There are A-list hotels, and then there’s North Island. Cast off on a rugged private isle in the turquoise expanse of the Indian Ocean, this hotel not only attracts wealthy holidaymakers – but the very upper echelons of the glitterati. The Prince and Princess of Wales famously spent their honeymoon here in 2011, and so did George and Amal Clooney in 2014. The Beckhams, too, have graced its exclusive guest book.
Not that you should necessarily expect to see many famous faces while here. North Island’s biggest draw for the elite isn’t being pampered or lavish interiors, but rather its ridiculous privacy and intuitive staff. Guests are squirrelled away in one of 11 villas on a long golden beach, serviced by butlers who fetch bottomless bottles of fizz or gourmet sushi on demand. With each villa boasting a spacious bedroom, lounge, rambling deck space, plunge pool and hedge-coddled lawns, it’s little wonder some visitors don’t budge for their entire visit.
The island and its architecture are rustic, relaxed and natural, with indoor-outdoor spaces, lush greenery and wild mountain peaks lending a primaeval, back-to-basics air. It might seem an incongruous mix at first – the most privileged people on the planet co-existing with alfresco toilets – but actually, once you’re here it makes perfect sense. North Island’s clientele already has everything that money can buy, so they want what is priceless: a moment of anonymous freedom in some of the Indian Ocean’s most sublime tropical landscapes. And so what if that costs upwards of £10,000 per night?
Privately owned North Island is set about 30km north of the Seychelles main island of Mahé – close enough to make it an easy journey from the international airport (by helicopter transfer, of course), but far enough to ensure complete privacy. Other than an occasional sighting of those staying and working on the island, you won’t see another soul.
The Seychelles is famed for its lush, mountainous landscapes, which are rife with local floral and fauna, and North Island is no exception. Virgin apart from a few sand ‘roads’ – built for island golf buggies and bikes – and a couple of hiking trails, the island is almost entirely dense tropical rainforest, fringed by two spectacularly smooth golden beaches in the east and west.
While people are scarce, wildlife isn’t. Small and slender green lizards dart across logs and rocks; tropical birds call out from treetops; dozens of giant tortoises – typical of the Seychelles – lounge about on the lawns outside the island’s main restaurant.
In contrast to some of the sleek modern resorts you’ll find elsewhere in the Seychelles, North Island leans on a rustic, stripped back aesthetic. Safari camp architects Silvio Reach and Lesley Cartens lived on the island for two years in the early 2000s while conceptualising its design, and the attention to detail certainly shows. Villas mix thatched roofs with unfinished woods, stone and a general castaway decor of rope-hanging glass pendant lights, shells and vintage-style trunks. A spectacular vaulted ceiling in the main restaurant is supported by the thick, gnarly trunks of Biblical-looking trees.
Almost all the spaces in North Island are open to the elements – pillars rather than solid walls allow the air to flow in and the views to peek through – but in turn this means you will want to pack mosquito spray for evenings. Bedrooms are lined with sliding glass doors, and thankfully come with aircon (much welcome in the hottest months of April and November).
While judiciously spaced and very private, all 11 villas are on the same part of the coast, the sunrise-facing East Beach. Villas one to 10, which run in order from nearby the main restaurant and spa up to the northern edge of the beach, are nearly identical in format with spacious footprint, handcrafted wood furniture and turquoise tones.
In each one, a deck leads to a hedge-fronted lawn studded with palms, beyond which lies the sea. Which one you request comes down to how close you want to be to the main island facilities; the farther away the more privacy you theoretically get, but also the longer the golf cart ride or cycle into the ‘action’ (a relative term on this very sleepy isle). We have it on good authority that a lot of celebs like Villa three.
Villa 11 is a world unto its own. Perched at the northern end of East Beach, the 750m2 expanse rambles over multiple levels and includes two outdoor bathrooms, lounge spaces and a reception area where your butler will dish up your private dining. While no doubt the most spectacular, it is conversely in some ways the least-private as it is so open – if there were any prying eyes about on the beach, they might see you enjoying your sundeck and private pool.
Food & drink
Before arrival we were asked to fill out a form detailing our favourite cuisine (Japanese), and in turn our butler Fred surprised us with an elaborate sushi and yakitori banquet in the villa on the first night. Other days included elaborate picnics on the beach, a multi-course tasting menu with caviar and lobster under the stars, a sunset barbecue with grilled local fish.
Saying that, everything does depend on your budget. Most of the above (save the tasting menu) is thrown in as part of the all-inclusive Dream Rate, which costs from an additional £3,217 per night (for two people) on top of the standard rate. As part of the deal you’ll also get near-unlimited access to booze from an inclusive wine list which features the likes of Louis Roederer Champagne.
If you aren’t on the Dream Rate, meals will largely be in the main open-air restaurant, which has an à la carte offering with the likes of octopus tiradito and wagyu sirloin. Some dinners are also served in the West Beach Bar, which comes with sublime sunset views. You can still order one-off food experiences such as in-room dining or a picnic, but expect hefty additional fees in turn.
One of the draws of North Island is that it isn’t overbuilt – there aren’t loads of unnecessary structures or swish facilities to take away from the joy of the main event: the island’s natural beauty.
A large pool area sits above the main restaurant on the island’s east side, and it’s often astoundingly quiet. Higher up the hills a spectacular clifftop spa hosts couples’ massages in view of crashing surf.
An organic garden in the island’s centre welcomes visits from guests; the in-house gardener will show you the crop that will be harvested for your next meal.
There is a water sports centre where you can arrange diving, fishing excursions or snorkelling adventures, either in the open sea or off the coast of neighbouring Silhouette Island. Next door, a small library space with television is handy in the occasion of a rare bout of bad weather or if you have children in tow.
While many guests do it, you’ll miss a lot if you just laze about in your room. Instead the real magic at North Island comes with kicking back and letting your butler take charge and plan for you. Ours, Fred, arranged a snorkelling excursion, a private picnic on jaw-drop Honeymoon Beach and a Champagne-soaked sundowner beside a roaring fire pit on the rocks.
There is also the option to plant a native tree – part of an ongoing reforestation project – and to ‘adopt’ one of the island tortoises. Yoga is held in the spa, a great way to unwind after a hike across one of the island’s mountain trails.
Built largely from natural materials, North Island gives the impression that it treads lightly on the earth. Of course, like any luxury resort in the Indian Ocean it’s not perfect – for example, many of the ingredients served are imported, as is nearly all of the alcohol. But the resort is actively engaged in marine conservation with a strong turtle hatchling programme. If you’re lucky, you will even see a nest hatch while here – ask the island scientists or your butler to keep you in the loop.
This is about as ‘special occasion territory’ as it gets. With frankly stratospheric rates to contend with, unless you’ve got a royal-sized budget, this is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of place, for a honeymoon or landmark birthday.
Saying that, there can be some variation in price depending on season, occupancy and the number of nights you’re hoping to stay. It can pay to contact the resort for the latest pricing on your intended dates of travel, especially in low season, in the event you can bag a marginally discounted rate.
Rates at North Island start from approx. £5,252 per villa per night based on two people sharing a standard villa on a bed and breakfast basis; Villa 11 starts from £6,804 per night. The Dream Rate begins at £8,468 per night for two in a standard villa or £10,020 in Villa 11. north-island.com