© Josephine Matyas
Yes, these Caribbean resorts are expensive, but what’s life without dreams?
There’s no heat quite like Caribbean beach heat. Warm and moist with a prevailing breeze, it’s a temperature and humidity made for relaxing. As snowflakes begin to fall on our world north of the 49th parallel, we fantasize of turquoise waters lapping a palm-fringed shoreline. There are resorts aplenty vying for the business of winter-weary Canadians and sometimes schedules, bank balances and vacation days align. Other times, that “trip” only happens in the world of dreams.
So, when my travels are confined to fantasy, I like to think big. Not necessarily sprawling destinations, but big on the scale of romantic settings that ooze laidback luxury. With that in mind, the Caribbean as a canvas, allow your mind to wander to the shores of these three island resorts. Only one rule: you’re not allow to think of your bank account, instead take off for a few minutes on a “what if…” holiday.
Jamaica’s GoldenEye offers even the most paparazzi-fearing celebs a place to drop out of sight. A gravel driveway snakes through lush tropical greenery. The front gardens are dotted with trees planted by jetsetters. The tropical shrubs planted throughout the grounds are a botanical guest book. For years, visitors have been encouraged to plant trees to support sport and physical education as a catalyst for social change in Jamaica. Pierce Brosnan, Gwenyth Paltrow, Harrison Ford, Willie Nelson, Jim Carrey and Martha Stewart are among the alums.
Indeed, thanks to the tantalizing harmony between community and nature, GoldenEye possesses a special mojo for artists, musicians, authors and actors.
Singer/songwriter Sting wrote “Every Breath You Take” while staying at GoldenEye. From the 1940s, GoldenEye was the Caribbean home of 007 author Ian Fleming. Commander Fleming — a former British intelligence officer — drew from his military experience and his fascination with techno-gadgets and penned all 14 James Bond novels while at GoldenEye. He famously closed the windows to keep from being distracted by the birds and the flowers, and pushed his desk against the bare wall so he wouldn’t be diverted from the task at hand.
At the centre of the historic estate is the original five-bedroom Ian Fleming villa that can be rented for the ultimate “guess-where-I-stayed?” getaway. There are also cliffside, lagoon and beachfront cottages with open-air dining, jalousie shutters, wide verandas and irresistible outdoor showers. Many units have full kitchens and everything you’d need to shake or stir at Happy Hour. The GoldenEye design mantra is to meld the outdoors and indoors as seamlessly as possible.
Soon after Fleming’s death in 1964, the estate was acquired by default by record producer Chris Blackwell, the man responsible for introducing the world to the sounds of Bob Marley, Steve Winwood, U2 and others.
“In 1976 I talked Bob Marley, to whom I’d just paid $70,000 in royalties, into buying GoldenEye,” Blackwell recounted. “But then he got cold feet, said it was too posh, so the next year, when I was flush again, I bought it myself. The original For Sale document said Bob Marley and we crossed that out and wrote in Chris Blackwell.” Lucky Chris.
On my first twilight at the resort, I took out one of the blue kayaks tied to the dock of my commodious villa and paddled out on the lagoon to look back at GoldenEye and soak up what Fleming called his “wonderful annual escape… into blazing sunshine, natural beauty and the most healthy life I could wish to live.”
As dusk fell, I sat on the dock dangling my toes in the water and listening to the rhythmic chirpings of Caribbean tree frogs — little frogs with big voices. Torch lit pathways wound through the palms and quiet waves lapped at a beach the colour of a buttery croissant.
At the resort’s tree-house-style restaurant, The Gazebo, the bartender whirled together a mixture of pineapple and orange juices, crushed ice and rum to make tumblers of the signature libation, The GoldenEye. True to Blackwell’s “roots philosophy,” the rum of choice is Blackwell’s Well Black, made at GoldenEye and based on an old family recipe from when his ancestors traded in rum, sugar and coconuts — the perfect finale to a day of sun, sand and the sweetness of doing nothing.
GoldenEye (islandoutpost.com; winter rates for a fully equipped villa complete with kitchen start at US$925, half and full board plans available on request) is located on Oracabessa Bay, 20 minutes east of Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
Nisbet Plantation Beach Club
Nevis, a Leeward Island and sister to St. Kitts, today is something of a West Indian secret. In early 1607, English explorer John Smith and his flotilla of three ships stopped on the small island for six days before venturing north to settle Jamestown in Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the New World. In the era of colonization, the British and French waged war over the prosperous soil on Nevis; the British eventually took the power. They quickly created plantations for cotton, sugarcane, tobacco and indigo, creating an economic engine that was larger than the 13 American colonies put together. It was then that Nevis was nicknamed the Queen of the Caribbees.
In the early days of the plantation era, sugar was so lucrative that it was known as “white gold,” but after the 20th-century downturn of the sugarcane market, the compact island was forced to reinvent itself and turned to tourism. Several of the island’s historic plantation homes saw new life as restored, elegant resorts.
Nisbet Plantation Beach Club is the only one of the original plantation homes that boasts a beachfront location. The heritage property was the ancestral home of Fanny Nisbet, wife of famed British naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson, and has been turned into an intimate getaway where the emphasis is on preserving the authentic flavours and hospitality of the Caribbean. Long rows of coconut palms lead from the Great House across an expansive lawn dotted with cottage-style villas. In the distance – three kilometers across The Narrows — the hills of its sister island, St. Kitts create a screensaver view.
With its deep English pedigree come certain traditions. Nisbet Beach is known for its ritual of afternoon tea, with a menu choice spanning both sides of the ocean, from English Breakfast to ginger and honey bush tea, a Nevisian staple steeped from herbs gathered locally.
Later, from my cottage beneath the palms, the sound of guitar and steel pans drifted from the beachfront bar. The only sound competing was the rhythmic shush of the waves on shore. I wandered down, grabbed a tropical drink and wiggled my bare feet into the sand. “It’s the perfect night for just grabbing someone special and cruising on the dance floor,” explained dining room maître d’ Patterson Fleming.
It is easy to be seduced by a spot like Nisbet Plantation. The setting, the people and the sense of family create the perfect mélange of nature, culture and hospitality.
Nisbet Plantation Beach Club (nisbetplantation.com; winter rates start at US$739 for two, including all meals and most amenities) is on Nevis, the sister island of St. Kitts, in Leeways in the West Indies.
On an island known for its discerning clientele, Viceroy Anguilla is a place to see and discreetly be seen. From a lobby that looks like a page torn from Architectural Digest, the property is a design-driven village of luxe rooms, suites and villas set on prime beachfront and bluff-tops.
Anguilla is a small island, standing apart from many other Caribbean sun spots. There are no bargain chain resorts, and the small airport only services private jets and a select few regional aircraft (most guests arrive by small ferry from neighbouring St. Martin).
The Viceroy Anguilla was quick to establish its niche as a celebrity haven; Alec Baldwin, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney and Sandra Bullock have signed the guest register. Away from unwanted glare, the gracefully landscaped resort is a true getaway for the Manhattan and Los Angeles crowd. They come for the seclusion, copious amenities and attention to detail. There are more than 200 pools on the property and almost all rooms, suites and villas have at least one private one.
With more four and five bedroom villas than entry-level units, the resort’s room mix is flip-flopped from the norm. Impressive four-bedroom oceanfront villas feature separate living areas where each bedroom is separated into its own pod with a dressing room and boundless bathroom. Some are accessed by separate outside entrances — intended as a nanny or pilot suite. A butler, housekeeper and chef are a phone call away. At a very minimum, each villa comes with a lifestyle assistant (graduates of the International Institute of Modern Butlers) accessible 24/7 on a dedicated cell-phone line, to arrange room service, act as a personal concierge and keep the villa humming along (doing laundry, stocking the kitchen and bar).
Some villas’ design pièce de résistance are floor-to-ceiling glass doors that slide open to a spacious, private terrace view of turquoise ocean, a saline infinity pool and Jacuzzi, not to mention a covered patio nook with outdoor sofas and a dining table that seats eight.
Cooking in suite is serious business, whether you choose to cook yourself or arrange for a private chef. Fully-equipped kitchens include six-burner professional gas stoves and grills, 24-bottle wine fridges, and outdoor cooking areas furnished with gas grills, fridges and sinks.
Cobà, the resort’s signature restaurant (and one of five), is clean and uncomplicated, letting the ingredients speak for themselves. Neighbouring St. Martin is Viceroy’s culinary pipeline to the best of European ingredients: oysters from Brittany, butter from Normandy, Heineken from Holland and wines from France. Three sides of Cobà overlook the ocean, the perfect wakeup vista for a morning espresso. An extensive breakfast buffet places an emphasis on “healthy,” including tropical fruits, an omelette station (yes to “egg whites only”), coconut French toast, imported cheeses, hot and cold cereals, and yogurts. In the evening, the Sunset Lounge is positioned to ensure that it’s the island’s best place to watch the sun drop below the horizon.
Viceroy Anguilla (viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/anguilla; from US$800 per night from January 4-April 30 for a Viceroy king resort view; from US$1250 per night for a one-bedroom suite with an ocean view; five-bedroom beachfront villas range up to US$6600) is located on Barnes Bay, Anguilla.
This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.