Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Monday, November 28, 2011

Once, Upon an Island (Part 2)

I love islands. I always have. I love their mystery, their geography and their topography, their slow pleasures and their languid lifestyles. I even love the architecture of islands, which tends to celebrate the honesty of form and the purity of line. But mostly I love their landscapes, which are cheerfully weathered but still quietly dignified. In a world where everything is designed to a flawless finish, islands are still a little rustic; a little 'unmade'. And that makes them, in my mind, just about perfect. They are, in  their charmingly undressed, messy state, delightful radicals. Nature’s rebels that have never really conformed to the rest of the world and its impossible expectations but have always stood slightly apart, cut off by their isolation and their oceans, and distinguished by their rakish ways.

I have often wondered what my perfect island would look like. It would probably be small, so you could trundle around it in a day, but still big enough to have room for adventure. It would have beaches tickled by coconut palms and an encircling lagoon, warmed to perfection. There would be a harbour, a postcard-style jetty, and a village that sold rock lobster from a co-op, as well as delicious, locally made produce and beverages from quaint pastel-coloured stores – run by people called ‘Ma Ruby’ and ‘Shoeless Joe’. There would be a couple of celebrities for cachet (“oh, did you hear De Niro’s bought a house next door?”), but not too many that it felt like the Hamptons or Nantucket. There would be a statue of a 19th-century local writer, whom everyone is proud of but nobody has actually read; a whiff of pirate history; a smattering of deserted old plantation mansions blanketed in vines; a secret waterfall somewhere in the centre (an island is not an island without a proper waterfall); and of course a number of colourful beachside bars. With names like ‘Eddie’s’, ‘Sip Sip’, and ‘Sip More’. It would have eccentrics that made you laugh, and sunsets that made you cry. But most of all, this island would be so gentle in its beauty and so undemanding in its ways, that it would allow you to take life lying down for a change. And there, in a hammock under a palm tree, you could begin to think clearly about life again.

Here, in no particular island order, are some of my favourite islands in the world.

Haggerstone Island, Australia
Getting to Haggerstone is as much a part of the adventure as staying there. You need to take a number of planes, each one a little smaller than the last, and then a small boat to reach this remote, 40-hectare lush atoll 90 kilometres from the tip of Cape York Peninsula in the very far north of Australia, In fact, it is about as remote as you can go without hitting Papua New Guinea. Designed by Anna and Roy Turner, who sailed there 21 years ago with a water tank, a tent, building supplies, chickens and seedlings for a garden, it is a kind of Swiss Family Robinson hideaway, only far more luxurious. There are a handful of open-air pavilions to sleep in, plus a fabulous main pavilion to dine, read and congregate it. There is also a gorgeous reef to snorkel on, great fishing and other islands nearby to explore. Former prime minister Bob Hawke adores it. So does David Reyne, hotelier James Baillie and many, many others, including US magazine Travel and Leisure, which voted it the number-one beach destination for the 21st century. One of Australia's best-kept secrets. (Images courtesy of Haggerstone.)

Mauritius, Africa
Mauritius is changing rapidly, thanks to the influx of northern European investors buying up parcels of real estate for hotels and developments (it is now officially the richest country in Africa), however there is still something deliciously sweet and simple about this tiny place. It's the kind of island you find a beach chair and a big cocktail and chill out for days. Preferably in front of a postcard-perfect beach with a cool sea breeze. One of the most beautiful hotels on Mauritius that has all these ingredients is the charming Hotel 20° Sud, which is designed by that chic Belgian firm Flamant. Concealed within an old coconut grove and reached via an old oak door, it is currently being hailed as one of the most stylish boutique hotels in the world. One look and you can see why. (Images courtesy of Hotel 20° Sud.)

Islamora, Florida Keys, USA
I have a soft spot for Islamorada. I never fail to have a memorable day here. Part of a string of unpretentious, under-populated and ever-so-lovely islands that stretch all the way down to Key West, Islamorada, which means "village of islands", is a delightful hideaway with a cluster of beach houses and hotels, a lot of enchanting coves and waterways, an endearingly retro-esque atmosphere and a whole lotta eccentric characters. You need to get off the main highway to really explore the place, and perhaps hire a boat to meander the coast, but it's worth a weekend trip from Miami. For hotels, try The Moorings or Casa Morada (pictured below), both of which are loved by stylish travellers the world over.

Tybee Island, near Savannah, Georgia
Sandra Bullock loves it so much she's bought a house here. Robert Redford filmed The Last Song with Miley Cyrus here. And yet many Americans – and international travellers – have never heard of it. If you're visiting Savannah and have a day free (make sure you have a day free), grab a taxi and spend some time here. The exquisite little Caribbean-style beach houses are sublime, and the beaches are divine. You can hire a bike and trundle around all day. There are lots of cottages for rent, and many have pools. I just adore it.

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