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Wanted: One private, Croatian Island

The castaway life is more desirable than ever-  and you may only have to share your space with a tortoise, writes Tristan Rutherford.

Europe, Croatia’s sun-blessed archipelago of 1,300 islands has become particularly attractive. Many also conform to Vladi’s list of top-ten must haves. ‘Only 25 per cent of global supply is what I call “quality islands”. Is ownership 100 per cent guaranteed? Is the island within 90 minutes of a hospital in case your child breaks a leg?’ My own search homes in on Bijela, a pine-carpeted island with abandoned castle just 17 miles from Zadar Airport, on sale for €2 million. Here I’m met in a Mercedes cabriolet by Dino Vulic of local firm Broker.hr.

Vulic escorts me to a Cap Camarat speedboat he’s chartered for my island viewing. He also has a Robinson R44 observation helicopter on call for more exploratory purchasing trips. ‘Prices are much more competitive than Italy or Greece,’ explains Vulic as we speed across the calm sea. Some islands, including Bijela, are part owned by the Croatian Forestry Commission, who are more than happy to lease their section to a caretaker owner in perpetuity: a legal notification that Vulic’s firm can arrange. The Cap Camarat eases down into a centuries-old landing port built during Dalmatia’s Venetian occupation. The panorama is worth the asking price alone. The mainland marina of Biograd twinkles a kilometre or so away. The solid stone mansion with red tile roof was built during the Austro Empire’s later suzerainty. It’s 600 square metres: planning permission will boost this principal property up to 900 square metres, with additional rooftop terraces dangling over the sea. ‘It was purchased in this state 20 years ago by a group of Croatian investor cousins,’ says Vulic. ‘Now prices have risen, they are selling up.’

Vulic waits with the boat while guests explore the 60,000-squaremetre island. ‘Take an hour,’ he calls. I wander a brush-strewn track past Croatia’s happiest tortoise — the island’s sole inhabitant for now — to a tiny pebble beach five minutes from the house. I can imagine family swimming dips at dawn as shoals of baby bass dart by our feet. Butterflies play and geckos dart as I stroll inland to survey my prospective domain. A line of stones runs through dense pine forest, part of a forgotten settlement. I have to say I’m enchanted. After a ten-minute hack I emerge onto the bulbous island’s secluded northern shore, then loop back to Vulic and my dawdling boat. It’s a wrench to leave, so I pick up the phone again. George Damianos is the one who answers my call.

The President of Sotheby’s International Realty in Lyford Cay, Bahamas, says his country’s 700 islands are tailor-made for private buyer purchase. As islands are mostly larger and more spread out than Croatia, ‘for 99 per cent of cases’ Damianos charters a seaplane so guests can spend an entire day exploring their potential purchase. ‘You can’t hoodwink a multimillionaire,’ he says. ‘These clients want to know everything about the neighbourhood. They even ask where they can find a plumber. It’s sometimes the small things that count.’ Damianos’ parent realtor, Sotheby’s International Realty, has around 40 private island sales on their books. Each prospective client is quizzed about favoured locations, flight times and when they take their annual break. (New Zealand is best if you knock o¥ for three weeks at Christmas, while Canadian island summers are unbeatable.) Wherever in the world they are, buyers crave ‘privacy and accessibility,’ says Damianos. ‘Fortunately that’s easy to find in the Bahamas. In terms of boat traffic it’s not much like the Hudson or your River Thames.’

If travel time isn’t an issue, he recommends the outer islands of Abaco, where $2 million will buy you a watery paradise with lagoons, mangroves, a fishing jetty, several secluded beaches, and a lake or two. Meanwhile, the seven white sand beaches of 47-acre gem Saddleback Cay can be yours for €11,800,000. My broker contacts point out the keen rental market for private islands, a concept pioneered by Sir Richard Branson on nearby Necker. It’s money in the bank, and the wheels are oiled for your visit. Renting has also raised property demand because potential buyers can sample the lifestyle before they buy. A week on my Croatian island, anyone?

Tristan Rutherford is a freelance travel writer