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Which luxury island escape is right for you? Six new trips for 2022

We shine the spotlight on the ultimate island escapes, from enduring far-flung classics where few footprints mark the sand to a lo-fi private hideaway in an African archipelago and a clandestine fresh-air-escape on a dinky Swedish speck.

A shipwrecked fantasy island, Mnemba Island in Tanzania is authentic, low-key and empty.

Photograph by Adrian Louw
By Helen Warwick
Published 8 Jan 2022, 06:06 GMT

Given we’ve been cooped up for months, now’s the time to start thinking about that trip of a lifetime you’ve been dreaming about. And as the world tentatively opens up, so do the chances of a seriously memorable getaway. An island trip, where beaches feel all yours and hideaways provide a true sense of escape, can be truly special. Here, we look at some of the greatest island destinations. Some are predictable yet set the gold standard for the ultimate in unapologetic R&R; others are more low-key, with an emphasis on sustainability and adventures taking you into pristine, unadorned nature.

1. Mnemba Island, Tanzania

Best for seclusion

Like any self-respecting private hideaway, Mnemba remains largely off radar — strung just off the north-east coast of Zanzibar. A shipwrecked fantasy island, it’s authentic, low-key and empty. Here, just 12 beachside bandas stand, where guests emerge for sunrise dips or morning coffee in the shade of their thatched roofs. The teardrop-shaped island is completely off-limits unless you’re a guest of the inimitable laid-back bolthole from African experts, &Beyond.

What to do: The island loops around for just a mile, so Mnemba really will make you feel like a castaway. Champagne and sushi are served sunbed-side for guests watching the sun drop below the horizon; massages are brought to your private banda; and fresh seafood dishes are eaten at tables perched in the white sand. Guests spend their days snorkelling in the shallows, kayaking offshore, dhow sailing, deep-sea fishing or delving further into this pristine archipelago across inky seas. Arriving back at Mnemba, wash the sand from your toes in your banda with its linen drapes, thatched walls and terrace dotted with loungers, and cosy up with an aperitif and those sea views.

When to go: During the archipelago’s dry season from July to September.

How to do it: Scott Dunn offers a seven-night stay at the &Beyond Mnemba Island Lodge from £5,800 per person per week. 

The sacred bathing waters of Tirta Empul, Bali.

Photograph by Alamy

2. Bali, Indonesia

Best for wellness

Pre-Covid-19, Bali buzzed with that archetypal tropical energy, craved by everyone from backpackers to the ultra-luxe lovers. In recent years, it became a hub for digital nomads, who’d hole up in cafes, drinking juices and tapping away on their laptops before seeking surf and sunsets on its fun-time beaches. And as the Indonesian island opens up again, its pull has never felt so tenacious: from green and serene Ubud with its thriving arts scene to the sprinkling of dinky islands offshore, where the seas are super clear and just-caught seafood monopolise the menus.

What to do: Bali has a knack for being all things to all men. It’s gained a stellar reputation for wellness thanks to its spiritual heart and nature-centric sights, from verdant paddy fields where cyclists weave in the shade, to Hindu temples, such as Tirta Empul, with its purifying holy baths. And in among it all, organic urban farms, yoga retreats, a consistently sunny disposition and the volcano of Agung that can be conquered on midnight treks, to arrive at its peak at dawn.

When to go: The dry season is April to October.

How to do it: Close to the immaculate sands of Nusa Dua on the island’s southernmost peninsula is Aman Villas at Nusa Dua — a collection of villas with thatched roofs, private pools and living areas overlooking gardens filled with frangipani. Every villa has its own chef and butlers, and you can book yoga sessions and in-room treatments. Rooms from £680 a night. 

The Maddalena archipelago in Sardinia, Italy.

Photograph by Getty Images

3. Sardinia, Italy

Best for beaches

Glancing at images of this beloved Italian island, it’s easy to mistake its curves of white sand and clear-as-glass seas for the Maldives rather than the Med. Our tip? Strike out to the Maddalena archipelago, in grasping distance of pristine, quiet beaches. There are hidden coves, empty lagoons and charming waterside hangouts with kitchens dishing out gut-bustingly good pasta dishes and fresh fish.

What to do: If you’re seeking coastal adventure, try diving the Grotto del Nereo (Nereo Cave) off the main island — a bewildering underwater network of caves and tunnels, sprawled with bewitching forests of stalagmites and stalactites. And then there’s Laguna di Nora — an enchanting lagoon on the western side of the Nora promontory where pink flamingos stride through the lake’s shallows and snorkellers float in the clear waters.

When to go: Avoid August, when hordes of Italians descend on the island, and instead try May and June or September, when you’ll find quieter beaches, but dependable sunshine.

How to do it: Just Sardinia offers seven nights at Valle dell’Erica — named Europe’s Leading Green Resort at the World Travel Awards 2019 — with views of Corsica and the Maddalena islands from £973 per person per week.

Keri Caves in Zakynthos, Greece.

Photograph by Getty Images

4. Zakynthos, Greece

Best for kids

When there are electric blue seas, powder-soft sands and tufts of wild woodland to explore, little ones will be happily busy. Zakynthos has carved a reputation for slick family getaways, whether you’re seeking historical fixes, enchanting waterside tavernas and water a thousand shades of blue. You’ll have seen images of Zakynthos, even if you didn’t realise: of its startling Navagio Beach, where buttery orange sands meet the waves of the Aegean. This curve of beach, lying in the shadow of a cradle of cliffs, is accessible only by boat.

What to do: For an enchanting waterside jaunt, head towards Laganas Bay, where loggerhead turtles idle in the seas, and further along, there’s the whimsical rock formations of Keri Caves — a mesmerising spot to launch from a boat and linger in the gin-clear seas. For hardier thrills, hire bikes and strike out into the island’s wilder heart, through valleys smothered in wildflowers, olive groves, fragrant pine forests and dozing villages.

When to go: Avoid the peak months of July and August and try the shoulder months of May, June, September and October for mellower temperatures and quieter beaches.

How to do it: Love Holidays offers seven nights at the Lesante Classic Luxury Hotel & Spa from £581 per person, B&B, in May. 

5. Bergholmen, Stockholm Archipelago

Best for nature

For something entirely different, the Stockholm archipelago has a fiercely loyal following of locals who have fallen for its serene rocky shores and pockets of ethereal, wild nature. No one really knows how many islands make up the archipelago, though the general consensus is around 24,000 — all of which are rooted in bucolic loveliness. And yet it’s all wholly accessible from the enduringly cool capital with regular boat connections to and from Stockholm. Looking for escapism? The private island of Bergholmen might just be the antidote — it’s only a 40-minute boat ride from the capital, but its clandestine reputation only adds to the feeling you’ve stumbled across a secretive dwelling.

What to do: There’s only one place to stay on Bergholmen: Island Lodge. It’s a collection of domed geodesic tents, with wooden floors, proper beds and windows opening to views of guests spading shells and staggering over rockpools, or distant fishing boats seesawing on the inky sea. Trips here are all about enjoying early morning coffee with the sand between your toes, foraging trips in search of berries and mushrooms, reading a book on the decking and walking under a canopy of wiry firs and birches. You can kayak to nearby islets, and as you arrive back at camp, slip into the hot outdoor shower or the hot tub, before enjoying a meal prepared using foraged ingredients.

When to go: From May to September.

How to do it: Rent the entire island and enjoy all-inclusive accommodation at Island Lodge Bergholmen from £1,278 per night.

View of Lord Howe Island as seen from the top of Malabar Hill, New South Wales, Australia.

Photograph by Getty Images

6. Lord Howe Island, Australia

Best for wildlife

Travel writers are always waxing lyrical about ‘hidden gems’ and ‘paradise islands’. Though both travel cliches are entirely true for this out-of-the-way speck, strung on its lonesome in the Pacific about 370 miles from the Aussie mainland. You could arrive by private yacht, though the most breathtaking journey is aboard a tiny propeller plane, launching from Sydney for a two-hour flight above glittering seas. On the approach, Lord Howe’s towering twin peaks pop into view, rising from tufts of green and ringed by a pristine halo of ice-white sand. 

What to do: The magic here lies in the island’s biodiversity. Gaze at seabirds raising chicks on the beach and slip into the bath-warm lagoon, where technicolour marine life buzzes about just inches from your mask. Further inland, a bush walk up to Malabar Hill or through the Valley of the Shadows takes you towards nesting birds. And with a cap on just 400 visitors at any one time, you really can have beaches all to yourself, scooping shells and kayaking under the hot sun before barbecued seafood lunches. There’s even the chance to head out to Elizabeth Reef — the world’s southernmost coral reef — some 90 miles north of Lord Howe, where only a handful of people have been lucky enough to visit. 

When to go: Between September and May, though the island remains warm and sunny in June, July and August.

How to do it: Stay at beachhouse-chic Capella Lodge, whose ultra-luxe lodges open to dreamy views of the mountains and lagoon. Wexas offers tailor-made trips to Lord Howe from £4,260 per person for seven nights.

Published in the 2021 edition of National Geographic Traveller (UK) The Luxury Collection

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