Published in The Sunday Telegraph in 2005
Most people have heard of Mustique, made famous by Princess Margaret and still holiday hideaway to the rich and famous, including Mick Jagger, Lord Lichfield and Tommy Hilfiger. But fewer know that Mustique is one of more than 30 islands and cays – most of them uninhabited – collectively called St Vincent & the Grenadines. Or that there are three other luxury island resorts close by.
One possible downside of holidaying at any of these resorts is that there are no direct flights. Travellers from the UK normally fly to Barbados (though you can also fly to Grenada, St Lucia, Puerto Rico or Trinidad) and take an onward scheduled or private island-hopper flight, followed, in the case of Petit St Vincent and Palm Island, by a short boat trip. Canouan Island does have plans to expand its existing airport but direct flights from the UK are still some years off.
Another drawback may be price: you can count on paying a little under £2,000 per person (including flights and transfers) for a week in May, for example, and that might not include meals.
Although prices are similar, the resorts themselves are all quite different: which one you choose depends on the type of holiday you’re looking for. For comparison, I have given prices at each resort for a seven-night package, including flights and transfers, through ITC Classics (01244 355527; www.itcclassics.co.uk).
Petit St Vincent
It took around 11 hours to reach the tiny Robinson Crusoe-esque island resort of Petit St Vincent (known as PSV) from the UK. My suitcase followed at a more leisurely pace: it missed the connecting flight in Barbados and I was not to see it again for nearly 24 hours. No matter. I had a spare T-shirt, a sarong, a tube of sunscreen and a swimsuit in my hand luggage – which is all you really need.
The 113-acre island is owned by Haze and Lynn Richardson. Haze developed Petit St Vincent in the 1960s when it really was a desert island, and though the 22 cottages scattered through the grounds have all the comforts you could need – wraparound sun terrace with a double hammock and sunloungers, large sitting room, bedroom with two queen-size beds, and a well-stocked bathroom with separate lavatory and shower area – they do, where possible, replicate some of the attractions of a true desert island.
There’s no formal check-in and a no-tipping policy; there are no televisions or telephones (room service is alerted by running a yellow flag up a pole), no room keys, and, with no immediate neighbours, complete privacy. Privacy within the cottage, though, might be an issue as the internal walls, including those separating the lavatory from the bathroom and bedroom, stop short of the vaulted ceilings.
If you’re not interested in (unmotorised) watersports – the Grenadines offer some of the finest snorkelling – there’s not much to do on PSV other than unwind: you can wander along the beach, stop and order lunch via the flagpole system or grab a chilled banana from one of the wooden caskets that hang from the trees. There’s no pool, spa or gym, though there is a tennis court and you can hike to the summit of the island’s 275ft Marni Hill or follow the fitness trail.
Guests, many of whom have been coming here for years, tend to be an older, quietly well-heeled crowd – British and American – with a good supply of books. Atmosphere is low-key and informal: nobody will care whether your sunglasses are this season’s, last season’s or circa 1985.
Raffles Resort, Canouan Island
With 156 suites and rooms, four restaurants, three bars, a huge spa, a casino, an 18-hole golf course, oh yes, and a 17th-century church shipped from Britain in which guests can get married, the dazzling new Raffles Resort is everything Petit St Vincent is not – or, for that matter, would want to be.
What this resort offers is all-singing, all-dancing five-star luxury in a Caribbean-meets-south-east Asia-with-a-touch-of-South-America sort of way. It took two years to renovate what was the Carenage Bay Beach Golf Club, with the resort finally reopening in November 2004.
It’s all rather startling when viewed from the approach road – dozens of low-rise units with weird green roofs squatting in a natural amphitheatre stretching from the sandy beach and up a gentle hill, with a golf course in the middle and a large, white villa – the casino – high on the headland beyond.
But keep your nerve: it really does feel much nicer, and more spacious, once you’re down at resort level – though, truth to tell, it’s still a little early to visit. When I was there in March, the resort was putting the finishing touches to its fabulous, Balinese-style spa (which includes two stilted, glass-bottomed treatment rooms accessible only by boat, its own private beach and a funicular running up the cliff face). The landscapers have done an excellent job, too, though some of the planting still needs time to mature.
Here, around £1,750 buys seven nights’ b&b in a garden-view Orchestra (ie, lowest level) room but you’ll have to pay extra for lunch and dinner. Though these rooms are the resort’s least expensive, they’re perfectly luxurious: rooms are spacious with private covered patios or terraces, netted four-poster beds, air-conditioning, satellite television, internet connection, nicely done bathrooms and a golf buggy to get you around the resort’s 300 acres. If you were to upgrade to a one-bedroom villa, you would get a pool, but I wouldn’t bother: the resort pool, surrounded by space-age ”sun pods” is superb, and you don’t come here to hide yourself away.
The overall ambience is fairly buzzy, with a much younger clientele than at PSV. Food is better here than at its rival with a much broader choice of cuisine, though you are required to make a sartorial effort in the evenings: a shirt with collar and “closed-in footwear” is de rigueur for men.
“Please assume nothing is impossible so that we can make everything happen,” begins Cotton House’s welcome booklet. The chambermaid said much the same as she gamely scrubbed bird muck off my T-shirt (deposited there by one of the birds that haunt the dining room at breakfast). None of that “no telephone in your room” nonsense here: you are positively encouraged to contact Front Desk to claim all manner of added luxuries, from ordering your choice from the pillow menu to chartering a plane. New arrivals can also use it to organise their complimentary unpacking and pressing.
Though not a whole-island resort, Cotton House is the only resort on the exclusive 1,400-acre Mustique (there’s one other tiny hotel) and because the rest of the island is so manicured and perfect, it’s difficult to know where the resort ends and the rest of the island begins.
Officially, though, Cotton House occupies the former site of both a sugar and a cotton plantation on the island’s north-west coast. In the middle of the lush, gently sloping gardens, edged by a pretty white-sand beach, stands the plantation-style main building. This houses the restaurant and the Great Room, where the famous Tuesday-evening cocktail party is held (yes, villa-owner Mick Jagger does attend when he’s on the island). Scattered around the gardens are the 19 rooms and suites plus private villa with its own swimming pool, the new infinity pool, the spa and the beach café.
Cotton House is my favourite of the four resorts, but it is also the most expensive. Here a shade under £2,000 buys seven nights’ b&b in a Cottage, the least expensive type of room. But least expensive doesn’t mean dark, dank and over the kitchens: Cottages are just as pretty as the rest of the accommodation – with a king-size bed, dressing room, nice bathroom and veranda – only on a smaller scale and without a private plunge pool. Fine if you don’t spend much time in your room; a little cramped if you do.
Palm Island, bought and redeveloped in 1998 by the owners of Galley Bay in Antigua, can’t hold a candle to the Grenadines’ other luxury resorts, possessing neither the desert-island charm of PSV, the glamour of Raffles or the barefoot chic of the Cotton House; while the pool area, with its weird waterfall, is frankly a bit naff. That said, it’s also the least expensive of the four, with seven nights’ all-inclusive coming in at just over £1,700.
This is another “whole-island” resort, with five white-sand beaches, edged by palm trees and lapped by the tepid, turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Complimentary activities include (non-motorised) watersports, cycling, croquet, table tennis and pitch-and-putt golf; scuba diving and boat trips to nearby islands can also be arranged.
There are 37 rooms, cottages and suites, some right on the beach, others set farther back in the garden area, though all are fairly close together. Rooms don’t have phones or televisions; if you need anything, you’ll have to go to reception to get it. The rooms are comfortable but fairly bland – all except the two stilted Island Loft rooms, set slightly farther up the beach, which are lovely, with doors opening onto a large private veranda. I would be tempted to upgrade to one of these at an extra £57 per person, per night.
Guests are mainly Britons of all ages, though no children under 16 are permitted in high season.