BP 396, Luganville, Vanuatu
$458; a sustainable resort
The story of how Ratua, a magical and unspoiled island in the Vanuatu archipelago, became an exclusive retreat started with the vision of a Frenchman. Granted permission by village elders to care for it, the billionaire and philanthropist promised to preserve the island (just a short flight from Sydney, Australia) without compromising the delicate environment or infringing upon the ways of tribal communities.
He took his promise a step further by deciding to share the island paradise with others while contributing 100 per cent of profits to help surrounding communities - water catchments for local schools, hospital construction and cultural projects are some of the key projects the Ratua Foundation has invested in. Guests at Ratua get around on horse, foot or electric buggy, stay in unfussy but wonderfully decorated villas and practise the art of doing nothing at all. Ratua is a kind of Robinson Crusoe retreat, if Crusoe had a penchant for four-poster beds and silk cushions, gourmet meals and a well-stocked bar.
Once a coconut plantation, the resort is set on 59 lush and wild hectares (no manicured gardens here) where guests and staff alike walk barefoot. This is the kind of self-sustained paradise with solar and 100-per-cent renewable energy, where no plastics are allowed and where fresh organics are always served.
Standing guard at the head of lush walkways is a different intricately carved wooden animal that gives each of the 15 simple yet charming traditional Indonesian villas its name (crocodile, monkey, tiger). Forget AC or TV; villas are cooled by sea breezes and ceiling fans. Each is set on carefully chosen spots to provide stunning views from a private deck or beach. The island's owner and designers have thought of everything, including wooden water buckets with a ladle for rinsing sandy feet before stepping up to the covered verandas. Socializing takes place on a beach in the yacht club, where guests lounge on comfy chaises and quench their thirst at the rustic but inviting bar.
Guests are greeted by a service team upon arrival at the Espiritu Santo airport for the 30-minute motorboat journey to Ratua. Three gourmet meals, non-alcoholic drinks and activities - such as canoeing, snorkelling, windsurfing and mountain biking - are included. The island can be explored by chauffeured electric buggy, horse-pulled carriage or horseback, bike, boat and foot. Contact to the outside world (if you must have it) is provided on computers and Wi-Fi in the game and media room and a cellular network that covers the entire island. The latest addition to the resort is a spa where Balinese-inspired treatments take place in bungalows built over the water.
Fifteen traditional villas were made of 200-year-old teakwood and shipped from Indonesia, then meticulously reconstructed in Ratua and outfitted with hand-picked eclectic furnishings - such as four-poster Balinese beds, cowhide-covered poufs and rugs, Thai silk curtains, wicker settees and more. Bathrooms feature dual sinks, showers and locally made organic bath products. Pathways lead to lounge chairs perched on rocky stretches on the water, or to private beaches.
The resort's staff, the majority of whom comes from local villages, is genuinely warm and cheerful, if extremely shy. For travellers accustomed to hearing lots of "Yes, sirs" and "My pleasure, ma'am," the staff's subtle form of communicating may take a little getting used to. A request for additional beach towels, for example, was met with a simple smile and raise of the eyebrows. A little while later, the fluffy towels were delivered. Shyness aside, the staff go to great measures to fulfill any request, be it a private horseback ride across shallow waters or a gourmet picnic in a nearby deserted beach. This is the kind of resort where you can pop in to the kitchen for a snack and receive cooking tips from the chef.
Be prepared to eat lots of just-caught fish by local anglers. Ratua also has its own ranch (horses, pigs, cows, chickens and goats roam freely) and garden from which the kitchen staff sources organic eggs, fruits and vegetables. Got something special in mind? The head chef supplements the pantry with daily trips to Espiritu Santo's markets for exotic ingredients such as water taro, and will prepare most anything upon request. Ratua may be in the middle of nowhere, but guests can still pair their lobster and pickled salad with fine Australian and New Zealand wines. The impressive wine cave also houses exclusive French wines and champagne from the owner's vineyard.
For those who can afford it, Ratua offers the ultimate, eco-friendly escape from the modern world.
Special to The Globe and Mail