They come in many forms and exist all over the planet; here we bring you three of the best island escapes. Journey to the home of a former Hollywood legend, to a surfers’ paradise and to an expansive estate on a once-private island now open to all (who can afford it).
The Brando • Tahiti
By Jim Calio
PRIVACY IS NOT something that I’m merely entitled to,” said Marlon Brando; “it’s an absolute prerequisite.” To that end, he bought Tetiaora in 1967 after visiting while filming Mutiny on the Bounty in French Polynesia. It was a private island hideaway, far, far from Hollywood.
Today The Brando, which opened in July 2014, continues his vision of privacy in the lushness of an island paradise — away from the public’s prying eyes. It’s a super-luxury resort and the ultimate secluded escape. (Other movie stars have already discovered the island paradise, but no one is saying who.)
The price tag for a stay in Tetiaroa, an atoll of 13 little islets or “motus” 50 miles north of Tahiti, is high. But the rewards are beyond measure — bone-white sandy beaches fringed by coconut palms, a lagoon of crystal-clear water ringed by unspoiled coral. It’s a castaway’s dream, and a lovely one at that.
Part of The Brando’s attraction is its remoteness — it’s not easy getting there, and you can only arrive by helicopter or the twicedaily 20-minute flight on an eight-seater from Tahiti. So hidden are the 35 villas that you can only see their thatched roofs when you come in low for a landing.
Marlon Brando originally intended Tetiaroa to be his back-to-nature retreat, and it remained that way for most of the 30 years he went there. The accommodations at first were rudimentary — 12 wooden bungalows, a kitchen, dining hall, bar and sinks made from seashells. Friends and family who didn’t mind the Robinson Crusoe ambience were happy to visit him, but it was never intended to attract a crowd. Enter Richard Bailey, a well-respected Tahitian developer with a sensitivity to the environment. The two developed a plan to turn Tetiaroa into a high-end luxury eco-resort. Unfortunately, Brando, who died in 2004, never lived to see its completion: it opened July 1, 2014, the 10th anniversary of the actor’s death.
There’s a fitness center, tennis and water sports, but for many the high point of The Brando experience is the spa, set among coconut palms at the center of a spiderweb of raised walkways. Couples can reserve a three-hour treatment in a wood-latticed cocoon high in the trees. Chef Guy Martin, owner of two-Michelin-star Le Grand Véfour in Paris, provides the exquisite cuisine, with specialties like salt-encrusted scallops and mahi-mahi in ginger. The Beachcomber, the more informal of the two restaurants, is a great place for breakfast or lunch. Les Mutines (“mutineers,” as in the Bounty crew) is more formal and romantic, especially when candlelight flickers in the cool ocean breeze. At sunset, guests tend to gather at Bob’s Bar for the famous “Dirty Old Bob,” a bourbon-based concoction with just a touch of Tetiaroa honey from hives right there on the island. Most of the resort’s produce is also homegrown.
A one-bedroom villa, hidden from its neighbor thanks to the careful planning of architect Pierre-Jean Picart, is “open plan,” with a main living room flanked on one side by a raised bedroom and bathroom plus outdoor bathtub; on the other side, a media room has Wi-Fi and and a foldout bed. The two- and threebedroom villas offer separate bedroom wings and are popular with families, although there are no formal children’s activities at the resort. There is 24/7 room service, and the minibars are stocked with drinks including champagne. Honey macaroon cookies await guests on arrival, with bicycles provided to pedal around the paved paths or to and from the main lodge. Brando conceived of using coconut oil as a source of biofuel, which now supplements power from 2,800 solar panels alongside the airstrip. The actor, often ahead of the technology curve, also thought of using deep-sea water for air-conditioning before that method existed; today a $6 million plant built on the island does just that.
Prices vary by season, from 2,400 euros (approximately $2,700 per night) for a one-bedroom villa during the low season (April–June) and up to 9,000 euros ($10,000 per night) for a three-bedroom during the Christmas holidays. The rates are all-inclusive.
NAMOTU • FIJI
By Mike Waltze
PICTURE A TINY four-acre island surrounded by a national marine reserve, perched on the edge of a barrier reef, six miles off the coast of Fiji. While one can literally walk around this pebble of paradise in seven minutes, don’t be fooled; there’s plenty to do. Most guests will either be out in the water enjoying one of the many aquatic activities, including five world-class surfing wave breaks or the equally impressive diving and fishing. Lounging is big here too, under an umbrella either by the pool, out on the beach or on a balcony of one of the private bures (villas).
The island holds 24 vacationers at a time, and usually the entire resort is booked by a group. Many of the clients are returnees converging for an annual tropical surf, sail, kiteboard or fishing adventure. Why? The gin-clear water? Aforementioned world-class water sports? Probably, but according to TripAdvisor it’s the people. “The service for such a small place is excellent. Great, very friendly people. It’s like staying at your close friend’s place, only much better equipped and wellstaffed,” one commenter wrote.
It’s a relatively simple trip: 11-hour flight from SFO to Nadi (pronounced Nandi) on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu; quickish shuttle in a private van to get breakfast at the Sofitel; then a 25-minute boat ride to the resort. Oh, and once you step off the boat and into the sand, shoes are optional the rest of the week.
In 1994, Namotu Island was nothing more than a sandbar with one coconut tree. Enter three visionary watermen with a goal to create the ultimate water sports retreat. They had the main ingredient, an island paradise surrounded by some of the best ocean conditions on the planet, but were missing one thing: drinkable water. To get water, they built tanks under every bure and structure on the island to collect rain runoff. Twenty years later, the loamy sand now supports a thriving tropical forest with coconut palms and native Fiji flora.
Surfers from all over the globe consider the famous waves of Namotu and its neighboring island Tavarua a mecca. The five breaks (Cloudbreak, Restaurants, Swimming Pools, Namotu Lefts and Wilks) are so admired they are part of the world surfing tour every year. The area is likewise great for windsurfing and kiteboarding and features some of the best conditions for both. The South Pacific is also a legendary fishing and diving attraction for guests at the big resorts on the mainland. Namotu guests are welcome to jump on the island’s fishing boat at sunrise or sunset to help catch the next meal.
Every four to six weeks, a different private chef from somewhere on the planet, usually Australia or the U.S., comes to Namotu to prepare the meals, which include steak, fresh-caught fish, chicken, tacos, pizza and fresh sushi and sashimi. There is always a vegetarian option and each meal of the day is accompanied by a healthy salad of Fijian-grown produce.
NOT TO MISS
After a day of surfing, windsurfing, snorkeling or just skull draggin’ (getting slowly towed behind a boat for a motor-assisted snorkeling tour of the reef), nothing compares to sunset at the Waqa Bar. As the sign says, “Happy Hour 4–7 p.m., Same Price — Extra Happy!”
The island’s infrastructure was built in 1995 but a twoyear renovation has just been completed of half the bures. Eight individual private bures are now available, as well as a threebedroom house with two bathrooms and a family-style dorm bure that sleeps up to six. Rate packages include three meals a day, all water activities including boat rides to the surf breaks and trips on and off the island. Prices start at $2,400 per person for a week’s stay. namotuislandfiji.com
VALLEY TRUNK • BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
By Laura Hilgers
SURE, YOU COULD go to the British Virgin Islands and stay at a high-end resort, but wouldn’t you rather rent a secluded, lush estate with its own 68-foot yacht? Recently opened to the public, Valley Trunk is the very private getaway of a wealthy French art-dealing and horse-breeding family on the island of Virgin Gorda — a slice of paradise in an archipelago where the water is so blue it feels insulting to call it aquamarine and the residents are so wealthy it’s been dubbed “Billionaire’s Playground” (Sir Richard Branson and Google’s Larry Page own islands nearby).
The 19-acre estate — which can be rented out whole and sleeps 16 — includes its own white-sand boulder-strewn beach, tennis court, and discreet and attentive staff, with a French Michelinstarred chef. Offering lunch at the estate’s beachfront Bali House and sunset cocktails by the pool, overlooking the Sir Francis Drake Channel, it’s decidedly laid-back and unpretentious in that one-percenter kind of way.
Virgin Gorda itself is also laid-back, far from the hustle of Caribbean tourist centers or cruise line stops, with only one major luxury resort (Little Dix Bay, currently under renovation) and not a single building taller than a palm tree, as per the official building code. One of the BVIs’ more than 60 islands, Virgin Gorda is accessible only by boat or small airplanes, which take off from nearby St. Thomas or Tortola and land on the island’s hillside dirt runway.
Reportedly named by Christopher Columbus for resembling a fat woman lying on her side, Virgin Gorda was originally settled in the 17th century by the Dutch and Quakers, who imported slaves for agriculture before realizing the island has very little freshwater. It does, however, have loads of gorgeous beachfront, which caught the eye of Daniel Wildenstein, the now-deceased patriarch of the (sometimes colorful) Wildenstein family, who own Valley Trunk. Wildenstein purchased the property, located in the secluded Valley Trunk Bay, in 1981 and spent the next four years constructing the estate, including importing the Bali House — a teak structure that stands less than 100 feet from the water and doubles as both cabana and open-air dining room — from Bali, as well as the laborers to build it. Daniel’s grandchildren, Diane and Alec Wildenstein Jr., who rent Valley Trunk out to the public 20–25 weeks a year, now own the estate.
Throughout the entire BVIs, it’s all about the water. Guests can take out the yacht Xanadu for a day of snorkeling, kayaking and paddleboarding (all equipment provided) or sign up for private tennis, scuba or poolside yoga lessons. Though the estate has no formal spa, massage, acupuncture and other treatments are available. Off the estate, there’s minimal sightseeing or shopping, but there’s one trip-worthy tourist stop: The Baths National Park, a stunning beach accessible only via hiking through a series of boulders, ladders and grottoes. Be sure to wear water shoes and bring a bathing suit. When the water is calm, it’s a great place to snorkel and swim.
Restaurant options are limited on Virgin Gorda, but Valley Trunk has its own chef, Bernard Guilhaudin, who’s worked in Japan and Morocco and earned two Michelin stars at the Parisian restaurant Laurent. His international fare might include, for dinner, a lettuce and avocado salad topped with a spring roll, filet mignon with side of fennel, snap peas and tomatoes, and a basil sorbet for dessert. And for in-between meals, minibars in the suites are stocked with trail mix, sodas, bottled water, wine, beer and — what else? — small bottles of Veuve Clicquot. If you want to venture off the estate, check out Maya, a beachfront restaurant and cocktail lounge serving a blend of Asian and Latin cuisines, just a short drive from Valley Trunk.
Valley Trunk sleeps 16 in eight very private individual yet roomy suites. Each has its own bay-view terrace, large master bath, walk-in closet and Frette linens and Hermès bath amenities. One word of warning: the family decided to preserve parts of the original 1980s decor, so it’s a little like visiting the estate of your very rich Lily Pulitzer– wearing grandmother (especially the bathrooms). But its charms grow on you over time.
NOT TO MISS
The view from Hog Heaven, atop one of Virgin Gorda’s highest peaks, is spectacular. Owned by a guy named Blondie — he’s also the captain of Xanadu — Hog Heaven is a barbecue joint with jaw-dropping views of distant Anegada, as well as the much closer islands Mosquito and Necker (owned by Branson) and Eustatia (owned by Page). If the views don’t take your breath away, Hog Heaven’s signature drink, the Painkiller, will: a concoction of rum, pineapple, coconut and orange juices, topped with fresh grated nutmeg. The name pretty much says it all.
Full estate buyout rates start with a four-guest minimum at $6,000 a night ($1,500 per person per night), plus a nightly $1,200 for each additional person. Rates are all-inclusive, including food and drink, in-house water sports, use of Xanadu and crew, and a full staff and chef. Guests do have to pay fuel costs for the yacht. The estate also offers “Escape Weeks,” when rooms rent individually at $2,500 per night and up. valleytrunk.com