Canouan, St. Vincent & the Grenadines
"Are you an Italian?" asked one of my fellow passengers in the van en route to Carenage Bay Beach and Golf Club. I wasn't—but everyone else was. The reason: This $200 million resort, which opened in December 1999, is the property of Italian financier Antonio Saladino, who hired Luigi Vietti, architect of the Costa Smeralda hotels, to re-create Sardinia on this tiny, virtually undeveloped island. He succeeded, fashioning a Sardinian piazza as the main entrance, sprinkling the hillsides with apricot-, pink-, and lemon-colored villas, and importing Italian TV chef Luigi Bergeretto. Even the locals are learning Italian in the hotel school the resort created. Hearing "ciao" in a West Indian accent is a singular experience.
But does an Italian outpost in the Caribbean work? If you love Italy and you don't care about local authenticity, it does. Saladino chose an extraordinary location: fronting a gorgeous beach and a stretch of aqua water. Among the other pluses: an 18-hole golf course, a good spa, a gorgeous pool , and perched high on a hill, a European casino. The villas are beautifully decorated, with sponged gold or slate-blue walls, iron or wood fourposter beds, terra-cotta tile floors, Mexican-tile bathrooms, and accent pieces from South America and Asia. All have great terraces with water views (the best is room 104). And of course they have espresso machines.
The caveats are obvious. Because the resort is spread out and hilly, you have to drive golf carts everywhere (and sign a liability waiver when you check in). And as much as I love Italy, after a few days I wanted more of the Caribbean. So do the islanders, apparently: There were protests when developers tore up the courtyard of the 19th-century church, which now stands incongruously next to the apricot buildings at the hotel entrance.
Not obvious was why the restaurant was so mediocre. My Italian dining companions and I all sent back our main courses—a dry snapper with an overly strong mushroom sauce. The French restaurant at the casino wasn't much better. I wanted to try the buffet at the Beach Club restaurant, which had stations manned by various ethnic chefs—Italian, Thai, and West Indian—but a Canadian incentive group had taken over the restaurant, so the usual menu had changed. (Group business seems increasingly important, even in high season, which is when I was there.) Otherwise, the Beach Club pasta was pretty good.
So, bottom line: You're not really in the Caribbean, and you may be surrounded by groups. But even with that, the water is so beautiful and the Italian tone so winning overall, I'd go back. $520-$1,480. 800-223-6800; 784-458-8000; fax 784-458-8885.