Bling is simple. Wave the purple Coutts card around, get a place to stay while the London sales are on (One Hyde Park, £136m), buy a Voiles de Saint Barth watch (£63,500) and matching yacht (£60m should do it) and, bingo, you’ve got it.
Barefoot bling, on the other hand, is tricky to define, let alone access. In part it’s about the rich and powerful roughing it: like the British royal family when they were filmed washing up after a barbeque in 1972, or George Bush proving he’s a cowboy at heart as he gallops back to life on the range.
Madonna roughs it on Soneva Fushi in the Maldives, where she can show solidarity with the butlers by walking about barefoot. Everyone’s barefoot and so the bar, where fruit bats hang nonchalantly overhead, is carpeted in white sand. The only fly in the Cristal is ownership.
That is about to change because the Maldives, an archipelago of more than 1,000 islands 250 miles south-west of India’s tip, is (finally) allowing outsiders to buy property.
The island that Madonna uses – properly known as Kunfunadhoo – is to barefoot bling what the Stradivarius is to Bach’s Partita in E. Lush jungle covers the centre of the island, and its white sand beaches, frilled with palms and coral, can be circumnavigated on foot in 45 minutes. Dolphins splash about offshore and a little light diving reveals the usual fishy beauties plus multicoloured hermaphrodite nudibranchs, whose sex life involves mating chains, with the first animal taking on the female role, the last the male.
Back on land the island’s chef, Michelin-starred chef Bjorn van der Horst (Gordon Ramsay/Eastside Inn London), is building up a sumptuous local menu – you know the kind of thing: urchin footprints baked by the breath of juvenile fruit bats. Seriously – the food is lip-smacking.
All this and yet it is low-key to the point of oblivion, which brings us to the S word. Sinking – is that what the Maldives are doing?
The highest point in the Maldives is just more than a couple of metres above sea level, which makes the islands particularly vulnerable to storms and to rising sea levels. In 2009 the Maldives government held an underwater cabinet meeting to make the point that unless global warming is controlled, they are sunk. Since then counterclaims, notably by Dr Nils-Axel Mörner, who has been studying sea levels for 40 years, suggest that there is no real threat.
For those who agree with Mörner, or who aren’t bothered by the long-term prognosis, properties (there aren’t many available to outsiders) start at $2.5m. Any purchase buys a maximum of 34-year leasehold with no guarantees about what happens when the lease runs out.
But, as Sonu Shivdasani, the man behind Maldivian barefooted-ness and one of the only people selling property to outsiders, points out, many of those investing do so as they would when buying a yacht – for lifestyle (it’s the fruit bats) rather than residual value.
On the other hand, there is no capital gains, the 15 per cent income tax can be set against on-island spending and Shivdasani reckons that owners who are prepared to let their properties through him can recoup their outlay.
For those in search of a turnkey property, Soneva Fushi (30 minutes’ sea plane ride from the capital Male, and even the pilot is reassuringly barefoot) has the $15m answer: an exquisitely simple 3,700 sq m six-bedroom complex consisting of guest villas, snooker villas, butler’s quarters, gym and massage area, dining villa, kids’ pad and bike shed, plus wine cellar, library, Bose sound systems and 60m of white sand beach.
The bling is leavened by a deepening green agenda which means that, despite the island’s low level, one can walk if not the moral high ground, at least the morally slightly elevated land. There’s solar power, a water filtration plant and serious composting activity.
The first to buy is a Frenchman who paid $7m (cash) for a complex with four bedrooms, library, gym etc. That will also buy one of Shivdasani’s over-water villas on Six Senses Laamu (aka Olhuveli Island, 50 minutes by sea plane and 20 more by boat from Male) with four bedrooms and a slide that takes you from the deck outside the upstairs games room, past the circular, water-level dining area, into the azure ocean. Every barefoot blinger should have one.
Jane Owen is the editor of House & Home. She was a guest of Six Senses www.sixsenses.com
Where to slum it in style around the world
For those who prefer more tried and tested ways of slumming it in style, the market gets more crowded by the year. There are a few long-established locations – Mustique is perhaps the oldest – but many more are being built in emerging locations.
This privately owned island of 100 villas in the West Indies has long been a favourite, from the late Princess Margaret to those, including Tommy Hilfiger and Mick Jagger, who maintain that celebrity cachet today.
Prices are premium: typical four-bedroom hilltop villas range from £2m to £15m, although only a few are on sale in any year.
Eden Island, Seychelles
This man-made 140-acre gated island in the western Indian Ocean is the only part of the 115-island Seychelles where homes are freehold and foreigners’ purchases relatively straightforward.
Each villa comes with its own pool and a private mooring, while Eden’s deepwater marina can host 100-metre superyachts – Roman Abramovich drops anchor here. Owners pay up to £2.2m for a five-bedroom villa and they usually receive immediate residency with fiscal perks including no capital gains tax on any profit when they sell their Eden villa, as well as low corporate and personal taxation.
Little Cayman (10 miles by 1 mile, population circa 150) and Cayman Brac (11 miles by 2 miles, population circa 1,800) are the forgotten “wild” (in nature and in parties) islands of the western Caribbean.
Beachfront apartments and cottages are available on both islands from about $190,000. Prime location, large, oceanfront properties can range from $956,000 to $2.4m. Foreigners are charged 6 per cent stamp duty tax but there is no property tax. Like their big sister, Grand Cayman, the two smaller Cayman Islands are tax havens.
Mauritius, Indian Ocean
Rules for foreign buyers are complicated but have succeeded in attracting purchasers without causing overcrowding. If a buyer pays $500,000 or more for a home in one of a handful of designated coastal zones, and purchases up to a maximum plot size, then the property is considered to be freehold, which buys the purchaser rights of residency. With residency comes low levels of personal and business tax.
Some early buyers under the Integrated Resort Scheme sold within two years and made 100 per cent profit; the global downturn has intervened but demand is still good, particularly from Africa and Europe. The main IRS zone now is the Villas Valriche resort on the south coast, where there are two-, three- and four-bedroom villas from £489,000 ($780,000).