Top luxury private island resorts for 2021

If what you want is utter seclusion and perfect peace, in a location off-limits to everyone but the resort staff and a few other guests, then a private island is the only place to go. Due to the pandemic, the siren call of a private island resort is stronger than ever this year. Here are the choices from around the world of The Finest Magazine.

Bawah Reserve, Indonesia

Singaporean-based financier Tim Hartnoll chanced upon this collection of nine uninhabited islands, three lagoons and 13 white beaches while sailing in Indonesia’s Riau archipelago five years ago. And he’s a quick mover. Opened in July 2017, Bawah is one of the world’s most exciting new hideaways: remote, beautiful and with bar-raising environmental policies. Days can be spent hiking through butterfly-filled primary rainforest, gliding over pink, purple and electric-blue corals in see-through kayaks, snorkelling with clownfish, triggerfish, parrotfish and, if you’re lucky, green turtles. Later retreat to the spa, where daily Indonesian-inspired treatments are included in the rate.

The 36 villas, 11 of which are stilted above the water, are made from recycled teak and local bamboo and fit effortlessly into the scheme of things, with their rustic-smart interiors, balconies, crisp white canopied beds and hammered-copper bathrooms. The big design statements have been saved for the main building, where a swarm of jellyfish chandeliers are strung across the dining room and a wispy octopus made from discarded fishing line dangles above the bar.

The food is sunny and seriously good: luminous yellow seafood laksa, lemony scallop risotto and zingy salads plucked from the 800 square metres of organic gardens. After dark, the stars will stop you in your barefooted tracks, the silvery bay lit not by moonlight but by the glow of the Milky Way.

Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, Maldives

Spread over 32,000 square meters, it’s being marketed as the largest private island in the Maldives and can be bought out for $80,000 a night.

The island can accommodate 24 guests in three buildings: there’s a two-bedroom overwater villa with indoor and outdoor rain showers, a shared living room, infinity pool and Jacuzzi; a three-bedroom beach villa with two swimming pools; and the four-bedroom residence, which comes with two king bedrooms, two queen bedrooms, Jacuzzies and large common living area, all with direct access to the beach.

The island’s architecture and interiors are described as “refined yet modern,” “with a nod to Maldivian charm.” Guests will have their own personal concierge team.

In terms of dining, the private island has its own dedicated culinary team that can create a bespoke menu served in a variety of settings. Alternatively, the main Waldorf Astoria resort is a short boat ride away for guests who want to check out its 10 specialty dining venues. This includes The Ledge, created by Dave Pynt of Michelin-starred Burnt Ends restaurant in Singapore.

Worried you’ll get bored? Ithaafushi — The Private Island offers all the usual delights the Maldives is famed for, including watersports, diving and yacht trips. There’s also a dedicated wellness concierge at the island’s overwater spa to provide customized treatments. Additional amenities include a meditation and yoga pavilion and a fully equipped gym. For kids, there’s a dedicated children’s pool and gaming area.

Turtle Island, Fiji

Forty years ago, American cable-TV exec Richard Evanson was sitting in a bar in the Fijian city of Nadi when a stranger asked him ‘Do you want to buy an island?’ Burnt out and looking for change, Evanson did. He hired workers from the nearby villages to build the 14 bures and carve pathways through the jungly interior, and planted trees in their thousands. The first guests visited in the early 1980s, but it saw a sharp fix-up of the interiors. Bedrooms were redecorated with traditional carvings, and tribal-print fabrics by French-Fijian designer Alexandra Poenaru-Philp.

A commitment to sustainability runs throughout. Hardwood bed frames, coffee tables and nightstands are hand-hewn from tree limbs gathered in the island’s forests; woven cushions and floor mats use palm and coconut husk, lights are fashioned from driftwood and curtains have been recycled to cover the day beds. But it will still look familiar – The Blue Lagoon was shot on one of the seven seashell-strewn beaches. The island is big enough for on-land adventure – mountain biking, horse riding – and out on the water there’s stand-up paddle boarding, scuba diving and deep-sea fishing. Supper is served at a communal table and chef Beni Nasaumalumu cooks seasonally from his organic gardens and whatever guests catch that day. Afterwards you can take part in a kava ceremony: the mildly narcotic drink makes a cracking nightcap. It’s a clever refresher for a classic hotel.

Cheval Blanc Randheli, Maldives

The ineffably smart and stylish Cheval Blanc Randheli opened in the Maldives six years ago as a sister property to those in Courchevel 1850 and St Barth’s. It was joined by the magnificent three-bedroom Owner’s Villa, set on its own immaculate little island. Designed by the architect Jean Michel Gathy, whose sleek portfolio includes Aman and COMO hotels as well as nearby One & Only Reethi Rah, the heart of the house is an enormous, light-filled living room with high, Balinese-thatched ceilings and sail-shaped room dividers; corridors are lined with slick contemporary art and saffron-feather ju-ju hats from Cameroon. There is also a one-bedroom beachfront villa with its own cinema and dining terrace. The 25-metre, black-stone swimming pool stands in delicious contrast to the brilliant-white sand beach.

The island comes with a team of 30 staffs, including brilliant chefs who are happy to produce anything you like, a yoga master for sunrise salutations on the over-water terrace, and therapists for the private Guerlain spa. The hotel, which has what is possibly the most remote Pucci boutique in the world, is just a five-minute dhoni sail away. Book a table at its Japanese restaurant, Diptyque, for red-tuna crispy rice rolls and a glass of Chateau Cheval Blanc, or feast on Maldivian reef-fish curry in your private dining room before hijinks around the grand piano and midnight movies screened under the stars.

Amanpulo, the Philippines

One of the smaller of the Cuyo islands in the Sulu Sea, just 500 metres across at its widest point, Pamalican is the tropical island of cliché, so white are its palm-fringed beaches, so many shades of blue and emerald the sea that laps them. It practically goes without saying that it’s surrounded by a vast coral reef where the diving is sensational.

The only hotel on the island is Aman resorts’ superb Amanpulo, which is made up of 40 standalone casitas based on traditional Filipino rural houses, some on the beach, some in the treetops and each with its own buggy. And the only way to get here is by private plane; a Dornier 228-202K meets guests at Manila and flies them 288km south to the island’s private airstrip.

If one is going to pick nits, it’s possibly worth pointing out that the hotel opened in 1993, and although a new spa opened in 2017, the casitas (and the bathrooms especially) are beginning to show their age, in design terms. But it’s heaven all the same.

Zaya Nurai Island, Abu Dhabi

Dubai may be frantically building them but Abu Dhabi has more than 200 of its own naturally occurring offshore islands already. Some are just extended sandbanks; others are surrounded by belts of dense mangrove. Emirati entrepreneur Nadia Zaal, a real estate whizz, spotted an opportunity and turned her attention to Nurai. She has thrown pots of cash at Zaya Nurai Island, drafting in the Parisian architects responsible for the Nam Hai in Vietnam, shipping over more than 800 fully grown date palms and calling on her mother, Lesley Zaal, to help with the interior design. The result is a slick, Asian-style lair in the Persian Gulf, reminiscent of the shiniest villas in Phuket. The property on the two-mile-long island opened its doors in February 2015 but is still evolving and developing.

There are a full-throttle spa and five restaurants serving locally grown organic fruit and vegetables from the Ripe Market, line-caught fish and biodynamic wines. The 32 vast beach villas are highly modern, dominated by clean lines, cotton-wool-white linen and bleached wooden furniture. The outdoor terraces have private infinity pools, deep day beds and views out over the caramel-coloured sand to a sea full of dugongs and dolphins.

If the collective speedboat ride from Saadiyat is too public, come by chopper, which is how a certain Hollywood couple with six children were rumoured to arrive.

The Brando, French Polynesia

Contained inside a living coral reef in the remotest South Pacific, the atoll of Tetiaroa is made up of a dozen white-sanded islets surrounding a five-mile lagoon so pure that its silvery blue can be seen from outer space. Arriving by six-seater private plane from Tahiti, as all guests do, is heart-stopping: the atoll glimmers as you approach. Coral gardens stretch hundreds of feet into abyssal depths and rare orchids surround freshwater pools.

Marlon Brando first clapped his covetous eyes on it when scouting for locations for Mutiny on the Bounty in 1963, and owned it for the rest of his life. It opened in 2014 as an ultra-polished hideaway, with two quiet restaurants, an immaculate spa and 35 glass and ironwood villas set back from a blinding beach amid thick trees. There are no sea-cluttering overwater bungalows characteristic of most Polynesian hotels here – everything feels entirely folded away, a place to dream and read, to the sound of the Pacific bashing against the distant reef.

With just 80 guests (maximum) at any given time, the rest of the atoll is left untouched. Of course, every detail from the thread-count to the on-call butlers is as excellent as you’d expect, but the Brando has such head-lolling natural beauty it’s in a league of its own, with a blazing light that, in the early morning, hits the shallow waters as though they were an ocean of milk.

Private Island Retreat, Greece

There are still places in the Mediterranean where you can hide out and relish the sense of remoteness. This summer house on a privately owned islet, at the beginning of the Cycladic islands, feels fantastically far-flung but is actually just 45 minutes from Athens by speedboat and a stone’s throw from the bigger island of Evia. Its 300 hectares are covered with ancient, gnarled olive trees and heavily scented wild thyme, and small sheltered beaches ring the shore. The scenery is ancient and untouched, and there are no other buildings except for some historical houses and a chapel near the jetty. The century-old villa has belonged to the same Greek family for three generations.

Built in a neo-classical style, it is airy with high ceilings and large windows looking out on to the Aegean or the quiet gardens. It’s understated and elegant, with antique tiled floors and original fireplaces in each of the six bedrooms, far removed from the racy holiday madness of nearby Mykonos. Steps away from the shady terraces of the main house there is a calm bay, perfect for swimming or long pied dans l’eau lunches feasting on home-grown ingredients from the owner’s organic garden where guests can forage for fresh eggs, sweet sun-ripened fruit, herbs, vegetables and the owner’s prized tomatoes. A chef and full round of staff can be arranged, and the closest shops and restaurants are found in the pretty ports of Marmari and Karistos, just across the water.

Necker Island, British Virgin Islands

The most northerly of the Leeward Islands, this archipelago is home to several private islands, none lovelier than Necker Island formerly belonging to Sir Richard Branson, which lies 30 minutes by boat north-east of Tortola, itself a 35-minute flight from San Juan (which is, ironically, best reached on British Airways, which flies direct from Gatwick).

Its 74 acres are home to 200 flamingos, 60 resident staff and a maximum of 28 guests. It’s an idyllic place. Indeed it’s hard to believe that a more beautiful stretch of sand exists than Turtle Beach, off which an aqua trampoline is anchored to the seabed.

Six Senses Zil Pasyon, Seychelles

Six Senses chose Félicité Island for its Seychelles debut, and it’s no secret why: imagine a picture-perfect landscape of thick tropical forest, sugar-white sands, and the immense granite boulders so distinctive to the Seychelles. Zil Pasyon occupies just a third of the island (the rest is wilderness), with 30 shingle-roof villas and 17 private residences that feature vaulted ceilings with exposed wood beams and their own sun decks and private wine cellars.

After breakfast in bed (it’s included), take advantage of everything this resort has to offer, including six restaurants and bars, three beaches, a kid’s villa with its own tree house and sand pit, cooking classes, indoor and outdoor screening rooms, and a petanque court. The hotel’s best asset is its open-air spa, whose standalone treatment rooms are scattered on the beach’s towering rock formations and all face the sea.

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