When it comes to luxury retreats and private islands one doesn’t normally conjure up thoughts of sleeping in hundred-year-old Indonesian fishing shacks. In fact, I think I can safely say that when you picture the word luxury you don’t imagine spending time in a tent either, even if it is a very glamorous one. Despite what you think you know about high-end holidays this place is changing things up. It’s quirky, unique and boho-stylish with a conscience. This winning combo is what made my time at the beautiful eco-retreat known as Ratua Private Island so very unforgettable. I had been researching options for accommodation on Vanuatu’s largest island, Espiritu Santo when an image of a brightly coloured Asian-style fishing boat caught my eye. The contrast of its red sail against the brilliant aqua water of a protected bay was hard to ignore and as I started looking into things further I became more and more intrigued. Located about 30 minutes by private boat from the mainland, Ratua Private Island feels like an unknown world in the middle of the ocean. Calm, clear waters envelop it and other perfect tropical islands can be seen in the distance around it but Ratua Private Island is about as far away from a cookie-cutter island resort as you can get.

 

After being whisked straight out through the ocean on our beautiful but tiny hardwood boat we pulled up at a little wooden jetty. We are warmly welcomed by the distant sound of island drumming and people come from everywhere to lay eyes on the newcomers. Instantly we feel relaxed as we are offered drinks and welcomed to join in the beach BBQ lunch while or luggage is taken to the Fish Village, for us to unpack when we feel like it. Crisp, colourful salads, fresh perfectly-cooked fish, famous Santo beef, French breads & even an impressive array of handmade deserts are on offer as we tuck in & enjoy our new surroundings. The food is mostly grown on the island and majority of it is organic. Judging from our first meal I think I may be going home a whole lot heavier, as we have decided to pre-pay for our meals so that the only thing we have to think about is whether to swim, go for a massage or both!

 

The fish village is the closest group of huts to the yacht club and is a good place to stay if you have young children or are staying in a group. The rooms are a series of traditional Indonesian fishing huts, joined by a verandah. There is a romantic looking parents room at one end, complete with a four-poster bed and mosquito net. In the middle is a bathroom hut with a double sink, dressing room, toilet & shower, containing organic Ratua cosmetics, and at the far end is another bedroom with 2 single beds. There are 3 of these family-style huts in the fish village and they all open onto a common grassed area and communal over-water living room, perfect for groups to enjoy. Afternoons were spent here fishing, watching the giant turtles come in for a look around and relaxing with a book and glass of wine while the kids swam. If you are looking for more privacy the huts at the other side of the yacht club called things like ‘Tiger’ and ‘Buffalo’ are ideal and each feature their own private beach area. Further around the island are the very romantic and plush safari tents, which certainly do put the glam into glamping and are a gorgeous option for couples looking for a bit of peace and quiet.

 

I really enjoyed looking at all the one-of-a-kind artifacts that decorate the rooms and communal areas. These were collected by the resort owner on his many adventures around the world and in actual fact that is how Ratua Private Island came to be. Years ago the owner found himself spending time in a tiny fishing village in remote Indonesia and getting to know the locals who called this place home. They were keen to upgrade their wooden fishing huts into modern concrete ones that were better suited to the weather and a lot less maintenance. He couldn’t understand why they would want to part with such rustic but beautifully made pieces of island architecture. The craftsmanship and character that these original huts possessed gave him an idea and he agreed to build the village the concrete shelters they wanted in return for him taking ownership of the old wooden ones. Eventually an island off the coast of Santo was purchased and the vision that is now Ratua Private Island finally kicked off. Each piece of the original huts had to be painstakingly re-constructed using the traditional methods in which they were originally built, it goes without saying that this was a very lengthy process but certainly a labor of love. These days the majority of profits from the resort go to helping the local kids get an education through different programs run through the Ratua Foundation. Each year they hand out school supplies, backpacks, books and help the local schools upgrade their classrooms, resources and facilities.

 

The yacht club is the relaxed central hub of Ratua and is where most meals are served. It is right on the beach and has a beautiful lounge area, indoor and outdoor dining tables and a very cute little bar. Most travellers found there way up here each evening for a delicious cocktail and some island-style canapés while they watched the sunset over the bay. The food on Ratua Private Island is absolutely delicious and the variety and quality is very different from the regular ‘meal-plan’ holiday that most people have experienced. Dinner every night is a 3-course extravaganza and all served in a relaxed fine dining kind of way. Every Saturday is island night and guests and staff mingle and enjoy signature cocktails, island music, dancing and a traditional kava tasting ceremony.

 

Ratua is an island where you can do as much or as little as you wish but in my family we find it difficult to switch off, lie around and relax for too long. The first morning we decided to take the pushbikes and explore the rest of this tropical paradise complete with a coconut grove, airstrip, market gardens and countless beaches and caves to discover. A highlight of our time on Ratua Private Island was swimming with the resident horses. My daughter and I have very little riding experience between us but decided that there are not many places you can swim in a perfect turquoise lagoon bareback on a horse and that our trip just wouldn’t be complete unless we gave it a go. Despite the nerves and lack of bridle, saddle, helmet and the fact we had to ride through the coconut grove complete with falling coconuts, we loved it! It was such an amazing experience that we orgainsed to do it again the next afternoon and it was just as magical.

 

Another activity that got my nerves going was twilight crab hunting in the mangroves with Claude. I was really not that excited about this husband-driven little adventure and became less enthused as the rain came down and the sun disappeared for the night. This island used to be home to a huge colony of the world famous coconut crabs, capable of taking off an arm or maybe even a leg or eating a small child, I’m not really sure, but the thought of being barefoot in the dark with these guys was not really on my list of must-do experiences. Luckily for me there was not a coconut crab to be found but plenty of little sand crabs that we learnt how to catch, hold safely and bag up to take back to the kitchen for a delicious island take on Singapore chili crab. It ended up being a great and unexpected experience and I must admit I was glad that I had agreed to tag along. The team at Ratua can also organise diving trips and fishing charters for anyone who may be interested.

 

More up my ally was a trip to the Sunny spa, the most beautiful over-water building I have ever seen and the best bath I have had in my entire life! I enjoyed a facial, my son a massage and my daughter a pedicure. To top it off we made good use of a traditionally carved wooden bath that looked out over the crystal clear water and onto the surrounding islands. I am normally not much of a bath lover but this was really beautiful, memorable and felt very decadent.

 

As predicted I ate and drank my way through Ratua Private Island and yes, I came back a fair bit heavier than when we set foot on that quaint little jetty several days before. But with produce so fresh, chefs so clever, cocktails so delicious and a perfect paradise to overlook, who could really blame me?!

 

Now it’s true that this place is really not going to be everybody’s cup of tea. If you need air conditioning and are not keen on the odd little insect you may be disappointed. If you are looking for clean, crisp white walls and vast lobbies, several pools and restaurants galore you might want to consider another option. It is quirky, different and very unique and my family and I loved it.

 

As if it wasn’t going to be hard enough to leave already the heavens opened on the morning of our boat ride back to the main land. Suited up in bright yellow raincoats and with sad looks etched on our faces, we turned to wave goodbye to this slice of island luxe. The Ratua manager, Bong and his staff came to sing us off with their ukuleles, guitars and beautiful island harmonies, making it even more impossible for us to leave.

Check out Ratua Private Island here.

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