World’s most luxurious beach resort

The Brando

Whilst I like to spend the majority of my time writing vile anonymous reviews, now and again I like to focus on some positives.

I have sought the best-of-the-best in luxury hotels, and it just turns out the majority of those are on the beach.  So I’m in the fortunate position of being able to comment on those that rise up above others, and I don’t mean in some kinda KKK way.  My thorough and painstaking research has meant my entire life has built up to this very moment: a summary review on a blog.  My parents are indeed proud.

So here’s the candidates for this esteemed award:

Now you may be asking whether Necker Island should be on this list?  Maybe.  But if you’re English and ever saw their BBC’s Billionaire’s Paradise: Inside Necker Island documentary, you’ll understand that the island seems to have an exclusivity policy in place – for twats.  I’m only 95% of the way there.

Outside of the Maldives, a large amount of top-end luxury properties are now riding the all-inclusive train. Whilst Cheval Blanc and Velaa spit in your all-inclusive face, Laucala, North Island, Fregate and Miavana have embraced it.  Iniala and The Brando jumped on the bandwagon, before deciding that two bandwagons would be best and offering all-inclusive as an optional extra.

I’m in a generous mood, which is why I’ve thrown Miavana into the mix, along with Fregate, which I felt it was such a let down in comparison to North Island that I don’t think I’d return until they completely refurb the villas, which probably involves bulldozing them down and starting again.  I’ll just wait here.

I truly hate Top 10 Lists, which is why I’ve gone inventive – there’s only 9 here.  Furthermore, they’re always generic lists put together by someone who has never even stayed at the properties.  Well no more, I say.  Let’s end this debacle here and now.  Who’s with me?  Off to paradise we march.

The perfect beach is comprised of sand so soft you could jump on it and end up in Australia.  It’s easy to access, private, offers spectacular views, has just the right colour and has an ocean not composed of 70% anger. No one wants to go swimming when your only company is Jaws and he’s being a right ol’ dick.

North Island: dick free

North Island is one of only two resorts that offers an exclusive first-come-first-served beach for day use, with every guest receiving at least once during their stay. Fregate, as usual, played catch-up and copied the idea.  North’s Honeymoon Beach doesn’t have WiFi, so they could have reallocated mine to another guest within about 30 minutes, but I appreciated the thought anyway.  Every villa at North Island already has direct beach access, and the sand softer than an 80 year-old man in a strip club. The downside is that the seasons change the beach, so between end of November and beginning of April it moves from one side of the island to the other, going from you being the king of dunes, to a sand farmer in the middle of a famine.

Image not in brochures

I don’t think anyone reading this has not been to Amanpulo.  At least 35 times. So we all know how good that beach is.

But just in case…

Most surprising was how good Velaa’s is.  I previously saw the Maldives as a beach destination, but one no one actually spends any time on the beach – but you would be happy to at Velaa.  Miavana was also an absolute delight, proving that nature is better than people.

Fregate has multiple beaches, some of which can be privately booked, but all of them are stunning. All the villas are clifftop,  getting to one is an inconvenience; you not only have to get to the beach, but it’s then a trek to get back up.  Minus 10 points.

The beach outside of Iniala is really nice, but let down by not being exclusive, yet I would still pick it over The Brando, which was just filled with coral, and Laucala, which had similar issues whilst we were there, but at least they tried to do something about it by combing the beach.

  1. North Island – yet only April-November
  2. Amanpulo
  3. Velaa
  4. Miavana
  5. Fregate
  6. Iniala
  7. Cheval Blanc
  8. Laucala
  9. The Brando

A real hoot of a criteria.  Every one of these properties could have been crafted by god himself.  Except Fregate.  They really are amongst the best properties I’ve ever stayed in. Clearly not to everyone’s taste, but I love the Iniala design. Whoever thought your carpet should be made up of memory foam should be put onto a bank note.  The sheer space, comfort and facilities unlike anywhere I’ve ever been.  That is, until staying in Cheval Blanc Randheli.

Iniala penthouse
Cheval Blanc Randheli Island Villa

The Brando also impressed, especially as it is much smaller than competing properties North Island and Laucala, but packs in everything except a Godfather tribute into every room. A wasted opportunity – although the horses are most pleased.  Were it just on aesthetics, I would have put Miavana higher – a stunning property, but the architects desire to allow a natural breeze throughout the villas by having these chimney-esq holes in the ceiling was somehow devised by people who had never been to a property by the ocean before, even though they had previously designed North Island.

The Brando

Laucala and North Island go big. They both are very similar in terms of facilities offered, including the huge private outdoor space and use of natural, local materials. Neither are my aesthetic preference, but they are both brilliant villas. North Island wins, as it has more of a focus on being outdoors, whilst not having to suffer non-stop 30C heat due to the amount of shade offered.

Aman rarely delights with their rooms and Amanpulo is no different, with them describing it as authentic, and me as bland, boring and outdated.  Their 1 bedroom villas are worth the premium from the casitas.

Fregate is in a desperate need of a refurb to stay competitive, not just to North Island, but pretty much anywhere that charges even half of what they do. They had apparently refurbished the same year were were there, but I can only assume the millipedes were the interior designers.

Fregate private pool
  1. Iniala
  2. Cheval Blanc
  3. The Brando
  4. North Island
  5. Miavana
  6. Laucala
  7. Amanpulo – 1 bedroom villa
  8. Velaa
  9. Fregate

Iniala and North Island have both offered some of the best service I’ve ever had. Interestingly, the GM at Iniala had a previous job that came in handy: GM of North Island. Iniala wins, as on both of my stays the service has been near exemplary, whilst in North Island my first stay had perfect in-villa service, and everything outside was a real letdown – they more than made up for it on the second visit. Complain, my fellow readers.  Complain until your soul is as light as a feather and you are free of all your worries.

Amanpulo blew me away on my first stay, yet going back for Christmas ’16 I left disappointed.  Being given a trainee as my villa butler, when he had been working there for barely a week, did not help.

I fear for Miavana what will happen since the GM has already left. The service is what held the property together. Fregate offered nothing that stood out, with my key memory being the butler talking about his desire to leave and go work for Air Seychelles –  a company now in significant financial difficulties, so I wonder what he’s now telling his passengers where he can’t wait to work.  But that is better than sometimes being memorable for the wrong things, which Laucala and The Brando were.  They both suffered from the inability to get the most simple thing done. I am returning to Laucala shortly, so I’m interested in whether they have fixed it. Whilst they both suffered exactly the same issues, Laucala left me feeling angry, whereas somehow The Brando left me somewhat ok with it. Perhaps age has matured me.

  1. Iniala
  2. North Island
  3. Miavana
  4. Velaa
  5. Cheval Blanc
  6. Amanpulo
  7. Fregate
  8. The Brando
  9. Laucala​​​​​​​
Fregate: from up here, all the service looks good.


Both The Brando and Iniala offer fine dining restaurants, and both are exceptional. Yet you have to be impressed that The Brando does it from a private island in the middle-of-nowhere. Even their run-of-the-mill burgers were amongst the best I’ve ever had anywhere, and don’t even get me started on how good their papaya salad really is. The food at The Brando is almost reason to go alone.

Cheval Blanc and Velaa also joined in the fine-dining spree, with Cheval not managing to pull it off, but Velaa drawing wild applause from the crowd of one: me.  Food elsewhere around the properties was excellent.

North Island, Fregate and Iniala have this “anything you want, anytime you want”.  They all allow you to order whatever food you want, something I disliked at first, and something they all have learnt from, as last year even Iniala introduced menus and now we can all join hands and embrace living in a world with menus. Laucala does offer it too, but they never thought to advertise it to me when I was there, yet even taking this away they do have 5 different restaurants and the food was very good.

The food at North Island was a real disappointment on our second visit, whilst on the first – under a different chef – it was near-perfect. The existing chef was on his way out too, so hopefully they can resolve it. Quite impressive for a country with severe procurement issues and the most restrictive menu I’ve ever seen, Miavana did a very good job with the food. Once again a sign of how small the industry is, the chef was ex-North Island.

Fregate and Amanpulo appear last, just because I cannot remember enjoying any of the dishes whilst there.

  1. The Brando
  2. Iniala
  3. Laucala
  4. Velaa
  5. Miavana
  6. Cheval Blanc
  7. North Island
  8. Fregate
  9. Amanpulo
I am struggling to include a picture of a plate of food here, so look at Velaa’s fine-dining restaurant instead.

I’m looking for something unique here. It’s not just the colour of the water, or the softness of the sand, but having something about the environment that is special. With North Island, the remoteness and the landscape is exquisite, as is the nature on the island; mostly made up of tortoises, including the 180 year old Brutus. Miavana excelled from the proximity to the incredibly rare black lemurs, as well as the quite literally hundreds of whales we witnessed each time we got in a helicopter – a truly magical experience. As you fly on the 25 minute journey over from the mainland to Miavana, you really can see the beauty of this part of the world.

The Brando

Iniala is ultimately on a beach in Thailand – it is not going to revolutionise your life.

  1. North Island
  2. Miavana
  3. Fregate
  4. The Brando
  5. Amanpulo
  6. Velaa
  7. Cheval Blanc
  8. Laucala
  9. Iniala


I’m being generous to Iniala, as if you’re in the penthouse you’re doing your treatment in the living room; in one of their three 3 bedroom villas, you have a dedicated, specially designed room for it.

The Brando may not have the best facilities, but the location, design, sense of place and ability to waste a day there was definitely a few notches above others.  Velaa offers the largest number of facilities, probably more than all the others combined, and the best views to match.  You would think I’d classify it as number one, but logic was never my forte.  The only other property to offer anything beyond treatment rooms is Cheval Blanc, with a beautiful spa on its own island, including bar, cold plunge pool and hammam.

All the others I’m judging from either the quality of a treatment, location or setting.  Laucala’s is beautifully designed, with water features and views to match; North Island only offers 2 treatment rooms, but they sit pretty atop the cliff; Amanpulo once again sits on top of a cliff and, oh would ya look at that? Fregate too.

Miavana advertised a spa, but didn’t actually have one during last year – thinking they do now would mean believing their website is accurate.  Fool me once…

  1. The Brando
  2. Velaa
  3. Cheval Blanc
  4. Laucala
  5. North Island
  6. Iniala
  7. Amanpulo
  8. Fregate
  9. Miavana


Velaa spa
The Brando spa
The Brando spa


Laucala has a submarine, so we can just all agree now that it wins and by such a margin that everyone else is a loser that cannot be numerically calculated.  I have contributed my part of the human species by speaking to the owner’s brother of Velaa, to convince him to buy one, along with a few other water sport goodies.  Cross your fingers.

It had to make at least one appearance in this article.


Fregate is the only property on this list that I cannot recommend.  Maybe if you truly love millipedes it’s for you.  The fact that Oetker no longer manage it will only be a negative and leave the owner having no one to argue back, therefore making him think it’s perfect just the way it is.  It desperately needs a refurb and from a luxury prospective offered nothing more than North Island – its main USP is the vast amount of nature on the island, which you may or may not enjoy.  The issue with Miavana is not so much the property (although finishing it would be nice), but their pricing – reduce it and expectations are lower and people are happier.

Every other property you cannot go wrong with, but North Island and Iniala stand out from my experience.  It’s how we were treated that left such a glowing impression.  With a maximum of 11 and 10 rooms respectively, and dedicated butlers, they can deliver on the service you would hope every property could give.  I wish I could include Amanpulo here; I was nothing but a huge advocate for them, but the last stay was disappointing.  Maybe I’ll return in a few years, but there are better options that are easier to access, such as Cheval Blanc and Velaa.  Both have less rooms, better dining, better service, better facilities and more activities.

I hope Laucala has managed to improve, as it’s unique in offering what it does.  I shall find out in a matter of weeks and perhaps if fortune favours, even Kokomo may join this list too.  If you can afford it, Laucala is a place you should go.  The owner will not live forever, and he entirely subsidises the property with no desire to ever make any money from it.  It is a project of love and it shows; a property like no other.  The setting is nowhere near as beautiful as The Brando, North Island, Fregate or Miavana, and the beach was pretty dreadful (apparently due to the cyclone that took place 6 months prior), so I still do not see it as a beach destination, just a private island that happens to have a beach. The activities there are so vast that I’m ok with it.

I also reserve the right to be wrong about all of this.

North Island sunset


  1. Tom, interesting read and breakdown of differences . May I suggest that you consider a category for sustainability. Many travelers would like to enjoy fabulous properties but also would like to know there is a strong regard for the environment and the communities in which they are traveling. It should have a category as well?

    • Interesting point, although I think that could become more of an objective criteria rather than subjective. I’m not sure I’m qualified to comment on that, although I do touch upon it on several of the individual reviews where the property makes a point of highlighting it. Some will have minimum mandatory local employment forced upon them, others do it out of decency.

      Laucala has 350 staff and 340 of them are locals; The Brando ( as you know 🙂 ) has an incredible sustainability and environmental focus, as does North Island – which puts 50% of its profits back into island conservation. Cheval Blanc has done a great job of getting rid of plastics, but does not claim to be eco-friendly. The rest I couldn’t say.

  2. Great writing as usual Tom.

    My issue with Amanpulo was that other than the beach and pretty good service, the rooms are pretty subpar, the food ok and after 2 nights you begin to lose your mind. Wish there was a bit more offered there in the evening other than Stargazing with a waiter who knew less about it than me.

    I’d like to try the Brando soon, but considering we actually enjoyed the Four Seasons Bora Bora (The setting makes up for almost all the other shortcomings), I’m thinking that we may not agree on everything.

    We are going to Russia next week (Four Seasons in both Moscow and St. Petersburg) and taking the Grand Deluxe sleeper train between the two cities. Headed to Aman Sveti Stefan the following week and looking forward very much to that!

    P.S. I’m all for sustainability, but try and keep it somewhat believable. Way too many resorts like to use it to provide cover for their shortcomings and any discerning guest realizes it right away.

    • First time I visited Amanpulo, the food was great, the service the best I had ever experienced and the activities was enough to keep me occupied. Second visit and the food and service had gone, plus my stay was for 7 nights (shortened to 6 due to a typhoon), so I can understand that boredom can set in.

      Alas, I can only comment on my own experience. I’ve done enough follow-up reviews (with another for Laucala coming next month) to realise that sometimes you just come at the wrong moment and it all goes wrong. I don’t feel FS Bora Bora offers a luxury experience though, so am doubtful I’d change my mind. If you love it’s setting, then The Brando offers everything it does, just without most of their issues and the feeling of being one of 18 million guests. You may struggle with activities though, which is something FS does well.

      Sounds a great trip. I went to FS Moscow during my 30th, right after the MiG experience. It may have been coming from a 3 star hotel previously, but I loved that hotel. And what a spa.

      • Funny, enough we are there for my wife’s 30th. I asked the hotel if they had an good celebratory ideas and they suggested a balloon and a cake (and made sure to remind me that the hotel does not stock balloons so they’d need to send someone to purchase them off-site).

  3. A-ha! The article we’ve all been waiting for! As you said, sometimes the return visit can be less than stellar (and perhaps the third one back can be even better than all the others?)

    Haven’t done all of these of course so can only comment on the ones I have:

    I’m still in disagreement about option for a 1-bedroom villa at Amanpulo (hey, I reserve the right to be wrong about all this!) – I think as you pointed out, the rooms pretty much everywhere else, even with the 1-bedroom villa, are better at pretty much every other resort; the 1-bedroom villas go at a higher rate than both Cheval Blanc and Velaa do, even during low season at all 3 properties.

    If I recall, you had actually stayed in a 2-bedroom villa (converted to a 1-bedroom?)

    Of course, if you NEED a 2-bedroom villa that’s a different issue (family, group etc) and I quite like the 2- and 4-bedroom villas.

    But good to hear your opinion on all properties though – and great photos too.

  4. Hey Tom,
    Great breakdown of the resorts. In regards to Luacala, you mention that you were not so impressed by their service and that it was an island with a beach and the setting wasn’t great compared to some of the other islands. I understand it’s a passion project and it seems like the focus is on activities but why would someone want to travel that far for a island that has a mediocre beach, unimpressive service or setting? Activities are usually not the reason people travel so far and spend a fortune on such trips. I am missing something in regards to this resort but have not been able to pinpoint what makes it still so special.

    • I can understand where you’re coming from, but ultimately I did still have a very enjoyable time there even if it rained 3 out of the 7 nights. The question always comes down to what you’re looking for in a trip, and with Laucala some may be prepared to travel all around the world just for the activities. I did, and along with French Polynesia it’s the furthest I can possibly travel to get somewhere.

      There is a very good chance that there will only be a few other guests on the island, providing you don’t go during Christmas, so it really is yours to do as you wish with. It may not have the most beautiful setting, but it has real landscape which most of those on the list do not, I just prefer the more attractive ocean/beaches/views of the other properties. I think you have to see it to appreciate it, because I genuinely did walk around the first few days just saying “wow” to absolutely everything. Just look at some drone footage of the swimming pool to understand how much money went into this place.

      If the service has improved, I’ll give it a thumbs up, as that was the main ingredient missing last time.

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