Party on a Private Island
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you don’t need to be a billionaire to have an “island” all to yourself.
By Zara Stone
Getting some R&R on a private island sounds like a dream, but unless you have a trust fund? Unlikely to happen. But there are some affordable-ish options — if you look beyond the Caribbean, that is. One spot in England combines some of that luxury hideaway feel with some history, and in an unusual offshore location.
Like an old fort in the middle of the sea. The Solent Forts are located off the coast between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. Originally created as a protection from Napoleon III in 1861, they never saw action and fell into disuse. In 2009, AmaZing Venues founder Mike Clare purchased the sea forts and turned them into luxury accommodation. The oldest, Spitbank Fort, which once housed around 150 soldiers, has been transformed into nine bright guest rooms decked out with large wooden beds and exposed brickwork.
From the shore, Spitbank Fort looks imposing and unfriendly, pretty much what you’d expect a fort to look like. The outer walls of the man-made structure,162 feet in diameter, are made from 15-foot-thick granite. There are only two ways to get there: a 30-minute boat ride from Portsmouth or Southampton, or, if you have the cash, by helicopter, which lands on the adjacent fort, No Man’s Land (you are then zipped to Spitbank via speedboat).
But once you step within, it’s a different matter. There’s a rooftop pool and sauna, a Shisha pipe smoking area and a plush Laurent-Perrier champagne bar, says AmaZing Venues PR representative Rebecca Peters. Guests can also enjoy gin and wine tasting; the fort’s central ammunition store has been refurbished into a wine tasting room. Or you can partake in sabrage classes — FYI, that’s the art of opening champagne with a saber. Dining is available in the former officer’s mess. All renovations adhered to English Heritage regulations, preserving original features like the cannons and brickwork, and daily tours teach visitors the historical context behind their bedrooms. (No Man’s Land Fort, which opened in late April 2015 and has 23 rooms, is not as exclusive as Spitbank, but it does offer laser tag, mini-golf and a spa.)
Staying within all of this history isn’t cheap. Prices start at $850 for a room. And while that’s a lot of $$, it’s not in the hundreds of thousands (Laucala or Necker Island, anyone?). But that’s just for one night, unless you’re loaded, of course. And while there are lots of amenities to keep you entertained at sea, there are no sandy beaches to stroll — you’re in the middle of the Solent strait on a great big chunk of stone, after all. Accessibility is a factor too. Lee Norman from Luton, England, who visited in 2014, says that it’s tricky for those with mobility issues.
The experience might have flaws, but there’s that excitement of staying in an ancient monument — the fort achieved official “scheduled ancient monument” status in 1967. And chilling in a hot pool under the stars at sea would probably make for a memorable birthday. Plus, what other island is in your budget to rent?