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In the beginning, Laurance Rockefeller created Little Dix Bay in his own image: impressively understated, terribly exclusive, and very private. Amidst coconut palms and sea grape trees, the 53-year-old tycoon built 36 cottages fronting a near-perfect crescent of white sand. Unlike other grand beachfront resorts, Little Dix would have no swimming pool, air conditioning, in-room telephone, or, God forbid, TV. This would be Xanadu without the gold taps and marble bathrooms, where people with good taste and money (loads of it), the same people who summered, say, in Nantucket or Blue Hill, Maine, would come in winter when they needed the Caribbean's restorative waters and sun. And so it would remain for years. "Little Dix was always respectful of a clientele that liked things just the way they were," says David Flack, who last November became the resort's new managing director. As one guest put it, "If you even thought about changing the type of shampoo there was hell to pay." In its day Little Dix, one of the jewels in the crown of Rockefeller's RockResorts, defined the modern luxury resort.
"And so we do again," Flack tells me as he unlocks the door to my villa, which along with the one next door, and the spectacular hilltop spa, opened this past December.
In 1993, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts took over Little Dix, and over the past decade it has made a series of multimillion-dollar "refreshments." Quite wisely, it proceeded cautiously and thoughtfully. This recent investment by the company—which also operates The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, The Carlyle hotel in New York, and Caneel Bay on St. John (the first RockResort)—is perhaps the most striking.
Architect Roger Downing, whose British Virgin Island firm designed the new villas and spa, has worked with the resort since the mid-seventies. "It was important to all of us," says Rosewood's new president and CEO, John Scott, "to have someone who understood the tradition and heritage." Also someone, he might have added, who could adapt to modern times.
From the outset, the integration of landscape and architecture was crucial. And though it may sound odd, the highest compliment you could pay Downing is that you don't even see his work as you approach Little Dix by water. "From the very start Laurance Rockefeller was fiercely protective of this coastline and committed to creating a property in perfect ecological balance with its environment," says Downing. Those who have visited Little Dix or its sister property Caneel Bay, a 90-minute boat ride away, can see in these two resorts the beginnings of what we now know as ecotourism.
You still will not find damask sofas or chandeliered dressing lamps; you will, however, find phones (in all 97 rooms) and air conditioning, and in the larger villa, three bedrooms graciously spread out over 1,400 square feet as well as a comfortable living room opening onto a stone terrace and pool. A smartly efficient kitchen can be stocked ahead of time by butler Albert Stevens (better known as "Doc") with whatever you want—Veuve Clicquot, Cheerios, green tea, Atkins diet bars (which Stevens found a couple of islands over and had boated in with the next day's supplies). Closets are enormous. ("The people who come here travel with a lot of stuff and plan to stay awhile," explains Downing.) But they're not as enormous as the bathrooms, all of which have outdoor (and very private) showers. The decor blends a clean-edged Caribbean modernism with old-fashioned country-club comfort. Banished are the dark mahogany floors and trim that Rockefeller had thought so very important to the design. "Laurance reckoned," says Downing, "that after you'd been out in the bright sun all day you would want to retreat to some dark cocoonlike space. We just don't think that way anymore." Hence the light woods and bright breezy feel.
The most dramatic addition is the new spa built on a commanding bluff just above the two villas. An open-air pavilion gives way to a series of individual treatment cottages linked by paths created from the same native stone used throughout the resort. The combination of lush landscaping, fanciful architecture, and jaw-dropping views of the Caribbean is perhaps best enjoyed while you are floating in its dreamy, two-tiered infinity pool. Spa director Karen Shawn is particularly proud of the ten therapists that she and assistant spa manager Lisa Rhodes handpicked from a long list of applicants. Most have at least ten years of experience; some, 13 to 17 years.
Of the treatments I experienced, Christina Renner's reflexology was terrific; and two quite different ones by Lisa Rhodes proved again that all masseuses are not created equal. Rhodes, who trained at the Swedish Institute in New York, has a background in sports injuries and rehab. Since the spa opened, Rhodes says, her clientele has been an equal mix of men and women. Many, as you might expect, are high-powered executives whose problems are stress-related. The effects of her deep-tissue massage lingered for days, but more memorable was the 90-minute Caribbean Breeze. Here's how it works: Rhodes fetches you at poolside, you walk and talk your way up the hill to a perfectly prepared cottage—pitchers of icewater and lemon; bouquets of oleander, bougainvillea, and frangipani; a shell here, an aromatic candle there; a cabinet topped off with deliciously colored gels, goos, creams, and oils. Up you go on the treatment table. She begins with a papaya-pineapple body scrub, which is followed by a rich, moisturizing sea-enzyme mask. While masking your way to bliss, there's a hot-oil treatment for the hair and scalp. That's followed by a Vichy shower administered by a fabulous contraption that moves across your body spritzing water. "Time for the rinse," she says and points to the outdoor shower. Then back up on the table for a spray of coconut milk and the coconut-kukui-lotion rubdown. "Feel like a new person, don't you?" asks Rhodes, who takes pride in the fact that she uses all sorts of local ingredients: mint, aloe vera, and neem. The spa is in its early stages, and naturally some treatments have been better received than others: The bay-rum wrap was dropped early on, but the one with lemongrass was an instant crowd pleaser.
Other discoveries included private yoga lessons with Mitesh Banthia, the resort's young instructor from India who trained as a doctor in homeopathic medicine. Then there were the beauty products from Yon-Ka Paris, a company that offers some of the most coveted lines in skin care right now.
On my last day at Little Dix I learned something I found incredibly interesting: Seventeen years after he sold the resort, Laurance Rockefeller, who is now 93 years old, still comes every year for a week at Christmastime. I could only wonder what this visionary would make of the "new" Little Dix. After all, four decades ago he didn't have to choose between the Virgin Gorda goat-milk-and-honey wrap or the aqua-stones-and-aloe therapy. All he had to do was create paradise—and then some.
Little Dix Bay has 97 rooms, including four one-bedroom suites and two private villas. The three-bedroom villa is $2,500 in high season (spring and fall), $1,800 off season. The two-bedroom villa is $1,700 in high season, $1,300 off season. One-bedroom suites (high season), $1,100; doubles, $375-$1,100. Four-night Spa Sojourn packages for two, including breakfast and dinner: $2,500-$8,600, depending on room category and season. Caribbean Breeze body/facial treatment: $165. For information on Yon-Ka Paris products: 800-533-6276 or 800-966-5255.
Reservations: 888-767-3966. Little Dix Bay, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands; 284-495-5555; www.littledixbay.com.
Hotel prices show high-season rates from the least expensive double to the most expensive suite.
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