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EXPERT REVIEW An exclusive eco-retreat on a private island in the Seychelles, whose conservation efforts and barefoot luxury have won it a bevy of celebrity - and royal - fans. Review by Leo Bear

Eco


Overall eco rating


North Island is a brilliant project for the Seychelles both for the nearby communities and the natural environment – the conservation work they do is spectacular.  Environmental management is also strong in most areas especially where there are direct impacts on wildlife but energy related issues are perhaps not as strong as some other destinations on EcoLuxHotels.com

  • Reclaiming the island from a former coconut plantation and restoring to its original habitat
  • Have reintroduced several endangered endemic birds, a haven for Giant Aldabran Tortoises and Green Turtles with expanding populations
  • Interaction with wildlife is carefully controlled on land and at sea – watch but do not touch!
  • Support the Children in the Wilderness charity which promotes the importance of conservation and life skills to children
  • Original development of the resort done very sensitively – used Environmental Impact Assessment to create series of management plans for construction, waste, water conservation and others
  • Water extracted from below ground aquifer (unlike most of Seychelles which relies on desalination) – water table levels and water quality monitored closely

  • Electricity used for almost all of the hotel’s needs comes from diesel generators – although North Island are looking into renewables within the year
  • There is also scope to improve energy efficiency

People

The Seychelles are a relatively isolated corner of the world and businesses operating here face challenges as a result but North Island strive to work with local communities and take great care of their guests

  • Procuring everything from local suppliers is challenging but good efforts are made e.g. hotel has their own vegetable gardens
  • Support the Children in the Wilderness charity which promotes the importance of conservation and life skills to children
  • Wide variety of low impact activities are offered e.g. biking and kayaking
  • Employment is a big issue in the Seychelles and North Island employs a large portion of staff from the islands
  • Locals are also well represented in management positions

Animals & nature

Habitat restoration and nature conservation are at the heart of the project – the resort just helps pay for the conservation!  North Island is doing a fantastic job to protect this beautiful corner of the world.

PETA assessment of cruelty free credentials of cleaning products and toiletries to come.

  • Reclaiming the island from a former coconut plantation and restoring to its original habitat – work still underway
  • Have reintroduced several endangered endemic birds, a haven for Giant Aldabran Tortoises and Green Turtles with expanding populations
  • Interaction with wildlife is carefully controlled on land and at sea – watch but do not touch!
  • Voluntarily extended protection to several species beyond legal requirements e.g. to include sharks and fruit bats
  • Successfully eradicated rats (and removed cats) from the island – and managing to stay rat free
  • Strong links to international and national conservation organisations and undertaking important research
  • On site experts educate guests via presentations, walks and hikes

  • Some animal lovers may not approve of the catch and release for large ocean fish

Environment & buildings

North Island are hot on environmental aspects which have a direct impact on the local environment like construction management, water use, sewage and chemicals but the island’s energy systems are not that green and could be greener (and they are looking into renewable energy systems).

  • Original development of the resort done very sensitively – used Environmental Impact Assessment to create series of management plans for construction, waste, water conservation and others
  • Water extracted from below ground aquifer (unlike most of Seychelles which relies on desalination) – water table levels and water quality monitored closely in accordance with water management plan
  • Waste water collected and treated bacterially – treated grey water is used for irrigation
  • Made use of local stone, dead native trees, wood from invasive trees being removed and majority of remaining timber was sustainably certified
  • Tropical location means swimming pools and rooms are not heated
  • Very conscious of chemical usage and other aspects which can have a negative impacts on ecology and so cleaning products and other chemicals are carefully vetted and their use controlled
  • Careful monitoring of energy and water – daily reporting split between front and back of house and helps prevent waste
  • Do not use disposable products with exception of toiletries – compost food waste

  • Electricity used for almost all of the hotel’s needs comes from diesel generators – although North Island are looking into renewables within the year
  • There is also scope to improve energy efficiency

Reviewed by Tim Starley-Grainger


Luxury


Overall luxury rating*


From the moment you land, you can forget what you think you know about hotels. There are no menus, no cocktail lists, no pre-planned excursions, no breakfast times, no dress codes, nothing to sign after you order something from the bar. It is, quite literally, like having your own private island, albeit shared with a handful of other people.

The scene

Floating in the midst of Indian Ocean among the Seychelles archipelago, North Island is a 15-minute helicopter hop from Mahé, where the international airport is. Air and private yacht are the only two ways to reach the island.

At North, the sands shift depending on the tides, so there’s no knowing if your 450-square-metre villa (there are only 11) will have a giant yawning expanse of sand in front of it when you arrive, or a thin smidgen of white, such is the ethos of not interfering with nature. And it doesn’t really matter as the island is fringed with the white stuff.

Despite the hefty price tag, North has an informal, hip, youthful feel to it. No designer dresses or hair-sprayed blow dries here. Maybe that’s what appealed to Will and Kate when they came on their royal honeymoon.

  • In the middle of the warm, clear Indian Ocean, far off the east coast of Africa
  • With just 11 villas over its two square kilometres, it really feels like your own private island
  • Barefoot luxury - with bells on
  • Sandy beaches and coral reefs here, there, everywhere

  • It's far from everywhere, and the only way to get here is via the international airport at Mahé - or on your private yacht

The style

The 11 villas - all 450 square metres - are sculpted from local materials that were sourced during the island's regeneration. Every table, lamp, shutter and surface has been handcrafted by Seychellois and African artisans to reflect the natural beauty of the island. Strings of porous white stones act as sunscreens, and curtains of shells divide the outdoor bathrooms.

Your butler will arrange whatever you want, whenever you want. We're divers, and the boat was ready to take us out, day or night, to explore one of the world's longest coral reefs. Underwater at a site 10 minutes from our villa, we saw sheep crabs, nurse sharks, eagle rays, parrot fish and green and hawksbill turtles. On surfacing, a plate of world-class sashimi was waiting for my husband and a hot chocolate for me.

It’s these touches that make North island stand out: the handwritten welcome note etched onto a leaf, the homemade cookies and banana chips refreshed each day and the keys to our own electric buggy so we could remain completely independent throughout our stay.

Next day, we headed to the West beach for a picnic of grilled prawns, sandwiches and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Needless to say, with only 11 villas on the island, we had the whole beach to ourselves. We ate with our feet in the sand admiring the Jurassic boulders of rock book-ending the spotless crescent of white, and the craggy cliffs in the distance rising into the sky like the splayed feet of a giant tortoise taking a dip.

Each villa also comes with its own projector home cinema. We agreed to our butler’s suggestion of a ‘movie night’ one evening and strolled back to find soft lighting, cashmere throws and bowls of popcorn and pick ‘n’ mix laid out. Never has watching a film felt so decadent.

  • Spacious wood, stone and thatched-roof villas, each with unique furnishings handcrafted by artisans
  • Villas have two bedrooms, kitchens and lounges with TV, DVD and internet
  • Private butlers with each villa, but they're more like personal assistant. No white tie and tails or strained formality here
  • Indoor and outdoor showers, marble baths, private plunge pool and daybed sala
  • Private electric buggies come with each villa

  • This is the essence of barefoot luxury, so if you want a bling scene, look elsewhere

The facilities

The Island Piazza is where the action is - if it can be called that. With only around 25 guests, you don't bump into many people here, but it's where you'll find the dive and activity centre, the library, the lounge and dining areas and the 45-metre pool. From here, you can quickly arrange diving, snorkelling, cycling, sea kayaking and island hopping. At one end of the main beach, you'll also find the aptly Sunset Bar. Further round, you'll find one of the island's most impressive residents - giant tortoises, usually nibbling shrubbery or splashing about in the surf.

But while there are dining areas, for those who want them, meals here aren't ordered off menu. Instead, soon after arrival, the chef, British-born Neil Wager, ambles over to your villa and chats to you about your likes and dislikes, then voila, mouth-watering feasts appear as and when you fancy during your stay. It's the same story at the bar. But there's none of that awkward struggling to figure out which cocktail you fancy. Easy questions, easy answers, easy drinking. Nice.

Inspired by Neil, we later asked our butler Eliyah if there is much to be found on the island in the way of food. The next morning, Neil turned up on our door step with a big smile on his face. He led us to the plateau where neat rows of coconut trees still grow in formation and introduced us to a scruffy chainsaw-wielding Rastafarian. These are the same trees that nearly destroyed the island, and they're still slowly eliminating them to allow the natural flora back.

Next thing we knew, BOOM, a 10-year-old coconut tree was felled at our feet. After much hacking with machetes and tearing of husks, all was revealed: a metre-long fresher-than-fresh waxy heart of palm to take back to the kitchen to slice into a ‘millionaire’s salad’. A splash of lime, ginger and chilli was all that was needed.

The following day, we headed to the West beach for a picnic of grilled prawns, sandwiches and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Needless to say, with only 11 villas on the island, we had the whole beach to ourselves. We ate with our feet in the sand admiring the Jurassic boulders of rock book-ending the spotless crescent of white, and the craggy cliffs in the distance rising into the sky like the splayed feet of a giant tortoise taking a dip.

  • Everything is personalised to your desires - meals, drinks, activities
  • Giant tortoises roam the island
  • A gym with a view, if you fancy it
  • Huge 45-metre seaview pool
  • Diving, snorkelling, sea kayaking, boating, island hopping, cycling, island explorations - whenever you fancy, day or night
  • Dine and drink anywhere on the island, but there's a dining area and two bars, if you fancy something more structured
  • Thatched-roof wooden spa hut on a hill, with one wall open to the ocean, privacy protected by the fringes of palm trees

  • The spa doesn't have a sauna or steam room. It's just for treatments

We love

  • One of the world's most honeymoony hotels, bar none
  • It's genuinely like having your own private island, shared with just a handful of other people you'll rarely see
  • Whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want
  • To-die-for food, tailored individually to each person's likes and dislikes
  • Gorgeous villas - barefoot luxury doesn't come any more luxe
  • Excellent coral reefs, minutes from the villas

You might not love

  • You have to take a plane and helicopter, or a private yacht, to get here

Reviewed by Leo Bear


North Island

North Island

Seychelles
+248 4 293 100

Standard room rates from €2,115

Eco

Luxury*

"The unique selling-point of the North Island experience is that guests can feel good about themselves while having a lovely time. They can enjoy the air conditioning, an allocation of 34 towels per room, and cocktails on tap, knowing that their money is funding an important ecological experiment which could save several endangered species from extinction" Daily Telegraph

"Each thatched villa has been crafted from local stone, glass, and rescued wood into 5,000 square feet of Robinson Crusoe luxe that includes marble baths, writing nooks, indoor and outdoor showers, plunge pools, Internet access, and en suite kitchens (a chef comes to you)" Conde Nast Traveler