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L’Isola delle Femmine, a rocky islet off the Italian island of Sicily owned by Countess Paola Pilo Bacci, where she finds solitude and artistic inspiration. Photo: Romolini Immobiliare

Five private island owners talk about getting away from it all to detox, recharge or wait out the coronavirus pandemic

  • A Taoist businessman is learning how to lead a life of self-sufficiency on a lake island in Nova Scotia, Canada
  • To ‘get that special Robinson Crusoe feeling’, a German entrepreneur flies 15,000km to two islands he owns in the Bahamas – before flying back the next day

Silence, seclusion and surroundings that consist of nothing but water and pristine nature – have you ever dreamed of owning a private island, or wondered what the people who do rule over their own little universe get up to while they’re there? Here, five island owners provide us a glimpse of their exclusive paradises.

IT businessman Grammy Leung, 41, is a Taoist who has picked a 1.6-hectare (4-acre), water-drop-shaped island in a lake amid the wilderness of Nova Scotia, Canada, on which to further his religious practice. 

“I need a remote place for self-learning and thinking that is hard to be found but easy to reach out [from] for food and other resources. I chose to purchase a plot of land in a country with a mature property ownership [system] that could enhance the stability and security of my practice.” 

Leung was also attracted by the island’s geographical position. It is on the opposite side of the globe from his workplace – Hong Kong – making it the ideal “quiet thinking” spot required by Taoism to attain a fulfilled life.

Grammy Leung’s island is on the opposite side of the globe from his workplace – Hong Kong. Photo: Grammy Leung

He spends his days inspecting his domain and calculating the direction from which the sun will rise – crucial for his spiritual practice.

While standing in the centre of the island – which he will name only when he considers himself wise enough to think of something suitable – he discovered ( feng shui compass in hand) that the sharp end points in the direction of the pig and the blunt end to the snake. This happens to match and strengthen his “personal destiny predicted with birth date and time”, says Leung. 
Leung says he will only name his island (circled above) when he considers himself wise enough to think of something suitable.

“The snake-pig collision activates wisdom. The obvious difference between the four seasons in this area also generates more potential energy for my practice.” 

Leung says he enjoys being in touch with nature amid the wetlands and thickets of conifers, sugar maples and birches on his island and in the surrounding area. Having bought the island for “tens of thousand of US dollars”, he is now learning how to lead a life of self-sufficiency. He is building a tiny house on wheels and installing solar panels, wind turbines and automatic irrigation.

“I’m not really in a hurry to start a long-term island life,” he says. “The process of preparing is also very joyful.”

It’s your own space, where the clock stops and the day is only split by day and night
Marcus Uy, Singaporean IT businessman

According to Chris Krolow, founder and CEO of Private Islands Inc, the top global marketplace for island properties, there’s a primitive draw to having a little piece of the planet that one is in control of. 

Krolow has a few islands of his own that he rents out while not in residence, one being Gladden Private Island in Belize, on the eastern coast of Central America. “Gladden is so out into the open sea that you can walk right off the beach to the reef,” he says. In Canada’s Georgian Bay, however, is one that he keeps to himself. Deepwater Island, with its cosy blue cottage surrounded by trees, was his safe haven when Covid-19 broke out.

“I spent six months of lockdown there with my [seven-year-old] son,” he says. “Luckily, it was spring and then summer came, and I had everything I needed to run my business from the island and spend leisure time with my son. I really needed that; I have no idea what it would have been like otherwise.

Chris Krolow’s Deepwater Island, in Georgian Bay, Ontario. Photo: Private Islands Inc

“Social distancing, of course, was not an issue but it wasn’t the normal relaxation. We were always worried about what was going on in the world, and were extremely careful when moving around the area or to the [Ontario] mainland. We were careful even when we went out exploring and canoeing.

“It was lovely, but there was a sadness over the lake.”

The promise of a secluded tropical getaway in which to unplug and detox from everyday life convinced Singaporean IT businessman Marcus Uy to purchase two undeveloped atolls in the calm waters of the Dumaran Channel, at the northern end of the Philippines’ Palawan Island.
Marcus Uy’s Renambacan atoll consists of baby-powder beaches, mangroves and coconut trees. Photo: Marcus Uy

Just 500 metres (1,640 feet) apart, Renambacan and Talaylay consist of baby-powder beaches, mangroves, coconut trees and working pearl farms surrounded by reefs. 

“You go there because you want to sever yourself from the world. It’s your own space, where the clock stops and the day is only split by day and night,” says Uy. 

He stresses the “magic of day trips”: flying in on a private charter plane, hiking into hidden corners of his islands and chilling out on the soft sand, feasting on the picnics he takes with him. “Once you get there, you unload and it’s your own private playground. Sun, sand, sea, scuba diving: the scenery is amazing and sunrise and sunset are spectacular over a cold drink.”

Covid-19 has grounded travel influencers – perhaps not a bad thing

The thrill of being a castaway for 24 hours has turned Alexander Tischer, a young German motor industry entrepreneur, into an enthusiastic collector of islands. He recently bought a few lake isles in the Sleepy Cove area of Nova Scotia and two undeveloped atolls – Fish Cay and Guana Cay – just off New Providence, in the Bahamas.

He won’t say how much he paid for any of them, only that: “If you can afford a Ferrari or Lamborghini, then you can buy an island.”

To help him cope with the stress of work, Tischer sometimes hops onto a plane to Nassau, the Bahamian capital, and takes a speedboat to his islands, before flying back to Germany the following day.

While there, he swims between the two cays, the essentials for his primeval sojourn tucked into a waterproof bag along with a mobile phone, in case of emergency. The turquoise water is belly-high, so he does as much walking in the warm Bahamian waters as he does swimming.

“I prefer small islands. I want to see water all around me, stand in the middle of my isle and get that special Robinson Crusoe feeling, listening to the 360-degree acoustics of the waves and wind. After just 10 minutes of this, I’ve already calmed down. I spend the night wide-awake, gazing at the stars till dawn, when birds start singing.”

A 15,000km round-trip for one night in paradise may seem like an extreme extravagance during a climate emergency, but his “touch and go” breaks recharge his batteries, says Tischer, allowing him to return to his work refreshed.

The “island rush” – the speed-stay and resulting energy boost – is addictive. The mere thought of the sun-drenched bolt holes awaiting his return provide comfort even when he cannot get to them, he says. 

One of Asia’s best-kept secrets is a tropical island getaway

In the summer, when it is warm enough to sleep outdoors on a mattress or in a tent, Tischer prefers Nova Scotia to the West Indies. Here, too, being surrounded by water gives him a feeling of safety. 

A private island can also be a source of inspiration. Countess Paola Pilo Bacci owns a rocky islet off the Italian island of Sicily called L’Isola delle Femmine, which has been in her family since the 1600s. Pilo Bacci is a painter and some of her best work depicts the rich marine life, pink-blue fish, purple starfish and wheeling seagulls of The Island of Women (its name in English).

“It’s part of a protected marine reserve so it’s like swimming in an aquarium; once, I even spotted dolphins,” she says. “You’re constantly with your diving mask on and your head below water.”

L’Isola delle Femmine lies just 300 metres from Sicily and can be reached on a dinghy or by swimming. Photo: Romolini Immobiliare
On L’Isola delle Femmine, which lies just 300 metres from Sicily proper and can be reached on a dinghy or by swimming, are a crumbling lookout tower that dates back to the 1500s and stone basins in which Romans fermented garum fish sauce

“When you stand at the very top you have a 360-degree view and can see the seabed right through the transparent waters,” says Pilo Bacci. “You’re all alone and feel the breath of the sea, nearly touching the sky.

“It’s an overwhelming feeling of utter peace and freedom.”