Here in the Halcyon Lifestyle offices the longing for sand between our toes and the warmth of a tropical sun on our backs is almost too much to bear. We’re naturally positive people (normally!) but with the colder weather here in Blighty allied to our macro-view of global life the chance to be Robinson Crusoe, if just for a couple of weeks, is a tantalising one.
Who wouldn’t want to be in a digital detox right now? Not perpetually assaulted by tales of woe and war, not under siege from that old newspaper dictum that ‘bad news sells’ meaning that there seems to be nothing positive to lend light to your daily routine? Well, let us try and provide you with some light.
No list of island hideaways would be complete without at least one example from the Maldives and that’s what we open with here. As an island nation it might be just as expected but satisfying the ‘island’ criterion of the brief is just one part. The ‘luxury’ half is also important and the Maldives has many examples from which to choose. We went with Nautilus on the Baa atoll but, in reality, we could have selected from any one of half a dozen Maldivian options.
Thereafter our offerings range far and wide. From the deepest pacific of French Polynesia to the Caribbean, from the Indian Ocean to Malaysia. Just looking at the pictures will have you salivating while reading and checking available funds for you to plan a trip.
All we can say is that you won’t regret it if you turn these dreams into reality. Pricy they may well be but, as the good book says, you can’t take it with you. And the spiritual recharge of your stay will hold you in good stead on your return to the darkness of the everyday.
Read on, read on and enjoy a momentary diversion from the mundane. All the while keep the words of the American lyric poet Sara Teasdale in your mind. Her poem, Barter, gives us wise words to live our lives by:
When it comes to private island luxury getaways in the Maldives, we were spoilt for choice. To be perfectly honest we could have picked any one from about ten and the jury would have been satisfied. In the end though, while we were very tempted by Soneva Jani on the Noonu Atoll just for its water slides from every villa (because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to wake up to the dawn’s marine chorus and simply allow gravity to plunge you into the Indian Ocean?!) or Cora Cora (who also have slides) we eventually plumped for The Nautilus on the Baa atoll.
One of the reasons for vacationing on a private island is to feel like you’re a million miles away from anywhere. But if the getting there feels like you’re travelling a million miles then it feels a little less special. The Nautilus is satisfyingly far away (85 miles northwest / 30 minutes) from Velana International Airport but close enough that this final leg via seaplane doesn’t feel interminable. The final 10 minutes of your journey, after landing beside a pontoon, is via a 55ft luxury yacht.
Everything is as you would expect and is good for that. Sometimes the expected can become the prosaic but you wouldn’t want to come to the Maldives and be presented with tarmac pathways and concrete-box accommodation. White sandy tracks wend beneath lofty palm trees and between stained wooden boardwalks. The first grain of sand will have you casting off your flip flops until you have to board the plane home again.
The island isn’t large yet there are only 26 beachside and overwater residences and every experience is tailored to you in the heart of the Baa atoll, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It’s a fine place for impromptu adventure and unscripted fine dining. With the help of personal butlers guests are encourage to dream up their own bespoke experiences – from dolphin cruises to deep-sea fishing or excursions to sandbanks and uninhabited islands; the opportunities are plentiful.
All the houses have private pools, whether on land or on stilts over the lagoon. These are no mere villas whether they are one-bedroomed or larger – separate living rooms with huge televisions, high ceilings with wooden bead chandeliers and conical rooves covered in plaited coconut thatch provide the nurturing that a house would engender.
The horizontal views are only limited by your optical capabilities while the overwater houses also have glass flooring in the living rooms. Fish flit in and out of the stilts almost for your private and personal pleasure.
Service is second to none also. It’s to be expected of course that a fine resort would have fine staff but here it really feels like they have been handpicked (or headhunted even) to ensure the absolute perfect fit for each individual role. Deeply relaxed and informal The Nautilus manages to maintain an incredible attention to detail which wouldn’t ordinarily marry with informality.
The food is exceptional and the unscripted dining concept means anyone can order anything at any time of day. Fancy a burger for breakfast? Of course, sir, coming right up. Naturally there’s the limitation of what happens to be in the pantry and there are indeed some menus but Asian and Mediterranean dishes are standard. The teppanyaki lobster tails cooked in lemon juice, sake, garlic and sesame are good enough to schedule a return visit alone.
Sustainability is, for want of a better phrase, a hot topic these days. Gone are the days of big box developers buying plots of land, razing all flora and fauna to the ground and then erecting personality-free cuboids for the travelling public to come and stay in. No, these days it’s all about immersive living and being in harmony with what’s around.
We first came across this in Thailand at the Tongsai Bay (reviewed here), a five-star eco paradise hotel on the island of Koh Samui, where the management has a policy of firing any employee caught killing or harming animals. Alas, that wonderful destination couldn’t be considered for our top ten in this article as, while it is indeed on an island, it isn’t the only property thereon.
For this piece we settled on Pangkor Laut, a piece of paradise ‘2 million years in the making’ according to its website. On an island of 300 acres, just a fraction has been sympathetically developed to offer luxurious villas and expansive private estates along with the amenities that any hotel visitor would expect such as dining and the Spa Village, recognised as the jewel in Pangkor Laut’s dazzling crown.
The villas on offer are strategically placed along the island’s east coast. Some are garden villas nestled down into the island’s lush vegetation giving the appearance of grand treehouses while others are stilted in the lagoon at the Spa Village.
The accommodation is already generous, but high ceilings and tall windows give an illusion of a cathedral-like grandeur. Balconies in the Spa Village villas offer panoramic views of the Straits of Malacca and you can just imagine centuries of pirate ships plundering their way between Singapore and the Andaman Sea.
On the other side of the island are the estates with Estate 9 being the pick. Specifically tailored to those seeking privacy and with larger budgets, the helipad is located close by. All the estates have been built around the ancient rocks and vertiginous palm trees to accommodate the resort’s sustainability mission. Number 9 is located at the crest of a ridge with access via a sandstone staircase. Its elevation rewards you with expansive views across the ocean from the living and dining pavilions.
Along with four bungalow bedrooms this estate contains three outdoor bath pavilions, an infinity pool, a hot spa pavilion, a geometric fishpond, a natural rock garden and, because why not, a giant chessboard. This wonderfully tranquil place to rest your head will cost you the thick end of £2,000 per night.
The aforementioned spa was opened by regular guest and lover of the resort, the late, great tenor, Luciano Pavarotti in 2002. Offering a wide range of treatments based on traditions from China, Japan, India, Bali and Malaysia the traditional experience (three hours) has set itineraries for either men or women.
All treatments begin with a tour of various bathing traditions for these countries so by the time you get to the treatment table you will be virtually soporific. Nessun dorma (‘None shall sleep’)? Unlikely! You’ll be drifting into a stupor before talented healing hands even touch weak and knotted flesh.
The quality on offer doesn’t falter when it comes to degustation either. There are seven restaurants along with a plethora of private dining options. Choose from the family-friendly Feast Village where breakfast is served or The Straights, set in a spectacular location against the rocks overlooking Royal Bay and specialising in Asian cuisine.
Uncle Lim’s Kitchen has been a mainstay of the resort since day one but, for the ultimate experience, go to Emerald Bay where you can either eat at the informal Chapman’s Bar or hire a table in the middle of the bay. With a five-course menu on offer including barbecued lobster grilled over charcoal embers you can eat while the sun sets behind you in the middle of the bay.
Do you ever imagine waking up with your head on Bruce Willis’ pillow? Or maybe Christie Brinkley’s? That’s not just a flight of fancy at Parrot Cay, in the Turks & Caicos, no matter how far-flung it sounds. For out of the fifty-nine rooms and villas, seven of the latter are privately owned and are available to rent when the owners (two of whom I just mentioned) happen to be away.
The choice of accommodation is varied at Parrot Cay. The basic option is either a Garden or an Ocean facing room in a run of bungalows next to the main building. These rooms are spacious enough that they certainly don’t feel basic and each one comes with a generous private terrace. If you need a bit more room then the Suites are about twice the size of the rooms with a larger veranda. Both the suites and the rooms are about a five-minute walk from the main beach and pool.
If you want to have direct beach access then the choose the option of a Beach House or Villa, configured in one- two- and three-bedroom layouts with up to 3,000sqft of indoor and outdoor space. Sundecks, outdoors showers and private pools are all included to complement the white-on-white décor and teak furniture.
The private beachfront estates are a short drive away in a golf cart. Having between two and five bedrooms with up to 7,000sqft of space, each is individually decorated by its owner and boasts a unique personality. Each one is laid out differently with some having a private cabana by the beach and all coming with a personal butler.
The Turks & Caicos is an archipelago of eight principal islands with 40 or more smaller cays, of which Parrot Cay is one. Rich in hidden coves, pristine beaches and reefs, the islands are just 580 miles southeast of Miami in the exquisitely blue waters of the Caribbean. Staying here doesn’t dictate that you have to stay ‘on island’ but most people do. If you really feel you have to then you could hop on a boat to visit Providentiales (the main island) or go on a snorkelling trip.
However, the nature of this destination is one of wellness worshipping and sun seeking. Most activities here are either horizontal or sedentary whether that’s sunbathing, spa treatments, yoga, Pilates or dining.
Island living comes with an expected slowness of pace – the fastest thing here are the geckos and the tropical breeze that will wick the sweat from your brow.
Parrot Cay is brought to you by the COMO Hotels and Resorts brand that’s best known for its superb wellness programmes and facilities. Indeed the Shambhala Retreat at Parrot Cay is an enormous, and yet subtle, wellness complex that has been festooned with awards including Condé Nast Traveler magazine’s ‘most tranquil spa’.
Known for the quality of its therapists, most of them Balinese-trained, you can choose from Asian-inspired holistic therapies or traditional treatments. Then, when all the knots have been untied and you’re floating on a cloud of loosened bliss, park yourself in the outdoor jacuzzi and gaze over the distant mangroves and lagoons.
After sauntering, sandals in hand, down the pristine, mile-long white-sand beach marvelling at the crystal clear water that changes colour throughout the day depending on the tide, make time and space to enjoy the food.
All meals can be served poolside with a blend of Caribbean, Mediterranean and Southeast Asian dishes predominating. The Terrace restaurant for dinner is where you can enjoy the delights of a Mediterranean menu heavily influenced by Asian twists.
Some resorts you stay at and some resorts stay with you. This is most definitely one of the latter. Don’t forget to thank us.
There are some vacation destinations where you feel like you’re in the heart of a maelstrom. It doesn’t matter if you’re on your own or secluded, somehow just the flutter of a hummingbird’s wings 100 metres away upsets your equilibrium. Conversely, there are also some places where you can be in the heart of crowds and yet all is serene. Thanda Island, a 350m-wide island, surrounded by one of the largest marine reserves in East Africa, in the Indian Ocean, is one of the latter.
Somehow, this tranquil haven, set in azure-blue sea, feels like there is no other living soul on the planet and yet a rum cocktail is but a languid wave of the hand away. It’s frighteningly easy to forget that the mainland is only a short 30-minute hop away in a helicopter.
This is the second offering we have given you that’s just off the coast of Tanzania and for that we make no apologies (the other one being Mnemba). Thanda Island is a whole other option however.
An oasis of tropical calm, the golden-sanded beaches and towering palm trees on this small pimple in the sea are surrounded by glorious seas as far as the eye’s focus can stretch. This is not a ‘hotel’ in the normally accepted form – you vacation here as if it were your island while being subtly, attentively and phenomenally served by discreet staff.
There’s a vast array of enthralling activities, spa treatments and state-of-the-art water toys to keep everyone between the ages of eight and 80 engaged, relaxed and entertained. Scuba diving and swimming with whale sharks are de rigeur as is dining al fresco on an uninhabited island. For those who want to go slightly further afield there’s the Thanda Island Yacht Cruise (see fact box) giving guests a unique opportunity to explore the coastlines of Tanzania and Zanzibar while in the bosom of luxury.
The accommodation is only a single villa in a plantation house style. Carved around a veranda it has al fresco dining and a glass-rimmed infinity pool at the heart of the building. Your home from home has five suites branching off a central family room with a staggering indoor aquarium, an assortment of musical instruments if that’s your thing and a comprehensive wine collection if you fancy a drop of grape juice. There’s also a much more intimate room located above the family room designated for media complete with library and wide-screen TV.
Each suite is individually decorated in a gentle Scandi-chic that reflects the Swedish owners’ tastes. Four-poster beds with ivory voile take centre stage while the generous en-suites, complete with outdoor showers and baths just beg to be used. A private coffee terrace and dressing room could mean you’re not seen again for days.
Outdoors, there are cabanas on the beach and sun-loungers by the pool and, if you’re feeling moderately adventurous, traditional Tanzanian bandas (open air bungalows) where you can indulge your inner Robinson Crusoe. Pretending to have been abandoned into the nineteenth century won’t be believable though as the island’s sophisticated telecommunications equipment means you’ll never be short of a good wifi connection to post your photos to Instagram.
As might be expected the menu options lean towards the sea but by no means exclusively. Each morning a menu is carefully crafted according to guests’ specific tastes and preferences, and, by evening, the end result will be your tastebuds richly rewarded with sumptuous sensations. The fresh seafood is mouth-wateringly fresh and flavoursome, as is to be expected. Enjoy, particularly, the meaty tiger prawns, the lobster and, above all, the red snapper ceviche. But don’t miss out on the opportunity to try a themed dining evening such as a Swahili feast of traditional Tanzanian curry dishes.
Tetiaroa is a circular collection of a dozen low-lying islets ringed around a sparkling turquoise lagoon in the heart of French Polynesia. Just 30 miles north of Tahiti it can only be reached by helicopter or on a seven-seater plane that departs from the private terminal at Faa’a International Airport. The fifteen minutes in the air costs about £250 (depending on exchange rates) and lands on Motu Onetahi, the only populated islet and the home of The Brando resort.
Named after its owner, actor Marlon Brando, who bought Tetiaroa in 1966 while filming Mutiny on the Bounty in Tahiti, the location was an escape for him from the perils and pitfalls of Hollywood. Brando himself died in 2004 and, a decade later, the resort named in his honour opened, seeking to continue the two-time Oscar-winner’s vision of preserving the pristine nature of his dream atoll.
Nowadays, the atoll provides holiday comforts of the very highest level and attracts a serious calibre of guest. The former president of the United States – Barack Obama – reputedly holed up here for an extended period after leaving office to churn out the first draft of the first volume of his memoirs. As that first volume extends to over 700 pages the view from his writing desk must have been inspirational.
Brando’s love of the Polynesian lifestyle and vision for creating a sustainable luxury resort is the foundation for what is on offer today.
The low-profile resort has 35 private villas, magisterially constructed with ironwood tree trunks, thatched rooves and acres of space, with plunge pools, media rooms, an outdoor bathtub and direct access to empty stretches of pristine white-sand beach.
The majority of the villas (30) are single bedroom units with 1,033sqft of living space. Thereafter there are four two-bedroom villas and a three-bedroom villa available for larger parties. Every villa comes with the requisite number of bicycles for the guests to pedal the pathways.
The villas are cooled by seawater while all the vegetables are grown on-site and there is a state-of-the-art research centre where guests can engage in lectures learning about the biodiversity of the area. Guests can also participate in excursions with scientists to view birdlife and marine life on the surrounding small islands.
While the biodiversity is interesting it’s an immutable fact that most guests will come to The Brando to relax and unplug (or write 700 pages about the first half of their lives …).
The resort is generously all-inclusive notwithstanding the high rack rate – the price paid includes cuisines from a Michelin-starred chef, unlimited activities and a treatment every day at the holistic spa. The intimate nature of the resort allows guests to vacation at whatever pace suits them.
Dining is at the whim of the guest and can be enjoyed anywhere at any time. The Beachcomber Café, with tables overlooking the lagoon serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is the casual option. The more formal option is Les Mutinés, named for the film in production when Brando found the atoll. If eating here you must try the salt-baked scallops or pair the mahi-mahi and ginger with one of the wines from the vast cellar.
In-villa dining is available 24/7 but really, why wouldn’t you want to eat while looking at the exquisite canvas of the lagoon. Beyond the Beachcomber and Les Mutinés there is Nami Teppanyaki for evening meals but it only seats eight guests at a service. There are also Bob’s Bar and Te Manu Bar – what better place to get a rum punch?
Surrounding a tranquil lagoon and tucked away in a cluster of coconut palms is a collection of architecturally unique huts. This is the Varua Spa. Traditional taurumi massage treatments incorporate local monoï oil. Guests can also opt to have couples treatments in fare manu, a tree house-style suite perched in the tree canopy.
Despite the name of the resort there is very little theming done around Brando’s image. In this world of marketing and promotion you might think that the management team had missed a trick but personally I think their message is subliminal. The name alone tells you what you’re getting and, to stretch a filmic metaphor, all you need to understand is that, for the duration of your stay, you’ll be On the Waterfront.