Traveling to the North Island

4th April 2011

Last night I dreamt I went to North Island again.

The moonlight was glittering on the white-coral beach, and a hawksbill turtle had lumbered up for cocktails. . . . Wake up! But it wasn’t a dream. North Island, the ultimate in cool Robinson Crusoe living, is real. Opened last summer, this private island resort in the Seychelles redefines barefoot luxury. Other island-castaway paradises—the Wakaya Club, in Fiji; Soneva Gili, in the Maldives; Amanwana, in Bali—have been awesome in their illusion of splendid isolation, but none has delivered 21st-century wireless technology along with first-rate tuna tartare and wasabi.

North Island’s location also surprises. For although the Seychelles archipelago is one of the most beautiful on earth, establishing whiz-bang resorts there was difficult until recently because of extortionate taxes on imports of luxury goods and a dispiriting form of one-party socialism. It wasn’t until 1991 that the government and economy were liberalized, so that over the past few years, Mahé, the archipelago’s chief island, has seen the construction of sophisticated resorts, such as Frégate Island and Banyan Tree Seychelles. Now North Island has leapt to the next level of luxury.

From the moment the helicopter transporting you from Mahé touches down near a cove in which you can see eagle rays surfing cerulean waves, you feel you’ve arrived in a fantasy. Composed of just eleven luxury villas scattered among the palms along the beach, the resort appears to have grown out of its surroundings. Innovative South African architects Lesley Carstens and Silvio Rech, the latter the mastermind behind Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, lived on North Island during much of the resort’s three-year construction, improvising with local materials.

The roof of the bar and restaurant on the beach is supported by the upturned trunks of takamaka trees felled by order of the Seychelles government; their long, fingerlike roots create an otherworldly effect. The thatch is of ylang-ylang branches, and the walks leading to the restaurant are made of boards lashed together—not a nail in sight. The screens of strung pebbles and the hanging tables were also crafted on-site. Sparkling beneath palms high on a cliff is the swimming pool, Tiffany blue with a white infinity edge, reflecting the color of the sea and the white-coral beach that borders it.

The beautiful, private two-bedroom villas also seem to have been fashioned out of earth and sky: open decks, whirlpools under the stars, daybeds with white muslin curtains blowing in the breeze. And you can allow the sound of the waves to breach the deep peace of the air-conditioned bedrooms by folding back the timber- and-glass doors. For glorious views of the natural surroundings, bliss out, as author J. K. Rowling recently did, in Villa North Island (Number 11), which is slightly raised above the beach.

If desert-isle idylls are your thing, this resort is for you; if you prefer golf courses and nightly entertainment, it’s not. The island is as much an ecoproject as a resort. The beach is kept dark at night so turtle hatchlings don’t become disoriented—although three did turn up in the library just before my visit. (They were safely escorted to the ocean.) With the help of a resident ecologist from South Africa, the resort is reversing the ecoclock by eradicating nonindigenous plant and animal species. The botanical nursery fosters some seventy-five species of native flora.

Nowhere is appreciation for the island’s natural bounty as evident as in the resort’s kitchen, which tailors its menus to local ingredients, most of which come from the forest and the sea. American chef Geoffrey Murray creates daily specials according to what’s in season, but he will also cook anything you want. Murray, your private chef, is the culinary virtuoso who launched New York’s Boom and South Beach’s Bang; he has also prepared meals for Paul Newman, Dustin Hoffman and Naomi Campbell. For me he squeezed fresh tomato juice, made the most perfect omelet I have ever eaten and marinated sea bass sourced from the market on Mahé. You’ll be comforted knowing you will have Murray’s undivided attention after a hard day of diving or exploring the verdant terrain, or after cocktails on West Beach under the stars.

By Victoria Mather.