The siren call of island life has always had its seductive appeal, yet suddenly it seems like a potentially attainable proposition. With more individuals working remotely, tropical paradises such as Barbados and Bermuda now offer extended work visas to foreigners to come, hoist the economy, and stay awhile. All that sounds idyllic, but not half as enticing as having an entire island of one’s own.
Island purchases, however, can be complicated, buzzkilling affairs in their own right: they’re often mired in red tape and infrastructure issues, with little guaranteed return on the investment. In other words, you don’t want to own an island. You want some very wealthy friends (with a household staff) to invite you to theirs. But leasing a private island of one’s own offers a short-term solution to those on the hunt for a more secluded form of sanctuary, without the responsibilities and stratospheric costs of full-time ownership.
Paradise Beckons …
Yes, technically Manhattan is an island off the coast of America, although it has to be shared with around 1.6 million other people. After a spring and summer spent mostly masked and traipsing over this mass of cement, many New Yorkers are longing to socially distance from society on an isle all to themselves—at least for the short term. Why not isolate from the pandemic and pandemonium of what will hopefully be the last three months of Trump’s circus from the veranda of an airy Tahitian-style bungalow on Motu Tetaraire? This remote, nine-acre patch of paradise adrift in French Polynesia is not far from Marlon Brando’s once-famous islet hideaway.
“Island rentals are definitely the more interesting market right now,” says Farhad Vladi, whose Hamburg-based agency, Vladi Private Islands, currently holds 64 luxury rental islands in its collection. Vladi, who has rented islands to Bill Gates and Paul McCartney, as well as Prince William and Kate Middleton for their honeymoon, in the Seychelles, says that despite all the ink and envy paid to the rich and notorious who buy their own isles, the savvier majority of high-profile individuals seeking true privacy are renters. “These are people who would never buy an island, because they don’t want to expose themselves to the public,” he says. “If you own an island, then everyone knows.”
Exquisite specks in the sea for lovers and honeymooners certainly abound, but islands are also an attractive vacation option for families these days. Disneyland pales in comparison with the thrill of waking up on one’s very own adventure island, safely sequestered from the pandemic and the anxiety it generates. On Porcada, a verdant thousand-acre crescent off the coast of Panama, renters choose their own adventures, from fishing and horseback riding to rounding up some of the island’s 400 cattle. The chef-prepared meals are a five-star upgrade to the Dole Whips, Mickey beignets, and other theme-park fare, too.
Near and Far
While Vladi has seen a surge in rental inquiries across the globe this year, he notes that, due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions, many renters are actually seeking out more localized islands. “The market is extremely strong. I see that in Canada; I see that in Germany. The Germans are rediscovering their own country,” he notes, adding that Scandinavia’s many archipelagos have become hot spots, even without the tropical climes. Finland’s Majorsgrund would make an inviting, naturistic retreat bubble, especially with its newly renovated, energy-efficient cabin and nearby sauna house.
For Americans, there’s a swell of options up for grabs in the Florida Keys, or for anyone with expat-scheming notions of flocking to Canada these days, a conveniently close (and U.S.-based) option lies in the Saint Lawrence Seaway’s Thousand Islands. Belle Island, a charming, two-acre lily pad of an islet, especially lives up to its name. It feels more like a mini-mansion with an expansive backyard floating in waters dotted with a cluster of other similarly luxe island quarters.
But if one is truly going to escape the teeming masses for a while, why not venture to the earth’s farthest corners? Perhaps Taprobane Island, off of Sri Lanka, with its stark white neo-Palladian mansion once owned by the Count de Mauny Talvande, burrowed in thick greenery. The only way to approach the beach is to wade in the water, or climb atop an elephant. Then there’s Vladi’s very own otherworldly, 1,800-acre Forsyth Island, one of the largest privately owned islands in the South Pacific.
The only way to approach the beach is to wade in the water, or climb atop an elephant.
Even with travel bans and restrictions these days, such far-flung destinations don’t have to be pipe dreams. This is where a good realtor becomes invaluable. “One has to watch what’s happening, what the policies are, what are the politics and restrictions that can change from day to day,” Vladi tells me. His own firm works like a private-concierge service alongside a partner travel agency to “mentally escort” clients from the planning process through every step of their itinerary for a stress-free getaway.
Renters beware, though: even with the pandemic out of sight and mind, there’s the risk of an island’s own contagious fever: a few months on one can inspire guests to succumb to its charms. Often, says Vladi, renters say, ‘Oh, I love islands. I’d like to also buy one.’” So if you do decide to go off the grid, be prepared to stay awhile.
Laura Neilson is a New York–based writer