Private Island Ownership Is Intensifying

Covid-19 has caused a rethink about the realities of a private, protective bubble like no other.

By Lucy Alexander 30/11/2020

Escaping to your own private island is perhaps the ultimate default fantasy. The dream of a Neverland where quotidian rules dissolve in the tropical sun has long held universal appeal, even before the Covid-19 pandemic instilled a fear of human proximity. It’s an almost primal yearning, one that has infiltrated high culture and low, from Shakespeare’s The Tempest to reality TV’s Temptation Island.

Until recently, the possession of one’s very own sea-fringed pseudo-kingdom remained, for most of us, a pipe dream. But now that isolation has taken on the urgency of a government mandate, and the bonds that tie us to physical workplaces are disintegrating, more and more people are considering whether owning an idyllic rock somewhere is less fantastical and more fundamental. The word “isolation,” after all, comes from the Latin insula, which means island.

Two years ago, when Edward de Mallet Morgan, a broker for Knight Frank’s super-prime international residential division, first sent out details for Little Pipe Cay, an approx. $115 million private island in the Bahamas, the response was lukewarm. “They couldn’t justify the management costs for the amount of time they would use it,” he says of potential buyers pre-pandemic. “Now that we can all work from home, the genie is out of the bottle. All of a sudden, a private island seems justifiable.” Inquiries have increased at least five-fold since January.

Blue Island

The palm-filled beach of Blue Island. Blue Island

The market is even hotter in the world’s farthest-flung archipelagoes, for those really looking to disappear into the blue yonder. Jacques Menahem, founder of French Polynesia Sotheby’s International Realty, normally gets two e-mails a week about private islands. Since March, that number has jumped to as many as 10 a day. “They are all looking for a remote area where they can control their environment and no one is going to tell them to put on a mask,” he says.

Even in colder climes, no-frills islands priced as low as approx $140,000 are selling particularly well, says Farhad Vladi, a specialist island broker based in Germany, citing Canada, Norway and Sweden (home to 267,570 islands) as hot spots.

“Nobody needs an island,” says one owner, who is selling his Bahamian retreat, Blue Island, for approx. $100 million through Sotheby’s and spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It is fundamentally an idea: that of the Englishman in his castle.”


Inchconnachan, a thickly wooded 40-hectare island in the middle of Loch Lomond, on the southern edge of the Scottish Highlands Inchconnachan

That concept is extremely deep-rooted in our history and culture. In England, island status was once specifically linked to exceptionalism and independence, recently exhumed in the form of Brexit but best expressed by Shakespeare in Richard II:

This fortress built by nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

The English have always had a high opinion of themselves, but that said, a moat defensive is exactly what the affluent private individual seeks today, though the thwarted invaders are most likely presumed to take the form of irritating neighbours, intrusive paparazzi or, yes, deadly viruses. A natural fortress was also what monks sought some 1400 years ago, when they built austere cells on Celtic islands. Utopia, the perfect republic envisaged by Sir Thomas More in 1516, exists on an imaginary isle.

Little Pipe Cay

The pool at the main house on Little Pipe Cay, which sits in the relatively protected shallow waters of the Exuma archipelago. Knight Frank

But such solitude is not always blissful. D. H. Lawrence’s 1927 short story “The Man Who Loved Islands” describes a private-island owner-driven mad by isolation and eventually destroyed by the elements. Menahem advises his clients that islands involve “a lot of loneliness. It’s like living on a boat alone in the sea, only the boat does not move.”

This extreme seclusion is exactly what appeals to modern-day shut-ins. “I own an island in New Zealand, and my neighbour is a hermit,” says Vladi. “He has not allowed anyone except me on his island for 40 years, and we only talk once a year. He is very happy.”

Islands also fascinate the survivalist, the prepper, the homesteader, the libertarian, those who, for reasons of ideology or wealth, bristle against state regulation. In 2008, Patri Friedman, a software engineer at Google, set up the Seasteading Institute, which aims to create autonomous communities on artificial floating islands as an experiment in new forms of governance. None has so far worked out (in one notable case last year, a Bitcoin trader fled his floating home off the coast of Phuket after being charged by the Thai government with a national-security offence that carries a possible death sentence). But the appeal of islands as utopian refuges has intensified.

Blue Island

Blue Island in the Bahamas is the only private Caribbean island to have a jet-length airstrip. Blue Island

“The risk of something like the current pandemic happening again is potentially quite high,” says Blue Island’s owner. “And when it hits, you need a staff house, a guesthouse and a main house all ready. You need to not have to go somewhere else to buy food or diesel.” The other motivator, he believes, is civil unrest. “I understand and support the Black Lives Matter campaign, but it makes a lot of people nervous when they see riots. More people are buying gold. My neighbour keeps six months of canned food and water in his basement.

Island buyers tend to be “individualistic, with above-average intelligence and very nature-minded,” says Vladi. “These people want to have control. They like the feeling of being self-sufficient and having no neighbours.”

A typical example is a recent buyer in French Polynesia: “I just sold an island for half a million to an American from Lake Tahoe,” says Menahem. “It’s virgin land, very remote, no airstrip, a real expedition to go there. All he has are coconut trees and plenty of mosquitoes.”

Motu Moie

Motu Moie, an 8-hectare island in French Polynesia, for sale via Sotheby’s International Realty for approx. $8.8 million. Sotheby’s International Realty

Islands appeal to those who have been successful in business, says Steve Donovan, the broker for Blue Island. “By definition, a person who has the ability to buy a private island has overcome many challenges and seized opportunities in life,” he says. “They like to conquer.”

They also like to know the risks. The number-one question from potential buyers, according to Donovan, who says he has recently seen a doubling of interest in the 283-hectare property, is whether their investment could be wiped out by a hurricane. That particular threat is somewhat dependent on location. The Abaco Islands, on the Atlantic rim of the Bahamas, suffered extensive hurricane damage last year. Little Pipe Cay and Blue Island are nestled in the Exumas, a comparatively sheltered chain, which is also home to Johnny Depp’s Little Hall’s Pond Cay.

“Luckily, the Exumas don’t usually get the full brunt, as they’re on the inner ring and the water is very shallow, so storm surge is not a great risk,” says Morgan. “But you do have to think about nature. How will the salt and sea affect the landscape and infrastructure, the wiring, the roof tiles?”

Blue Island

A pier and cabana jutting out from Blue Island. Blue Island

Every buyer should assume that all costs, from construction to repairs and supplies, will be 25 to 30 per cent higher than on the mainland, says Vladi. In addition to the standard amenities of a vacation home, you might need to take into account desalination, sewage and electricity. Will you require a landing pad? A seaplane? How many boats? Insurance considerations include flooding, hurricane damage and expropriation, in case the local government happens to requisition your land for public use.

“You have to think, not dream,” says Menahem. “You need to have a large maintenance budget and a handyman on-site, or it will cost you a lot of money to fly someone in every time something breaks down. You need to buy two of everything so you have backups, and you have to have space to store it all.”

According to the owner of Blue Island, who has bought and sold five Bahamian isles (his family also has a stake in a Scottish one), an indispensable investment is an experienced island manager to oversee the building and maintenance of “houses and power plants and harbours and landscaping.” His largest single expense on Blue Island was installing a 1730-metre asphalt runway—the only jet airstrip on a private island in the Caribbean. “We had 40 men working on the runway, and had to build accommodation for all of them.”

Little Pipe Cay

The dining view from Little Pipe Cay. Knight Frank

Annual running costs at Little Pipe Cay, the former home of Michael Dingman, a billionaire industrialist, are approx. $2 million for five houses and a large staff village. “It’s not cheap, but it’s probably cheaper than owning a superyacht,” says Morgan. “You can come in with a toothbrush and tap straight into a functioning machine.” Watching the behind-the-scenes operation is “like being on deck in a battleship,” he adds.

In order to recoup a little of their expenditures, many owners sacrifice some of their cherished privacy and rent out their islands. In the Exumas, Over Yonder Cay can be leased for 12 people at approx. $60,000 a night from its owner, the beret-wearing Texas financier Ed Bosarge. Sir Richard Branson charges approx. $140,000 a night for Necker Island (sleeps 40), which he bought in 1979 for around $160,000 in today’s money. Should Little Pipe Cay’s future ruler wish to make some cash on the side, he or she could charge $67,000 to $108,000 a night, Morgan estimates.

As for return on investment, it’s probably wise to measure yields in terms of lifestyle rewards. A private island is definitely not a liquid asset. “My view on the Bahamas is you can usually sell an island one year in 10,” says Mr Blue Island.

Motu Moie

A bungalow on Motu Moie. Sotheby’s International Realty

According to Morgan, those who are in the market for top, turnkey plots tend to view them as components in a portfolio that might include rare wine, diamonds and art. “Most of these luxury assets have been performing very well and giving great returns,” he says. Biased though he may be, he ranks Little Pipe Cay as a “best-in-class asset,” equivalent to “the dozen houses in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat that could ask over $140 million, a penthouse in Monaco, maybe a house in Venice with listed frescoes on the ceiling.”

For those on a tighter budget—or for whom contemplating such details as composting toilets is a less than joyful prospect—a private island might seem like an encumbrance. This is the view of David Forbes, chairman of Savills Private Office, the department of the global real-estate brokerage that deals with ultra-high-net-worth clients. “In 40 years of selling at the very top end of the market, I have shown many private islands but never sold one,” he says. “They are a total money pit. Rent one for a month? Fine. Own it? No, thank you.”

During a trip to Mustique in February, Forbes was contacted by a client who asked to view a nearby island. “I showed him round it, and we were eaten alive by mosquitoes,” Forbes recounts. “He decided he didn’t really want to have to put in roads and negotiate with the St. Vincent government about electricity and water and sewage treatment. What seemed like cheap real estate began to seem like an expensive long-term proposition.”


The shores of Inchconnachan in autumn. Inchconnachan

Some people do not need to cross oceans to find their moated sanctuaries. In July, Emily Baker and her husband bought a five-acre island at the mouth of the Anclote River in Florida for around $670,000, after seeing it listed on the online broker Private Islands Inc. The couple, who run a digital marketing company in the nearby town of Treasure Island, had long had “a passion to one day own an island of our own,” says Baker. “We’ve always been kind of reclusive, and we wanted to be remote, not have other people walking around. We wanted something raw that we could make our own.”

After searching and saving for a decade, they found Sunset Key. “The moment we pulled our boat ashore on the beach, we felt like Tom Sawyer,” she says. “The island was quiet and still, just basic forest. Like there could be anything there, and nothing there. It was untouched.”

The couple expect to spend about $1.4 million over two years installing a dock and utilities and building a home for themselves; eventually, they hope to add guesthouses for family. “We’re looking into mother-in-law suites,” Baker says. She anticipates high insurance and maintenance costs, “because you can’t just run to Home Depot.” Eventually, they would like to operate a small business from the island, such as a farmers’ market or even a “drive-up” bar for boats.

Hudson River island

A view from the forested Hudson River island. Houlihan Lawrence

If a little isolation goes a long way, real estate may be had at commuting distance from major cities. George and Amal Clooney’s flood-prone private island in the river Thames lies on the outskirts of Reading, a commuter town 65-kilometres west of London. In the Hudson River, a 100-minute train ride north from Grand Central, an islet complete with house and footbridge is for sale for $2.7 million. The sellers have lived there for 50 years, cultivating thickly planted grounds, where eagles perch in the trees and which shield the four-bedroom house from the mainland and nearby train tracks, while huge windows overlook the river. According to Melissa Carlton, of brokerage Houlihan Lawrence, a new owner’s duties would include keeping “the geese and beavers from coming ashore.”

A little more work is required at Inchconnachan, a 41-hectare oak-covered island in Loch Lomond, 48-kilometres north of Glasgow, in Scotland. Owned by the Earls of Arran since the 14th century and uninhabited for 20 years, it was put up for sale in July for about $880,000, with a view to enticing competitive bids. “A lot of people had been boxed in under lockdown and were desperate for space and countryside,” says Cameron Ewer, head of residential Scottish sales for Savills. “But the response surprised us all. We were inundated with calls from some very far-flung places.”

The listing describes the 1920s bungalow as “derelict” but says planning consent has been granted for a replacement lodge, boathouse and pier. The next owner will also need to install new drainage, water and power systems and, Ewer presumes, is likely to use it as a holiday home. “Anybody sensible will rent it out,” he says. “Not many people would live full-time in the middle of Loch Lomond. It’s a bit painful to have to get in a boat every time you run out of milk.”

Little Pipe Cay

Little Pipe Cay is surrounded by warm, shallow seas. Knight Frank

Yet for many, this requirement for self-sufficiency is exactly what appeals. The isolation and autonomy are the point, not the sacrifice. Whether palm-fringed atoll or chilly northern rock, the lure of the private island is the same: You are king.


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The 10 Best Omakase in Sydney

Sydney’s best Japanese chef’s-table dining experiences.

By Belinda Aucott-christie 06/06/2024

In Japan, where food is a cultural art form, omakase stands for traditional Japanese foods made with seasonal ingredients. A good omakase meal, prepared with purity and mindfulness, can make an unforgettable imprint on the culinary memory. Yet in a land defined by seasonal traditions, omakase is a relatively new concept.

Omakase originated in Japan in the 1970s as affluent Japanese began to dine more regularly at first-rate sushi counters. Bowing to the expertise of the sushi master, omakase loosely translates to “I’ll leave it to you.” In a setting where money is no object, letting the chef decide was designed as a chic way to take the awkwardness out of ordering.

In Australia where there’s an abundance of fresh seafood, omakase menus have experienced a recent rise in popularity. Today omakase is any series of small dishes served directly by the chef to the diner. Each part of the meal is presented on beautiful ceramics and lacquer wear, with a great —and somewhat— intimidating reverence for elegant details. It’s a chance to see a chef’s knife skills up close and get a feel for their cooking style.

Omakase menus are based on whatever is freshest at the market and can be influenced by the chef’s mood, expertise, and response to the guest. They can be slowly paced like a ceremony—hushed and reverential—but they can also be rowdy, humorous, and personal.
Here we give you 10 of the best to try in Sydney.

Yoshi’s Omakase at Nobu Crown Sydney

Crown Sydney, Level 2/1 Barangaroo Ave, Barangaroo. Open: 12–3 pm, 5:30–9:30 pm Phone: 02 8871 7188 Reservations: F&; $380 per head (including matched wine and sake).

Sushi Oe

16/450 Miller St, Cammeray; Tue – Sat. SMS only 0451 9709 84 E: Phone: 0426 233 984 $230 per head.

Kisuke with Yusuke Morita

50 Llankelly Place, Potts Point; Tuesday – Saturday: 17:30 – 10.45 (closed Sunday/ Monday) $185-200 per head


102/21 Alberta St, Sydney. Lunch, Friday to Saturday 12 -2:00 pm Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday 5:45 pm – 8:1 5pm (closed Sunday & Mondays) P: 0408 866 285                                     E:; $150 – $210


Shop 04 2/58 Little Hay St, Sydney, Lunch: Fri-Sun 12:30 pm. Dinner  Tue-Sun 5:15 pm or 7:45 pm sittings.  Reservation via SMS at 0488 688 252; $220 per head @kuon.omakase


The Darling, Level G, 80 Pyrmont St, Pyrmont. Open dinner Monday to Thursday from 5:45 pm P: 1800 700 700 $300 per head


368 Kent St, Sydney; Open Tue – Wed – Thur: 6 pm Fri & Sat: 5:30 pm P: 02 9262 1580, $220 per head.;

Choji Omakase

Level 2, 228 Victoria Ave, Chatswood —upstairs from Choji Yakiniku. Every Monday to Wednesday at 6.30 pm. One seating per day only. $295 per head.

Gold Class Daruma

The Grace Hotel, Level 1/77 York St, Sydney; 12–2:30 pm, 5:30–9.00 pm Phone: (02) 9262 1190 M: 0424 553 611·$120 – $150 per head


Besuto Omakase, Sydney Place precinct, 3 Underwood Street, Circular Quay. Omakase is available to book for dinner – Tuesday to Saturday. 5:30 pm & 8pm sittings. From $250.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is no soy and wasabi offered during my omakase meal?
Even though sushi and sashimi are being served, the chef is serving each piece of sushi so quickly and directly that the chef is applying the wasabi and soy to the sushi themselves. Watch as they brush the top of the fish with soy and dab a tiny amount of wasabi on the rice, under the fish. You should not need to add extra, and in fact, it can be insulting to the chef to add more. Bathing the bottom of the rice of your sushi in soy sauce is considered bad manners, as it is seen as detracting from the flavour of the fish.

Nobu, Sydney

Can an omakase experience accommodate my dietary needs?
Although there is often little variation once the chef has set the daily menu, some customisation is possible. Advise the restaurant when you book and remind them of allergies or aversions again as you sit down. They will let you know when you book if your allergy is possible for the chef. Japanese menus feature a lot of seafood and dashi so accommodating a no seafood request can be genuinely tricky.

What are the golden rules for chopstick etiquette?
Use your chopstick holder in between eating, rather than putting chopsticks on your plate. Don’t use your chopsticks to gesticulate or point; if offering food to someone to try, never pass food directly from your chopsticks to theirs. Rather place the food onto a small plate and let them pick it up.
Never touch communal or shared food with your chopsticks. The longer, slightly larger chopsticks are like sharing cutlery, never put these in your mouth.

Without a menu, how can I know what I am eating during omakase?
Omakase is often a no-menu situation, and you are expected to try new things. Attending an omakase experience with an open, trusting mind yields the best results.
There are Wagyu and tempura omakase that reflect the chef’s personal predilections and training, but in a standard luxury omakase, the format will include a lot of freshly caught seafood and will usually kick off with a delicate appetiser. This will be followed by a sashimi and sushi course, a savoury egg custard (chawanmushi) with meat and seafood, a cooked or blow-torched market fish, a soup course, and dessert.

Can I talk to the chef during omakase? What is the protocol?
Guests at an omakase experience are welcome to ask questions of the chef; in fact, interacting with the chef is part of the experience. It is considered polite to ask questions or inquire about the food so they can explain.

What is best to pair with omakase  in terms of drinks?
In general, wine and sake are a perfect match for omakase. Aged fish and vinegar have strong umami flavours so depending on which course you enjoy, different wine and sake will pair well. Dry chilled sake is a great choice. Amazing sakes are imported into Australia, so trust the restaurant to advise you and take you on a sake journey at the same time.  If you don’t like sake, drinking chardonnay, a crisp young riesling, or even a dry complex Riesling is also totally acceptable. All three styles help bring out the flavour of the fish. Champagne can also be good. Try a blanc de blancs— 100% chardonnay —for a great way to start the meal. As you progress, remember that sake is good for dishes with a strong taste, such as uni and eel.

Nobu, Sydney

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The Sonos Ace Headphones Are Music to the Ears

The audio giant has (finally) revealed its foray in the personal listening category.

By Josh Bozin 20/06/2024

In the ever competitive market for premium headphones, few brands have captured the hearts (and ears) of audiophiles, professionals and enthusiasts alike. Bowers & Wilkins, Bose, Sony, and even Apple come to mind when debating great audio brands in 2024. Then there’s Sonos.

For over 20 years, the American audio manufacturer has been lauded for its high-end capabilities, particularly in a home setting; Sonos changed the game for the integration of home entertainment. But it had yet to venture into the realm of headphones.

Until now. Earlier this month, the company marked its long-awaited entry into the personal-listening category, with the launch of its highly anticipated Sonos Ace over-ear headphones.

“Fans have asked us for years to bring the Sonos experience to headphones,”says Patrick Spence, CEO of Sonos, “and we knew our first foray into the category needed to champion the type of innovation and sound experience Sonos has become synonymous with.”


On paper, the Sonos Ace is an enticing proposition: a premium over-ear headphone featuring lossless and spatial audio, intuitive Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), and Aware Mode. Most appealing, however, might be its new immersive home theatre offering; the Sonos Ace can pair to compatible Sonos soundbars with just a tap of a button. The new TrueCinema technology, which arrives later this year, will precisely map your entertainment space and then render a complete surround sound system for an unparalleled listening experience.


Retailing at $699, they aren’t exactly cheap, and there more affordable headphones that compete with Sonos in terms of audio output and high-fidelity sound. But where Sonos thrives is in the details. Available in  stealthy black and pure white, the Sonos Ace are sleek and stylish right out of the box. Sure, there is some resemblance to the Apple Air Max Pro—arguably its greatest rival in the over-ear headphone segment—but Sonos has also added its own design touches, and it’s clear the Ace was made to look and feel as good as it sounds.

Its distinctive, slim profile elegantly blends metal accents with a sleek matte finish, and thanks to the use of lightweight, premium materials like memory foam and vegan leather, you get an airy fit that isn’t overbearing, even after extensive use. The design of the Sonos Ace is also intuitive; tactile buttons make controlling the headset a cinch, and pairing with Apple or Android devices is also straightforward. The dedicated Sonos App is also helpful for customising (somewhat) your listening experience, from altering EQ to turning on certain capabilities, like Head Tracking.


It does fall short on a couple of key fronts.  I was expecting more from the Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) for over-ear headphones of this price point; there’s no way the ANC as it stands will filter out the sounds of a plane engine, for example. I also found the Sonos Ace has an issue, albeit subtle, with the mid-bass, which can sound muddy and lack punch at times.

But these are small nits. The Sonos Ace only adds to the company’s impressive standing as an unimpeachable innovator in the audio industry.

For more information, visit Sonos.


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Wake Up To World Martini Day 19 June

Cocktail legend Dale de Groff talks Grey Goose, World Martini Day and getting wet.

By Belinda Aucott-christie 18/06/2024

Dale de Groff knows his way around a bar. Back when late nights and heavy drinking were a badge of honour, he presided over one of New York City’s most legendary venues, The Rainbow Room, and is credited with reviving the classic cocktail across Northern America.

To promote World Martini Day on June 19 he’s teamed up with vodka company Grey Goose, for which he has served as a brand ambassador since 1997, to make a winning case for the classic Martini everywhere. He is even lending a hand at the opening of Le Martini bar at Crown Melbourne. 

We asked de Groff about his time serving stars like Michale Douglas, Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood and, of course, how he likes his martini.

Dale for the uninitiated, please describe the Rainbow Room.

In the 1980s Rainbow Room was situated high atop 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York. Back then, it was just the pinnacle of glamour.

It has stunning views of the city from way up on the 65th floor. Being situated in the same building as NBC Entertainment, still pretty synonymous with late night TV,  it was and still is the home of Saturday Night Live. You can imagine the kinds of people we’d be getting in each week—from celebrities, musicians, even governors, you name it. 

Robb Report ANZ: What was one of your favourite memories from that time?

Dale de Groff: In ‘88 we held the 30th anniversary Grammys afterparty at the Rainbow Room which I’ll never forget. The event took place over multiple floors, but in the bar itself, the three tiers that go up from the dance floor were taken over by the who’s who of the time. I remember roping off a zone just for music legends like Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, and Madonna—who was no stranger to the bar during those times. Not bad for a Wednesday night.

RR: What role do cocktails play in making a good venue truly great?

DD: A venue’s popularity ultimately comes down to the bartender or team behind the bar. How they interact with people, size them up as they walk through the door, talk to them over that three feet of mahogany, I mean, it’s everything.

RR: What’s the trick to becoming a great bartender, one who can easily impress guests, friends and family?

DD: Knowledge behind the craft. Let’s face it, understanding how to create a really high degree of deliciousness is required, but getting deep into how beverages are made is a massive skill in drink making. The research and innovation behind it is just mind-blowing.

RR:What three cocktails should every sophisticate know how to make?

DD: Well, a martini obviously! I personally like mine 50/50—equal parts vodka and vermouth. I used to drink my martinis for the power, but now I prefer a wet martini. Then I think a classic spritz is a must—always effervescent, lower in alcohol, really it’s the preprandial libation. Then thirdly, it’s gotta be an Old Fashioned.

RR: How do you make a solid martini at home?

DD: If I’m making a classic martini at home, I’m adding Grey Goose, vermouth and bitters to a mixing glass with ice, stirring then straining into a chilled glass. Garnished with lemon twist of course.

Le Martini, the world’s first standalone Grey Goose bar, is now open and will welcome guests in time for World Martini Day on 19 June. You can follow:  @LeMartiniBar 

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Can Italy’s Lake Garda Finally Compete With Como—or Will It Become a Victim of Its Own Success?

Crowded, cacophonous Lake Como is overflowing, filling its nearby villages and lakes with new luxury hotels and savvy, in-the-know travellers.

By Jake Emen 17/06/2024

The sun is shining down and your wooden Riva Aquarama boat is slicing through the lake. The crowd is beautiful, well-tanned and they like their spritzes. Sound like Lake Como? Almost. You’re about 150 kilometres southeast on the larger, yet less frequented, Lake Garda.

As the popularity of Lake Como has grown thanks to non-stop celebrity endorsements filtered down via social media, an in-crowd is discovering that Garda offers the same glitzy perks of its neighbour with far fewer headaches.

“Giorgio Clooney is to Como what Tom Hanks is to Garda,” says Katie Parla, author of “Food of the Italian Islands” and a tour leader across Italy. “Sure, Como is beautiful and charming, but Garda is equally talented, and some would say, more versatile and well-rounded.”

Grand Hotel Fasano, which turned 135th anniversary, is welcoming a new crowd.
Grand Hotel Fasano,

Long the preferred destination for Italians and other continental families, the secret of Garda has now well and truly been leaked. Investment is pouring in at Ferrari speeds.

On the hotel front, historic, legendary properties such as Grand Hotel Fasano (from USD$470)—which celebrated its 135th anniversary in 2023— are joined by a flock of newcomers. There is the new family-owned spa hotel Cape of Senses, a Small Luxury Hotels of the World member (from USD$628). Conti Thun (from USD$225) debuted as an on-vineyard wine resort last year. And this spring, Borgo Tre (from USD$640) opened a small collection of luxury apartment suites in a converted 18th-century farmhouse. (If you haven’t noticed already, a stay here is still considerably cheaper than say, Lake Como’s Passalacqua at USD$2,660 a night).

The region’s established properties are doing their best to stay ahead of the new arrivals, too. The mountain-top wellness haven Lefay Resort & Spa (from USD$460) is famous for encouraging its guests to wear their plush robes across the grounds from morning to night, as the saunter from treatment to treatment. It’s just unveiled a new, elevated room category dubbed Sky Suites that will speak to Como expats. These top-floor units are 1,500 square feet and come with a terrace hot tub, a private in-suite sauna and, of course, unimpeded views of the lake, mountains, and valleys beyond.

Lefay Resort & Spa is drawing wellness activists to the region.
Lefay Resorts

But change like this always comes at a cost. Locals and long-time visitors worry that the region’s newfound popularity puts it in danger of losing its distinctive atmosfera. Ironically, even the new guard hotels are concerned.

“We don’t want that, we’re not a mass tourism product,” says Cape of Senses general manager Alina Deutsch of any attempt to clone Como at Garda. “What is luxury today? It’s what people are missing from their lives, and that’s space and time.”

“Locals, like me, really hope that our beautiful destination will remain as authentic as it is now, even if international tourism is booming and new luxury properties are going to continue opening in the next couple of years,” added Alice Lancini, Grand Hotel Fasano’s sales and marketing manager.

But the scene in Lake Garda’s is already shifting. Lancini says that in the last three to four years, U.S. travellers have made the lake hotel the brand’s second strongest market after Germany. “Lake Garda is becoming more popular in the States as it’s much cheaper than Como, less crowded—still, for now—and it’s a completely different experience than Lake Como.”

Parla adds that the 50 kilometre-long Lake Garda has a natural protection from “becoming a Disneyland” overnight: its massive size makes it feel more like a sea than a lake at times.

“Como the town, Bellagio, and all the fancy hotels are beyond overcrowded and have become the playground of influencers generating their FOMO-inducing content,” she says. “I don’t see a way to enjoy the lake if you stick to those two towns, which most do…Lake Garda is so much bigger.”

Its other protection? Garda isn’t a first stop for first timers. After all, would you tell someone to skip the Eiffel Tower on their first trip to Paris, or forgo the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco? Icons are icons and that includes Lake Como.

The new family-owned spa hotel Cape of Senses just opened on Lake Garda.
Cape of Senses

“Lake Como is for romance and honeymoons, and lounging around on a boat and never leaving the confines of a luxury hotel,” adds Parla, noting that other lakes and villages attract a more active, creative and adventurous crowd.

So will Garda ever become Como? Lancini thinks it’s likely, and that’s why you should get there sooner rather than later. “Lake Garda is going to boom as a destination in the next three to five years,” she says. “Now is the time to take advantage and come to this beautiful destination before it becomes too crowded.”

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Kyoto Has the Most Michelin Restaurants per Capita: Report

There are 100 Michelin-starred spots in the Japanese city, serving some 1.5 million people.

By Tori Latham 17/06/2024

The residents of Kyoto, Japan, are positively swimming among Michelin-starred restaurants.

The Japanese city is home to the highest density of eateries ranked by the French tire company, including five three-starred restaurants, according to a new report from website Chef’s Pencil. With 100 Michelin-ranked spots and a population of almost 1.5 million, Kyoto has one restaurant for every 14,637 people.

Coming in a close second is—unsurprisingly—Paris: The city’s 122 Michelin-starred restaurants serve 2.1 million residents, resulting in one spot for every 17,235 people. (Paris also has the second-highest absolute number of Michelin-starred restaurants, behind Tokyo.) Third place may come as a shock: Washington, D.C., has ranked highly, with 25 restaurants for 690,000 residents, or one for every 27,582 people.

Of course, there are some caveats for the Chef’s Pencil report. The website looked only at cities with 500,000 or more residents. And the restaurants had to be located within the city limits, rather than the larger metropolitan area. The Michelin Guide itself often includes eateries in a broader region, so this list may be slightly more abbreviated than the official selection.

To address some of that disparity, Chef’s Pencil has also released a ranking of Michelin density in midsize cities, those with 100,000 to 500,000 residents. At the top of that list is Nara, Japan, which has 23 starred restaurants for a population of just 367,000 (one restaurant for every 15,972 residents). That’s followed by Maastricht, Netherlands (six Michelin-starred restaurants and 120,000 residents, or one restaurant for every 20,038 people), and Geneva, Switzerland (eight starred eateries and a population of 204,000, or one spot for every 25,494 residents).

And while France is the country with the most Michelin-starred establishments, Switzerland actually has the most starred spots per capita. The country’s 134 Michelin-starred restaurants serve a population of almost 9 million, or one for every 66,872 residents. The much smaller Luxembourg, with just 672,500 residents, comes in second for this metric: With 10 Michelin-starred restaurants, there’s one for every 67,250 people.

While many people travel to the areas with the most Michelin-starred restaurants, they may be better served by going to the areas where they’re the densest. Neither Kyoto nor D.C. may be called its respective country’s culinary capital, but both are teeming with Michelin-ranked spots relative to their size.


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