Some sand, some sun, some romance, and some rum—a winning combination.
Three great escapes featuring sun, sand, romance, and rum.
One & Only Ocean Club
Magic Tree House
Natural beauty meets luxurious pampering at St. Lucia’s Anse Chastenet.
By Steven Irving
Perhaps part of the fun of going to the Caribbean is to sit in a pastel, air-conditioned room, occasionally stirring long enough to wrap your lips around the straw of a Mojito. This is not a reason to go to Anse Chastanet on St. Lucia, though they do have a proper supply of tropical drinks. This is a high-end resort for people who go to a Caribbean Island to, of all things, be on a Caribbean Island.
Envision a luxury tree house—spacious, lovely, perfect, not only looking out over the dense, shiny-leaved, vegetation to the sea but open to that jungle and the delicious air of the sea. Little birds occasionally swoop in and out. For our very private suite—and the suites at Anse Chastanet are cleverly designed so that you can neither see nor be seen by anyone not in your suite—is minus one wall. The air is conditioned by the temperate Caribbean and by the breeze (which may be unfamiliar to those used to ensconcing themselves in impenetrable pastel rooms). Bugs, during our stay, do not swoop in, though the four-poster bed is surrounded by netting should one make a wrong turn.
No pastels here, just bold colors and dark-stained wood. No television. No phone in the rooms. No wireless. (Just one small computer near reception for those of us who can’t resist the call of email.) You laze in the sweet air; watch the birds. The word “romance” is used frequently in the brochures. We figured out why.
There are, I should acknowledge, occasions when we decide to leave our suite. Dinner, for example. The resort’s Picon Restaurant serves what they call “tropical world cuisine.” We recommend the Mahi Mahi (with a Caricom crab mousse and St. Lucian ginger-root sauce) followed by soupcon cheesecake. And then there are the activities out on the resort’s 600-acre estate: we hold our own on the world-class jungle-biking path (only one tumble between us). An engaging gentleman named Meno mixes history and folk tale on a tour of an old, slave-powered sugar plantation—at the resort’s second beach area, a short water-taxi ride away.
The main quiet, flawless beach is just 101 steps (one of us counted) from the reception desk. (One employee called it his "Stair Master." We kayak. We do not scuba dive, which, we are informed by other guests, is a mistake; Anse Chastanet’s diving facilities, also world-class, are a major draw. Instead one of us—in what her companion suggests is a violation of the pure Caribbean spirit of the vacation—visits the spa (which features ayurvedic treatments), located at the end of the beach. She does not consider this a violation of anything.
The outstanding geographical features on St. Lucia—a favorite island of ours because of the rugged, green landscape—are the paired, cone-shaped Piton mountains. They can be seen from Anse Chastanet (and climbed, if you’re feeling athletic). However they dominate the view from the newest addition (scheduled to open this year) to architect-owner Nick Troubetzkoy’s complex: Jade Mountain—an even more exclusive resort. Each Jade Mountain suite has its own glass-tiled infinity pool framing the view, through that missing fourth wall, of those two spectacular green mountains and the sea. Each suite is different. Each suite—with the tile, the pool, the woods, the fabrics, the natural stone and That View—is very, very beautiful, and very, very romantic.
Incidentally, whatever our feeling about over-air-conditioned, breeze-less hotels, we are quite open-minded on the subject of rum drinks in warm climes. One of us leaned toward Mai Tais—served in coconut shells. I wrapped my lips around the straw in a Mojito—while sitting out in the open air, of course.
If You Go...
Soufriere, St. Lucia, West Indies
(758) 459-7000, (800) 223-1108
Cost: Rooms start at $405 (single bed) and go up to $846 (premium triple room) from January to April, 2007. Infinity Pool suites start at $1,150 and go up to $1,600. The resort also offers themed packages, such as the Amazing Adventure package, which includes scuba diving, jungle biking, boat snorkel trips, and more. Winter season two-person packages for seven nights start at $6,921.
Getting There: American Airlines flies there through San Juan/Miami, or Air Jamaica. The flight lasts approximately four-and-one-half hours.
If your expectations are high and your pockets deep, you can’t do better than the Bahamas’ One & Only.
By Esther Davidowitz
The knocks on the door mystified us. We hadn’t called the front desk asking for anything. What in the world could we have requested? Our room, a spacious cream-colored oasis with a private porch and view of sea and sky, was gorgeous. Ditto the emerald green lawn outside. “It reminds me of a beer commercial,” my husband, who’d parked himself on a lounge chair, declared. “It’s so perfect.” Perfect, too, were the fresh fruit we found in our room, the bottles of spring water, the plush oversized bath towels, the white Frette robes, and the deep two-person tub we would spend hours soaking in every evening. So who could be at the door?
“Hello,” a young man wearing a crisp white uniform said. “I’m Westler, and I’m your butler.”
Our butler? We had, it turned out, three butlers at our beck and call, each on duty for eight hours (that’s round-the-clock butler service). “May I get you more ice,” Raquel, one of our other butlers, asked us later that evening. “Need more water?” Lavardo wanted to know. “How about laundry?”
“No.” “No.” And: “No.”
“You are,” Westler, one day, declared, “very low maintenance.”
Perhaps. But it’s not as if we demand little of our vacations (goodness knows our time away from home and office is precious); it’s just that the One&Only Ocean Club lacks so little. We’re not the first to notice. The luxury resort, which sits on the eastern end of the island next door to the night-and-day different Atlantis (much to our surprise, the two are owned by the same company and thus guests of one can use either facilities), has repeatedly won Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Award for having the highest level of personal service and luxurious surroundings in the Caribbean. Just a few words about the surroundings: lush green gardens, white sand, and turquoise water (marred only by a gaggle of noisy jet skies chugging back and forth beyond the swimming area). Oh, yes, there’s also a miniature replica of the Versailles gardens (the founder apparently fell in love with the place), replete with stone walls and some scattered bronze statues.
I’d also hand One&Only an award for having some of the most delicious food in the Caribbean. The Dune, the resort’s chic restaurant, is the first island restaurant conceived by award-winning chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. If nothing else, do sample the fresh lobster salad for lunch and the rack of lamb with seven spices for dinner. For a high (sugar or otherwise), order the "White Plate," a sampling of five desserts ($15 a person). And apparently golfers (alas, neither of us are) would want to bestow an award on the resort’s breathtakingly beautiful Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course. Hey, it’s where Michael Jordan swings and putts when he is in the Bahamas. His house, in fact, is just a golf ball’s swing away from the course.
Celebs who don’t live on the island apparently also make their way to the resort. One afternoon, as we were sipping tropical nectar smoothies, our waiter told us that Celine Dion brought her family here, Oprah Winfrey’s niece held her wedding here, and that Martha Stewart, Wayne Gretzky, Bill Clinton, and “lots” of Arab princes (“They come in helicopters with their own staffs”) have vacationed at One&Only.
And why not? You can play a few rounds of tennis on Her-Tu courts (highly recommended), jog (or walk) on silky soft sand (highly recommended too), or, what the heck, walk over to the Atlantis (or take a shuttle) and go down one of its famous “Mayan Temple” water slides. We slid three times down the “jungle” slide (we didn’t have the nerve to try the Leap of Faith, which boasts a nearly vertical 60-foot drop—yikes!)—and loved it. (At the Atlantis, do dine at famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s first Caribbean outpost, Nobu restaurant; go for the eight-course, $150 per person Omakase, which, to our complete delight, includes his signature Alaskan black cod dish.)
At One&Only, you can also treat yourself to a massage and facial at its cool-looking spa, cleverly tucked into the woods. (You can opt to get your treatment outdoors surrounded by palms, orchids, and bougainvilleas). Frederica gave me my facial (yup, highly recommended). But before she did, she inquired about my health. “Any diabetes?” she asked. “Heart problems? Arthritis?” Finally, she asked, “Have you experienced any shock recently?”
“Shock?” I said, puzzled. “What kind of shock?” Frederica answered that she couldn’t say. But she did allow that one recent guest didn’t hesitate to answer in the affirmative. “Yeah,” Frederica said the guest declared, “the bill.”
And there’s the rub. Butlers, lobster lunches, and deep tubs don’t come cheap (see box for prices). But, then again, sometimes splurging—even if it may result in a bit of a shock—is, well, a one-time-only kind of thing to do.
If You Go...
One&Only Ocean Club
Paradise Island, Bahamas
(242) 363-2501, (800) 321-3000
Cost: Starts at $750 (Garden View room) and goes up to $8,500 (four bedroom villa) from January-March (excluding one week in February). Guests can also use facilities next door at Atlantis. Round-trip town car service from airport $138; limo service $206; taxi service approximately $60.
Getting there: Direct flight to Nassau International Airport available on Jet Blue from JFK, on Continental Airlines from Newark and on Delta Airlines from LaGuardia. The flight is approximately three hours.
LaDera proves you don’t need to be on the beach to be on cloud nine.
By Esther Davidowitz
“Welcome to Paradise,” declared a young man as he handed my friend Irene and me a cool, tall, refreshing drink soon after we arrived at St. Lucia’s award-winning Ladera Resort. “Paradise,” we couldn’t help but notice, wasn’t located right by the sea. Our Paradise was situated 1,100 feet above it. So what if we didn’t have door-to-beach accommodations? A shuttle, we were informed, would take us to the water most any time. Besides, what we had instead, no one had to tell us, were drop-dead gorgeous views of the Caribbean and the island’s twin volcanic Piton Mountains.
We also had pretty extraordinary accommodations. Ladera’s rooms (there are only 25) are not just beautiful—polished wood floors, four-poster beds, ceramic-tile baths, native madras linens—but they are “open-air,” built intentionally without a fourth wall. Talk about bringing the outdoors in. Talk about unobstructed views. Somehow, the rooms are all sheltered and completely private, and all have pools, either swimming pools or four-foot-deep plunge pools.
The pools are lovely. There were mornings when we’d lounge on chairs beside our pool, read our books, admire the view, and dip into the water. And if we wanted anything at all—say, a plate of fresh fruits (the bananas, mangoes, papayas, and melons are all local and all delicious), or another helping of the hot, crusty Creole bread of which I could never quite get enough, or to schedule a hot volcanic-stone massage at Ladera’s relatively new spa—we could always use our “electronic” bulter, “Jeeves,” a two-way radio that enabled us to communicate with the front desk.
In fact, Jeeves was the only way to communicate with the front desk. Ladera’s rooms have no telephones. Nor, for that matter, TVs, or Internet access—which, to most guests (count me in) is a great plus. “It’s how I like it,” declared Tom, one of the many honeymooners we met at the resort. (Ladera is, and this should come as no surprise, a popular honeymoon destination.)
But Irene and I didn’t loll around for long. One morning, while Irene played tennis, I, with six other hotel guests and two guides (“Mountain goats,” they called themselves), climbed the 3,000-foot Grand Piton mountain. It is, we were told, the “easier” mountain to climb. It took us six hours total—hardly a cinch (one guest admitted he gave up the first time he tried), but it felt so good to have accomplished. It felt good, too—but in a different way--to swim and snorkel among the brightly colored tropical fish in the forever-warm sea. And it felt good–in yet another, more goofy way—to get covered from head to toe with mud dredged from an astoundingly warm sulfur pool. The mud, Irene and I were told, is therapeutic. One native swore that it is the reason he could now walk. I can’t vouch for the mud’s healing power, but I can assure you that eventually you can wash it off, though I wouldn’t recommend wearing a white bathing suit.
I also wouldn’t recommend skipping any meals at Ladera. The resort’s food may be even more spectacular than its views. Visitors frequently moor their boats and stop by for native chef Nigel Mitchel’s gourmet dishes. The self-taught cook, the only Caribbean chef ever to cook at the prestigious James Beard House, uses local produce and fish caught in local waters. (If you can, join him at the market Saturday morning and afterwards attend a cooking demonstration.) I loved his sugar-cane steak and his signature Dasheene shrimp. And I loved too the sweet potato fries and plantains—whether fried, boiled, or grilled. And, a must: the chocolate fudge Brownie with ice cream. So, “Paradise?” Who knows? I’d say, close enough.
If You Go...
St. Lucia, West Indies
(758) 459-7323/(800) 738-4752; www.ladera.com
Cost: Starts at $495 for a one-bedroom suite with plunge pool and goes up to $980 for a two-bedroom luxury villa with pool. Five-night all-inclusive packages start at $2,130 for a one-bedroom suite with plunge pool and includes meals, beverages (excluding wine and Champagne), afternoon tea, Caribbean treats, one spa treatment, snacks, stocked mini-bar, ground transfer to and from airport and use of all facilities. Shuttle from Hewanorra International Airport is $65 one way per couple.
Getting there: Air Jamaica offers direct flights to St. Lucia from JFK. The flight is approximately four to five hours long.