What's New in the Bahamas And Caribbean
Think of these tropical regions blessed with sunshine and crystal-clear water, and some luxury resort fronting an idyllic beach immediately comes to mind. Yet you won't find two of their newest lodging options at water's edge. Not afraid to defy the odds, the inns' undeterred owners are betting they offer enough enticements to woo guests away from the sand. Having visited both, we tend to agree. But judge for yourself.
VILLA MARIE SAINT-BARTH (IN THE CARIBBEAN)
Since launching a hospitality company more than 30 years ago, the Sibuet family has opened 11 highly regarded French inns under the Maisons & Hotels Sibuet label - in the Alps and Provence and on the Mediterranean. For its 12th project, and first venture outside its home country, the family stuck to its French roots with this 21-room property on St. Barts, the see-and-be-seen Caribbean island with French ties. The family bought the former François Plantation, which had been shut down for seven years, and spent two years on renovation work before opening it as the Villa Marie in December.
In lieu of a beachfront locale, this property delivers stunning ocean and island views, given that it's nestled up on a hillside overlooking Flamands Beach on the isle's northwest side. Book one of the 10 bungalows or the two-bedroom villa the Sibuets built for the best views from spacious balconies. The 11 original rooms, not as large as the bungalows but every bit as cozy, look out on lush landscaping and the pool.
None of the rooms are the same, which brings to mind another charm-builder: the interior design. Jocelyne, the family's matriarch, traveled the world to buy all of the furniture and accessories. In creating the villa's look, best described as a tropical take on boho chic, she kept one overriding goal in mind. "It was important that we kept the style and spirit of old St. Barts," she says. "I didn't want it to be too sophisticated."
The result of her international buying spree? A warm and inviting design with a casual touch that makes you feel like you've escaped to a comfy island home. While you're sitting in the living room of the great house having a cocktail before dinner, you'll feel so relaxed you might contemplate kicking off your shoes.
Throughout the property, you'll find lots of mahogany and bamboo, designer fabrics, and all those finds of Jocelyne from faraway places. Examples include pineapple mirrors made of golden brass from Morocco, handmade shell mirrors from Indonesia, closets in the style of travel trunks from Spain, rattan bedside tables from Indonesia, Syrian chests from India, lamps made of rattan fish traps from Java. You get the picture: something unique, something special.
Although the Sibuets made sweeping changes to their tropical acquisition, they wisely kept the name of the original restaurant: François Plantation, a favorite with island residents before the inn closed. Just as they had hoped, the name itself is drawing those curious residents back, as is the well-known local chef heading up the kitchen, which serves sophisticated French cuisine with an island flair. Dinner entrees include bouillabaisse, roasted veal ribs, and sole meunière.
While exhibiting much pride in the Villa Marie, Jocelyne acknowledges the challenge the family faces with this first foray outside France. "Everybody knows our brand in Europe, but we have work to do in the U.S.," she says.
From $425. 011-33-4-57-74-74-74; saint-barth.villamarie.fr
3 THINGS YOU MUST DO AS A GUEST
• Go for a morning stroll. If you can handle a trail with a few steep areas, take the 30-minute hike to Colombier Beach to start your day with a refreshing dip in the Caribbean.
• Book a spa treatment. In France, Jocelyne Sibuet created her own line of well-received spa products called Pure Altitude made with mountain plants and minerals, antioxidants, and other ingredients. In Villa Marie's small spa, therapists use the line.
• Explore Gustavia. Browse through the tony shops in the island's main town, then stop for a cold Carib beer at Le Select, a no-frills bar popular with locals, and bask in the people-watching.
Travel tip: From Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tradewind Aviation offers VIP service to St. Barts aboard Pilatus PC-12 turbo-prop jets that hold eight passengers and cruise at 20,000 feet, making for less turbulent flights. After your arrival in San Juan from the U.S., a Tradewind representative meets you at your gate, escorts you to a private lounge with refreshments and WiFi, then retrieves your checked baggage for loading onto the Tradewind jet. When you return to San Juan, a representative again meets and guides you through the airport and immigration. 800-376-7922; flytradewind.com
BAHAMA HOUSE (ON HARBOUR ISLAND)
In our winter 2017 issue, we told you about Deplar Farm, the new heli-skiing resort Eleven Experience has unveiled in a remote corner of Iceland. The Crested Butte, Colo.-based company specializes in small and exclusive luxury resorts in out-of-the-way locales typically offering world-class skiing or adrenaline-filled adventures in the great outdoors. But its new Bahamas property ventures from that formula, not only because it's the company's first island project, but also because it's not in a secluded area. Rather, it sits in the center of Harbour Island's action, just a block or two away from this small isle's main dock, where a ferry and taxi boats drop off passengers arriving from nearby Eleuthera and other Bahama islands.
Not to worry, though. Check in here and you'll quickly realize its location contributes greatly to its appeal: By not being holed up on the beach, you'll become immersed in life on this isle of less than 2,000, where friendly natives with meager means and the superwealthy (many from the U.S.) who own large beachfront homes mingle with ease. So much sits within walking distance of the inn, especially since the isle measures just 3-1/2 miles long and a half-mile wide. Decades-old churches where you can worship alongside locals, gourmet restaurants serving delicious food in stylish but laid-back settings, cheaper eating spots teeming with tropical character and island folks, fashionable boutiques, gift shops, a coffeehouse that wins raves, a well-stocked wine bar, a dance bar/pool hall too fun to miss, a small art gallery featuring the work of Bahamian artists - it's all there, right outside the inn's front gate. When you want the beach, it's close, too - five minutes away on foot, two minutes by golf cart, the favored means of transportation on this island.
Rest assured the Eleven Experience's formula still prevails inside the inn's gate, meaning you'll experience all the luxury associated with this brand, albeit toned back a bit in keeping with the island setting.
Formerly operated as a B&B that opened in the early 1900s, the compound consists of the original B&B building with three guest rooms, plus a living room, dining room, and rum bar; an annex with four rooms; and two two-bedroom cottages. The accommodations overlook a large and inviting pool that's flanked by a handsome open-air bar. The island-chic decor features lots of rattan, tropical-themed artwork, and quirky accessories, such as an oversize brass parrot hanging from the ceiling in the living room and a monkey pole lamp in one of the cottages. High-end amenities include the latest in-room technology, Frette sheets and bath linens, Water Monopoly bathroom fixtures, and Sbordoni toilets and sinks.
Also in keeping with the brand's formula, knowledgeable staffers - two born and raised on the island, one a longtime resident - stand ready to deliver memorable outdoor experiences, just not down a mountain. You can book a private Regulator fishing vessel for bonefishing and snorkeling trips, or the inn's sporty 38-foot Scorpion Silurian Rib boat for island tours, beach picnics complete with kayaks and other water toys, and more.
Before doing whatever you plan to do on any given day, your morning starts with a filling breakfast prepared by the inn's personable chef, served alfresco on a bright and airy veranda off the original building. If you're lucky, she'll be serving conch chowder and johnnycake, a local tradition. You can special-order lunch and dinner, but the inn encourages guests to sample all those nearby restaurants instead for that complete island experience.
From $750. 970-349-7761; elevenexperience.com/bahamas
3 THINGS YOU MUST DO AS A GUEST
• Eat a local favorite. Do lunch at the beachfront Sip Sip restaurant and order the melt-in-your-mouth Lobster Quesadilla. It’s pricey at $44, but two people can easily share because this must-try is big — real big.
• Explore Eleuthera. Arrange with the inn’s staff for a day tour of this 110-mile-long isle just across the bay. Pack your swimsuit in case you can’t resist cooling off on a gorgeous beach, soaking in natural tidal pools high above the Atlantic, or diving into an enchanting blue hole.
• Watch the sunset. With a cocktail in hand as dusk starts to settle in, head up to the inn’s rooftop terrace, which overlooks the dock and Eleuthera across the bay. The view doesn’t disappoint.
IF YOU MUST FRONT A BEACH ...
On Canouan in the heart of the Grenadines, just a short hop from Barbados, you'll find turquoise water, secluded beaches, and lulling breezes that whisper through the branches of flowering trees on velvety green hills. Since last fall, it also has been home to the $120 million beachfront Pink Sands Club.
Expect to feel ultracomfortable at this new resort with 26 suites and six villas, all given a Euro/Carib-chic look with Rivolta Carmignani linens, cream-colored fabrics, beachy touches, and pink accents everywhere. To further spoil guests, all accommodations come with spacious oceanfront terraces, marble en suites, rainfall showers, soaking tubs, walk-in closets, Nespresso machines, and complimentary minibars restocked daily. Each suite also has three iPads that control lights, climate, drapes, and a TV-enclosed mirrored door that slides open to reveal the turquoise lagoon.
Explore this 1,200-acre playground on the golf cart assigned to you at check-in. You'll see plenty, including nine secluded beaches, three with restaurants; seven other dining and bar venues serving everything from gourmet fare to jerk chicken; a Jim Fazio-designed championship golf course with a 305-yard, par-3 hole; large infinity pool; three tennis courts; a kids' club; and a Technogym fitness center. Oh, and did we mention the ocean-facing spa with nine hillside treatment rooms and two overwater glass-floored palapas? You'll see bright, colorful fish through the head cradle.
Canouan means "Island of the Tortoises," and turtles lumber along the lush green hills and pathways, a perfect reminder to slow down at this Caribbean flop-and-drop hideaway. From $1,400. 011-784-431-4500; www.pinksandsclub.com - MARGIE GOLDSMITH