It’s hard to believe that a secluded island off the coast of Essex exists, but driving along the bumpy coastal causeway, the unmistakable smell of ripe seaweed across the Blackwater Estuary certainly confirms it.
With a four-hour tidal access window and a greeting sign of “Private island, No unauthorised access” this is a destination of maximum exclusivity. Set in 400 acres of wildlife and grassland, Osea Island has come a long way since it was the Causeway Retreat rehab clinic that housed Amy Winehouse at the height of her fame. It has since undergone a complete transformation at the hands of new owner, Nigel Frieda. Brother to infamous hairdresser, John, and a music mogul in his own right (he launched the Sugababes and produced records for Queen and The Rolling Stones), Nigel bought the island for a cool 6m and made it a celebrity hot spot for Poppy Delevigne, Jaime Winstone and Jonathan Rhys-Myers. Navigating our way through baron farmland we finally entered the village with relief and old-school holiday excitement.
The village is built up of 17 holiday cottages, apartments and two larger houses that boast sea views; The Captains House which sleeps 16-22 people and The Manor House that caters for up to 20 guests. We’re staying in the rickety Mulberry Cottage, complete with white picket fences, tea lights hanging from the trees and a garden that stretches around the outskirts. After battling with the key we found ourselves standing in our deceptively large home for the weekend. Although a glorified shed from the outside, the interior boasts a modern finish including three bedrooms, two roll top baths and a robin in a crab apple tree. With open fires, fur throws and a sofa ample enough for a family, it would be an idyllic setting for a winter escape holed up with hot chocolate and a roast dinner. Unfortunately, as it was mid-summer the only thing roasting was us as the rustic surroundings don’t quite stretch to air conditioning and a mojito.
Luckily, we found solace at the nearby swimming pool. Discreetly sitting beneath the trees next to Osea’s Café, the scene echoed the feel-good family fun we can all recall from childhood holidays; a cool box, mismatched beach towels and parents struggling to retrieve their water babies until sundown. Feeling peckish and underestimating just how literal ‘self-catering’ would be, we indulged in a deliciously fresh and homemade antipasto mezze (mine) and a cheeseburger (his). The restaurant is small and quaint with a seaside theme running throughout including oversized lobsters and strategically placed crabs (all fake of course!) but serves a selection of British family classics as well as slightly more international cuisine.
Taking a tour of the island it’s clear that there’s still a substantial amount of work to be done but with new event spaces being developed and a waiting list that stretches as far as Australia, the charm of the island seems to prevail. There is acres of land to walk or cycle around (there’s bikes that can be hired) but it’s not long before you find yourself on the shore, no matter which direction you walk in. With plunging rock pools and marshy verges, it’s hard not to revert back to the child in you; especially when a rope swing into the sea is concerned!
The island’s full but we managed to sneek a peak in The Captains House in all its glory. With high ceilings, hardwood flooring and floor-to-ceiling windows showing the coast in all its glory, it’s a world away from the rustic cottages back in the village. Modern, chic and expertly finished, it’s the perfect weekend abode for an unforgettable party.
As the success of Osea continues to grow and spread across to foreign seas, it’s popularity is going to soar. With development plans in motion and their new venture into weddings, it won’t be long before Essex’s best kept secret is well and truly out. If New York has The Hmaptons, then Essex has Osea.