Idyllic isles


It's indeed possible to luxuriate in unobstructed water views without fighting traffic on Pacific Coast Highway. In fact, it's possible to have unobstructed water views and not fight traffic at all. Ever. Simply pick a sea, ocean or lake and then buy a private island
surrounded by it.

There are thousands of secluded islands for sale around the world, and surprisingly, many of them cost less than a four-bedroom house in the Hollywood Hills. And in return for a bit of a commute, the reward is total privacy and control over who and what is allowed to touch land -- or sand.

Not surprisingly, this has always been appealing to celebrities, from Errol Flynn, who claimed a piece of Jamaican paradise in the 1930s, to Nicolas Cage and Johnny Depp, who each own isles in the Bahamas. But privacy and security are equally appealing to anyone who longs for an escape. Richard Branson owns the famed Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, and Ted Turner has laid claim to St. Phyllis Island in South Carolina.

Coldwell Banker Morrison's Islands leader Cheyenne Morrison, who represents more than 200 such properties around the world valued at more than $185 million, claims his clients run the gamut. "Certainly, there are the Fortune 500 people," he says, "but I also have a great proportion of ordinary people who have a dream to own an island."

According to Farhan Vladi, a broker and president of Vladi Private Islands, many isles can be bought for the price of a car -- albeit, he acknowledges, most are in line with a Bentley or Rolls-Royce rather than a BMW. "What's more," Vladi adds, "the running costs of an island can be similar to a car, from insurance to care-taking. You can have a single-family house with no on-site caretaker, and you just pay by the hour for what help you need. The typical island owner is a person who simply wants to lock the house and leave."

While Vladi currently counsels his clients to eschew places such as Belize and Panama, where the market is inflated ("Wait a year, and you can get those properties for half the price," he predicts), he adds that there are a plethora of reasonably priced properties located in Ireland and Scotland on the Atlantic, as well as on lakes in Canada.

Central America aside, both Vladi and Morrison point to the investment potential in having an island to call one's own. "If you tell people you plan on buying a private island, they'll tell you it's an indulgence," Morrison says. "However, private islands provide one of the best returns on investment of any type of real estate. On the seventh day, God stopped making islands, but millionaires keep on multiplying. In some places, the value of private islands has risen over 1,000% in less than 10 years. Try to make that on the stock market."

Whether one craves a tropical beach in Fiji or the rugged coastline in Ireland, there are endless options. Following is a small sampling of islands currently on the market, available to anyone with the will and the way to get there.

Coakley Cay, George Town, $25 million

Located in the Exuma Keys, this 340-acre island is girded by gleaming white beaches. Currently undeveloped, "it has vast potential," Vladi says. "It's in a very good location but still a bit isolated, so while you don't have the George Town airport around the corner, it's only a 20-minute helicopter ride away."

Long Cay, "Rooster Island," $14.9 million
Only three minutes from New Providence Island, Long Cay is a 15-plus acre island with wide beaches, three fully equipped cottages, its own fresh-water system, a boathouse and a private dock that leads to a marina. It's repped by Jack Isaacs Realty Co.

Great Hans Lollik and Little Hans Lollik, U.S. Virgin Islands, $45 million

Morrison represents these islands, located only 8,000 feet from St. Thomas, which are comprised of an as-yet-undeveloped 600 acres. The two isles also are available for individual sale, with the 500-acre Great Hans priced at $34 million and Little Hans, which has a pristine beach, at $11 million.

L'Ile de Ronde, Grenada, $70 million
With 2,000 acres, L'Ile de Ronde is the largest island available for sale in the Caribbean. Its sister, the Grenadines, which include neighboring Mustique and Palm Island, are frequented by yachters and jet-setters looking for a luxurious escape, making this a hot spot for individuals who might wish to develop the island.

L'Ile de Ronde is accessible via a 15-minute private helicopter ride from the neighboring international airport or by a one-hour drive to a speedboat, which can then make the trip in 15 minutes. According to Morrison, who represents the property, foreigners who wish to purchase the property must provide the government with character references, a bank reference and police clearance from their country of residence.

Blue Lagoon Island Resort, $33 million

If only Tori Spelling wanted to run a tropical hotel rather than a California B&B, this island would be just the ticket. The 230 freehold acres were developed as a 20-villa resort in the 1990s, but the developers abandoned the project before completion. Still, says listing agent Morrison, "It's 80% complete and could be finished in six months." There also is a runway on the island, making it easily accessible by private plane.

Vatu Vara Island, $75 million
The volcanic and limestone island, currently the most expensive
private island on the market, offers both brilliantly white beaches and a verdant 1,030-foot jungle peak. Measuring almost two miles in diameter, Vatu Vara is an armchair architect's dream, as it is completely undeveloped. Should snorkeling off one's own private reef among more than 400 varieties of fish not be temptation enough, there's the possibility that the island might pay for itself: According to lore, a former owner buried a treasure of gold coins on Vatu Vara before his death. At one point, says listing agent Morrison, Mel Gibson expressed interest in buying the spot (he recently bought another neighboring island), but it can be purchased by anyone who can cough up the asking price. The island is what is known as "freehold land," meaning foreigners can buy and sell the property without restrictions. This accounts partially for the steep asking price; Vatu Vara is one of only 43 remaining undeveloped islands in Fiji to fall into this category, and they're selling quickly.

L'ile de Gattaya, $18 million

Completely undeveloped, this 300-acre island boasts beautiful white beaches and crystal-clear water. Accessible only by boat, the island is located one mile from Djerba, one of Tunisia's most popular tourist destinations. "It's an ideal island for a resort that would have 15 or so bungalows," Vladi says. "There's a beautiful dry climate and beautiful swimming and views."

U.S. Canary Island, Upstate New York, $1.2 million
This one-acre island, located in the boundary waters between the U.S. and Canada on the 1000 Islands River, has views from Lake Ontario to the ocean. Surrounded by sea walls, the island has a six-bedroom, three-bathroom house that offers water views from every room. "You can look out the bedroom window and see Canadian shores to your right," says Vladi, who is representing the property, "and then look left and see the U.S."

Melody Key, Florida, $7 million
Currently owned by 311 lead singer Nick Hexum and represented by Morrison, thissix-acre retreat is located 25 miles from Key West. The island boasts a three-story, 3,500-square-foot contemporary residence with an additional 1,500 square feet of screened verandas. There also is a barbecue deck for dining alfresco, a swimming pool and a dock for making the commute to the mainland. And while the island is removed from the world, it's totally technologically connected, with wireless Internet and a satellite-ready high-definition plasma television.

Singer Castle, Dark Island, Chippewa Bay, New York, $22 million
Located on the St. Lawrence Seaway, a few hundred yards south of the U.S./Canadian border, sits this 20-acre island that was developed in the late 1800s by Frederick Gilbert Bourne, president of the Singer sewing machine company. Vladi, who represents the property, says about 30,000 tourists visit the island and its stone castle each year. The manse, designed after Scottish models described in the novels by Sir Walter Scott, boasts 28 rooms and 13 fireplaces, as well as a dungeon, secret tunnels, a squash court, two boathouses and a caretaker's cottage.
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