lives. It means putting down your digital devices and soaking up your surroundings. It means spending time with those you love most and not being distracted by the daily grind. It means really switching off.

When we arrive, we’re greeted by the team and meet our private butler, Mr. Friday (all the butlers are called Mr./Ms. Friday). Shoes off and we jump in an electric buggy (ours to use for the week or we also have bicycles) and taken to our room. Only, it’s not exactly a room, it’s an enormous two bedroom suite complete with a private wrap-around infinity pool which overlooks the ocean, a gym, an outdoor (and indoor) shower, an outdoor bath, countless daybeds and more. Wow. Wow. Wow. I’m not sure who is more excited – us or the girls. There’s a letter from the housekeeping team. Would we like an additional pillow scented with lemongrass or bergamot? Would we like a buckwheat pillow? (On a side note – for hundreds of years, people in the Orient have been using natural buckwheat hulls in pillows to prevent and relieve pain, improve sleep and soothe sore muscles). We can specify our bathroom amenities – all of which are 100% natural with organically grown plant extracts and pure essential oils. Do we need an eye mask? Ear plugs? Nail clippers? I feel totally and utterly pampered. Actually, I feel like I’ve just arrived in tropical paradise.

There are twenty-eight villas and eight private residences – located either on the beach or nestled in the tranquil rainforest facing the sea. Everything has been built with sustainable materials, including local timbers, in keeping with the Sonvea SLOW LIFE philosophy. The design is beautifully understated – while it couldn’t get more luxurious, it’s completely effortless and relaxed.

Now, onto the kids. My happy kids who had the holiday of a lifetime (they’re still asking if they can go back). For children aged five and up, the Den is a giant moulded bamboo playground shaped like a manta ray hanging high in the treetops.

Activities include things such as recycled papermaking, cupcake decorating, Asian snack making, nature scavenger hunting, mocktail making, sand art and more. It looks like so much fun, you’re almost tempted to stay there yourself (I say almost because the chance to have some kid-free time with your partner is too tempting). For little ones – our girls went here – there’s the Eco Den for kids aged 1-5. A beautiful space filled with charming wooden toys. They spent their days involved in activities such as milkshake making, caterpillar making, sand art, rocket making, face painting and more. When they weren’t busy doing craft or exploring, the minders had them down at the pool swimming. We’d pick them up for lunch then jump on a boat and head to a neighbouring island for an afternoon swim in sparkling clear blue water. It was the perfect balance of family time and couple time.

When it comes to activities, you can do a lot or you can do little more than relax by the pool. There’s complimentary yoga in the morning and meditation in the late afternoon. There’s ‘cinema paradiso’ (described as “a jungle-enshrouded auditorium of cascading cushions over the waters of the reservoir lagoon”), where you can watch films under the stars and if you like, book the entire cinema just for yourself. Romance, anyone? A private beach, which is accessible by a short 10-minute speedboat ride from the resort (the girls loved the boat ride). There are complimentary non-motorised watersports such as stand-up paddleboards and kayaks, and snorkelling to name a few off the beach. The list really is endless: mountain bike tours, wine tasting, sunrise breakfasts or sunrise cruises, a mushroom cave lunch, a tour of the local island, waterfall excursions, cooking classes… I could go on but you get the picture. If you want to be busy, there’s plenty on offer. The resort is also just one hour by boat from the wonders of Cambodia (you can jump on a plane for an hour and visit the temples of Cambodia’s UNESCO Heritage Site, Angkor Wat). And of course, a sensational Six Senses Spa where I had one of the best massages I’ve ever had in a room on the water and surrounded by nature. Take me back, please.

The food is sensational (as is not having to cook or clean for a week – I didn’t wipe a bench once). There are six ways to dine at the resort from the exclusive tree pod dining to destination dining to the handful of phenomenal restaurants. ‘The View’ is, as the name suggests, a heavenly spot to gaze at the ocean as the sun goes down. ‘Benz’ is a more traditional Thai experience and chef Khun Benz uses ingredients grown on Koh Kood and neighbouring Koh Chang. Eating here is a unique journey. We cruised through the mangroves of Klong Yai Kee to the open-air lantern-lit eatery on stilts and enjoyed a nine-course menu.There’s also homemade ice-cream and chocolate rooms. We went with the rule that when you’re on holiday, you get sweet treats daily (if not twice).

When we leave, we are left a note, which reads: “Vacations should be about going home with a bag full of fond memories and we hope to have been able to provide a suitcase full of them.” Soneva Kiri, you’ve done just that and more. Same time again next year?


For more information, or to book, go to www.soneva.com/soneva-kiri/


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