The Virtuoso guide to private islands
Nothing says ‘exclusivity’ quite like a private island retreat. We ask the experts – some of Australia’s most respected Virtuoso travel advisors – to recommend their top picks for seclusion, style and service.
Private island resorts stand at the pinnacle of the luxury travel experience, combining castaway freedom, beachfront beauty and the finest hospitality, all without the crowds.
If you’re looking for privacy, discretion and complete fulfilment, look no further than the nine private islands recommended by our experienced panel of travel specialists from Australia’s finest Virtuoso member agencies. And, to tempt you even further, we have also gathered stories from our writers exploring private island resorts in Mozambique and the Seychelles.
Meet our experts
Recommended by Louise Brown
Explore the natural beauty of the Seychelles – home to coral reefs, diverse birdlife and giant tortoises – from this 30-villa haven. Although the island of Félicité Félicité is wild and seemingly isolated, Louise points out that it only takes 20 minutes to fly in from the airport by helicopter. All the villas and three- and four-bedroom residences have their own pool and the service of personal butlers, known as GEMs (Guest Experience Makers). For Louise, the highlight is undoubtedly the Six Senses Spa: “It offers an exceptional experience with an elevated saltwater pool with sundeck, yoga and meditation pavilion.” This is complemented by a vast range of spa treatments, ranging from African-inspired therapies to Six Senses’ renowned Integrated Wellness program.
Recommended by Anthony Goldman
This lush hideaway in the Kadavu Group was the dream of Australian property developer Lang Walker, and it’s overflowing with family appeal. “Indulgent yet very down to earth” is how Anthony describes Kokomo, a destination of 27 opulent villas and residences. Guests “swoop in by seaplane” to enjoy island walks, water sports and diving the Great Astrolabe Reef, while the food offering is built around local seafood. At the amusingly named Walker D’Plank beach bar, for example, chefs “serve daily produce freshly cooked to your liking”, one of Anthony’s highlights. The kids’ club is also “sensational” and set away from the villas to ensure peace and tranquillity. “You feel like you are on your own private island, with a selection of staff at your call,” he concludes.
Recommended by Aaron Spriggs, Louise Brown and Beverley Cohen
Sir Richard Branson’s Australian getaway – a heart-shaped islet in the middle of the Noosa River – reopened last year to guests seeking seclusion on the Sunshine Coast. The 10-hectare estate is available on an exclusive-use basis, accommodating between eight and 22 guests in rich Balinese-inspired suites. “The ease of access – 30-minute limousine transfers or six minutes by helicopter from Sunshine Coast Airport – is fantastic, and you’re only five or 10 minutes from Noosa and key attractions by private boat,” explains Louise, but that doesn’t mean Makepeace is lacking in seclusion. “You immediately feel you are on an island miles away from your busy life,” says Beverley. And as Aaron reveals, “Being surrounded by national parks, the only thing to disturb you will be the wombats and wallabies as they forage for food.”
Recommended by Anthony Goldman and Aaron Spriggs
Representing ethical luxury par excellence, this retreat in the Koh Rong Archipelago reflects the beauty of the Cambodian coast. The 24 villas – on the beach, over the water and set among the trees – were built with sustainability in mind, explains Anthony, with energy-efficient thatched roofs, reclaimed sandstone, driftwood furniture and timber recycled from old fishing boats. “Song Saa practises what it preaches,” says Anthony, pointing to what makes this mind-body-soul retreat so special. For those looking to indulge with friends, Aaron suggests booking the resort’s Royal Villa, as it can “accommodate up to 12 people for dinner with its own full kitchen”.
Recommended by Ginine Schulberg
The Venetian Lagoon may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of private islands, but this former monastery has all the hallmarks of these sought-after retreats. Privacy and serenity are as paramount to modern visitors as they were for the former residents, and yet the hotel seems designed for multigenerational stays, complete with tennis courts, heated outdoor pool and a kids’ club. This space – rare in overcrowded Venice – makes San Clemente Palace a “legendary family retreat” in Ginine’s eyes. Rooms and suites are classic and soft with high ceilings, and the cuisine is “typically Italian”. When you’re ready to explore the city’s treasures, Piazza San Marco is just 10 minutes away by boat.
Recommended by Greg Ashmore, Ginine Schulberg and Louise Brown
This Pacific Eden has earned legions of fans for its enormous villas, dramatic glass-edged infinity pool and environmental practices. Owned by Red Bull ‘baron’, Dietrich Mateschitz, Laucala is the quintessential “billionaire’s trophy”, according to Greg. The service is impeccable, which Louise puts down to the high staff-to-guest ratio, and the 25 residences are vast sanctuaries of rustic opulence wrought in stone and carved wood. Indeed, each is more “like a mini resort” than a traditional resort villa, says Greg. Guests can while away the hours horse riding through the coconut groves; indulging at the spa; playing a round on the 18-hole golf course; and exploring the underwater world in the DeepFlight submarine, a two-person semi-submersible and an unmissable highlight, according to both Ginine and Louise.
Recommended by Anthony Goldman
Although the Caribbean is “rarely on the map for Australian travellers”, Anthony finds it’s worth going the distance for Richard Branson’s “stunning” private island. Like Makepeace, it’s available on an exclusiveuse basis, with Balinese-inspired bedrooms that are “as ‘barefoot luxury’ as you can get”. Booking a single room is possible only during Celebration Weeks, when “there’s no particular schedule, and you can do as little, or as much, as you like,” says Anthony. The team builds activities around guests’ desires: “Some may choose to go sailing while others brush up on their tennis skills with a resident professional.” Book in for a spa treatment or join the many guests who have organised parties on the sand.
Recommended by Anna McMurtrie and Emily Sonley
When it comes to island holidays, Fiji continues to be the destination of choice for Australians. For Emily, “Vomo is one of the true precious jewels of Fiji,” a contemporary escape of 28 villas and four expansive beachfront residences. It’s “an experience the whole family will enjoy”, according to Anna, where you can snorkel directly from the beach, hike a mountain for sunrise views and picnic on a secluded island, known as Vomo Lailai, far from other guests. The new adults-only beach club extension, the Rocks Pool, offers a stunning location to watch the sun set while the kids enjoy making new friends in their own enclave of fun. Food is a central part of the experience and menus change daily, as do the tasty treats on offer in the must-see ‘dessert room’.
Recommended by Jo Kennedy and Beverley Cohen
Cruising by small private yacht or gulet is a spectacular way to discover the Adriatic Coast, but the perfect ending comes with a stay at Aman Sveti Stefan. A jewel in Aman’s crown of European resorts, this 32-hectare estate is divided between the fishing village of Sveti Stefan Island and historic Villa Milocer on the mainland, a short drive or sail from the Bay of Kotor. As Beverley explains, you immediately “feel the Aman charm and indulgence” and the “small, personal, boutique feel of the island”. Jo says this serene sanctuary is infused with “understated luxury, simple yet elegant design, curated local experiences and the most personalised, discreet service”. Jo recommends making the most of the three private beaches, followed by a body-soothing treatment in the Aman Spa “for a truly magical experience.”