Month: October 2015

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Guadeloupe’s Offshore Isles – Lesser Antilles (French West Indies)

Where You Can Hear the Sugarcane Grow

Guadeloupeans are understandably loath to divulge the destination of their weekend getaways. When hard pressed, they’ll admit they escape to the small offshore archipelago of lies des Saintes (also known as les Saintes) and the larger Marie Galante, whose innocent, rustic charm is reminiscent of St. Barts twenty years ago, with few cars and a rural character.

The pastoral allure of Marie Galante is unmatched in the Caribbean; scores of tended plantations, windmills, and oxcarts attest to the importance of sugarcane and rum (said to be the best in the Caribbean) on an island where tourism is given little heed.

The long, golden Petite Anse beach is a favorite weekend spot for picnics—bring your own or enjoy a deliciously simple meal at any of the handful of Creole shacks. Terre-de-Haut, the largest of the Saintes, is only slightly more tourist-oriented, with its pastel cottages and winding trails.

The charmingly kitschy inn L’Auberge des Petits Saints aux Anacardies is the most distinctive of the island’s small inns, eccentrically cluttered with antiques and curious souvenirs fancied by the world- trekking owners. It has an airy veranda, and the ocean-view restaurant offers a surprisingly sophisticated wine list and menu, considering its delightful middle-of-nowhere spirit.

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Fete des Cuisinieres and Guadeloupe’s Finest Restaurants – Grande-Terre, Guadeloupe, Lesser Antilles (French West Indies)

Island Cooks Celebrate an Art Form

One of the culinary epicenters of the Caribbean, Guadeloupe celebrates its marriage of African, French, and West Indian cuisine during the annual Fete des Cuisinieres. Honoring St. Laurent, patron saint of cooks, the colorful festival is launched with a gala parade of hundreds of the island’s women chefs,

lavishly dressed in traditional madras costumes and starched white linen aprons, carrying and bal­ancing baskets of the island’s exotic bounty on their heads as they wend their way through the streets of the capital city, Pointe-a-Pitre.

The parade ends with the day’s only solemn moment: high Mass at the 19th-century Cathedrale de St. Pierre et St. Paul. A five-hour cook-off feast follows, with music, song, and dance.

Even if you miss the late-summer event, there’s always a gourmet experience waiting to be found in Guadeloupe’s 200 restaurants, which, together with Martinique’s, prepare some of the best food in the Caribbean. Dinner in the port city’s La Canne a Sucre captures the elan of Guadeloupe’s contempo­rary dining scene, with enviable harborside views and a kitchen that knows its way around an ever-evolving nouvelle Creole cui­sine.

The quayside location guarantees the freshest fruits of the sea. Farther afield in a little-visited corner of Grande-Terre, the eastern “wing” of the butterfly-shaped two island group, a gifted French couple has created Chateau des Feuilles, a gastronomic hideaway where lunch specialties fuse the French chef’s European training with a cornucopia of island accents any non-Guadeloupean palate is bound to find exciting.

The changing menu might include a velvety sea urchin pate, fresh fish with a delicate vanilla sauce, or shark with a saffron sauce. The foolproof results draw international as well as local visitors for the finest meal in Guadeloupe.

The pineapple flan alone makes this spot worth the trip, but for an added bonus, guests are welcome to stroll the flower-decked grounds on the 8-acre estate, take a dip in the pool, or proceed with caution through a twenty-round sampling of different mm punch concoctions.

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Sailing the Grenadine – Lesser Antilles

Natural Glamour, Not Commercial Clamor

Revered by yachtsmen and sailor wannabes, the thirty-two islands and hundreds of dot like cays that form the archipelago of the Grenadines are one of the most beautiful yachting destinations in the world. Strung like a necklace of gems across 40 miles of pristine waters between St. Vincent and Grenada, they’re blessed with powdery white-sand beaches and coral reefs that are among the most amazing outside the Pacific.

Many islands are uninhabited and accessible only by boat. Some have tiny populations, mostly descended from African slaves (such as privately owned Mayreau, with 180 residents), while others, like Bequia, are larger and are quietly awakening to tourism, offering a limited sampling of inns and a barefoot, small-town ambience.

Daily schooners, ferries, and passenger-carrying mail boats sail south from St. Vincent (locally known as “the mainland”), servicing the half-dozen populated Grenadines. But the ideal way to go, for those in search of a dif­ferent, picnic-perfect, beach-ringed isle every day, is to charter a crewed yacht (or, for those who know their main from their genoa, a self-skippered bareboat) through The Moorings in Grenada, and sail north.

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Petit St. Vincent – Grenadines, Lesser Antilles

Island Resort or Resort Island?

Those who really, really want to get away from it all should drop anchor at this privately owned 113-acre luxury island resort. Encircled by white-sand beaches, covered with palm trees, and washed by the impossibly clear waters of the fabled Grenadine archi­pelago, it’s one man’s castaway fantasy, which he chooses to share with just forty privacy-seeking guests.

Of course, they pay handsomely to stay in the quiet, natural setting without sacrificing service or remarkable dining, and they also pay for what’s missing: televi­sion, telephones, air-conditioning, faxes, casinos, beach vendors—even room keys.

Large breeze-cooled stone cottages are sit­uated for maximum views and privacy. Room service works like a charm: Raise the red flag and the staff gives you a wide berth; raise the yellow flag, stick your request in your mailbox—a mango daquiri, extra suntan lotion, dinner on your private terrace—and it arrives in record time.

Weary CEO types in need of a retreat love it here. So do couples who appear to be very much in love—if they make an appearance at all. Single guests will prob­ably stay that way and should consider PSV only if they like their own company or that of an epic novel.

Guests who have become danger­ously relaxed or are suffering a bout of cabin fever can arrange for a day’s snorkeling at nearby Tobago Cays, also part of the Grenadines island chain—it’s one of the loveliest uninhab­ited comers left in the Caribbean.

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The Cotton House and Basil’s Beach Bar – Mustique, Grenadines, Lesser Antilles

Plantation Civilization and the Place Where Every Night’s a Party

The privately owned Grenadine island of Mustique looks almost too perfect—rustic villages, a few dirt roads, lush green hills. Little wonder the rich and royal have built their vacation homes here, but unless you’ve wangled an invitation from one of them, you’ll have to settle for equally coveted accommodations at the elegant but comfortable Cotton House, the island’s only hotel.

Renovated not long ago and once again in the world’s top rank, it’s the oldest structure on Mustique, an 18th-century plantation house formerly used to store cotton, sugar, and rum. Guests are urbane and sophisticated, often cele­brated, and everyone seems at home amid the quiet panache of a restrained, cool-and- breezy decor.

Much of the transformation, directed by the late British theatrical designer Oliver Messel, is still evident, and the ambi­ence remains palpably British, as if you’re at a long, informal, but civilized house party.

An international cadre of private villa owners come and go, dropping in for afternoon tea in the Hemingwayesque Great Room; picking up visiting friends for a picnic at nearby, mythi­cally beautiful, and almost always empty Macaroni Beach; or carting them off to expe­rience the daily sunset spectacle (and a few Hurricane Davids) at Basil’s Beach Bar.

Drinking the night away here may be some­thing of a ritual, but Basil’s, which stands on piers facing the turquoise waters of Britannia Bay, also happens to be a great place for seafood and fresh fish. You don’t need to be British or Hollywood royalty to enjoy the fresh-grilled, bought-right-off-the-boat lobster or homemade ice cream—or the charm of Basil S. Charles, the Caribbean’s answer to Casablanca’s Rick.

Show up on Wednesday night for one of the rocking, sometimes rau­cous jump-up barbecues—or on New Year’s Eve, for which the barbecues are just a very mild preview.

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Bequia – Grenadines, Lesser Antilles

The Grenadines’s Most Popular Watering Spot and a Quiet Hillside Plantation

Tiny Bequia is the largest and northernmost of the Grenadines and once enjoyed the distinction of being the region’s best whaling station, back in the days of Moby-Dick. Today it maintains its seafaring heritage, and most of its 5,000 inhabitants are employed as fishermen, sailors, or master boat builders.

Nothing much happens on the island except on Thursday night, when the Frangipani hotel’s open-air barbecue is the place to be. Live steel-drum music and a table groaning with island specialties make for a popular event, drawing a mix of hotel guests, locals, and the yacht set.

The latter use this casual and raffish gingerbread guesthouse as their communications and nerve center, a conven­ient hub located right on wonderfully pictur­esque Admiralty Bay, where their craft are moored.

The small Frangi, as locals call it, exudes the ambience of an old West Indies wicker-decked inn. It was built almost a cen­tury ago as the home of a sea captain who disappeared with his crew in the Bermuda Triangle while his schooner sailed on.

If it’s the promise of island serenity that’s drawn you here, head for Spring on Bequia, a hillside plantation perfect for those whose ideal vacation is spent lounging in a balcony hammock, listening to cows mooing and palm fronds rustling while catching up on your reading—and maybe turning your head occa­sionally to catch the glorious views.

Spring’s famous Sunday curry lunch brings locals and visitors from all over the island, but the rest of the time this bucolic, 250-year-old working plantation provides a glorious state of suspended animation for island purists who like to hide out amid the cooling breezes and the music of crickets and tree frogs.

Ten simple guest rooms nestle in a profusion of frangipani and scarlet cordia, and it’s a short, pleasant stroll to the deserted beach at Spring Bay and a 1-mile walk to Admiralty Bay. In the evenings, informal candlelit dinners at Spring feature ingredients fresh from the grounds or just netted in the nearby waters.

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St. George’s Harbour and Grand Anse Beach – St. George’s, Grenada, Windward Islands

Sailing into the Crater of a Volcano, Lounging on a Fabled Beach

This postcard-perfect horseshoe-shaped port—actually the crater of an inactive volcano—is one of the most scenic in the Caribbean, flanked by early 18th-century forts and hugged by one of the area’s most authentic and raffishly charming West Indian cities, St. George’s.

Rainbow-colored homes with “fish scale” roofs climb the steep green hills behind. The crescent-shaped waterfront dis­trict, the Carenage, is the colorful commercial hub of the naturally landlocked inner harbor, whose pedestrian walkways still belong to the Grenadians, even when the cruise ships are in town.

Stop by the daily open-air market (especially on busy Saturday mornings) to listen to the turbaned ladies sell their fragrant cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon, and nutmeg— there’s a reason Grenada is called the Isle of Spice. If the vibrant aroma makes your head swim, grab a chair and a Carib beer by the large open windows on the second floor of the Nutmeg—an informal restaurant that is the city’s most popular meeting spot— where you can watch the harbor traffic.

The curried Iambi (conch) is a longtime specialty, and the nutmeg ice cream is remarkable. St. George’s is not recommended for action-seekers or casino devotees, but beach lovers need look no further than nearby Grand Anse, south of town. This 2-mile curve of fine white sand is the most famous of the island’s forty-five beaches, with a gentle surf that’s perfect for a wide variety of water sports—which is where the sixty-six stylish beach suites of Spice Island Beach Resort come in handy.

As an alternative, you can opt for one of the ultra-secluded suites with pri­vate freshwater pools. For some of the island’s most creative cuisine, the Blue Horizons Cottage Hotel just across the road steals the show. Here, from the airy terrace of La Belle Creole restaurant, sunset views accompany family-recipe classics like chilled lobster mousse, cream of tannia soup, or veal a la Creole. For dessert, there’s nothing sweeter than a stroll under the stars along Grenada’s prettiest beach.

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Casa de Campo – La Romana, Dominican Republic, Greater Antilles

A Sportsman’s Fantasy Come True

Sprawled across a former sugar plantation eleven times the size of Monaco, Casa de Campo is one of the world’s best golf and sporting destinations, justly famous for its two top-notch 18-hole, Pete Dye-designed courses—one inland and the other, the masterpiece “Teeth of the Dog,” skirting the ocean.

Active guests spend their vacation lobbing on any of the thirteen clay-composition tennis courts, frolicking in numerous swimming pools, occu­pying themselves with a slew of water sports available on one of the island’s best beaches, or taking advantage of shooting ranges or the equestrian center, with its 150 horses and as many polo ponies.

Bicycles, mopeds, and golf carts zip guests across 7,000 well-planned acres that include Altos de Chavon, a painstaking re-creation of a 16th-century hill town that doubles as a flourishing cultural center and as home to the resort’s colony of artists and artisans.

Dominican-born fashion designer Oscar de la Renta was involved in the early stages of the resort’s interior design. The vast village-like complex includes sequestered private villas whose owners read like a who’s who of international CEOs and sports-loving magnates.

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Morne Trois Pitons National Park – Dominica, Lesser Antilles

A Walk on the Wild Side Through Primal Island Rain Forest

With few beaches to tout, Dominica is the perfect island destination for naturalists and ecotourists, who come to explore Morne Trois Pitons National Park, an ungovernable refuge of huge ferns, ancient trees, wild orchids, and bright anthuriums.

Much of Dominica’s fame as the Caribbean’s “Nature Island”—and the only landfall Columbus would recognize if he were to return tomorrow—derives from this wild and gorgeous jungle movie set of a park, a 25-square-mile slice of nature that looks and feels more like Hawaii than the Caribbean.

Waterfalls (like the one feeding the fern- bedecked Emerald Pool grotto) hide among lush, steep-sided peaks that are among the Caribbean’s highest, the centerpiece being the three-pronged mountain after which the park is named.

Those who want a little less Shangri-la and a little more sulfur and brim­stone can make the trek to Boiling Lake, the earth’s largest flooded fumarole. Located in the southern part of the park, it’s one of the Caribbean’s most vigorous walks. The vol­canic field called the Valley of Desolation lives up to its name, with steaming vents and boiling mud cauldrons.

The Victorian-era Springfield Plantation Guest House is located close to the Emerald Pool. It’s modest but full of character, and offers home-style Creole cooking plus gor­geous rain forest views. For a more Tarzan- and-Jane experience, try the Papillote Wilderness Retreat. Located deep in the rain forest on the border of the Morne Trois Pitons Park, it’s a popular destination for nature-loving visitors. Guinea hens, geese, and peacocks stroll about freely, and the remarkable 12-acre botanical garden of bamboo, bromeliads, and begonias is the owner’s pride and joy.

Visitors can take a dip into a bubbling hot-spring pool or cool mountain river, join one of the guided walks along paths that crisscross the inn’s lush property, or take the escorted fifteen-minute hike to nearby hot-and-cold Trafalgar Falls, a remarkable 200-foot twin cataract.

At the Retreat’s plant-filled, thatched- roof terrace restaurant, meals are both unfussy and excellent. If you’re lucky, flying fish or the succulent bouk shrimp caught in one of the island’s 365 rivers will be on the menu. Or opt for crapaud—“mountain chicken” in local jargon—just remember that it’s a land frog. Rooms are simple and basic, but the accessibility of the rain forest’s landscape is the lure here.

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Hemingway’s Hangouts – Havana, Cuba, Greater Antilles

Where Papa’s Spirit Lives On

Ernest Hemingway spent most of the 1940s and 1950s in Havana. Today his spirit is alive and well at La Bodeguita del Medio (“The Little Bar in the Middle”) and the slightly more formal La Floridita, two legendary watering holes in the historic Habana Vieja district that provided him with much of the inspiration and local color found in The Old Man and the Sea and Islands in the Stream.

Both of these haunts were estab­lished long before Papa showed up, and neither has changed much since he checked out. A visit is de rigueur, to test-sample two of Cuba’s classic rum-based cocktails, of which Hemingway imbibed vast quantities: La Bodeguita’s refreshing mojito (originally a farmers’ drink, as common as beer; the rich added shaved ice and club soda) and La Floridita’s frozen daiquiri, which Papa is said to have helped perfect (there are reports that the author could down as many as fifteen Papa’s Specials and still walk out the door).

Havana isn’t known for the refinement of its cusine, but La Bodeguita offers some of the best available in its upstairs room, serving such Creole specialties as lechon asado (roast suckling pig). Hemingway’s home, La Vigia, is 9.5 miles outside Havana in the village of San Francisco; it has been left untouched and is open to the public. He lived here until returning to Idaho in 1960, where he com­mitted suicide a year later.