An island is a world unto itself, with an allure like no other vacation spot,s.
By Lois Madison Reamy
Institutional Investor Magazine
Investment pioneer Dennis Tito shelled out $20 million and endured months of training to make his extraterrestrial escape to the International Space Station. But there’s no need to spend quite that much or go to quite such lengths to leave the world behind. These five island retreats offer travelers low-key luxury, tranquil surroundings and plenty of opportunity to indulge in doing nothing.
Turtle Island, Fiji: A ,bure, on the blue lagoon
John Sievwright, the Tokyo-based president of Merrill Lynch Japan Securities Co., says he found ,the world’s only five-star barefoot resort, on this South Pacific island. The adventure began when a seaplane dropped Sievwright and his family in a blue lagoon; they waded ashore to discover Turtle Island, which provides all the luxury and service of the fabled Asian resorts, Sievwright says, but in a more ,relaxed setting , and a good bit classier than Club Med.,
With a staff of 70 and a 28-guest limit, Turtle Island is ready to pamper visitors. The 14 thatch-roofed, handcrafted Fijian houses, called ,bures,, are simple but elegant, with modern conveniences , but no television or telephones. (The resort’s only phone belongs to the manager.) Forewarned, Sievwright used his satellite phone to hold a nighttime conference call on the beach, beneath a skyful of stars.
The same beach is the setting for private picnics of champagne and lobster; these, along with Turtle Island’s communal dinners, added up to stellar dining for Sievwright. (Chef Jacques Reymond, a Melbourne television star, planned the menus, which feature island-grown produce and fresh yellowfin tuna, crab and lobster.) Attire is ,smart casual, not Versace,, says the Merrill executive.
While Sievwright and his wife enjoyed ,fabulous, diving in crystalline water, their 9-year-old daughter played with other young guests under the eye of a hotel nanny. Father and daughter rode horseback at sunrise. The 500-acre tropical hideaway has ,clear air, a feeling of security and such quiet that you talk to your partner and enjoy the tranquillity,, Sievwright says.
The resort loses points for its voracious bugs and lack of golf, but it has an unimpeachable seal of approval as an island paradise: Both the 1949 and 1980 versions of The Blue Lagoon were filmed here. American Richard Evanson, a Harvard MBA and corporate dropout, owns and operates the resort. The climate varies little year-round. Per-couple rates for the 14 private bures start at $1,090 a night with a six-night minimum and include virtually everything except massages and taxes. Children are allowed only in midsummer and at Christmas. Fiji’s Nadi International Airport is a three-and-a-half hour flight from Sydney; Turtle Airways seaplanes make the 30-minute trip from Nadi to Turtle Island. Phone: (613) 9618-1100. Web site: turtlefiji.com.
Phuket, Thailand: Beaches and James Bond, too
When summer arrives, Kevin Murphy leaves dusty Bahrain, where he’s a principal at Investcorp, and returns home to Australia. Lately, he’s been looking forward to summer for a second reason , a stopover with his family at this lush Thai oasis in the Andaman Sea. The pagoda-roofed Meridien offers 470 large, bright rooms and , on an island where all beaches are public , an ,almost private, stretch of sand and water. When the hotel’s beach and pool-lagoons are crowded, the Murphy family can sun themselves on their customary fourth-floor sea-view balcony, just above the treetops.
The Meridien offers a range of sports, including archery, bocce, tennis and water polo; there are organized activities for children. Murphy enjoys exploring Phuket, which has everything from a rain forest to ancient temples to a marine research center. Last year the Murphys visited the monolithic rock islands in Phang-Nga Bay, where the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed. Lively nightlife is a ten-minute drive from the hotel. Summer, the low season, tends to be wet; the high season runs from November to April. Phuket is about an hour-and-a-half flight from Bangkok and Singapore. The current rate for a better single or double room is $300, but rates may be discounted as much as 40 percent. Phone: (66-76) 340-480. Web sites: http://www.lemeridien.co.th/ and http://www.lemeridien-hotels.com/.
El Gouna, Egypt: FIT FOR A SHEIK
Visitors to this onetime fishing village on the western shore of the Red Sea can still find untrodden beaches and a lacework of lagoons , as well as half a dozen hotels, championship golf courses and horseback riding. European Investment Bank director-general Jean-Louis Biancarelli was pleased by the lack of crowds when he vacationed in April at the Sheraton Miramar, which sprawls across nine small islands.
U.S. architect Michael Graves designed the 338-room Sheraton to resemble an Arab village, incorporating sun-dried bricks and stucco. The main building is dubbed ,the Palace, for its 25 opulent VIP rooms, fit for Middle Eastern potentates. Biancarelli, however, settled for ,nice, rooms in a beach-front low-rise. ,The meals were first-class,, he says, singling out the Oriental 1001 restaurant by the sea. Biancarelli filled his days with sailing, swimming and snorkeling. The Red Sea offers some of the world’s best snorkeling and diving: You can dive among fish species that survived only here after the sea was isolated from the Indian Ocean 300 millennia ago.
Those who prefer to amuse themselves on shore may want to visit El Gouna’s two championship golf courses, designed respectively by Gene Bates and Gary Player. The airport in Hurghada, 20 miles from El Gouna, is a one-hour flight from Cairo. Biancarelli and his wife chose to fly from Frankfurt to Luxor, where they stayed in the Sofitel Winter Palace hotel’s old wing , once King Farouk’s palace , before making the three-hour chauffeured drive across the Eastern Desert to El Gouna.
November to mid-April is the high season. Summers are hot but tempered by sea breezes and low humidity. The Sheraton Miramar’s current standard double-room rate is $113 per night. Phone: (20) 65-545-606. Web site: www.sheraton.com/elgouna.
Kiawah Island, South Carolina: Serenity to spare
Although this barrier island is a golfing mecca, James Weiss, State Street Research & Management Co.'s chief investment officer for equities, also appreciates Kiawah Island Resorts for other enticements. The resort was built in the 1970s to such an environmentally sensitive master plan that the ,natural beauty is preserved,, says Weiss, who’s based in Boston. No more than one third of the 10,000-acre island , a preserve for alligators, egrets and loggerhead turtles , may be developed.
Weiss basks in the serenity, walking the ten-mile ocean beach or just sitting by the water, listening to the birds. ,The infrastructure has been built out to handle a lot of people without seeming crowded,, he says. In fact, the resort’s 600 villas and private homes and the recently refurbished 150-room Kiawah Island Inn are contained within two villages. A $100 million oceanfront hotel and spa is set to open in 2003.
Island restaurants include the top-notch Atlantic Room and the Dining Room at Osprey Point. For those willing to go farther afield, Charleston is only 21 miles away; Circa 1886, Louis,s, Magnolia,s, McCrady’s and the Peninsula Grill are all worth the drive.
Then there’s Kiawah’s most famous attraction: golf. The island has five dazzling championship courses, designed respectively by Pete Dye (at whose arduous Ocean Course the 1991 Ryder Cup battle was waged), Tom Fazio, Clyde Johnston, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Spring and fall are the best seasons for golfing; July and August are famously hot and steamy. Tee times can be booked up to 60 days ahead. The low season runs from November 14 to March 3. Double-room rates at the Kiawah Island Inn start at $89 a night in-season. Two-bedroom villas go from $109. Phone: (843) 768-2121. Web site: http://www.kiawahresort.com/.
Curtain Bluff, Antigua: Caribbean Classic
For nine years New York,based investment banker Michael Lowry has spent Christmas at this Caribbean resort. In addition to its two beaches, impeccable facilities and service and excellent French chef, Lowry is impressed by the Leeward Islands establishment’s long-standing place in the community and by the loyal staff members who say ,Welcome home, when he and his family arrive. Both guests and staff join in the New Year’s Eve celebrations. Curtain Bluff’s good management comes from above, literally , owner Howard Hulford and his wife, Chelle, live atop the bluff. Hulford, a cigar-chomping former pilot, first spotted the site from a plane more than 40 years ago.
A typical day for Lowry consists of early tennis, a spell on the beach, lunch at the Beach Club, then a nap in a hammock. Along with sailing, guests can scuba dive, snorkel, go ocean-kayaking or deep-sea fishing or swim in the new freshwater pool by the beach. The 70 stylish rooms are newly rebuilt or updated, with Internet connections, marble baths and balconies. A band plays in the evenings on the dining terrace, and there’s a wine cellar holding 25,000 bottles (most selected by Hulford himself). People looking for boisterous nightlife, however, are better off at the nearby St. James’s Club Casino , or should visit another island altogether, says Lowry. And for avid golfers, he recommends Jamaica.
But Lowry likes Curtain Bluff just as it is: ,Coming here is part of my life, and I start to look forward to it months in advance., He books the sought-after resort from year to year and recommends making reservations far ahead for Christmas as well as for the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta and Antigua Sailing Week (both held in April). Direct flights from the U.S., Canada and London serve Antigua. Curtain Bluff’s nightly rates for a double room , which include everything but charter boats, tennis instruction and taxes , start at $555 from October 29 to December 18 and from April 15 to May 12; at other times, they,re higher. The resort is closed in the summer. Phone: (268) 462-8400. Web site: http://www.curtainbluff.com/.