The island that inspired Japan’s Walt Disney
The much-vaunted Japanese anime house Studio Ghibli may be most closely associated with Tokyo, but its greatest muse is surely Yakushima. This subtropical paradise in Kagoshima Prefecture, south of Kyushu, provided animator Hayao Miyazaki with the inspiration for his masterpiece, Princess Mononoke, and it’s easy to see why.Talc-white beaches fringe UNESCO-protected forests full of wildlife, with macaque and sika deer hiding among the 1,000-year-old cedars, waterfalls trickling at every turn. For a local’s perspective, seek out New Zealand mountain guide Cameron Joyce who runs insightful hiking and swimming tours with Yakushima Experience. If the thought of leaving is too much to bear, arrange a visit to sister island Tanegashima, where you can sit and watch spectacular lift-offs from the Tanegashima Space Center, the largest rocket-launch complex in Japan.
Insider tip: Adults-only, butler-served resort Sankara Hotel and Spa is a rarity in these parts, with a luxury spa focusing on treatments using locally sourced plants.
The island bringing Bali back
COMO Uma Canggu, Bali
The big disadvantage of always being in fashion? The need to keep reinventing yourself. That explains the scorching February opening of COMO Uma Canggu, Christina Ong’s chi-chi Italian-vibe design hotel, with big-hitter penthouses, rooftop pools, Shambhala-brand spa and surf school. For simpler Bali armchair sports, add a beach club, lap pool and 9km beach.
Insider tip: The kitchen’s run by New Zealander Dwayne Cheer who’s cooked for Michelin alumni Heston Blumenthal and Yannick Alléno. Order the surf and turf.
The island amping up the Great Barrier Reef
Hayman Island, Brisbane, Australia
There are 74 Whitsunday Islands between the north-east coast of Queensland, Australia, and the Great Barrier Reef, and when Hayman Island reopens in March 2019 it will place guests closer to the coral spectacular than ever before. Expect floodlit tennis courts, yoga studio, make-up parlour, frills-and-thrills cruises and some of the best diving on the planet.
Insider tip: Forget an out-the-box massage – ask for one on a hydro-bed, a few steps from shore, half-submerged in the shallows.
The island where you can holiday like a US president
Martha’s Vineyard, United States
The ultimate spotted-by-the-pool moment at this beach-friendly retreat north of New York is surely a sighting of the Obama or Clinton clan, who regularly holiday here. But for those who prefer showbiz to politics, the grey-shale oceanfront mansions and yacht clubs also attract the likes of Reese Witherspoon and David Letterman. Jake Gyllenhaal is a regular at Lucy Vincent Beach.
Insider tip: West Tisbury hotspot State Road is a go-to for dry-aged rib-eye, a trend started by Barack Obama. Pack a blazer and loafers.
The island with the underwater boogie
Niyama Private Islands, Maldives
Offshore, underwater and unbelievable (especially when a full moon party is in full swing), Subsix is Niyama’s star attraction, a 6m-deep underwater restaurant and nightclub that typifies the excess of this swish Maldives resort. No rave in a fish tank, the submerged bunker in the Dhaalu Atoll, where superstar spinners are flown in by seaplane, is a design marvel, with capiz shell lighting and starfish-shaped spotlights.
Insider tip: Shuttles to the island run around the clock and the club opens until last person standing. Why rush?
The island for shark diving (without a cage)
Malapascua Island, Philippines
Malapascua enjoys all the usual tropical paradise perks, but the chief draw is safe thresher shark diving – and sightings are near guaranteed at Monad Shoal, as these long-tailed swimmers congregate in unrivalled numbers here.
Insider tip: Dodge the maverick outfits and do it right with ex-pat English-Irish duo Matt and David of Evolution (from $35 per dive).
The island with the beach
Koh Racha Yai, Phuket, Thailand
Blame a certain Leonardo DiCaprio movie, but when it comes to picking Thailand’s best beach, Maya Bay, on Koh Phi Phi, tops most lists. Wrongly so, in our opinion, as Batok Bay, on Koh Racha Yai, 35 minutes’ boat ride from Phuket, is just as eye catching – and it has one big advantage. It’s on the doorstep of one of Thailand’s finest island stays, an eco-chic oasis with rows of whitewashed villas and tropical gardens leading to the waterline. The Racha enjoys all the benefits of an island hotel – laid-back vibe, delicious isolation, terrific spa – but there are virtually no bugs, and once inside the rooms you could be in a city boutique, all minimalist lines and luxury mod cons.
Insider tip: Racha Yai has some of the region’s best diving so speak to the hotel’s dive centre to get involved.
The island where you can escape the city
Manitoulin Island, Toronto, Canada
The largest freshwater island in the world, this Swallows and Amazons-type escape in Lake Huron is a world apart from the nearby high-rise hotels and fast-food chains of Toronto. The magic comes in calm bays, clear inlets, forest paths, maple hills and local First Nation culture, with a side of wide-open spaces and tantalising sunsets.
Insider tip: Manitoulin is best enjoyed on the go: hiking along the Cup and Saucer Trail, swimming in the moonshine-clear waters or learning the art of drum-making with local elders.
The island with the exclusive eco-luxe footprint
Bawah Island, Indonesia
Barefoot luxury may be slightly old hat, but the formula is receiving a welcome update at Bawah Island on the irresistibly beautiful Anambas Islands, a tiny archipelago between Malaysia and Indonesian Borneo. Here, amid six islands, three lagoons and 13 beaches, you’ll find a collection of 35 suites that are as off-grid as they come and big on their green credentials too – but without compromising on luxury. So expect ocean-friendly sun cream, eco-friendly laundry detergent, no plastic bottles, electric buggies and solar-powered boats.
Insider tip: Hidden within the Treetops restaurant is The Lookout, a detached affair festooned with lanterns for dinner à deux.
The island where you can go on safari
Sir Bani Yas, Abu Dhabi
Tracking Arabian oryx, reticulated giraffe, ostrich and gazelle through the savannah is all in a day’s play on the largest natural island in the UAE, Sir Bani Yas, where there are 10,000 free-roaming animals. And you thought you could only do that in Africa.
Insider tip: Of the three Anantara resorts on the island, safari camp Al Sahel, with canvas awnings and Maasai Mara-style game viewing, delivers the most finely tuned Out of Africa experience.
The island where you can dine and dance
Everybody knows that there is no better place on the planet to party than Ibiza, but in recent years the Balearic island has also become a serious foodie hotspot. Everybody talks about the abundance of high-end sushi joints, but we’d urge you to opt for pizza instead. It’s not any old pizza, mind. Delivered in a buzzy space with a million-dollar view over Ibiza Town’s marina, the pizza at IT comes courtesy of two-Michelin star chef Gennaro Esposito. Indeed, his menu – think of it as Southern Italian fine-dining, with dishes such as veal tartare and grilled octopus – is a perfect way to kick off an epic night out.
Insider tip: Make like a local and dine fashionably late – 11pm or so – when the restaurant is rocking. Then head across the road to Heart for the beats.
The island where you can play Peter Pan
Eilean Shona, Scotland
Britain’s most romantic private island is a rare find. This tidal speck off the north-west coast of Scotland is run by Sir Richard Branson’s sister Vanessa, who bought the 1,200ha escape in 1995. Since then, the seven Hebridean croft cottages and 11-bed main house has welcomed Sir Richard, as well as Kate Winslet (who spent her 40th birthday here), plus a daily roster of dolphins, seals and minke whales. The backstory is fascinating too. Author JM Barrie holidayed here in the 1920s while writing Peter Pan and was inspired by the pine forests and inky-black Loch Moidart in his imagining of Neverland.
Insider tip: There’s no Wi-Fi or phone signal at Eilean Shona, so take a good book for those predictably unpredictable Scottish summer days.
The island where you can step back in time
Zanzibar is one of East Africa’s jewels – and not just for its ivory-white sands. In Stone Town, the old part of Zanzibar City, you’ll find a maze of shopfronts, mosques and bazaars, more like a fantasy version of Arabia than Africa. The island was once controlled by Oman and the spice trade flourished here in the 19th-century, a history that can still be sensed in the busy markets, vendors touting pistachios, saffron and cardamom. Then there are the stunning villas, like Kilindi. Built for ABBA’s Benny Andersson, it’s now been converted into a stunning boutique pad with muslin-covered daybeds and private pools.
Insider tip: SkySafari by Elewana will take you from Zanzibar to Serengeti tented camps in an executive private aircraft.
The island with the reptile explorers
Fregate Island, Seychelles
As you swoop down to land on Fregate Island Private (AKA the Galapagos of the Seychelles), your pilot may have to buzz the airstrip to encourage a 400kg goliath to shift out the way. From a few hundred Giant Aldabra Tortoises a few years ago, the Jurassic Park outpost is now home to more than 3,000, making it one of the largest colonies in the world. There’s a tortoise nursery, too, plus a nesting beach for endangered turtles.
Insider tip: The five-star bolthole becomes a million-star retreat at twilight – zero light pollution makes nightly stargazing tours out of this world.
The island with 70 years of A-list glamour
You’ll have seen pictures of Capri before. Curves of deep coves, lounger-sprinkled seafronts decorated in shades of green and blue, superyachts lined up in the harbour. Recently it’s been Taylor Swift and Cara Delevingne’s turn to order lattes with extra milk, but in the past Jackie Onassis, Audrey Hepburn, Bridget Bardot, Sophia Loren and Grace Kelly have all summered here. The ancient Romans were fans too. To join this heady company, buzz to the quintessential Fontelina Beach Club, which opened in 1949 and was an immediate hit. Only accessible by boat, it’s still a playground for footballers and A-listers, who moor speedboats and yachts nearby.
Insider tip: Capri is no secret, which is why it heaves in summer (the mayor is considering crowd control measures this year). Visit out of season to see it through the eyes of a local, October is best.