Tag Archive | "Caribbean"

Nikki Beach, St. Barth

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Credit Nikki Beach Saint Barth

Credit Nikki Beach Saint Barth

By Gary Walther

At 2:37pm on Sunday, July 24th, Nikki Beach St.Barth went critical.

It was Super Hero Party Day and Spiderman, Wonder Woman, and assorted other comic book characters emerged from the kitchen headed for a table of eight. The chief prop was a large-format bottle of Taittinger, sparkler stuck in the cork. But it wasn’t a prop. Uncorked and poured, the Champagne unleashed a current that had been building since noon. The table of eight were suddenly dancing on the table.

There’s always a mayhem match at Nikki Beach St. Barth, and this time the Taittinger lit the fuse. Over in the corner, a table turned into a disco cage and the bathing-suit wraps were quickly undone (and that, too, spread through the dining room). The table of 10 that had been chair-dancing for an hour–they were up and at it. Over there, a woman in a black, grommet-top bikini had one leg in the air at 45 degrees–and there was a man caressing it. A slightly pot-bellied guy wearning a Spider Man mask was bootie-bumping his slightly voluptuous companion. The music kept pace. “Dance, Dance, Dance” it urged, and then “Green Light, Green Light.”

Credit Nikki Beach Saint Barth

Credit Nikki Beach Saint Barth

It is one of the genius points of Nikki Beach St. Barth that it knows that we all have a tribal Id just itching to get out. Here you come in as a table and become, in the course of Sunday afternoon, part of a throbbing, fertility-cult frenzy. You wear as little as possible, indulge in gastronomic display (lobsters presented live tableside before immersion), drink copiously (large format bottles of rosé coursed through the dining room like fireflies), and finally, give way to sheer sexual display. Nikki Beach is the good bad angel on your shoulder, whispering ‘Permission granted.’

But it costs and that’s another genius point, knowing that people will pay heartily to cross into the land of being-bad-allowed.

The restaurant, in St. Jean, is a feet-in-the-sand place, like many others on this stretch of the island. There are two levels of tables and a row out on the beach. Some people even arrive via yacht or speed boat and land in a zodiac. The staff is on it,  double-time. One zodiac no sooner touched shore than a burly staffer was digging a hole for a beach umbrella, unfurled by time the party sat down.  Sushi arrayed on wooden boats sailed across the dining room, and the lunch flood was handled with seeming ease. (Though the bartender’s T-shirt was sweat-soaked by the time I left.)

What’s funny about Nikki Beach SB is that it has it’s own time zones. From 12 to 2, the restaurant is fairly calm, lunch is served and eaten, the music track is modest. Standard time. At 2pm, an announcer introduces the fashion show, and beauties with caramel-dip tans and in provocative bathing suits sashay through the dining room and continue to do for the next hour or so.

It’s the start of Nikki Beach Time. The music-track back-beat picks up, people start to push it–a slightly chubby woman in a slightest-V-down-there bikini is chair-dancing and selfing, and a woman in a thong bikini (with a bootie that is more than up to it) is hoisted on a girlfriend’s shoulders, hauled out to the beach, and thrown in the water.  Two rugby-build guys at the bar start dancing in place, cannonball delts rippling, and then one feels the other’s nipple with delicacy, as though he’s tuning in a radio station. Over at one of those tables of eight, another large-format Taittinger arrives, with the first pour polishing the shaved head of one of the gyrators.

Credit Nikki Beach Saint Barth

Credit Nikki Beach Saint Barth

The current builds and everyone plugs in.  Three women, all veterinary students over from St. Kitts (“it’s boring”), come through the dining room topless, and one of them ends up beside me at the bar asking, “Am I disturbing you?” Over where the fire began a slightly corpulent man in a Superman outfit is now dancing on the table with the woman who was thrown into the water earlier. On another table, a guy in bikini briefs is being bootie-butted by a guy in a pin-striped shirt.

So the rules are not just suspended, but blended.  Here you can be some-other-self  for a time, knowing that at 5pm or so,  you’re back in character. In a way, it’s what travel is all about.

Gary

 

St. Barth: The LVMH Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle De France

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Isle de France, St. Barth

Isle de France, St. Barth

By Gary Walther

Some luxury hotels have a double identity. They promote the alluring side, and they scarcely mention the other side, which sometimes has its own allure.

Case-in-point: One of THD’s favorite hotels in the world, the Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle de France. (That very long name? The Cheval Blanc is a prefix added by LVMH when it acquired the hotel for the nascent brand.)

Whatever, the Isle de France faces the island’s best beach, Flamands. That lovely strip of sand and the rooms that face it are the property’s calling card.

Continue reading …

 

Gary

Gary Walther, the former editor-in-chief of Departures and ForbesLife, now writes “The Hotel Detective” column on Forbes.com.

Sail the British Virgin Islands

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60 off the grid (1)

By Steve Jermanok

Sailors know the British Virgin Islands as legendary cruising grounds. Here, in places like Virgin Gorda, Peter’s Island, and Tortola, you’ll find sheltered marinas where you can dock or throw down your anchor, shopping, restaurants, and small hotels that are popular with yachters. Even better, you can sail to these various islands without going outside the reefs into the open ocean. But you won’t have to worry about navigational charts on VOYAGE Charters 7-night night cruise around the BVIs, because a skipper comes with you. Their 44 to 60-foot luxury catamarans, which sleeps 8 to 10 guests in queen or king bedded guest cabins with private bathrooms, also comes with a Chef and liquor to make this the ideal all-inclusive package. The catamarans are perfectly suited for 4 or 5 couples or 2 families since the yacht comes equipped with water toys, like kayaks, a dinghy, water skies, tube, floats, and noodles. The weeklong jaunt starts in Tortola and includes snorkeling with sting rays in the caves of Virgin Gorda, a stop at Cane Garden to listen to the steel band play at Stanley’s, and a night anchored off Norman Island, the treasure island author Robert Louis Stevenson made famous in his book. Cost of the trip starts at $4595 per couple, including meals, a berth onboard, and, of course, transportation.

 

Steve Jermanok Working as a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, contributing editor at Budget Travel, and regular contributor for The Boston Globe, Men’s Journal, and Yankee Magazine, Steve Jermanok has written more than 1500 articles on 80 countries. He’s also authored or co-authored 11 books, including Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England and Men’s Journal’s The Great Life. With his wife, Lisa Leavitt, Steve launched a boutique travel agency, ActiveTravels.com, in May 2012. His clientele includes many people in the travel business, including Steve Kaufer, founder of TripAdvisor (designed his honeymoon to Turkey), and Mark Snider, owner of The Winnetu Resort on Martha’s Vineyard and The Nantucket Hotel on Nantucket. You can follow him @ActiveTravels

Steve Jermanok Working as a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, contributing editor at Budget Travel, and regular contributor for The Boston Globe, Men’s Journal, and Yankee Magazine, Steve Jermanok has written more than 1500 articles on 80 countries. He’s also authored or co-authored 11 books, including Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England and Men’s Journal’s The Great Life. With his wife, Lisa Leavitt, Steve launched a boutique travel agency, ActiveTravels.com, in May 2012. His clientele includes many people in the travel business, including Steve Kaufer, founder of TripAdvisor (designed his honeymoon to Turkey), and Mark Snider, owner of The Winnetu Resort on Martha’s Vineyard and The Nantucket Hotel on Nantucket. You can follow him @ActiveTravels

Best Caribbean Resorts: Why Anguilla’s Cap Juluca Has Successfully Surfed Change

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Spice mid seating

Cap Juluca, Anguilla

by Gary Walther

Let’s go back to a time when disruption was not something admirable and did not refer to young cyber-Turks overturning industries, but rather to an irritating interruption in the relied-upon, such as electricity from ConEd.

At that time (1988) the Caribbean had no idea that it was about to be disrupted from it’s reggae rhythm by the debut of a resort that raised the luxury bar, and did it on an island that was off-the-map, so to speak. (That’s why Princess Margaret had a villa there.)

I’m referring to Cap Juluca and Anguilla.

Continue reading …

Gary

Gary Walther, the former editor-in-chief of Departures and ForbesLife, now writes “The Hotel Detective” column on Forbes.com

Kicking Back in Aruba

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A reef in Aruba.

A reef in Aruba.

By Steve Jermanok

If you dream of a Caribbean getaway with blinding white sands and aquamarine waters, a destination that has year-round temps in the mid to upper 80s, less than 15 inches of rain a year, a steady breeze, and absolutely no threat of hurricane, then it’s hard to top the Dutch island of Aruba. Only 16 miles long and 7 miles wide, this speck of land, just off the South American coast remains a popular escape year after year simply because you’re guaranteed a week or two of a warm, therapeutic climate. It doesn’t matter that the interior is mostly arid desert, not nearly as lush as other Caribbean isles like Jamaica or St. Lucia, because travelers come here primarily for that glorious 7-mile stretch of beach. To find out about activities, restaurants, and hotels in Aruba, please check out my latest story for Global Traveler

 

 

 

 

Steve Jermanok Working as a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, contributing editor at Budget Travel, and regular contributor for The Boston Globe, Men’s Journal, and Yankee Magazine, Steve Jermanok has written more than 1500 articles on 80 countries. He’s also authored or co-authored 11 books, including Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England and Men’s Journal’s The Great Life. With his wife, Lisa Leavitt, Steve launched a boutique travel agency, ActiveTravels.com, in May 2012. His clientele includes many people in the travel business, including Steve Kaufer, founder of TripAdvisor (designed his honeymoon to Turkey), and Mark Snider, owner of The Winnetu Resort on Martha’s Vineyard and The Nantucket Hotel on Nantucket. You can follow him @ActiveTravels

Steve Jermanok Working as a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, contributing editor at Budget Travel, and regular contributor for The Boston Globe, Men’s Journal, and Yankee Magazine, Steve Jermanok has written more than 1500 articles on 80 countries. He’s also authored or co-authored 11 books, including Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England and Men’s Journal’s The Great Life. With his wife, Lisa Leavitt, Steve launched a boutique travel agency, ActiveTravels.com, in May 2012. His clientele includes many people in the travel business, including Steve Kaufer, founder of TripAdvisor (designed his honeymoon to Turkey), and Mark Snider, owner of The Winnetu Resort on Martha’s Vineyard and The Nantucket Hotel on Nantucket. You can follow him @ActiveTravels

Active Travels: Scuba Diving in the Turks & Caicos

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Diving in the Turks & Caicos

Diving in the Turks & Caicos

By Steve Jermanok

The Turks & Caicos are an archipelago of eight islands and forty relatively flat limestone and coral cays, some of which are little more than dusty specks in the aquamarine waters. The relative anonymity of these islands stem from their location. They are south of the Bahamas, yet not part of the Bahamas; north of the Caribbean, yet not technically part of the Caribbean. Indeed, the Turks & Caicos are a British Crown Colony whose 15,000 inhabitants or Belongers, as locals like to call themselves, slip through the pages of most guidebooks. This is especially true of Grand Turk, a sleepy 6-mile long island where you stroll past the Victorian homes on Front Street in a matter of minutes. Nestled amongst the homes are a handful of inconspicuous hotels, restaurants, dive shops, and government offices that seem to add to the British charm.

 
Underwater, Grand Turk is home to the Wall, where without warning the reef plummets to a mind-boggling 7,000 feet to mark the edge of the Turks Island Passage. On the rim of this great blue abyss, it’s not uncommon to see humpback whales migrating in winter, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles swimming gracefully, and herds of spotted eagle rays, with wingspans upward of eight feet, their thick black tails churning behind. Researching a scuba diving story for Islands magazine, I was 45 feet below the surface with excellent light and visibility, when suddenly it turned to darkness. I looked up and spotted six massive eagle rays swimming above me, one of the highlights of my scuba diving life.
 
Steve Jermanok Working as a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, contributing editor at Budget Travel, and regular contributor for The Boston Globe, Men’s Journal, and Yankee Magazine, Steve Jermanok has written more than 1500 articles on 80 countries. He’s also authored or co-authored 11 books, including Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England and Men’s Journal’s The Great Life. With his wife, Lisa Leavitt, Steve launched a boutique travel agency, ActiveTravels.com, in May 2012. His clientele includes many people in the travel business, including Steve Kaufer, founder of TripAdvisor (designed his honeymoon to Turkey), and Mark Snider, owner of The Winnetu Resort on Martha’s Vineyard and The Nantucket Hotel on Nantucket. You can follow him @ActiveTravels

Steve Jermanok Working as a columnist for National Geographic Adventure, contributing editor at Budget Travel, and regular contributor for The Boston Globe, Men’s Journal, and Yankee Magazine, Steve Jermanok has written more than 1500 articles on 80 countries. He’s also authored or co-authored 11 books, including Outside Magazine’s Adventure Guide to New England and Men’s Journal’s The Great Life. With his wife, Lisa Leavitt, Steve launched a boutique travel agency, ActiveTravels.com, in May 2012. His clientele includes many people in the travel business, including Steve Kaufer, founder of TripAdvisor (designed his honeymoon to Turkey), and Mark Snider, owner of The Winnetu Resort on Martha’s Vineyard and The Nantucket Hotel on Nantucket. You can follow him @ActiveTravels

SpaWatch: La Mer at Morritt’s Resort, Grand Cayman

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La Mer Spa

La Mer Spa

By Mary Alice kellogg

Sometimes SpaWatcher yearns for a simpler, time-warp era, when not every treatment had deep psychological/spiritual meaning and homework. A time when a massage didn’t necessarily thrash your innards for your own good, even if those pressure points needed a jackhammer to release tension. Something nice would be just fine, thank you. And sometimes what one is looking for can be found in an unexpected place.

Normally SpaWatcher doesn’t cover time share or shared ownership resorts, but a quick getaway to Morritt’s Resort on Grand Cayman proved surprising, indeed. First, the location: the 184-unit property with three swimming pools and an expansive white sand beach hugs the shore on the island’s Eastern Districts, blissfully rural and undeveloped. The 45-minute taxi ride from the cruise ship/resort strip hubbub of Grand Cayman’s usual suspects proved worth it. The hook was the opening of The Londoner, a 20-unit luxury building, on the occasion of the resort’s 25th anniversary. Happily – for them – the resort was fully booked, with couples and families kicking back with a plethora of activities from diving to fishing to boating, windsurfing, jet-skiing and sunning. And happily – for me – everything was so spread out in individual building enclaves set in lushly landscaped grounds, the resort seemed practically empty. Hello relaxation!

Morritt's Resort, Grand Cayman

Morritt’s Resort, Grand Cayman

The second surprise was the food. With three restaurants – informal over-the-water Mimi’s for lunch, the Carribbean-blue David’s for dinner and an Italian restaurant across the road – I was concerned that this would be yet another case of average island industrial feeding. Nope. From the first blackened mahi-mahi sandwich at Mimi’s lunch to blowout dinners (an all you can eat Lobster Night, an evening of haute cuisine with one of the best tenderloins I’ve ever had), the food was topnotch. And then there was the key lime pie, which, by the end of my stay had become an obsession. So much that I had a slice at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Every day.

Of course such indulgence – it was made today! It was fluffy and tart, with the graham cracker crust of my dreams! – meant that a spa visit was imperative. Hence the third and most pleasant surprise. The tiny and unprepossessing La Mer Spa has but two massage rooms, a couples massage wet room suite with shower, a mani-pedi station and a tiny sauna. That’s it. But in Spa World, it’s not the size of the facility but the heart and execution behind it. La Mer’s ambitious menu of massage, facial and body treatments, using top shelf French YonKa products, would stack up to a spa three times its size.

A SpaWatch digression here. When asked, and I am frequently, what my favorite spas are, I throw out a couple of the biggies like destination spas, five-star hotel or resort standouts. And then my curve ball: a three-room spa in Bora Bora, two of the treatment rooms located 30 feet up in treetops. Small can be memorable.

Not that La Mer in Grand Cayman has Bora Bora’s exotic locale – although the water is a similar brilliant blue. It’s the treatment. I chose the 75-minute Phyto Marine Algae and Mud Body Wrap. In the new couples room replete with shower, my savvy technician Jennifer first did a full body exfoliation with an essential oil/sea salt combo. (Gently, thank you. Having been subjected to numerous salt scrubs in my line of work — administered by technicians hellbent on removing all skin, not just the dead cell part — this one was pleasant yet got the job done.) A quick shower to remove the product, then I was slathered with body-temperature soothing mud and wrapped in blankets for a 15-minute scalp massage and 15 minutes more to just … be. Another shower, then a half-hour full-body massage with moisturizer. The massage, wonderfully, was gentle, too, without pain or pummelling. Bliss.

La Mer Spa

La Mer Spa

While this kind of body scrub/wrap is supposed to tone and firm (among other things), I never expected the result to banish any signs of thrice-a-day key lime pie, nor the effects of pina coladas past. Still, my skin was glowing happy instead of besieged, muscles relaxed and spirit as calm as the resort’s laid back ambiance. Simple is good. Simple works.

And yes, you don’t have to own a unit to stay therre. The luxe new Londoner has a special going from $250 a night until the end of October; the older units, all with throwback Caribbean charm, can also be had for less. Happy birthday, Morritt’s! Thanks for the great spa experience. And the pie.

Morritt’s Resort

www.Morritts.com

800-447-0309

 

mak  Mary Alice Kellogg, a New York-based writer and editor, is a recipient of the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award for Consumer Reporting. A contributor to many national publications, including Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Bon Appetit and GQ, she has reported from 120 countries and five of the seven seas to date… and counting.Visit MaryAlicekellogg.com

Dominica, the Other Caribbean

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A view at Papillote Wilderness Retreat

A view at Papillote Wilderness Retreat

By Everett Potter

One of my unofficial rules of travel is that anywhere that Mick Jagger has chosen to stay is probably good enough for me. But I had new respect for the septuagenarian Rolling Stone when I check into Papillote Wilderness Retreat on the island of Dominica. This is not a celeb-magnet sort of place. There’s nary a butler in sight and it’s a far cry from a Four Seasons – no Frette sheets and no beach view. In fact, there is no beach — or ocean,  for that matter. It’s a simple, hand-crafted retreat on a jungle-clad hillside that has been artfully surrounded by painstakingly created gardens. The view is down the Roseau River Valley, as Edenic a spot as you’ll find on this lush island, and it’s also a short walk to Trafalgar Falls, perhaps the most dramatic waterfall in the Caribbean. Rooms are spare, there’s no air conditioning, mosquito netting is de riguer and furnishings are almost an afterthought. Delicious meals — seafood reigns — are served in a stone building with open walls where you can catch up with the proprietress, 84 year old Anne Jno Baptiste, who has spent half a century in the islands since decamping from a Greenwich Village upbringing.

“I left before the hippies got there,” she told me, in a New York accent that has pretty much died out in her native city. If Bella Abzug had decided to become a hotelier instead of a politician, this might be her, nursing a single rum punch while spreading cheer among her loyal, repeat guests.

“I’m still here because I haven’t been able to replace myself yet,” she added.

A suite at Papillote Wilderness Retreat on Dominica.

A suite at Papillote Wilderness Retreat on Dominica.

There is no TV or radio, though there is WiFi. But resist the urge to upload a day’s worth of dramatic nature photos to Facebook and shut off your devices and listen to the chorus of a million tree frogs and the sound of fat raindrops falling onto leaves outside your widows and breathe deeply. In the morning, you will wake up and see 100 shades of green outside your  window, hear a chorus of Bullfinches in full song and watch a mad scramble of lizards on the stone-flagged paths.  Jagger spent a couple of weeks here with one his sons, proving that he too has an appreciation for simple, natural, island life, which Dominica offers in spades.

DOMINICA, TIME TRAVEL IN THE CARIBBEAN

It’s been a long time since I was so enchanted by an island. Bereft of major chain hotels, mass tourism and a capable international airport, Dominica (Dom-in-eeka) has been left adrift. From a traveler’s perspective, that’s good news. Just don’t confuse it with the Dominican Republic.

A trip to Dominica is a bit like time-travel to the Caribbean of 50 years ago. Or perhaps longer. The great travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor visited in the late 1940’s when he was working on his first book, A Traveler’s Tree, which recounts his peregrinations around the Caribbean.  The tale he tells of Columbus describing the island to his patrons – he allegedly took a piece of paper, crumbling it into a rough-edged ball, and tossed it on to a table — is still told today.

For a quick study of Dominica’s topography, it’s a pretty good trick. From the air, and from the land itself, I was struck by the jagged jungle-covered mountains. This rain forest wraps itself around 4,000 foot slumbering volcanoes. Driving means negotiating one hairpin turn after another. It also rains a lot. Depending upon where you are on the island, it seems to be raining off and on throughout the day. But with a strong sun in between, it’s all part of the island life.

Lying between Martinique and Guadeloupe, Dominica has few beaches, no international resorts, and no nightlife. Instead of mass tourism, it offers small hotels, hot springs, black sand beaches and arguably the best hiking in the Caribbean. Offshore lie some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world.  It’s also one of the last bastions of the Carib people, after whom the Caribbean was named. For two centuries, the so-called “Nature Island” shifted between French and English occupation. It recently celebrated 35 years of independence.

I kept running into vacationers from other Caribbean islands on Dominica, typically couples in their 30’s and 40’s who worked at resorts on Barbados or Antigua. They were on Dominica, they said, for a real Caribbean vacation. That meant: no glitz, plenty of nature, laid back vibe and relatively affordable lodging. They came to hike and scuba dive, and they came back to the island as often as time allowed. This sort of busman’s holiday was the highest praise these island insiders could bestow.

IT’S NO SECRET

The counterpoint to Papillote was Secret Bay, built on a bluff with a drop dead view north along the coast towards the town of Portsmouth and beyond to Isle de Saintes and Guadeloupe. Gregor Nassief, island-born, created this place in 2011. There are just a handful of villas and bungalows and they offer privacy and privilege, smartly and elegantly designed. It’s a large property, with well-preserved coastal greenery and a very private beach. It’s also designed for couples only, and maximizes space, privacy and views.

 

Zabuco and it's remarkable view at Secret Bay, Dominica

Zabuco and the remarkable view at Secret Bay, Dominica

The prize villa, Zabuco, was designed by Nassief’s Venezuelan father-in-law, an architect and friend of the great architect Oscar Niemeyer, and indeed, it’s a little touch of Brasilia on the coast.

“You can see whales from the meditation deck here at the right time of year,” Nassief assured me.

A whale sighting would have been nice, but the view was already mesmerizing and the villa was one of the finest I have seen in 30 years of running around the islands.

Secret Bay aside, Dominica feels just civilized enough, with enough creature comforts for most of us.  Nightlife, bars and restaurants? Umm, well stargazing is a better bet. It’s an elemental sort of Caribbean here.

Roseau, Dominica

Roseau, Dominica

RAMBLING IN ROSEAU

Cruise ships dock infrequently in Roseau, the pleasantly ramshackle capital, where the streets are lined with rickety wooden houses with balconies. The architecture is British colonial married to New Orleans, and best glimpsed along King George V Street.

“Those who have an appreciation of history will see Roseau as a treasure,” says Daryl Philip, a local historian and farmer, who gave me a walking tour. “Our language and laws are British, but our customs are French.”

Visit the Dominica Museum (Dame Eugenia Blvd) with its hand-carved Carib canoes and weathered oil painting of Queen Victoria, is a reminder of Colonial times. Nearby is Cartwheel Café (Dame Eugenia Blvd; 767-448-5353), where strong home grown Dominican coffee will keep you going. If there are fishermen in the Roseau River scooping up tiny titiwi fish, stop at Olive’s (no phone; corner Riverbank and Hanover), where the namesake owner fries up tititwi accra, a spicy fish cake. Or sit down at Pearls (50 King George V St; 767) 448-8707 ) for callalloo soup and local Kubuli beer. The cobblestone Old Market square is where you’ll find traditional lightweight baskets woven by indigenous Caribs and the food market a few blocks away has spices and hot sauces. If you’re here for the night, savor sunset with a rum punch made with local Macoucherie rum at the Fort Royal Hotel on the waterfront, a prelude to a seafood dinner at Old Stone Grill (15 Castle Street; 767-440-7549).

 TAKE A HIKE

Hiking on Dominica can be arduous, made harder by frequent bursts of rainfall. But the plant life, the waterfalls, the hot springs and the daily rainbows make it more than worthwhile, as does the chance of spotting the indigenous Sisserou parrot. Ken’s Hinterland Adventure Tours (http://www.khattstours.com/) has a range of guided hikes and the three-hour hike through Morne Trois Piton National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to MiddlehamFalls ($35) packs in some of the best of Dominica. The falls drops 280 feet into a natural pool where the cool waters offer a refreshing if chilly swim before you hike back through the humid jungle.

Snorkeling on Champagne Reef, Dominica

Snorkeling on Champagne Reef, Dominica

TINY BUBBLES

Snorkeling on Champagne Reef, which is about a 10 minute cab ride south of Roseau, offers a look at one of the healthiest coral systems in the world. Champagne Reef Dive & Snorkel  offers changing rooms, gear and guide for $19 an hour. In water no more than 30 feet deep is an undersea panorama filled with giant barrel sponges, Flying Guinard, red heart sea urchins, and a steady stream of bubbles from hot springs on the sea bed that that gave the reef its name. A guide like Oscar Etienne can even point out Spanish cannons, encrusted by sea life in the centuries since they were part of wreck along these shores. Head back to Roseau and then out to sea again. The waters around Dominica are the permanent home of female sperm whales and pilot whales, and whale watching trips pretty much guarantee sightings year round. Anchorage HotelWhaleWatch & DiveCenter (anchoragehotel.dm767-448-2638) offers 3½-hour tours for $50. The sightings are even more varied in winter, when male sperm whales and humpbacks enter these waters.

 WHERE TO STAY

Papillote Wilderness Resort. Doubles from $115 http://www.papillote.dm/

SecretBay Doubles from $430 per night. The Zabuco Villa is $866 per night through December 13, 2013.  http://secretbay.dm/

 

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Ian Keown’s Caribbean: 60 Years of Caribbean Posh at Round Hill

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Noel Coward with Sean Connery in Jamaica during the filming of "Dr. No," the first James Bond movie.

Sean Connery with Noel Coward in Jamaica during the filming of “Dr. No,” the first James Bond movie.

by Ian Keown

“Noel Coward patted me on the knee and said ’Dear boy, if only you’ll stop going on about your damned cottages, I’ll buy one of them‘.”

The Honorable John Pringle, OJ, CBE, a courtly octogenarian with a properly plum-y English accent, was recalling his encounter with the famed playwright/songwriter on a PanAm flight to New York in 1950.  Pringle was the visionary who conceived and created the legendary Round Hill Hotel, 15 miles east of Montego Bay in Jamaica.  A mere 26 years old and following wildly contrasting stints as equerry to the Duke of Windsor and top salesman for Estee Lauder, he had no experience of running hotels; yet he is generally considered to be the father of tourism in Jamaica and, by extension, one of the most influential pioneers of tourism throughout the Caribbean.

“I had this idea about a colony of luxury cottages,” Pringle told me shortly before his death in 2007.  “I would sell them to wealthy people who would stay there in winter, then rent them out as hotel rooms in summer.  I knew the type of people I wanted — mummy’s friends.”

Interior at Round Hill, Jamaica

Interior at Round Hill, Jamaica

His mother’s friends just happened to be the cream of the crop of London society (Pringle’s godfather was the Duke of Sutherland).  When he had found his dream site — 28 acres of a secluded whaleback promontory on Jamaica’s northwest shore, then a coconut and pineapple plantation — and put his proposal on paper Pringle set off for New York and found himself sitting next to the celebrated  playwright/songwriter.  Coward did indeed buy the first cottage but then a few days later introduced Pringle to his friend Adele Astaire (Fred’s sister), who also bought one.  Before Pringle had even flown off to London to pester mummy’s friends, he had sold half of Round Hill’s cottages and one of the world’s most celebrated resorts was off and running, something of a legend right from the start.

This was a stroke of luck not only for John Pringle but for Jamaica (and the Caribbean): his vision for Round Hill defined a clientele that any island would envy (there were exceptions — “I once had to order Rex Harrison out of my hotel,” Pringle told me, “for behaving abominably to one of my staff“) and set a tone of refinement that places it in the pantheon of storied caravanserais like, say, Hotel du Cap on the French Riviera or the Cipriani in Venice.  This year, Round Hill Hotel & Villas is celebrating its 60th anniversary as one of the world’s legendary resorts, a newsworthy achievement at a time when new hotels zoom into the blogosphere and then fizzle and fade before your next vacation comes around.  Designed for the long haul, Pringle’s revolutionary business plan is quite commonplace today: cottage owners could recoup their investment by making their villas (or individual suites) available for rentals eight months of the year to lesser mortals while they themselves returned every winter with bulging wallets.  And return they did: the Aga Khan (who adopted the Pringle formula when planning his own luxury resorts in Sardinia back in the 80’s); a London newspaper mogul; an Italian count whose ancestors crop up in grand operas; John and Jackie Kennedy (who spent part of their honeymoon there); Cole Porter and Leonard Bernstein (who often played the Steinway for their fellow guests).  One longtime owner told me of the evening the local mento band played some of Bing Crosby’s hit songs and the crooner was so delighted he slipped them a tip so lavish they immediately packed up their bamboo flutes and rhumba boxes and disappeared for a whole week.

Bedroom at Round Hill

Bedroom at Round Hill

That was then, of course, how about now?  Well, how about Paul McCartney, Diane Sawyer, Ewan McGregor, Michelle Williams, Russell Simmons and Steve Case of AOL fame?  They’ve all vacationed at Round Hill in recent years.  Ralph Lauren owns a “beach cottage” in the resort to augment his grander villa just up the hill.   And three years ago my family and I were mesmerized by the contortions of Meet the Press’s David Gregory trying to maneuver his 6-foot-5-inch frame under a floor-hugging bar while dancing the limbo.

Round Hill, Jamaica from the air

Round Hill, Jamaica from the air

At first glance, from the top of the flower-lined driveway leading down to the green-striped awnings and shingled roof of the clubhouse, Round Hill looks less like a resort than a large hillside garden planted with cottages rather than the other way round — 27 cottages gift-wrapped in flowering shrubs and bougainvillea vines, all of them overlooking a broad bay and sandy cove.  What Pringle referred to as “cottages” modern usage would call “villas,” ranging in size from two bedrooms to six bedrooms.  They are designed for sublime privacy and unabashed lazing, with lots of jalousie windows and ceiling fans for steady breezes (bedrooms are air-conditioned), a plush “outdoor” living room, a spacious deck with a private pool and a small kitchen where private maids prepare breakfasts to order.   It was a masterful design from the beginning and people looking for an escape from the 21st century still applaud its Caribbean Classic features.

In 1989, the cottage owners had the foresight to acquire a young Austrian, Josef Forstmayr, as Managing Director.  He’s still there, now one of the most respected hoteliers in the Caribbean.  I first met Forstmayr at another hotel on Jamaica not long after he arrived on the island in 1979 and was instantly impressed by his innate professionalism and his ability to make everyone, guests and staff, feel part of a select band of discriminating travelers.  A graduate of the University of Salzburg who greets his guests in effortless English, Italian, French and German, Forstmayr is the very model of an Austrian hotelier but with the customary pinstripes and cufflinks displaced by modish slacks and tropical togs.  He is totally committed to Round Hill’s mystique and traditions (this is, above all, a place where they cherish continuity) but he has diplomatically nudged the owners, the diehards versus the faddists, into the 21st century without sacrificing Round Hill’s Caribbean soul.   The original cottages, for example, were furnished with what might be called Safari Camp Chic (iron bed heads and banana-trash lampshades — the “luxury” came from the setting and the enveloping serenity) but they have now acquired a modestly contemporary vibe, although even today only a few of the suites have TV sets, which are usually tucked into armoires.

The Round Hill look

The Round Hill look

Having stayed at Round Hill on and off for almost 40 years, I’m not always thrilled by some of these trends — the live music on weekends is sometimes over-amped (harrumph!) and occasionally I’ve spotted dinner guests in shorts (double harrumph!) — but I am always impressed by the easy rapport between guests and staff.   Most of the maids, waiters and gardeners are following in the footsteps of fathers, aunts and cousins who often served the same guests.  Their village churches and charities thrive on donations from Round Hill regulars.

 

JFK at Round Hill

JFK at Round Hill

 

Sixty years on, Round Hill still fulfills John Pringle’s original promise: a refined setting for refined people seeking privacy but with plenty of options for mingling when you feel the urge to hobnob with fellow guests — over afternoon tea at the beachside terrace, at the manager’s weekly cocktail party for guests and owners, or playing doubles on the tree-shaded tennis courts.

The hotel’s delicately phrased invitation to players on the five, lighted courts sort of sums up Round Hill’s guiding philosophy: “We pride ourselves on presenting the game as it was intended:  as a genial game between gentlemen and ladies.  Proper tennis attire (white preferred), including tennis shoes, must be worn at all times… “

Mummy’s friends would expect nothing less.

 

Round Hill Hotel & Villas, near Montego Bay, Jamaica: 27 villas (84 suites), 36 luxury rooms in Pineapple House; special 60th anniversary offer from $379 double; www.roundhill.com, 800/972-2159.

 

iankeown-150x150    Ian Keown is a freelance writer based in New York City. Over the past 30-odd years his byline has appeared inTravel & Leisure (as a contributing editor), Gourmet (as contributing editor), Caribbean Travel & Life (contributing writer),  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.

Smart Deals: Jakes, Jamaica

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Abalone, one of the accommodations at Jakes, Jamaica

Abalone, one of the accommodations at Jakes, Jamaica

What’s the Deal: Jakes, one of Jamaica’s best kept secrets, is located in a quiet seaside resort in the fishing village of Treasure Beach, Jamaica. Their new “Family Getaway” is a well-priced deal offering 4 nights’ accommodation in a two bedroom cottage for a family of four.

What’s the Backstory: Jakes features 26 rooms in the hotel, 5 cottages and three villas, all with either garden or ocean views. Set in the relaxed beauty of Jamaica’s sandy south coast landscape, each of the colorful accommodations is uniquely designed. Jakes is also well off the beaten path: it’s two hours from Montego Bay Airport, one and a half-hours from Negril and a three-hour drive from the capital city of Kingston.

What are the Details: Four nights accommodation in a two bedroom cottage for maximum family of four. The package includes an Educational Trip to Galleon Beach Fishing Sanctuary with a stop at the white sand beach. It also includes a trip to YS Waterfalls, two private soccer class/ hair braiding class, and two Mosaic Workshops.

Fine print: $1,400 US excluding tax. Valid through December 14, 2013

Booking: Use code FAM Tel: (876) 965-3000 or http://www.jakeshotel.com/

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