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You’ve don’t have to be Richard Branson to check-in to these private-island hotels – and you don’t need his bank balance, either. New retreats such as Joali in the Maldives are open to all and, in the case of this particular Indian Ocean retreat, come with 24 acres of 24-carat design, plus exotic boat trips to turtle-feeding stations. Leave your shoes at the shore…

The Maldives may be home to hotels with retractable roofs and slides that whisk you from suite to sea, but Wallpaper*-worthy design has been in short supply. Until now… On Muravandhoo Island, a 45-minute seaplane skip from Malé, Joali is shaking things up with interiors by Turkish design firm Autobahn and architecture from Tokyo-based Studio Glit. Noriyoshi Muramatsu, one of the world’s leading restaurant designers, was dispatched to style Japanese-accented Saoke (one of four places to eat on the island) and original installations – including a treehouse in the shape of a manta ray by Cape Town’s Porky Hefer – cement Joali’s status as a destination for culture-loving castaways.

Another private-island pad with pedigree is Coral Caye in Belize, from director-turned-hotelier Francis Ford Coppola. The auteur already has a string of rustic-chic hotels in Guatemala, Buenos Aires, Basilicata and mainland Belize, but Coppola’s latest property is his most exclusive yet: a private-island retreat among the cayes of the Unesco-listed Belize Barrier Reef. Spend days strumming away in the Great House with its free-to-borrow instruments, kick back on the island’s mangrove-fringed beaches, then crash out in one of two tropical cottages, where hammock-strung decks angle towards the sea. To explore the life aquatic, hire the island’s private boat for visits to nearby islands or scuba dive from Turtle Inn’s PADI-certified base. Keep an eye out for whale sharks (they’re hard to miss).

Topping all the must-see travel lists for 2019 is Cambodia – whose islands are currently undergoing a luxury makeover, with the likes of Alila and Six Senses popping up. A short boat ride from Sihanoukville, you’ll also find Song Saa, which unveils itself as a series of thatch-roofed pavilions, raised above the peacock-hued waters of the Gulf of Thailand. Contemporary interiors pervade throughout the ocean-view villas with their muslin-draped beds and open-sided Vista restaurant, set at the end of a long pier with a menu of southeast Asian specialities and sigh-worthy sea views. A crescent-shaped infinity pool and rainforest-fringed spa cap off the indulgence.

Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia

Walking the plank never seemed so tempting at Song Saa in Cambodia

Next, let’s cruise over to Indonesia, where the ‘Secret Gilis’ – a string of lesser-known islands off the coast of Lombok – have recently welcomed exclusive-use Villa Selalu. Raised on the rainforested slopes of Gili Gede, the four-bedroom villa offers art-strewn interiors, a team of staff, an infinity pool, a private beach and the whole island to yourself. Alternatively, cast your eyes over to Bawah Island, in the coral-rich Anambas archipelago, set around a trio of blue lagoons with 35 standalone suites. If you’re wondering how you’ll keep entertained, there are 13 beaches, a spa, an open-air cinema and a host of watersports to try. By night, grab one of the beachside swings at the Boat House to dine with your toes in the sand.

Six Senses Zil Pasyon, Seychelles

The centrepiece spa at Six Senses Zil Pasyon in the Seychelles

A panel of in-the-know judges nominated Six Senses Zil Pasyon among the world’s 10 most-spoiling spas at the Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Awards in 2018. Pitched on the private island of Félicité, amid the granite boulders and porcelain sands of the Seychelles, its signature Six Senses spa has five eco-themed treatment rooms designed around the island’s flora and fauna, a sundeck-wrapped saltwater pool and a shoreside yoga pavilion, with African-inspired treatments that range from fig-infused body wraps to rose-crystal masks.

Feature image is Coral Caye in Belize. 

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