For a tropical vacation on the road less traveled, there are paradisiacal getaways in remote places (see "Bali High" in this issue). The only drawback is that you pay the price to get there: many hours in the air. So for a sybaritic experience closer to the United States, we give you the option of five resorts in the northern Caribbean islands. They're new to the landscape—all either opened or were renovated in the last year. In addition we give you a sneak preview of coming attractions across the region.
Orientation: The resorts in the main section of this guide are in the northern Caribbean, with the majority in the Leeward Islands. The northernmost region is the Turks and Caicos Islands, 575 miles from Miami, considered a part of the Caribbean, though the location, just southeast of the Bahamas, more accurately places them in the Atlantic. The next islands fall south of that in succession: Anguilla, Saint Martin, and Antigua.
Getting There: American, Delta, and Continental nonstop to San Juan (about four hours), with connections on American Eagle to most islands. American nonstop from New York to St. Maarten, BWIA from New York to Antigua. Starting in November, TWA twice weekly from New York to St. Maarten, American two flights daily to Turks and Caicos, through Miami. Starting in December, Delta daily from Atlanta to Turks and Caicos.
Closest Major Airports: Princess Juliana International Airport in St. Maarten; V.C. Bird International Airport in Antigua; Providenciales International Airport in Turks and Caicos.
Getting Around: Avis and Budget car rental offices at the airports in Anguilla, St. Maarten, Antigua (although if you're taking the boat to Jumby you won't need it), and Turks and Caicos. Hertz offices at all but Turks and Caicos.
Local airline carriers such as Liat make milk-run island hops, but schedules can be unreliable. Chartering is often the best solution. Reach Anguilla from the island of Saint Martin—a five-minute plane flight from St. Maarten, the Dutch side, or a 30-minute ferry ride (often in choppy seas) from St. Martin, the French side.
Or hire a helicopter. Skilled pilot Brad Hanger has two helicopters: a six-passenger Bell 206L and a six-passenger, twin-engine Bell 222 (he's based in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, but his flying range extends from the Dominican Republic to Guadeloupe). Tel/fax 284-495-2538; 284-499-2663 (cell phone).
Telephone Numbers: The area codes: 264 for Anguilla, 268 for Antigua, 649 for Turks and Caicos, 590 for St. Martin.
Local Time: One hour ahead of EST; Turks and Caicos, same as EST.
Currency: Anguilla and Antigua, the Eastern Caribbean dollar, abbreviated EC$; St. Martin, the French franc, abbreviated FF. U.S. dollars are generally accepted, however, and are also the currency of the Turks and Caicos.
Exchange Rate: $1=EC$2.69; $1=FF7.45.
Best Time To Visit: November through June, although the summer months are only marginally hotter. Hurricane season, however, runs from June through November; September and October are traditionally the months with the greatest hurricane threat and many resorts close at that time for seasonal makeovers.
Restaurant Tipping: Service is included in Anguilla, Antigua, and St. Martin but not in Turks and Caicos.
Remember That: As these are predominantly British islands, driving is on the left. Saint Martin is the exception.Further Information: Anguilla Tourist Board, 800-553-4939; Antigua Barbuda Department of Tourism, 212-541-4117, 888-268-4227; French St. Martin Tourism Office, 212-475-8970; Turks and Caicos Tourism Office, 800-241-0824.
Point Grace Resort, Turks and Caicos
My first impression, admittedly, wasn't auspicious. From Providenciales (or Provo, as the locals call it) International Airport, you pass strip malls and business developments; on Grace Bay, where Point Grace is located, midrange resorts are lined up next to each other. I wondered if I'd been led astray thinking that this resort, which opened in March of this year, could really be an exclusive destination. It didn't help that I could hear the screams of children from the pool as we neared the gate. Not the most restful beginning.
After spending two days at this complex, with its British Colonial architecture and turn-of-the-century cottages, however, I warmed to its charms. But there's a qualifier: This is a grand place for families, mostly because its 32 suites contain a preponderance of two- and three-bedroom varieties that are particularly spacious (ranging from 1,551 to 2,600 square feet) and have state-of-the-art kitchens (granite counters, convection and microwave ovens, professional refrigerators). They also have stylish decor—rattan or teak fourposters swathed in mosquito netting, such accent pieces as unusual Balinese baskets and handmade teak furniture, 200-year-old Indian wall hangings, molded silver bowls, pillows of vivid Indonesian silk—and an overall attention to detail: There's a choice of robes (Frette terry or Balinese cotton), for example, and Lavazza espresso instead of the usual hotel standard issue.
Since my August visit was early in the resort's life, certain elements were in transition: The landscaping was still being planted, the mobile plastic playground was parked on the side, giving a less than idyllic view to the 04 rooms in the east building, and, most importantly, the food operation was still being formed, since their chef had left and they were finalizing facilities for their dining room.
Still, for such a transitional state, what food service they did offer was exceptional—a cocktail-hour buffet of premium pâtés, crudités, and cheeses and balsamic-marinated mushrooms and artichokes, prosciutto and melon; a breakfast buffet of freshly baked muffins and croissants, Lavazza espresso, and freshly squeezed orange juice; simple but well-prepared lunch selections such as spaghetti with roasted tomato sauce, ham, and black olives, and one of the best steamed Caribbean lobsters I've had, perfectly tender and enlivened with a tropical-fruit slaw. Until they sort out dinner, the management is shuttling guests to the area restaurants or offering the services of the lunch chef to cook for you in your room, using those fabulous kitchens. On the basis of his lobster, I would have opted for a cook-in meal, if another guest hadn't reserved the chef first.
Chefs can also be hired to cater meals at one of the three separate houses the management has decorated and runs on a secluded stretch of Grace Bay beach. Best is Sunnyside, a four-bedroom house on six acres with its own pool, tennis court, and children's playroom.
In the main buildings, the best rooms are the three-bedroom 03 series of the West building with two sitting rooms and wraparound views of the water. The cream of the crop, though, was finished the day I was there: the 400 West penthouse. It's 4,600 square feet, with its own massage room, clubby leather couch-filled cigar room, and office. Details include a handmade Indonesian model ship, hand-carved cabinets taken from boats, antique silver teapots, African statues, and top-level reproductions of European master paintings. It feels like the lair of a colonial governor. And, with only one bedroom, it is the perfect place for a relaxing family vacation: The children and nanny can stay in the connecting three-bedroom suite downstairs. Sunnyside, $18,000 a week; 400 West, $4,500 per night (two-week minimum stay); hotel suites, $435-$1,175. Box 700, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands, British West Indies; 888-682-3705, 649-946-5096; fax 649-946-5097; www.pointgrace.tc.
Cuisinart Resort & Spa, Anguilla
"What would you call this architecture?" my fellow guest asked me. We were standing side by side at the entrance, gaping. Mykonos Fantasy seemed to be the best either of us could come up with to describe this new kid on the block (which opened last December), with its dramatic whitewashed, geometric lines and scalloped roofs punctuated by blue domes. Even on this island studded with stark-white, over-the-top architecture, such as the modern galleon-shaped buildings of Covecastles and the Moorish fantasy of Cap Juluca (each new resort raises the design bar it seems, trying to one-up the rest), it is startling in its design.
Then there is the name—an unsettling one that evokes images of being diced or julienned. "Why would they call it that?" asked the guest. The reason is that the resort's proprietor also owns the famed food processor line and knows that there is much to be gained with a brand name, even in an unrelated product. "It may seem a strange name to use," admits general manager Marston Winkles, "but, when you think about it, it's a name you'll remember."
Clearly, this new addition to the rarefied Anguilla resort scene wants to make an immediate impression, and to a large degree it succeeds. The setting, certainly, is stunning; behind the main building there is a glamorous pool with negative edges sending water cascading over the side in a waterfall effect to a lower level. Three separate inset pools lead the way from the main one to the beach and are border-lit at night, earning them the nickname "the runway." On both sides of the runway, ten similarly dramatic Mykonos villas house the majority of the 93 rooms and suites, fronting a generous stretch of the island's powdery beach.
The good news about these suites is that they're enormous, particularly the one-bedroom units on the top floor of the beach villas, measuring 1,800 square feet. (The smallest room, in contrast, is 900 square feet.) The bad news is that with all that space to work with, the decor feels a bit basic and stark. (There are some very interesting accessories, such as the frosted blue glass Italian lamp.) Better are the penthouses, particularly the 7,600-square-foot, two-bedroom Penthouse II, which is embellished with blue leather chairs, a state-of-the-art entertainment system, and an outdoor terrace large enough to hold all of the resort's guests.
Realistically, guests may not spend that much time in their rooms since they have that pool, that beach, and the Venus spa, a 6,000-square-foot tri-level space featuring treatments—from the luxurious (milk and honey almond scrubs, seaweed facials, body polishes with Italian olive oil), to the basic (one of the best massages I've had anywhere—ask for Peter), to the esoteric (ear coning, which apparently improves equilibrium and energy with the use of beeswax candles, which are inserted in the ear to clear out earwax). I considered this last one, but chickened out.
On the third floor of the spa, the Hydroponics Café showcases another of the resort's emphases—hydroponic vegetable production, the farming going on in the greenhouses in front of the entrance. The all-vegetable dishes are light and refreshing. The food at the resort's other two restaurants is generally creative and well-prepared, a Mediterranean menu with Caribbean overtones devised by a chef from Lyon. A strange mélange, but it usually works.
Actually, that could describe the resort overall. Still, there are certain elements that detracted. A place aiming for a sophisticated market shouldn't issue daily family activity lists, the service should be smoother, the decor inside should match the sheer drama outside. But even with that, I'd go back. $490-$4,800. Box 2000, Rendezvous Bay, Anguilla, British West Indies; 800-943-3210, 264-498-2000; fax 264-498-2055; www.cuisinartresort.com.
The sunbathers on the beach at CuisinArt were staring—and who could blame them? The staff of the villa Altamer, located a few coves down the beach, had sent a boat for me, as they do for all guests, but since the boat had to dock a few feet offshore, walking into the waves was required. But they wouldn't hear of letting me do it. So first my bags were carried to the boat. And then so was I.
Such is the concept of service at this villa, which opened on the island in July, with a staff led by head butler John Macbeth and trained by Ton de Wit, a former butler to the Dutch royal family. I was one of their first guests, so I expected the systems to still be shaking down. But the staff was firmly in control, from Jeannine Connor-Gittens' previsit calls to see if there were special activities I wanted to arrange, or a particular bottle of wine I wanted her to find (not necessary, given the wine list of impressive vintages such as a 1989 Pétrus and 1990 Château Latour). Once there, service was exceptionally smooth, illustrated by the fly in my wine glass. I wasn't even aware it had flown in, but John, watching from inside the house, was, so he swooped in and replaced the glass before I noticed the wings fluttering. The ultimate, imperceptible service.
That's one aspect of the resort. Then there is the house itself. I had become a fan of Myron Goldfinger's modern architecture while staying in one of the beach houses at Covecastles. He's taken that style here and raised it a notch. The 12,000-square-foot, five-bedroom house looks like a collection of four geometric buildings in one—linear, almost bookend shapes on the sides, a rectangle with a rounded balcony and a square with a jagged, peaked roof attached by walkways between the bookends. Despite its sharp edges, there are rounded architectural corners within, secret passageways, stairs up and down. A lot of very interesting angles. And a lot of privacy.
I grabbed the spacious master suite, a lofty 26-foot-square room with 19-foot ceilings and double-height windows overlooking the turquoise water for which the island is known. The room is filled, as is the house, with very interesting details—handstitched Italian sheets with the peaked roof outline of the villa on the edges, antique Turkish slippers holding rolled handkerchiefs, gold Turkish cups, soap in linen bags. Supporting these details, the furniture is simple but beautiful—rattan covered with raw silk colored periwinkle, plum, and dusty rose. And every facet of the house seems handmade: Murano sconces, swirled Champagne flutes that glint gold at night, woodtone and silver-tipped French flatware, opalescent dishes. I wanted to take everything home. (And soon you can, since owner Rebecca Eggleton is having extras of the accessories made to sell to guests, including clothing that matches the raw silk of the furniture's cushions and jewelry designed by the house's interior designer, June Goldfinger, the architect's wife. At first I thought such overt merchandising a bit crass, but after seeing everything and coveting it, I take that back.)
Corresponding to the overall high quality are the meals, prepared by French-born but transplanted Anguillan chef Maurice Leduc. And they could not be more local, since we watched associate butler Carl Irish lasso crayfish in the surf while we were having lunch (they turned up at dinner on roasted plantain slices accompanied by leeks in a delicious cream sauce). In December, Leduc will move to the new restaurant on the villa's grounds but will supervise the chef installed in his place.
The time I spent here was extraordinarily lazy—lying by the pool, taking a tennis lesson on the villa's court from Eudoxie Wallace, the owner of the restaurant/entertainment complex Scilly Cay, counting the hours to Leduc's next meal. When it was time to leave, the eager staff asked for my recommendations—was there anything they should add or change? Generally I have at least one aspect of a resort I'd love to see altered. But here, I wouldn't change a thing. $5,000 per day for entire villa. Shoal Bay West, Anguilla, British West Indies; 888- 652-6888, 264-498-4000; fax 264-498-4010;
Jumby Bay Resort, Antigua
When we looked at Jumby Bay last year, it had just reopened following an 18-month closure and the settlement of a long-running legal dispute between the resort's developer and the homeowners on the island (Departures, May/June 1999). The once glamorous resort was in turmoil with a moribund staff, tired-looking rooms, and an overall feeling of malaise. After our write-up appeared the management company, Rockresorts, packed up and left. The homeowners resumed control of the property and sold it to Heinz Simonitsch of Jamaica's Half Moon Golf, Tennis & Beach Club. So now, with new staff in place and a refurbishment under way, we went back to see if the once-hallowed property had regained its allure. The conclusion—better than last year, but they still have a way to go.
On the plus side, the physical setting is as beautiful as always—a private 300-acre island five miles off Antigua with three sensational beaches, hotel cottages on one side of the island, and private villas (some of which are for rent) on the other. The Half Moon team has been making improvements,pulling together the service and adding a swimming pool, air conditioning, and new fabrics to the 39 suites that overlook Jumby Bay Beach. Last year the front-desk staff was notable for its lack of interest in serving any guest's need; this year they were responsive and pleasant, even answering the phone at 12:30 a.m. and explaining patiently that the evening's storm had disrupted long-distance phone service from Antigua—the reason I couldn't complete a call.
Another change in resort policy: Children are now allowed, something that was unheard of in the glamour years. But they will be isolated along Sunrise Beach, a newly created beach near the two-bedroom Harbour Bay Villas, self-sufficient units especially popular with families.
Last year the food at Jumby Bay was so terrible that I heard various guests complain; this year, unfortunately, it was not much better (I had to send back my dinner). Hopefully, in time, that will improve. As, in its second season, this new incarnation of the resort will overall. $950-$3,750. Box 243, Jumby Bay Island, St. John's, Antigua; 800-237-3237, 268-462-6000; fax 268-462-6020; www.jumby-bay.com.
La Samanna, St. Martin
I had a good experience this time at La Samanna . When I visited just over two years ago, I found the service lacking. The rooms, particularly the cottages dotting the beach, were tired and dated, with a faded tropical-print decor. The food was too complicated for a tropical climate. So even with news that the manager and chef had changed and the rooms had been redone, I was slightly wary about going back.
Fortunately, the resort has improved. Even though it was low season, midsummer, the place had a tinge of glamour, courtesy of its well-dressed, mostly European guests. And the service couldn't have been more accommodating. It also felt lighter and airier; from the entryway the opened arches now give a view of the water of sparkling Baie Longue, one of the loveliest beaches in the region. Of the resort's 81 rooms, there are three showplace suites—completed in 1998—in the main building with panoramic vistas overlooking the beach. But it was the renovation of the cottages that most interested me. They were vastly improved, with new glass doors bringing inthe water views. They're redecorated in vivid blue, red, and gold fabrics and extended so that there are new spacious bathrooms in place of the small, dark ones from the hotel's original 1973 designs. (The renovation is being done on a gradual three-year plan, however, with only half of the rooms to be finished by this season. So ask specifically for a renovated one, particularly a downstairs one-bedroom suite, which has a sizable private patio fronting the beach.)
Another positive change is in the restaurant, where Franck Chouette presents pared-down but perfectly executed dishes that are much more appealing than the fussy preparations of previous menus. One night I had superbly roasted shellfish with a lemon mayonnaise over bitter greens and simply roasted rouget (red mullet) with a cauliflower mousseline; the next night was luscious lobster ravioli with artichoke fricassee and chicken breast stuffed with foie gras accompanied by a fricassee of fava beans, bacon, and spring onions.
The meal that I remember most, though, was a simple lunch the day I was leaving: a grilled Caribbean lobster preceded by a perfect gazpacho and a dense tomato-and-basil sorbet, an ideal meal for that setting. Under the balcony of the restaurant, the white arc of Baie Longue beach was dazzling, as were the European guests draped over the chaise longues by the pool, which is situated on a deck overlooking the sand. The resort has the reputation of being a sophisticated place for those who want to drop out from the world—even the world of this largely overdeveloped island. At that moment, I finally understood why. $715-$3,870. B.P. 4077, 97064 St. Martin Cedex, French West Indies; 800-854-2252, 590-876-400; fax 590-878-786; www.orient-expresshotels.com.
The Most Tranquil Spa In The Caribbean
When we visited Parrot Cay, a private island in the Turks and Caicos, a few months after it opened (Departures, May/June 1999), its spa was in the early stages of development. Shambhala opened late last year, and it's the perfect spot for psychic detoxing—several weathered pavilions overlooking the channel separating the island from its neighbor, North Caicos. I had the signature Shambhala massage, a treatment of long strokes in tandem with bay, lime, or clove oils, but there were several I recognized from Asian trips, such as the Javanese Royal Lulur Bath, with a coating of ginger, cloves, and rice powder for exfoliation. Best place to stay for direct access to the spa: the Pirate House, the owners' two-bedroom cottage with an infinity-edge pool, rented out when they're not in residence. Treatments, $85-$195. Private spa cottage, $200 (for four hours), $525 (for eight hours), treatments extra. Pirate House price upon request. Box 164, Turks and Caicos Islands, British West Indies; 877-754-0726; fax 649-946-7789; www.parrot-cay.com.
Two perennials decked by Hurricane Lenny in 1999 are scheduled to reopen this November. Cap Juluca on Anguilla lost the foundations of many of its beach villas and a lot of its beach; both have been restored, and during the resurrection the management also redecorated. A spa designed by the creators of the beautiful spa at the Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay in Bali will debut next year. $785-$5,655. Box 240, Maunday's Bay, Anguilla, British West Indies; 888-858-5822, 264-497-6666; fax 264-497-6617; www.capjuluca.com.
During its post-Lenny hiatus, the Four Seasons Nevis redecorated all of its rooms and added two infinity pools and an entertainment center for preteens and teens. $775-$2,750. Box 565, Charlestown, Nevis, British West Indies; 800-332-3442, 869-469-1111; fax 869-469-1085; www.fourseasons.com.
Whatever Happened To Sandy Lane?
The veteran Barbados resort has been missing in action since the spring of 1998, when it closed to undergo a major renovation. It's still closed, and best estimates now forecast it back on the scene in spring 2001. When it reopens, the suites will be enlarged and reduced in number to 112; there will be 45 holes of golf, including one course designed by Tom Fazio, and a new 30,000-square-foot spa. For further updates, call 246-444-2000 or visit
Opening This Winter
After several fits and starts and changes in partners, Rosewood's Martineau Bay Y resort is slated to open in January 2001 on the island of Vieques, eight miles off the coast of Puerto Rico. I did a preview trip in July and thought the location was gorgeous—on a secluded point on the northern shore of the island with two beaches on the property and access to a third. The architecture is a slightly prefab-looking spin on French colonial, with yellow, gingerbread-trimmed buildings housing several suites each. (For true privacy guests should wait for the villas, some of which may be open by spring. They'll be private ownership—the designer Giorgio Armani might buy one—but a select few will be rented out.)
Otherwise, the rooms are spacious, and the furnishings a mix of Philippine furniture, Mexican tiles, slate-blue bedspreads, stone lamps, and terra-cotta floors. It's a restrained, appealing tropical mix. (Rooms to get: the one-bedroom suites in the 100 building, the most secluded, with the best views of Puerto Rico.) There's also a large spa featuring what are promised to be treatments using indigenous ingredients.
The only drawback will be obvious to anyone who has been reading the news the past few years. The Navy has been using this island as a weapons testing ground for over four decades, and while tests don't currently include live ammunition, they are still ongoing—though on the other side of the island. At the very least, it's an uncomfortable sensation to drive around the island and see "Yanqui go home" and "Navy out" signs. For all of the obvious reasons, one can only hope that the bombing stops. Rooms $450-$2,050. HC-01 Box 9368, Vieques, Puerto Rico 00765-9236; 888-767-3966, 787-741-4100; fax 787-741-4105; www.rosewoodhotels.com.
Farther Away on the Horizon
L'Avanbleu, Rosewood's newest resort in development on St. Lucia, features overwater bungalows on Rodney Bay. The South Pacific comes to the Caribbean. Scheduled to open fall 2001.
The biggest gossip on the island is that Adrian Zecha, the creator of Amanresorts, has a Providenciales project in the works. Rumor has it the place will be on the western coast of the island, with a golf course to be designed by Greg Norman. Not expected to open until 2003—stay tuned.
Disclaimer: The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication in Nov/Dec 2000, but we suggest you confirm all details with the service establishments before making travel plans.
About This Guide
Prices In U.S. dollars.
Hotel Prices Double occupancy, from the least expensive double room to the most expensive suite, excluding hotel tax (usually about 18 percent). Rates given are high season (approximately mid-December-April). Off-season rates are significantly lower.
Travel Tips See Caribbean Basics.
Platinum Card Travel Service (PTS) or Centurion Travel Service (CTS) For assistance with your travel to Alsace or any destination, call 800-443-7672 (PTS) or 877-877-0987 (CTS). From abroad, call 623-492-5000 collect.
Hotel/resort is member of Platinum Card Fine Hotels, Resorts & Spas. Accomodations must be booked through PTS or CTS to obtain benefit.