The 40 cays that make up the archipelago of Turks and Caicos have become the It islands of the Caribbean. And while the building boom in pri- vate villas is rampant throughout the region, the high-end places here stand apart. These new properties rival even the St. Regis resort rising in Anguilla and the residences at Raffles St. Lucia. Luxury hotel group Aman chose Turks and Caicos as the site for its first Caribbean outpost, and a rash of residential properties— many starting north of $2 million—are also under construction. Several of these projects have islands all to themselves; each has a distinct character and style. And although Turks and Caicos is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, it is only a two-and-a-half-hour flight from New York. We traveled down there recently to check out the best of the current villas and found retreats to suit every taste.
Grace Bay Club
Although a number of eyesores now crowd the flagship island of Providenciales, the Grace Bay Club—Provo’s first luxury resort, founded in 1993—was able to hold on to its original charm even after new ownership expanded. The original 21 suites now include 38 privately owned residences. All sold out before construction was even completed in 2003, at around $1.25 million each.
The owners are mostly U.S.-based entrepreneurs, real estate barons, and investment bankers. Celebrities such as Maria Sharapova and Will Smith have also rented here. "Like the people from Texas," managing director Nikheel Advani says, "we like everything big." Indeed, the best thing about the villas at Grace Bay Club is their sprawling space: The largest features 4,800 square feet.
The term "villa" is somewhat of a misnomer since the units are housed inside four-story Spanish Mediterranean–style buildings, designed to blend with the architecture of the original hotel. This might sound like vertical living, but don’t mistake it for the high-density development you’ll find elsewhere on the 12-mile stretch of Grace Bay Beach. There are only two condominiums per floor, allowing everyone a corner and an unobstructed view of the turquoise waters and Turks and Caicos’s top-rated strip of sand.
With their large open kitchens, flat-screen TVs, and washing machines, the villas are family-focused. That the Grace Bay Club is only a short drive from the airport—with no bumpy roads or boats to contend with—also gives it family appeal. A year-round kids’ program keeps the junior set busy with swimming lessons, glass-bottom-boat excursions, and evening "cocktail" parties serving slushies and s’mores. All four penthouse residences have three bedrooms, a media room, and a 1,000-square-foot terrace complete with a hot tub. And each comes with its own personal chef.
The decor plays it safe—marble bathrooms, beige travertine floors, Balinese teak furniture, and pale raw-silk window dressings. Some details, however, are questionable: The number of separately controlled light switches, for example, require extreme patience. (There are at least 20 individual controls in the penthouse alone.)
Still under construction yet almost completely sold out are 22 übervillas called The Estates, which are slated to open in 2008. These four- and five- bedroom homes—everyone has a private entrance—possess killer views and, like the villas, are stacked two to a floor. But The Estates feature higher- end touches, such as two-person steam showers and kitchen appliances by Wolf and Sub-Zero. Interiors are designed by RTKL, which did the Art Deco–style Mandarin Oriental in Miami. With pale Jerusalem Stone floors and furniture custom-crafted from African, Brazilian, and Indonesian hardwoods and upholstered by Donghia, the feel is luxurious though the look may seem familiar.
If residents want to bring their own midcentury modern furniture—or their own architect, for that matter—they can. But since no one has yet, Grace Bay Club may know exactly what its guests want. Two-bedroom suites run $1,920 a night and penthouses, $7,700. Purchase price for the Estates villas start at $3.5 million, while the Estate penthouse costs $8.5 million (800-946-5757; gracebayclub.com).
This may be Aman’s first outpost in the Caribbean, but even here—at the northwest point of Providenciales, amid wild orchids, Turks Head cactuses, and island scrub—the aesthetic is Asian. With architecture highlighting clean lines and symmetry over ocean views, Amanyara isn’t a beachcomber’s delight, but it is a haven for minimalists. The 40 guest rooms are stand-alone pavilions that provide a private feel, and staying in one of the villas (each is set on up to two and a half acres) is practically like having an entire resort to yourself.
The property was designed by Jean-Michel Gathy, the Belgian architect responsible for Aman-i-Khas in Rajasthan, India, and the Setai hotel in Miami. He created the villas using three to four freestanding buildings with overhanging roofs, clustered around a private 60-foot lap pool hewed from black volcanic rock.
The living and dining pavilion—2,000 square feet with vaulted ceilings made of teak—serves as the common area. Stone pathways connect separate bedroom pavilions across the manicured grounds; each is identical in size, something that might not appeal to those looking for a larger master suite. The 1,080-square-foot rooms, all furnished with a platform bed and built-in desk, are separated by a teak screen from a dressing and bath area, which has his-and-her sinks (square porcelain vessels resting on rough granite slabs), a "rain" shower built into Indonesian volcanic rock, and a Philippe Starck–designed bathtub.
The seamless merging of indoor and outdoor spaces is largely achieved by the floor-to-ceiling sliding-glass doors that make it possible to open the pavilion on three sides. MechoShades ensure privacy when desired and, in a touch any James Bond aficionado would love, are centrally controlled—from the bed.
The entire villa balances the high tech with the handmade. There’s wireless Internet and, thanks to satellite systems, international calls are free, but the buildings and villas are constructed from materials flown in from more than three dozen countries and crafted using traditional methods.
At all Aman resorts, the style is ultraminimal and this one is no exception. The suites’ full-height doors slide into pockets, and we had to enlist our housekeeper, Ela, to help us find an electric outlet (it turned out to be hidden in a drawer under the sink). The seating outside each pavilion is quite low to the ground, and the outdoor dining areas feature Japanese-style recessed seating. Amanyara’s layout was created so that nothing, not even the guests, obstructs the pristine landscape.
Some 33 villas are planned—nearly half are already sold—and they differ only in location and the number of bedrooms. The most coveted have a private path to the beach: a mix of rocky shore, sandy white coves, and prime spots for viewing the passing humpback whales.
As beautiful as the accommodations are, the aesthetic is completely uniform throughout. The art books on the shelves are the same in each living room; Amanyara’s unofficial music (Caribbean Steel Drums) is the sole CD in the Bose system. Owners leave behind only clothes and personal effects, and the villa management will document everything with photographs, lock it all away, and return everything to the exact position it was in before their next arrival.
And although the resort can provide every baby need from high chairs to diaper bins to bath toys, the open waters around the property and the separation between rooms aren’t really suitable for small children. Plus, the 25-minute ride from the airport, which ends with ten minutes on a rough dirt road, isn’t exactly kid-friendly.
That so much of Amanyara, which opened in March 2006, is still under construction has irked some visitors. The spa completion date is still to be determined—in the meantime, a therapist will come to your villa—and the Fazio golf course remains a few years away. Unfinished amenities haven’t kept the Aman junkies away, though, and with the signature understated elegance and luxe service now so geographically convenient, Amanyara will likely cultivate a new crop of loyalists. Three-bedroom pond villas begin at $6,300 a night (866-941-8133). Purchase prices for villas range from $12 million to $21 million (649-941- 7952; amanyaravillas.com).
Turks and Caicos is often called the Caribbean Hamptons, which is a perfect way to think of Parrot Cay. Donna Karan, Christie Brinkley, and Bruce Willis all have places here. The most secluded of the sites (it’s a 35-minute boat ride from Providenciales), Parrot Cay sits on a 1,000-acre private island that’s home to 175-plus bird species—and not much else. Cell phone service is patchy, and we found that the landlines tend to go down often.
The whole place is the vision of Christina Ong, the glamorous Singaporean businesswoman whose daughter, Melissa, discovered it on a diving trip in 1997. Together they turned Parrot Cay into a sanctuary for wellness. Today many make the pilgrimage for the newly renovated Como Shambhala Spa and its holistic yoga retreat weeks.
Most of the private homes are hidden far up the beach and many are available for renting. Take, for example, Bruce Willis’s three-building compound and one of Donna Karan’s guest villas. Karan, whose daughter was married here, has made a point of talking about how much the island means "personally" to her, how it has a way of "bringing the passion of the East to the West. It feels as if you’ve been taken around the world to Bali, but it’s much closer," says Karan, who visits at least six times a year.
Her own home was a collaboration between the designer herself, New York–based Bonetti/Kozerski (the studio that designed Karan’s Stateside homes and many of her brands’ stores), and Cheong Yew Kuan, a Singaporean architect. Karan says she’s most excited about sleeping in her "spa house," a one-bedroom space equipped with a yoga room, a spa-cum-bathroom, and floor-to-ceiling glass walls. The latter slide away so that the structure, which is surrounded by two pools, becomes completely open to the outdoors. There are also guest quarters on her property, as well as a private yoga pavilion that sits nine feet above the ground on pillars fashioned from the trunks of Indonesian trees.
The three-bedroom Rocky Point villas (one is owned by Christie Brinkley) were designed by Ong and Cheong. All of them are identical, with detached master bedrooms, outdoor showers, and infinity pools. But they do have different outdoor spaces (some feature tiki hut spas and others have more untouched beachfront).
Parrot Cay owns some of the villas, including the one we stayed in. These have one to three whitewashed bedrooms with muslin-draped four-poster beds and screened porches with Balinese teak furniture. The best have alfresco dining areas, hammocks, and private pools.
Overall, the look is spartan and the residences are a bit rustic. The jungle can penetrate the dwellings in the form of rainwater after a heavy shower and an occasional bout of mildew in the bath.
The next project on the boards are five private residences, also designed by Cheong, which begin at $11 mil-lion. These two-story numbers crafted from glass and wood will include two master suites, handmade Balinese furniture, and a 60-foot infinity pool extending out to the beach. Three-bedroom beach villas begin at $5,500 a night. Purchase prices for the new residences start at $11 million (649-946-7788; parrotcay.como.bz). —Carlye Adler
Your Own Private Caribbean: The Best of the Rest
Turks and Caicos is not the only island group in the Caribbean with prime private residences. The next few years will see a lot more high-end real estate in the region. A few notable up-and-comers include:
Albany Golf & Beach Club albanybahamas.com
Island New Providence, the Bahamas
Description A 565-acre golf resort seven minutes from the airport, designed by Tiger Woods, Joe Lewis, and Ernie Els and managed by Ritz-Carlton alum Horst Schulze’s West Paces Hotel Group.
Price A one-acre oceanfront lot that can accommodate a 20,000-square-foot home is $15 million; a penthouse Marina condo— at 22,000 square feet plus terraces and private pool—goes for $42 million. A 4,000-square-foot apartment is a comparative bargain at $8 million.
Amenities Championship golf course, marina, tennis center, spa, pools, and equestrian center
Perfect for Golfers who want to play with Els and El Tigre—and bring the family, too
Opening Fall 2009
Viceroy Anguilla Resort & Residences viceroyanguilla.com
Island Anguilla, British West Indies
Description L.A. designer Kelly Wearstler’s white, black, and gold elegance meets the Caribbean’s azure blue in this cottage and condo colony on 36 acres. Husband Brad Korzen is the developer.
Price A 500-square-foot studio costs $1 million and a 4,500-square-foot blufftop villa runs about $6.5 million.
Amenities Spa, blufftop restaurant, tennis courts, pools, and kids’ club
Perfect for Style-hunters looking to own on the Caribbean’s most prestigious island
Opening Spring 2008
Bahía Beach Resort & Golf Club bahiabeachpuertorico.com
Island Puerto Rico
Description St. Regis has staked its claim on 483 acres of a former coconut plantation 25 minutes from the airport. In one direction lies the Atlantic Ocean and the Bahía Beach golf course, currently getting a makeover by Robert Trent Jones Jr.; in the other direction El Yunque National Forest towers in the distance.
Price A 1,671-square-foot villa starts in the $700,000 range; a 10,000-square-foot estate home on 1.3 acres costs $7.5 million.
Amenities Butler service, a Remède Spa, a Jean Georges restaurant, retail, oceanfront swimming pools, kayaking, hiking trails, and two miles of beach
Perfect for Nature- and golf-lovers who want easy access to the largest airport in the Caribbean
Opening The first residences are currently available; the rest open in winter 2009.
Raffles St. Lucia, West Indies rafflesstlucia.com
Island St. Lucia, British West Indies
Description Jack Nicklaus’s latest Caribbean venture is surrounded by water on three sides, so seven holes will border the ocean. Golf on pristine St. Lucia should be especially rewarding with the view of the twin Pitons.
Price $1.1 million for a one-bedroom condominium and $1.6 million for two bedrooms
Amenities An 18-hole championship Jack Nicklaus golf course, full-service spa, fine dining, and child-friendly activities
Perfect for Golfers who want complete solitude…or the satisfaction of getting in before all the good lots are taken
The Preserve at Botany Bay thepreserveatbotanybay.com
Island St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Description The former estate of the Corning family is being developed into a community of 2.3- to 15-acre lots on the remote western end of the island.
Price $1.1 million to $4.3 million for an undeveloped lot
Amenities Prearrival groceries, maid service, state-of-the-art spa, boutique hotel, archaeological sites, three private beaches
Perfect for Those who seek peace and quiet but also want easy access (within 20 minutes) to fine dining in Frenchtown
Opening Spring 2009