Ratua Island is everything its legion of fans say it is - amazing, beautiful and a veritable tropical paradise. It's also somewhat perplexing, with a management sometimes bordering on the dysfunctional and a couple of serious drawbacks that need very urgent attention.
While we were staying there, a woman guest and her four month old baby fell through the floor of a rotting deck adjacent to the restaurant and bar area. Mercifully, she wasn't seriously hurt but she fell to thigh level and the potential consequences could have been tragic. What upset her husband as much as the incident itself was the response of the general manager, who didn't seem to comprehend the seriousness of the situation and - according to the husband's account - made the decidedly perplexing comment that "the place is falling apart". Well, yes it is, and Ratua had better do something about it fast to avoid some unwelcome attention from the legal liability brigade.
One of the floorboards leading to our bungalow also gave way under my step and I have the photos to prove it. I called to one of the staff nearby who approached, bent over and ripped up the offending board with little effort and called the maintenance people. Within hours, this board had also been replaced, just like dozens of others we encounted all over the resort that had clearly been replaced as they rotten away in the tropical wet. My problem is that this is clearly happening AFTER they give way, leaving guests to feel like vulnerable guinea pigs of Ratua's haphazard maintenance program.
It's not good enough. The safety of his guests ought to be the prime concern of Ratua's wealthy French owner - the entrepreneur Marc Henon - not least to ward off the distinct possibility, as it stands, of one of his guests relieving him of some of his hard won millions.
For an upmarket resort, there's also a distinct lack of communication. Having booked on Expedia, we had no idea how the meal regime worked on Ratua and it took us a couple of days and a couple of misunderstandings to grasp that the buffet lunch is all inclusive, dinner is a la carte and there are certain things available to eat if only you know to ask for them. None of this was explained on arrival. Seriously. Am I the only person to think that detective work on holidays ought to be confined to the pages of whatever novel gets buried in?
We also found it somewhat disconcerting to learn only when we reached our bungalow on the south side that the water off the beach is a raging torrent at certain times of the day and the currents are highly dangerous. Fortunately our kids weren't with us this time but this is information any family needs to know before planning a holiday to, again, avoid bereavement and the involvement of rapacious attorneys.
Fix these thing, Monsieur Marc, and all will be well. Because there are more positives than negatives about your transplanted Javanese fantasie and we had a wonderfully peaceful and relaxing time. As always in Vanuatu, it's the locals who make the difference, we loved the staff string band and the food - courtesy of the Filipino chef - was generally superb. You must also try Monsieur Marc's wines from Chateau De Calvieres - his vineyard in the south of France. The Rose is especially good and good value to boot at around $35 a bottle.
Our one grip at mealtimes was the total absence of fish on the menu for our entire five night stay. That's right. There are huge fish in the water right outside your bungalow but no fish whatsoever on your plate. The management variously said it was because of bad weather or that the locals weren't prepared to fish during the holiday season. But in Santo, we'd had the most amazing fish in the local restaurants including world class carpaccio at Jardin des Saveurs. So what gives? Imagine coming to the South Seas, to waters teeming with fish, with a menu that lists several fish dishes but being told "there's no fish". Excusez- moi? Well, bloody well find some.
See what I mean by perplexing? A world class location, stunning 200-year old transplanted Javanese masterpieces, waters teeming with turtle and dugong, lovely Ni Vanuatu staff yet one is left with a nagging feeling of being short changed when - with some considerate fine tuning - the superlatives from the likes of moi would freely flow. I dearly wanted to give this place an excellent overall rating because so many things about is ARE excellent. But being left in the dark once too often and having one's life literally put at risk? I'm afraid that under the circumstances, Ratua this time warrants only a very good.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Ratua Island is a wild, magical place with authentic people who offer a simple and warm reception in a naturally beautiful environment. There are 13 individual 200-year-old Indonesian villas that have been specially reconstructed on sites offering stunning views with a private deck or beach. Located in the Vanuatu Archipelago, off the South East tip of Espiritu Santo, Ratua is only a 30-minute motorboat journey from the mainland on our own private motor launch. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Ratua Private Island Hotel Luganville
- Ratua Private Island Vanuatu/Luganville