By Ian Keown
I’m from Scotland, for heaven’s sake, the land of the dour and the disciplined, so what am I doing lolling around like a sybarite in a beach cabana with flat-screen TV, i-Pod dock, DVD player, Monopoly, room service, four loungers, a fridgeful of soft drinks, Schonwald china on the lunch table – with the turquoise Caribbean just a 30-second walk away across the sand?
Beach cabanas and poolside cabanas have always struck me as frivolous: lounging beside the sand is supposed to be for catching some sun so why sit inside, for shutting out cares and woes so why watch CNN? There were no beach cabanas when I first visited the Four Seasons on the dreamy island of Nevis – in fact, there was no anything other than mud and earthmovers and the splintered remnants of a once-dense coconut plantation; two decades later I’ve returned to check out the revamped resort after a two-year, post-hurricane hiatus. Although it has never been my favorite place to stay on the island (the architecture is almost defiantly uninspired for such a precious setting — a failure of the developers, not Four Seasons) it’s hard not to be re-invigorated by the mere sight of the resort from the private launch on the 40-minute ride from St.Kitts, the 12 two-story wings of rooms (96 in all) spread out among the palms and casuarinas with the green flanks of Mount Nevis an almost theatrical backdrop in the rear. The resort has never looked more inviting: they must have spent a pirate’s ransom on replenishing the landscaping, and the resort’s 55 full-time gardeners (that’s without counting the guys who trim the fairways and greens) have planted enough foliage and multicolored flora to camouflage the dun-colored facades.
Does it all live up to first impressions? Will it measure up for the bands of A-listers (think Oprah) who’ve been wintering here for years? Let’s say it’s 85 percent there – with the remaining 15 percent mostly minor service glitches by new hires still being buffed to Four Seasons’ standards. Cuisine has never been this resort’s strongpoint – reliable, yes, but rarely memorable — but the kitchen brigades have been transformed. The Coral Grill’s signature parrillada is a celebration of Black Angus beef from Grand Isle, Nebraska, lamb from South Victoria, Australia and Caribbean lobster tail.
Normally, I’d be manning the barricades with those guests irked by a Caribbean resort serving Argentine-style food but the Four Seasons people exonerate themselves with the resort’s most welcome innovation, the beachfront Mango restaurant. Set slightly apart from the bright lights of the pool and Cabana café, Mango is an authentic-looking Antillean residence, designed in island vernacular with lots of louvers and jalousies with a few fishermen’s wooden boats hauled up on the beach just beyond the wrap-around veranda. The chef here has taken a long hard look at island produce to come up with ingenious ways to give traditional island dishes a trendy vibe without drowning them in pretentiousness. Try his mixed seafood braised in coconut lemongrass broth with green banana and Johnny cake or sugarcane and sour orange glazed snapper with sautéed breadfruit and you’ll be sampling some of the finest Antillean cuisine in the islands.
Doing things well, of course, is Four Seasons’ strongpoint. Take the spa, tennis, golf complex a few paces back from the beach. The tennis center (four clay, six hard courts, five with lights) is one of the top five in the Caribbean and the Robert Trent Jones Jr. golf course is stunningly beautiful (and rarely crowded) but management encourages the sports-oriented members of the staff are encouraged to keep their golf and tennis gear in their offices in case guests needs playing partners (which I always considered an unusually thoughtful gesture until a manager pointed out that “walking 18 holes with a guest is when we really learn what’s right and wrong with our hotel”).
When you check into a Four Seasons, any Four Seasons, you know you’ll have a big sink-into armchair or sofa and a big marble bathroom with a soaking tub but one of the things this Four Seasons has going for it is the fact that the most desirable rooms, for me at least, are not the most expensive. Most guests want to gaze out across the water from a Sea View room but I prefer the Mountain View rooms (almost $300 less than their ocean-facing counterparts): from balcony I can look out on masses of coconut palms interspersed with fairways leading to the gray stonework of a two-hundred-year-old sugar mill, probably the only structure visible in the entire panorama. Not a car, not a billboard in sight. An occasional red-tin roof pops up from the tropical foliage, but mostly the color accents among the greenery are bright red splashes of flamboyant blossoms. Clouds huddle around the peak of Mount Nevis and redesign the contours of the hills and the ghauts where lava once came oozing down from the crater. I could spend hours on my terrace watching the changing patterns – but for one day at least I have to share my time with one of those beach cabanas.
The new Four Seasons cabanas are designed in the style of a traditional Antillean house – small, wood-framed, peak-roofed with gingerbread trim — with the roofline extending over a shaded patio with two loungers and a coffee table and two more identical loungers positioned a few feet away, in the sun. The attention to detail is typically Four Seasons: a chilled towel after lunch, more beach towels than I can use in one afternoon, and when I return from my Jet Lag massage, I find that my trusty attendant has replenished my bowl of fruit and reset my table with fresh cutlery and plates. Maybe there’s something to be said for the sybaritic lifestyle after all.
(Four Seasons Nevis Resort, Pinney’s Beach, Nevis; www.fourseasonshotels.com; $690 to $995 peak season, $490 to $560 the remainder of the year; 43 luxury villas, 2 to 6 bedrooms, beside the sea and up in the hills, are also available from rent.)
Ian Keown is currently a contributing writer for Caribbean Travel & Life. Over the past 30-odd years his byline has appeared in Travel & Leisure (as a contributing editor), Gourmet (as contributing editor), Diversion (as contributing columnist), Departures, ForbesFYI, San Francisco Examiner, Worth and Opera. His guidebooks include his own series of lovers’ guides: Guide to France for Loving Couples, Very Special Places: A Lover’s Guide to America, European Hideaways and Caribbean Hideaways (which the Miami Herald called “the bible.”). He is the recipient of the Marcia Vickery Award for Travel Writing and the first Anguilla 40 Award for in Recognition of Outstanding Contributions to Anguilla Tourism.