Lori Barbely  /  Islands Magazine
Relax in Casa Manana’s open-air bedroom.
updated 1/16/2007 12:42:21 PM ET 2007-01-16T17:42:21

When you dream of travel, do you often picture something like this? Where by the second day you feel like you’ve been there all your life? And where worries melt (or are massaged) away? If you are ready to sink into paradise, we have prescribed 10 private island resorts that appear like mirages in the midst of seas and lagoons, with staff typically greeting you jetty-side, tropical drink in hand.

Le Taha’a
Motu Tautau, Society Islands, Tahiti
9:24 am
Roused by the waves splashing against the stilts of my over-water bungalow, I stumble out of bed and onto my deck, where I can see the South Pacific sun glittering upon the peaks of Bora-Bora in the distance and the rugged mass of Tahaa island behind me. With an overwhelming desire to breakfast in my skivvies, I reach for the room-service menu. An iced coconut parfait with roasted bananas and vanilla … that will do just fine. Before the meal arrives, I dip into the lagoon outside my back door, splashing around with the tropical fish and eagle rays that frequent the aquamarine depths surrounding this motu, or islet, named Tautau.

11 a.m.
I meet resort guide Benjamin Marurai – his jet-black hair pulled back in a ponytail – for a private snorkel. Benjamin spots things that I would have never found solo: anemones with clownfish companions and a leopard eel that bares its little teeth at me. Afterwards, we find a cooler waiting for us that contains ingredients for lunch – fresh ahi tuna, onions, carrots, cucumber, tomatoes and coconut milk. Benjamin deftly slices and dices them into poisson cru. We eat with out fingers from coconut shells.

1:45 p.m.
I board a speedboat from the motu to mainland Tahaa where I rent a tiny car for an afternoon of aimless wandering – my favorite pastime. Tahaa is a classic “high island” dominated by volcanic peaks with incredibly fertile soil: Growing all over the island are pineapples, mangoes, avocados, grapefruit, soursop, ylang-ylang and vanilla … lots of vanilla.

6:09 p.m.
Mai tai in hand, I watch dusk silhouette Bora-Bora’s peaks and think this might be the single most incredible sunset I have ever seen. I hear the call of ancient drums and then realize it’s only my stomach, telling me that it’s time to eat. At the resort’s Ohiri restaurant, perched in branches like a giant tree house, I order lobster medallions with coconut saffron rice. There’s only one way to round off a meal like that: with another dip in the lagoon. – Joe Yogerst

Jumby Bay
Long Island, Antigua

11:38 a.m.
While unpacking, I hear a polite knock. “Door’s open!” Two ladies enter, one carrying a martini glass filled with chunks of succulent Antiguan black pineapple – yellow despite its name – and the other holding a plate of sweets. Eighteen days earlier, Jumby Bay e-mailed me asking if I had any special requests. The pineapple was the first, but the sweets are a happy extra. After the women leave, I wonder about the other requests. There on my coffee table is #2: a CD by the soca band Red Hot Flames. I play it and listen awhile, stretched out on my carved four-poster bed.

1:15 p.m.

Ty Sawyer
Le Taha’a: Snorkel over a brilliant coral seascape, home to rats, turtles and reef fish.
Only one hand is needed to steer my Ultra Cruz bike to Pasture Bay Beach because the three-mile paved path that rings the island is quite flat. I cruise past manicured grass and the driveways of the island’s 40 or so private manses. Nearly empty Pasture Bay complements the lapis sea, and I coax picture after picture from my digital camera, though it complains of low batteries.

4:45 p.m.
Embarrassed, I sit alone on the resort’s ferry that’s making a special trip for me. I’d taken the seven-minute ride across to mainland Antigua before realizing I’d left my wallet in my room. I’m heading to Shirley Heights, the site of a weekly sunset party with food, booze and live steel-pan and reggae music on Antigua’s south coast. Maybe I’ll bring the ferry captain a rum punch as thanks. But then I decide against it. He is driving.

9:56 p.m.
After roasted mahi-mahi with pawpaw and plum-tomato salsa in Jumby Bay’s Estate House restaurant, an ivy-covered 230-year-old former plantation manor, I’m in my villa considering my options: bathe in the deliciously large tub or outside in the private shower-nook? There’s really no question. I tote Jumby’s luxe Lady Primrose’s products outside and disrobe. Showering out in the open is thrilling, and with its privacy walls, no one can see me. I look up for constellations, and stars wink at me from the night’s dark sky. – Kelly Lack

Hotel Cipriani
Giudecca Island, Venice, Italy

10 a.m.
I roll out of bed, open the largest window and gaze out. Below me is the Giudecca Canal, abuzz with boat traffic; beyond that is a panorama of Venice: the Basilica di San Marco, the Palazzo Ducale and the rest of the enchanted, floating city. It’s my first day in Venice, but I resist the urge to rush off. I’ve waited a long time to get here, and I want to experience the city for the first time at sunset. Plus, I’ve a good excuse to dawdle: My room is something out of a Vivaldi composition – sweet, sumptuous and accented with rich, buttery tones. Set in 15th-century Palazzo Vendramin, the oldest part of the hotel, I have a slanted alcove roof and parquet windows, which I leave open as I slip back under the silk coverlet.

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2 p.m.
As I wander through gardens toward the hotel’s main building, I notice tiny purple grapes growing along the trellises. Giudecca Island had a few vineyards back when it was an escape for Venetian nobility, and these grapes will be harvested for the hotel’s private vintage, Casanova Salso. Hotel founder Giuseppe Cipriani would have approved; a pioneering foodie, he introduced both the Bellini and carpaccio at his famous Harry’s Bar across the canal.

3:30 p.m.
After a simple lunch of homemade ravioli and a glass of prosecco, I stretch out poolside on a chaise, full and spoiled. Cipriani has the only pool in central Venice – olympic-sized, heated, filled with filtered salt water and blissfully quiet. People thought Giuseppe was mad when he founded the hotel here in 1958 – who would want to be across from Venice instead of in it? But therein lies the appeal. I enjoy the city from afar and wait for evening, when the marble walls will radiate a subtle pink as day-trippers depart and Venice returns to the Venetians.

6 p.m.
I board the private launch for the five-minute crossing into town. On the canal, light catches on every ripple. “No matter how many times you see it, it always catches your breath,” says a gentleman next to me. I know my night will be perfect. And yet I look forward to my return. – Susan Moynihan

Pangkor Laut
Malay Peninsula, Malaysia

1 p.m.
As we approach by boat, Pangkor Laut emerges like a floating kingdom from the turquoise Strait of Malacca, its stilted, dark-wood bungalows looking more like chalets fashioned in traditional Malay style. Granite boulders tumble along the shore, and a jungle drapes the four-acre island that sits off the coast of the Malay Peninsula. I walk the raised, wooden-plank walkway to my Sea Villa where, jet lagged, I draw a bath in the deepest of stone tubs, push open the frosted-glass windows and let the steamy Asian air hypnotize me. I open my heavy eyelids just in time to see a teakwood tongkong boat sail by.

3 p.m.
Although the resident naturalist, Mr. Yip, is available to take a jungle trek with me, I opt to walk solo through Pangkor Laut’s two-million-year-old rainforest to Emerald Bay on the west side of the private island. It’s a steep walk, but I’m rewarded with monitor lizards sunning on rocks, the distinct sounds of macaque monkeys squabbling in the thick canopy overhead and loads of colorful butterflies.

5 p.m.
My feet are being pounded by a tiny woman in the Japanese Bath House, part of the Spa Village here. I’m told this ritual was specially reserved for the concubines of feudal China, but I’m not complaining at the comparison. Between a cold dip in a rock pool and a hot dip in a Rotenburu pool, I lean over steam pots to inhale scents that are marked detoxifying, passion, calming and uplifting. I linger at calming. After my campur-campur treatment, which combines Malay and Thai massage techniques, I nod off in my sarong in a napping pavilion, a pagoda-like, open-air structure near the beach.

8 p.m.
I walk toward swaying red silk lanterns. They mark Uncle Lim’s, a restaurant built on a rock overlooking the sea. I order an embarrassing amount of Hockchew Chinese-style dishes, but my favorite is the crispy, delicate soft-shell crab. As I head to my villa, a thin mist rises around the island. Like a good disciple of Eastern philosophies (and after all my impromptu naps), I suddenly feel awake – refreshingly aware and at peace. – Christine Richard

North Island
Inner Islands Group, Seychelles

10 a.m.
I walk through the rooms of our thatched-roof villa on North Island – everything from beds and bathtubs to light fixtures and door hinges is crafted from local materials; takamake, casuarina and banuas woods; bamboo, sandstone and granite. The teak floors are so smooth that I don’t dare wear shoes, and it is a bit unfair to call the bathroom a bathroom. It is more of a second villa with a tub large enough for a party. My daughter, Eugenie, is in the outdoor shower: A waterfall cascades from a log. I’m unsure whether she will ever get out.

11 a.m.
I head down to the Indian Ocean for a dip and am surprised to see an enormous tortoise. It raises its head, albeit only for a moment, as if to nod in the direction I need to go. Upon my return from the beach, I meet the tortoise’s family. Eugenie and I offer them mashed bananas. They are displeased, I think, with our lack of imagination.

1:30 p.m.
Here, nobody cares how or why or when you conduct your day. So, we request to have our lunch on Honeymoon Beach, a stretch of deserted sand reached by a short buggy ride through the forest. Footprints mar our beach! We soon realize that they are only the evidence of the staff that had been there moments before to arrange a lunch of wine, fresh lobster and organic salads.

5:40 p.m.
We walk to Grande Anse Beach and come across the rustic North Island Sunset Bar. After a show-stopping sunset, the moon showers phantom daylight across the ocean. The path home is covered in snails chattering so loudly we think coconuts are falling – it’s snail mating season. Our game is to make it all the way to our villa without crunching a single snail underfoot.

7 p.m.
Once we are home, we sit and listen to the waves, look at the stars and breathe. This is a tranquil haven from my public life, a place where I feel I am part of the scenery rather than an intruder. The magical and therapeutic powers of North Island will be everlasting. – Sarah Ferguson

Cayo Espanto
Off Ambergris Caye, Belize

7 a.m.
Casa Aurora, my open-air villa with turquoise shutters, is approximately 99 steps from Cayo Espanto’s dock. Insignificant information really, but I awoke early and wanted to explore my private slice of Belize. So I decide to measure the size of it in footsteps. A walk across the entire length of the islet (223 steps total) takes me through a palm-tree-studded forest with a sand floor that has been raked with spiral patterns by someone who evidently got up earlier than I. Four more casas are hidden near the Caribbean shore, but I see no other castaways. The moment I return to my villa, Eddie, my houseman, delivers chunky banana pancakes and fresh slices of fruit. Significant information: “Aurora” means dawn.

11 a.m.
German, my boat captain, brings me to Shark Ray Alley, part of Hol Chan Marine Reserve, about 15 minutes by boat from Cayo. The snorkeling is stupendous; I spot an eagle ray, nurse sharks and many tropical fish. We motor to the west side of Ambergris Caye for a picnic. Eddie and the staff have transported a Hobie Cat and kayaks, and a CD player is spinning my favorite musician, Aimee Mann. Then German prepares my favorite lunch, grilled snapper and lobster, while I nosh on my favorite appetizer, ceviche. A perfect afternoon of favorites all because Caye Espanto knows the art of pampering.

5 p.m.
I’m floating in my villa’s pool with a frozen margarita in hand when Eddie comes in to announce the chef’s arrival. Chef Patrick recites the dinner specials as I float. I choose the third: achiote-rubbed flank steak. Moments later, I walkie-talkie Eddie to confirm my poolside coconut body scrub. It’s all been arranged, he tells me.

By Bob Friel
Paddle around tiny Cayo Espanto.
8 p.m.
Tiki torches and candles flicker along the dock. The staff has set up this corner of the islet especially for me. Next to the single, white-linen table is a sofa with a tent-like draping over it that whips in the ocean breeze. I sit on its cushions and take in all the curves of the universe. Eddie walks up the dock, carrying a silver tray, stars twinkling behind him. Cayo Espanto, I think, has directed the best movie of the year. I call it, “Cayo Pamperato” (I’m Never Leaving). -- CR

Four Seasons Resort Lana’i, The Lodge at Koele
Lanai, Hawaii

7:45 a.m.
I awake to two mynah birds conversing in a Norfolk Island pine just beyond the lanai that skirts my lodge style room. Then I inhale the salt air mixed with plumeria and the earthy sweet tones of pineapple. Here, at the lodge, I can retreat into its wooded uplands but, at the same time, I can be at the beach within 20 minutes. Lanai’s not entirely a private island, but roughly 90 percent is privately owned.

10 a.m.
My belly filled with French toast and locally-grown coffee, I hop on one of the resort’s bicycles (equipped with a lunch basket prepare by the hotel’s chef) and pedal past a couple heading to the horse stables, while another sets out for a guided hike. Every venue and activity, I’ve learned, is either part of or arranged by the resort, including mine: a 200-acre sporting clay-pigeon range. Within moments, I’m tracking the high-tech discs across the sky, only to discover that I’m a fairly good shot.

1:30 p.m.
The concierge puts me in a Jeep with a map, some sunscreen and a towel. Soon, I’m banking turns on a red-dirt road, dodging lava rock and, finally, I pop out on secluded Polihua Beach, only a few miles from The Lodge at Koele. The only inhabitant on this stretch of powdery sand, aside from a few sea turtles, is Nick Palumbo II – local boy, former pro surfer and my instructor for an afternoon of wave-riding. While practicing, Palumbo nods over my now-tanned shoulder at some visitors who have come to watch: A school of spinner dolphins not 50 yards out dance atop the water.

6:45 p.m.
After a sunset spent planted in a rocking chair on the lodge’s expansive porch, pineapple cider in hand, it is time to head in for some sustenance. I sidle up to the Tea Room Bar, where a fireplace is being lit. Over aged scotch and ahi sashimi rose, I chat with the other guests, listening to their tales of adventure and sharing some of my own. Then, from the Great Hall, a trio begins strumming a ukulele, guitar and stand-up bass, mimicking the sounds of Hawaii’s paniolos (cowboys), and explaining some of the lore that surrounds the great wooded isle of Lanai. It’s now that I realize I am in a special place. – Brian Berusch

Little Palm Island
Florida Keys, U.S.A.

9 a.m.
From the restaurant’s weather-worn terrace I gaze at the placid waters that surround Little Palm Island. Although only 15 minutes by launch from Little Torch Key in the Florida Keys, I feel as if I’ve awakened in a faraway place. The waitress delivers a plate of French toast, and the sweet smell snaps me to reality. I spread creamy almond mascarpone and a dab of guava jelly on a piece. The flavors unfold on my tongue as I spot one of the tiny – maybe two feet tall – Key deer munching on sea-grape leaves. Now I understand why all the lower branches on the island’s trees are bare.

10 a.m.
I paddle my kayak to an uninhabited neighboring island, navigate the red mangroves around its outer edges and find myself lost in a maze of the trees’ tall, arching prop roots. Rather than struggle, I stop and enjoy the silence. Then I hear the call of a heron and see the bird’s elegant shape emerge from the camouflage of its wetland habitat.

The tide is out, and Rolando, the beach attendant, insists on carrying a table out to the sandbar for me, 50 feet from shore. Eating lunch in what seems like the middle of the Atlantic – an expansive blue sky, warm sunshine and a soothing breeze – is over the top.

8 p.m.
The vibrating sound of a gong signals sunset. I rush to the beach to join the small group of guests and, with a rum runner in hand, watch the flaming ball descend. Dinner is served alfresco on the water’s edge, and I delve into crab-stuffed Florida lobster with tomato salsa, Key-lime beurre blanc and chipotle pepper aioli.

10 p.m.
A delicious mango fragrance permeates my bungalow. The staff has lit aromatic candles, turned down the bed and laid out chocolate truffles. Before turning in, I soak in the swirling waters of a barrel hot tub on the veranda and consider booking a snorkeling trip to nearby Bahia Honda State Park tomorrow. Maybe I’ll get lucky and see an endangered hawksbill sea turtle. – Patricia Letakis

Wilson Island
Great Barrier Reef, Australia

I have been awoken by the stirring of the day. Seabirds call out in the lightening darkness. The morning breeze rustles my luxetent guest room, one of six on this natural, coral-cay Eden. Small waves roll up onto the beach a few feet from my pillow. I rise and walk along the shore to the nature-carved Flintstone Chairs, the best spot to see the sun rise over the 1,200-mile-long Great Barrier Reef.

10 a.m.
I hover, snorkeling over one of the most pristine reefs I’ve ever seen, punctuated by purple, yellow and red corals. The reef ripples with the movements of legions of iridescent fish, shy crabs and wildly colored sea slugs, and then I get lucky – a manta ray passes, looking like an animated flying carpet. Its grace reveals my own awkwardness in the water. But I don’t care. I’m in awe, and the water feels like cook silk caressing my body.

5 p.m.
I wander to the beach where all 12 of Wilson Island’s guests have gathered to watch the sunset. I sip Tanqueray and tonic, nibbling on canapés as the sun tumbles over the edge of the earth, accompanied by the cries of hundreds of wedge-tailed shearwaters. It’s equal parts clamor and serenity, and – despite the thread count of my sheets, the hot showers and the king-size bed – even a bit island-primal. Our group makes its way to The Longhouse for a candlelit, three-course meal paired with several bottles of shiraz, all in the embrace of this natural world.

11 p.m.
I have just watched a 400-pound green sea turtle heave herself up the beach. Getting up the beach past the high-water mark takes considerable effort. Sand flies as she digs a hole to lay her eggs and then covers them nimbly. I wish I could return in April to see the hundreds of hatchlings sprinting to the sea to start their lives of mystery. I walk back to my tented lodgings, let the million sounds of nature wrap around me like a sheet and race off to sleep in anticipation of another day on this, the loveliest island campground on the globe. – Ty Sawyer

Peter Island
British Virgin Islands

9 a.m.
I wake up and decide to climb part of the steep five-mile trail through the scrubby green hills of Peter Island. I am utterly alone, and the 1,800-acre island – save a small portion occupied by the rest – seems to be all mine. Thirsty, I stop at Sunset Overlook, where a thermos of ice water awaits, placed there just for me. I pause to take in the view: a smattering of lush islands separated only by impossible blue. I spot Norman Island, said to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

1 p.m.
I take the resort’s shuttle to White Bay Beach – one of five secluded Caribbean beaches exclusively used by resort guests and about half a mile from my suite – where I dip into the peacock-blue water. Beneath me slithers a spotted eel, and I watch a rainbow-colored parrotfish peck at the seafloor. This may be snorkel-bliss, but one day I’ll go deeper, diving the nearby wreck of the HMS Rhone a la Jacqueline Bisset in The Deep. I emerge to find a staff member delivering my idea of the perfect picnic: brie, fruit and chocolate-chip cookies, served on a silver platter.

5 p.m.
Undone by a frangipani-and-coconut moisturizing treatment at the resort’s new seaside spa, I indulge in a bubble bath in my hot tub. Steam rising around me, I look out the picture window to a slice of sea. In the distance is Dead Chest Island, where Blackbeard marooned 15 mutinous men, leaving them with just a cask of rum; hence the pirate ditty “Fifteen men on the Dead Men’s Chest, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.” Perhaps it’s time for a Painkiller, the fruit-juice-and-rum-filled drink of the BVIs topped with freshly grated nutmeg.

6 p.m.
I watch dusk unfold from the beach outside my suite and see mega-yachts cross the horizon. In the harbor is the Silmaril, the resort’s own yacht. She’s at my disposal, and tomorrow the crew will sail me wherever I wish – perhaps Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas for some shopping, or maybe we’ll anchor in a lovely bay where I can picnic in the salt breeze and dive into the sea. – Jennica Peterson

Related Links from ISLANDS Magazine:






Lanai, Hawaii

Florida Keys

British Virgin Islands

Each issue of ISLANDS Magazine explores the most beautiful island destinations in the world, from tropical island outposts to the sophisticated gems of the Mediterranean. Our top-rate photographers and writers discover the quiet beaches, boutique hotels, and unique cultural experiences that make island travel unique.


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