There’s something about being on a swathe of land surrounded by water that awakens an inner dialogue.
Islands heal. There’s that time I scrambled across slabs of granite on the only occupied isle of Sweden’s Weather archipelago to see a sunset, just after I’d jumped from a rustic, wave-side sauna into the intemperate sea. At a purple burst of lemony light, a flame reignited inside me. Then, there was the moment I felt something severed reattach in my soul at Four Seasons Maldives Kuda Huraa’s spa, on its own island, accessible only by boat. It may have been torched by the sound of water moving to and fro. On a daily basis, I feel recalibrated nearly every morning on Texas’ Mustang Island, where I practice yoga on the beach at dawn, as the sky illuminates, watching the pelicans and herons gather.
Indeed, I’ve had some of my most transformational moments on islands. And not because of a swilled rum punch. Rather, there’s something about being on a swathe of land surrounded by water that awakens an inner dialogue. It appeals to our sense of retreat. Metaphorically (and possibly even in reality), being on an island means we’ve come far away from the safety of our normal life. In that faraway place, we can re-examine our world—even if we’re surrounded by crowds of vacationers. While we aren’t lonely castaways in the mode of Robinson Crusoe on islands, we do gain from that sense of being secluded, joining part of a different world (islands famously harbor species and cultures unique to themselves), and finding harmony with a quieter, slower vibe. Safe in those rhythms, we can listen, and hear our own voices speaking—loud and clear. Islands come in all shapes and sizes. Here’s some around the globe, waiting to welcome you.
You might know it from the film The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. Once the home of Victor Hugo, beloved by Renoir for the views, occupied by the Germans during WWII, self-governing Guernsey is the second largest of the Channel Islands. In the English Channel, it lies closer to France than England, sporting rugged cliffs and dramatic beaches. With storybook hamlets, twisty one-lane roads, black lava-lined beaches, it feels nostalgic and lost in time. Though known for its cream teas, the island simultaneously embraces an active lifestyle, with residents (and visitors) plunging into the icy sea, coasteering and walking its circumference cliffside. Untangle the knots at St Pierre Park Hotel, Spa & Golf Resort, where a lavish Elemis spa cures all. handpickedhotels.co.uk/stpierrepark
Madeira, while modern, takes travelers back in time. Part of Portugal, but autonomously governed, it sits closer to Morocco than Europe. Hauntingly beautiful, with soaring cliffs, mountains and six diverse ecosystems (including a rare cloud forest), Madeira’s extraordinary culture stems from its history as a seafaring stopover and global port. With a penchant for keeping indigenous traditions alive, the island also has spawned edgy artists and designers, such as Nini Andrade Silva, who is responsible for interiors (and concept), including the furniture and art, at the newly opened Savoy Palace in Funchal. Retreat to its Laurea Spa, the largest wellness center in Europe, which Silva has created as a metaphor for Madeira’s Laurissilva Forest. Save an hour for the immense thermae, then yield to the signature Laurea Massage, which utilizes hot and cold local volcanic stones. lhw.com/hotel/savoy-palace-funchal-madeira-portugal
South Andros Island
The Bahamas consists of some 700 islands. Andros, a kind of archipelago within the archipelago, has three sections, each separated by estuaries and tidal swampland. Sleepy South Andros feels wild and untrammeled. No wonder HGTV design team stars, Bryan and Sarah Baeumler, of the Canadian series House of Bryan, saw it as the ideal spot to redo an abandoned, 10-acre resort. Offering a barefoot chic theme with private villas, airy garden and beachside suites, various restaurants and a tiny boutique spa, the consciously green, just-opened Caerula Mar Club is already being touted as 2020’s best new wedding venue. caerulamar.com
Three miles offshore from Ream National Park in southern Cambodia, the just-opened Krabey Island was wild and untram-meled, until Six Senses Krabey Island built its sustainable retreat. With just 40 pool villas spread across 30 still lush acres, Six Senses Krabey designed its spa to be an enclave of healing and rebirth. The calm can be absorbed in one-off treatments or via multiday wellness programs, which include options such as yogic cleanse, Ayurvedic reset, sleep therapy, meditation, aerial and local alche-my—all inspired by local herbs and rituals. Romantic picnics, jungle walks, visits to a local temple and nighttime iridescent plankton swimming add to the allure. sixsenses.com/en/resorts/krabey-island
Known as the Spice Island, this exotic destination off the coast of East Africa, part of the Tanzanian Archipelago, boasts some of the world’s finest beaches. Infused with influences from Africa, India, Europe and Arabia, it has a spirit that Zuri Zanzibar, a Design Hotel, mirrors judiciously in its 56 thatched-roof, artsy suites and open, airy layout. Owned by Czech filmmaker and art lover, Vaclav Dejcmar, it also evokes the island’s passion. When not on the azure sea or beside the pool, renew in the spa, where treatments take inspiration from the island’s natural healing history. Try the Zanzi Journey, which uses orange, cinnamon and coffee or Maasai Celebration with marula and neroli. zurizanzibar.com
Prodigiously mysterious, Malta, with its watchtowers, prehistor-ic temples, limestone cliffs and secret caves, has a fantastical feel—as if it was the setting for everyone’s favorite myth and legend. A diminutive archipelago that dots the center of the Mediterranean Sea, it has an ancient history, which combines numerous cultures. As a European Capital of Culture in 2018, Valletta has a newly polished vibe. Stay at the Corinthia Palace Hotel, where after May 2020, you can enjoy the newly refurbished spa. With a holistic approach, the redone spa will provide customized services tailored to clients with time constraints, as well as provide multiday wellness programs. corinthia.com/palace-hotel-and-spa/
Santa Cruz Island
Most people see the Galapagos on a cruise, stopping on Santa Cruz upon arrival. But, this largest of Ecuador’s UNESCO-listed islands, has much to offer. Pikaia Lodge, a sleek eco-hotel, sits on the rim of an extinct volcano on a lesser-traveled part of the island. It offers land-based programs, sure to include sightings of some giant tortoises and iguanas—as well as other local heroes. End your day at this Relais & Chateaux affiliate strolling the surrounding walking paths, gaping at the views and snuggling into the Sumaq Spa, a zen sanctum, with floor-to-ceiling windows in the relaxation area to emphasize the terrain. Try the Shamanic Massage, per-formed with a local “rainstick.” pikaialodge.com
Off the northeast coast of Antigua, Jumby Bay takes its name from “jumbee,” a colloquial Antiguan word for “playful spirit.” A classic, reimagined by the mighty Oetker family of hoteliers, the eponymous hotel mandates barefoot elegance as the order of the day. With Taittinger as the house champagne, the all-inclusive hideaway keeps things posh, but laid-back with complimentary sunset cruises, fine dining, nature walks and festive, airy West Indian-intoned suites. The spa takes inspiration from African and indigenous island traditions, with serums comprised of healing ingredients such as neem, lemongrass, aloe and coconut. Choose the Arawak Immersion, a wrap and foot/leg massage that uses ginger, castor leaves and coconut oil. Soursop tea goes without saying. oetkercollection.com
An unpretentious island, rampant with natural beauty, this BVI favorite got hit hard by Hurricane Irma. Known for its national park, The Baths, a grotto-filled stunner amid megalithic rocks, the island has been recovering steadily. Reopened in January 2020, Rosewood Little Dix Bay, founded as a resort by Laurance Rockefeller in 1964, took a hiatus of nearly four years to be refurbished. With stunning new rooms (try the Treehouse Suites), four open-air dining outlets and plenty to do, the icon proudly trumpets its Sense, A Rosewood Spa. Overlooking Sir Francis Drake Channel, it specializes in Caribbean-invoked treatments. Try the Afri-Cure, which uses tamarind and jumbie tree leaves (originally brought to the Caribbean from Africa), plus papaya, harvested sea salt and lemongrass in a two-hour escape. rosewoodhotels.com
Jost Van Dyke Island
A quick sailboat jaunt from Tortola, this six-square-mile isle with sharp inclines, rugged terrain, sea grape and coco palms still looks like it might hoard buried treasure. Named for a pirate and one of the island’s first Dutch settlers, it remains one of BVI’s more obscure destinations. But, that might be about to change with Ocean Spa, a floating spa, swimmable from White Bay. Created by Dale Mapp, the spa was made from salvaged materials, refuse from Hurricane Irma. Promoting a healing waters concept, the spa specializes in immersion massages, such as the Couples Ocean Oasis Massage and a Sunset Massage—all done amongst curative, salty H20. oceanspabvi.com