Meet the Hoteliers: Abhishek Sharma runs the original barefoot luxury hotel in the Maldives
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Soneva Fushi pioneered the idea of barefoot luxury.
Twenty-five years ago, it was the first of its kind in the Maldives. It introduced the concept of Mr and Mrs Fridays – round-the-clock butlers – and took sustainability seriously before eco-chic was a thing.
Constantly inventing new ways to awe and inspire its guests, the resort has an all-you-can-eat chocolate and ice cream room, a state-of-the-art observatory and, now, a second Maldives resort, Soneva Jani, at which each overwater villa has a slide with direct access into the translucent ocean.
One of the world’s great hotels, here we meet its passionate general manager, Abhishek Sharma, to find out how it’s done and to tap him for his travel tips and highlights from a career spanning several continents and five-star properties.
What made you want to work in the travel industry?
I’ve always been a traveller from a young age and come from an extremely social family which encouraged the idea of being able to work with people to create magic!
Your favourite place for a holiday?
Egypt. What is history without a bit of conspiracy! In Egypt, you can look back into the last four millennia and also see that we built something four millennia ago which will probably outlast any modern construction marvel. That’s irony!
Other than your own, the best hotel in the world?
Wildflower Hall, Middle Himalayas in India where you wake up to acres of Cedar forests and snow-capped mountains, where each mountain trail tells the story of how a village became a town. Where else can you be in a hot tub with three feet of snow around you?
Your favourite little-known, secret hotel?
Chapslee, Shimla, India. Listen to stories by the fireplace with hot chocolate and Indian spiced tea. You don’t need to go back to your room to pass out… do so, in the large lavish lounge. Feel the weight of 100 years of history, walk out of your villa onto a road where horse carriages once roamed.
What’s the most heart warming thing a guest has ever said to you?
“If I ever had a son, I would be honoured for him to be like you.”
Maddest request you’ve ever had from a guest?
“Purify me, I am a sinner!”
Tell us about a time you cried happy tears in your hotel:
After becoming a GM, we were celebrating Christmas Eve with our guests. Many members of my team sang carols to add a soulful touch to the evening. At the sound of “Silent Night”, my emotions got the better of me as I realised the true power of a good hotel and how it can change people’s lives.
Best view in the world?
From my office at Soneva Fushi.
Best meal you’ve ever eaten?
George Blanc, Lyon, France. People often say that we are more than the sum of our circumstances. Well, in culinary parlance, this is excluded. So I had the tasting menu and then a la carte. Each ingredient on the plate is explosive but all of them together have the ability to do what meditation does to your mind. It stills you, your taste buds are screaming bloody murder and your mind is warped and overloaded. Then you have the next bite and it all starts to make sense. That night, you will go to bed knowing that it’s been a day well lived.
What is your favourite city?
Jaipur. Rare is a city where modern life and historic reverence coexist as magically as they do in Jaipur. You can live any way; you can choose culture, history, arts, creativity, technology, retail, space, solitude or a lavish haveli on the side of sand tunes that have been witness to the shifting winds.
What’s next on your travel wish list?
A Costa Brava road trip. My soul lives on the road. I have been on the road since I was little and I have driven thousands of kilometres, not searching, but just being; being on the road, at one with the journey, just taking imprints of a street vendor, rubber tree, pottery made by a local farmer, a lone vineyard atop a hillock, a shattered house. All of them are mere reminders of the time that has been.
Most beautiful beach in the world?
So many, but maybe the beach at Soneva Jani, Maldives.
Most treasured childhood holiday memory?
Being thrown into a car, before the sun has risen and off with my family to some unexplored holiday destinations.
Your ultimate bucket list destination?
Too young to think of bucket lists, but Italy is always up there.
Best place in your own country for a staycation?
Munnar, Kerala, India. When I think of Munnar I see tea estates, rivers, dams, country roads, spices, coffee plantations and a flower that blooms only once every twelve years!