I don’t know why I do this to myself. But I suppose if I can’t claim every secret island that I come across, I’d at least like to know about them, like an old local fisherman who can tell you the story of a mysterious island as your boat goes bobbing by…
Dolphin Island, as I like to call it, is a real (un-photoshopped) natural archipelago off Italy’s Amalfi Coast between Capri and Positano. Its real name is Li Galli, or La Sirenuse, after the mythological sirens said to have lived there. The ancient Roman site has a rich history, and an even richer roster of past guests, including the likes of Greta Garbo, Princess Margharet of England, Ingrid Bergman, Sofia Loren and Jacqueline Kennedy.
But more recently, Li Galli has been a paradise in limbo. The extensive villa property has been on and off the market for years, last publicly listed in 2011 for $268,000,000.
At the dawn of the 1920s, Russian ballet dancer and choreographer of the Ballets Russes, Leonide Massine (pictured below), was staying in nearby Positano when he spotted the uninhabited island with its Roman ruins– and bought it.
Massine converted the Roman watchtower on the top of the hill into a living space and dance studio complete with an open air theatre, which was sadly destroyed by a storm. I couldn’t find any photographs of the theatre, but here is Massine above with his dancers on the terrace overlooking the ocean.
You can see an old grainy black & white short film of Leonide Massine giving a tour of his island here. (Skip to the 3o second mark).
Messine died in 1979 and the property was deserted for more than a decade before another Russian dancer, Rudolf Nureyev (pictured below) bought it in 1988.
Nureyev had planned to open a ballet school on the island but tragically died of AIDs only five years after buying Li Galli. His dream of building a ballet school was never fulfilled but before his death, he still left his mark on the island by redecorating one of the villas built by Messine in a stunning Moorish style, complete with 19th century tiles from Seville.
Each room in the villa was covered in tiles and adorned with Rudolph’s beloved Kilims. Check out those incredible lamps on the right ↑.
Today, Rudolph’s Moorish rooms are still in tact, but as you can see, they’ve been given the touch of a five star hotelier’s taste in decor…
And I say “five star hotelier”, because that’s exactly who bought it after Nureyev’s death. In 1996, Giovanni Russo bought Li Galli, (along with the incredible resort hotel in Positano, Villa Treville, where Liz Taylor stayed with her many husbands), and spend the next 15 years and €28 million restoring it. He also began opening up the villa to the public, allowing boat tours and swimming around the island– and for the lucky few who could afford to rent it, a chance to call the island their temporary home.
The island is still for sale, but in the meantime –it’s all very hush-hush, and not officially on the rental market– bespoke travel companies such as Bellini Travel are renting the island to a very niche clientele for a reported €130,000 a week in high season and €100,000 euros off season. Let’s face it– billionaire’s club only.
The largest island has three villas (we’re currently looking at Villa Giovanni) and a stone tower with a cumulative 13 bedrooms. There’s also a helipad, boat storage, three swimming pools and two 30-foot boats thrown in there.
Meals are provided using fresh vegetables and fruits grown on the island along with fish caught off the coast…
The peach exterior of Nureyev’s Moorish villa, now Villa Giovanni.
This is the Roman watch tower, the first living accommodations on the island converted from the ancient ruins by Massine. In a nod to Li Galli’s strong ties to the ballet world, current owner (and seller) Russo has hosted dance companies in the summer to put on exclusive performances where Massine once built his open-air theatre.
It comes with a stone fireplace, 2 bedrooms, a library, a kitchen with a dreamy La Cornu stove, wrap around stone terrace and sea views from every room…
There’s also a salt water pool behind the ancient tower.
And of course a helipad.
Now let’s make our way over to the white house overlooking the chapel.
The private chapel holds 20 people and comes with a piano and altar for weddings and a pathway of stone steps leading directly to the water for a post-marital swim.
The honeymoon sweet is just next door…
Through the rocks on Li Galli, you can see the island of Isca, considered part of the archipelago but separately owned the son of Neapolitan playwright, Eduardo De Filippo, whom it was inherited from.
The archipelago of course has its fair share of turquoise grottos hidden in the rocks, considered to be some of the best diving spots in Italy.
So I think that concludes our tour of “Dolphin Island”. You almost forgot about its shape, didn’t you?!
But now you know the fisherman’s story of Il Galli and you can pass it on. It is a real place, even if it may very well be a dream for most of us…