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In Search of Value: Estate Concordia Eco Tents, St. John, USVI

Concordia9 BACKSTORY: The word "visionary" seems especially apt when describing Stanley Selengut. Back in 1976, he opened Maho Bay Camps on St. John, USVI, a group of tents on platforms on a pristine Caribbean hillside that became the flagship for eco-sensitive developments. And there was no better place to do this than St John, an island that’s more than two thirds US National Park (thanks to the largesse of philanthropist Laurence Rockefeller), where the white sand beaches and lushly wooded hills pretty much fit any definition of "paradise." Selengut went on to open Harmony Studios, which are slightly more comfortable digs. And then, on the southeastern side of the island near Coral Bay, he built Estate Concordia, which includes Estate Concordia Studios and Concordia Eco Tents. It was the latter that grabbed my attention on a recent visit to the island. There are just 25 of them, connected by wooden walkways and stairways on a steep hillside, and they overlook Trunk Bay and Salt Pond. These are solar- and wind-powered tent-cottages that combine sustainable technology with amazing views. It’s a bit like Swiss Family Robinson treehouse living. As for mod cons, there’s a yoga studio (daily class at 8AM), a small shop and a small restaurant on the premises.

Concordia7_2 THE ROOMS: The Eco Tents are set on a hillside overlooking the ocean. They are platform tents with a wood frame and translucent panels. Large sections of the panels can be unzipped to reveal screens that let in welcome breezes. There is a separate bedroom with two beds that can be linked to form a king-size bed, as well as a loft with two mattresses (ideal for kids). The rest of the space consists of a kitchen area (running-water sink, propane stove, and cooler ), a very small sitting area with a sofa, and an outside deck with table and chairs. There’s a solar shower and a composting toilet. Lux it is not. There are no TV’s, radios or air conditioning, but there is a ceiling fan. Short of sleeping outdoors, you can’t get much closer to the natural world of iguanas, tree frogs and hummingbirds on St. John.

Concordia5_4 MORE REASONS TO STAY: For those who prize drop-dead views, it’s the grand prize, one of the most delighful views I’ve ever seen. You can sit on your deck bathed by a constant breeze and never get tired of this panorama of the deep blue Caribbean and the neighboring British Virgin Islands.

INSIDER TIP: The Premium Tents are newer and have better views, so request them when booking. I especially liked the privacy of units P12 and P13, both with non-stop breezes and unimpeded amazing views.

YOUR NEIGHBORS: Active couples and young families who spend the day snorkeling, kayaking or hiking. At night, it’s board games in the tent or stargazing. Think of it as a technological fast.

THE DEAL: The Premium Eco Tents run $105 a night through early December. You can pay three or four times as much for perfectly boring rooms in the Caribbean that have no view.

Concordia8 CAVEAT: Heaven for some, but not for everyone. Better love stairs, there are lots of them. There’s no maid service or room service. As for bugs, if you’re squeamish, you don’t belong here. This is fancy camping, with the emphasis on "camping."

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: On the southeastern tip of St. John, looking out at the BVI’s, the ocean and a dramatic bluff called Ram Head Point. You can walk to the closest beach, but to really explore St. John, plan on renting a car. You’re about 10 minutes from Coral Bay, about 40 minutes from Cruz Bay and the ferries to St. Thomas.

THE DETAILS: Concordia Eco Tents, PO Box 310, Cruz Bay, Saint John, VI 00830 (800-392-9004).

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