Where to find high-style comfort with an island attitude
Though it's only steps from Charlotte Amalie's cruise-port chaos, this gem of a hotel is miles away in spirit. Built for the bride of a 19th-century French sea captain, Hotel 1829 is a confection of Moroccan tile, terraces swimming in lemon-yellow allamanda blossoms, fountains, and curving passageways. Owner Gerhard Hofmann leads enthusiastic tours of his 2,000-bottle wine collection, as well as the dining room, showing off the Tiffany stained-glass mural and 200-year-old human-size Italian chess pieces. The 15 rooms are equally atmospheric--cedar ceilings, bamboo platform beds--and the long, lamplit dining terrace is wonderful at night, when you can look across bristling palms to the moon-drenched waters of St. Thomas Harbour. 29-30 Kongens Gade, Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; 800/524-2002 or 340/776-1829, fax 340/776-4313; doubles from $85.
The Coke machine at the entrance gives you an idea of how casual everything is at Admiral's, a 12-room inn with blistered-wood buildings painted in playful pinks, greens, and yellows. The sun-worn gray deck, generously sized scuba pool (this was once a diving club), and rooms with retro details (flower-power tiles, lime green sinks) only add to the laid-back vibe. And that's how owners Anne and Hal Borns want to keep it. "We came down to sail, liked the weather and the slow life, and stayed," says Anne, a former Bostonian, who loves to send guests on snorkel expeditions to Hassel Island, an easy 10-minute swim away. Villa Olga, Frenchtown, St. Thomas; 800/544-0493 or 340/774-1376, fax 340/774-8010; doubles from $129.
Ten sandy paces from the sea and only a hundred more from Port Elizabeth (one of the most adorable towns in the Caribbean), Gingerbread would be desirable for its location alone. But the inn is also fabulous-looking, with delicate fretwork, curlicued rooflines, and gables with rose medallions--all hand-tooled by Bequian artisans. Its nine rooms are just as smart, styled with greenheart-wood four-posters, clay lamps, straw mats, and bright banquettes. Half of Port Elizabeth hangs out at the beachfront café, noshing on freshly baked peanut-coconut macaroons. Admiralty Bay, Bequia; 784/458-3800, fax 784/458-3907; doubles from $90.
Friendship Bay Beach Resort
With its 27 rooms awash in burnt-orange and aqua, bathroom tiles sketched with starfish, Carib Indian oil paintings, and zebra-striped chairs, Friendship Bay looks more like an artist's retreat than a resort. That's because Swedish co-owner Margit Abrahamssom has always dabbled in painting and sculpture, and it was only natural that her hotel should become her canvas. In the main restaurant, you can sit on a park bench painted teal and look through floor-to-ceiling windows onto the grassy grounds and Friendship Bay. At the Spicy 'n' Herby beach bar, seats hang from ropes and there's a stained-glass fish-shaped window in the open kitchen. Feeling creative?Bring along a brush and palette, and book the bamboo honeymoon suite, where an artist's easel is propped in a corner. Friendship Bay, Bequia; 784/458-3222, fax 784/458-3840; doubles from $165.
Manoir de St.-Barthélemy
This manor house of ancient timbers and swirling stucco was born in Normandy, disassembled, and put back together on a sunny St. Bart's hillside in 1984. The Manoir remains a secret in several ways--you won't find it in many guidebooks, and it's hidden down a stone and dirt path beside coconut trees and gardens of hibiscus and oleander. (If you're driving, get good directions.) The stylish co-owner, Madame Monette Sartoris, will show you to one of eight bungalows with rustic kitchenettes, white linen hassocks, and beds draped in tulle. Take breakfast on your terrace and watch the hummingbirds buzz the cashew trees. Rte. de Saline, Lorient, St. Bart's; 590/27-79-27, fax 590/27-65-75; doubles from $70.
Hummingbird Beach Resort
What Hummingbird lacks in bedroom style (all 10 bungalows commit kitschy crimes such as having brown shag carpeting) it makes up for in its exotic public spaces. The natural rock pool is watched over by an African-style wooden mermaid; surrounding shingled cabanas provide an escape from the strong Caribbean sun. Next door at the rambling bar, cedar tables are shaped like puzzle pieces and dried sea fans hang from the ceiling. (Order the house punch, a stalwart potion of rum and freshly squeezed oranges, limes, and grapefruits, with grated nutmeg and bitters.) But best of all is the hotel's on-site batik studio, where St. Lucian artist David Simmonds designs and sells radiant sarongs, cushions, and wall panels. Anse Chastanet Rd., Soufrière, St. Lucia; 758/459-7232, fax 758/459-7033; doubles from $80.
La Haut Plantation
If it weren't for the palm trees and the view of sea and mountains, you might mistake La Haut for something out of the Old South. There are, after all, goats on the grounds and guinea fowl in the coop. Officially, it's a cocoa and coconut plantation, but there's citrus- and cattle-farming thrown in along with six modest guest rooms. Strung along the top floor of a converted factory, each room comes with a private balcony, plank floors, antiqued rattan furniture, and lace-hung French doors. At night, mosey over to La Haut's restaurant (their motto: Love at first bite) for Creole creations such as jerk pork and curried goat. West Coast Rd., north of Soufrière, St. Lucia; 758/459-7008, fax 758/459-5975; doubles from $75.
Mago Estate Hotel
Palm Mist, Soufrière; phone and fax 758/459-7352; doubles from $100. For 30 years, Mago was the vacation home of Peter Gloger, a German architect of impeccable taste. Two years ago, he decided to share his haven with travelers, who can now sleep in four-poster beds beneath a cloud-painted ceiling, nap on cushioned chaises beside a pool shaded by the rain forest, and sit in carved African chairs around the dining table. Set on a lush mountain, Mago meshes with the outdoors: a rock formation and two mango trees (mago is patois for "mango") jut into the lounge, and the six bedrooms have just three walls; one side is open to the view of the mountains and sea. Mosquito netting ensures peaceful nights, but watch out for butterflies during the day.
Time Out at the Gap
St. Lawrence Gap, Christ Church; 246/420-5021, fax 246/420-5034; doubles from $125. Pack your wild side for Time Out, a 76-room hotel splashed with crazy colors--pink, orange, and purple curtains, olive shutters, neon-blue picnic tables and awnings. After checking in near a maypole hung with streamers, check out the Whistling Frog Sports Pub, which packs in three happy hours a day and a young crowd that looks as if it's from MTV's Real World. Guest rooms are just as playful: sea-themed bedspreads, bamboo mirrors, and space to party. Sign up for a tour of the nearby Mount Gay Rum distillery, or hit Dover Beach, across the road, for round-the-clock volleyball.
Morne Anglais, Giraudel; 767/448-8839, fax 767/448-8829; doubles from $140. The rough road leading to Exotica resembles the scene of an explosion, but not to worry. Co-owner Athie Martin will dispatch a taxi to fetch you, and then settle you into his mountainside "agro-eco resort," with an on-site organic farm and eight tropical hardwood cottages set among royal poinciana. While the tin-roof cottages have solar water heaters, they make a wrong turn with prefab condo furnishings. Still, who can complain when all you have to do is step onto your terrace to watch whales breaching in the distance?
Wilderness Retreat Trafalgar Falls Rd., Trafalgar; 767/448-2287, fax 767/448-2285; doubles from $90. Former guests tend to get religious when describing Papillote. "A heavenly paradise," they exclaim, and it's no wonder. The hotel is surrounded by cathedrals of ferns; statuary glows green with lichens; ghostly mist ascends from waterfalls; and hot mineral baths simmer beneath breadfruit trees. At the restaurant, you can order grilled flying fish with taro puffs for lunch, then hike up to Dominica's Trafalgar Falls. The only thing unholy about Papillote is the country-ruffle décor in the seven rooms (the cool stone balconies, however, warrant a blessing).
Hôtel Frégate Bleue
Le François; 596/54-54-66, fax 596/54-78-48; doubles from $170. This hilltop auberge is usually so uncrowded that you'll most likely get to pick your room. All seven are more than respectable, but consider the corner one called Zinnia, with a mahogany bed and matching armoire, mighty medieval lamp, and glass doors that overlook the horizon of islets and foamy sea. Co-owner Yveline de Lucy de Fossarieu will gladly arrange a lunch and snorkel trip to one of the islets or suggest a proper beach within a 10-minute drive. The pool, with its handy wine cave (a glass of crisp Alsatian Riesling?), is perfect for après-beach.
204-206 Norzagaray, Old San Juan; 787/722-1808, fax 787/724-7360; doubles from $145. "You can get lost here," says 10-year-old Teresina as she guides you up a looping staircase past spidery passages and landings. She should know: the 18th-century inn is owned by her grandmother, artist Jan D'Esopo. On a hill in Old San Juan, the 22-room Gallery feels like a shrine to bohemia, filled with weird and wondrous objets d'art. Rooms have large oils of palomino mares above the beds, dressers painted with pansy petals, and Peruvian cedar throne chairs. You'll think of Vincent Price when you see the music room and its gold velvet sofas, Steinway grand, and cobwebbed candelabra. On the plant-engulfed wine deck (at 250 feet, the city's highest point), Teresina will join you at sunset.
At Wind Chimes Inn
1750 Ashford Ave., San Juan; 800/946-3244 or 787/727-4153, fax 787/728-0671; doubles from $100. Ring the bell at the arched wooden doors to enter the courtyard between a pair of 1930's Spanish colonial houses--San Juan's best deal. Greenery is thin, but don't be dissuaded: the 22 rooms have refreshing sunflower-patterned fabrics, scalloped pedestal sinks, and walls hung with vibrant artwork by owner John Dennis's mother, Mercedes Dennis. The claw-foot chairs, coral rock console, and verdigrised iron staircase in the small lobby heighten civility. Condado Beach is just a block away, but the inn has an alluring swimming pool with a river-rock waterfall.
Villa Serena Las Galeras
Samaná; 809/538-0000, fax 809/538-0009; doubles from $100. Picture living in a cove off a spearmint sea, the gardens bright with crotons and Christmas palms, the swimming pool curved like a comma. That's Villa Serena, where the 11 rooms are not numbered, because proprietor Natasha Despotovic wants you to feel right at home (10 more rooms are being built). And how could you not feel at home in a bedroom that has a bamboo four-poster bed streaming with chiffon, and French windows that open to views of the cliff-studded coast?(Ask for the room with a whitewashed gazebo balcony.) If you decide to venture out, the staff will summon a taxi to take you into the appealing fishing town of Samaná.
Danish Manor Hotel
2 Company St., Christiansted; 800/524-2069 or 340/773-1377, fax 340/773-1913; doubles from $109. The mellow town of Christiansted doesn't stretch down to the sea--it kind of tumbles, in an arty, crumbling maze of 18th-century brick and stone. Slipped into the labyrinth is the Danish Manor, a three-story pink-washed inn with outdoor spaces detailed by an artist's brush: geckos painted on railings, images of fig leaves trailing along walls, eaves and balconies splashed with vivid purple paint. The brick walls around the pool and the coral behind the bar are two centuries old. Not so ancient are the rooms, which mimic a Howard Johnson's. But with a gregarious young staff and the delectable Tutto Bene Café, who minds a little motel motif?
Estate Concordia Studios
Saltpond Bay; 800/392-9004 or 340/693-5855, fax 340/693-5960; doubles from $70. Look for the bat house next to the reception office--bats eat mosquitoes, and that's smart eco-tourism as far as Stanley Selengut is concerned. The eco-hotelier prefers to keep things as natural as possible in these hilltop wilds. Nine clay-tiled studios and 11 screen-and-cloth "eco-tents" are camouflaged among jungle vines and armies of orchids. Ask for one of the new tents, whose decks have astonishing views of mountains and sea. And make sure you're poolside at dusk, when clouds of hungry bats descend for a nightly mosquito feast.
St. John Inn
277 Enighed Rd., Cruz Bay; 800/666-7688 or 340/693-8688, fax 340/693-9900; doubles from $110. A vigorous rehab last year transformed the 13-room St. John into the island's only affordable inn with solid class. Just inside its bland coral exterior lies an arched purple reception area and a copper bar on a sporty terrace. Owners Gloria and John Hoffman are San Francisco natives, which shows in the California-cool wrought-iron beds, pine armoires, and funky cone-shaped alarm clocks. Walk to Cruz Bay and its hip café scene, or lounge by the little pool under a monster avocado tree.
Inn at Robert's Grove
Placencia; 800/565-9757 or 501-6/23565, fax 501-6/23567; doubles from $150. The 1997 opening of Robert's Grove sent a wave of gossip across Belize. Who in their right mind would bring luxury to a potholed outback ruled by Jesus Christ lizards, tame creatures that walk on water?Just a couple of New Yorkers, Robert and Risa Frackman (he's a developer, she's a public relations consultant), who pulled pieces from Asia--Sri Lankan chaises, Indonesian armoires--for the 20 seaside rooms. Add to that a glittery pool that acts as the inn's centerpiece, a lounge and library decorated with an African safari motif, and a beachside dining terrace where you can taste some of Belize's best cuisine. Don't be surprised if a Jesus Christ lizard sprints by on the sand.
Captain Oliver's Hotel Resort
Oyster Pond; 590/87-40-26, fax 590/87-40-84; doubles from $175. The crew at Captain Oliver's delights in informing guests that they're half in France, half in the Netherlands. It's the truth, more or less, since the lodge spills across the French-Dutch border of St. Martin and Sint Maarten. More significantly, Captain Oliver's has a great location on a prime cove, an old-fashioned seafood restaurant (try the cod fritters), 50 pleasant rooms, and a big marina. The best view is from the pool, which looks across to St. Bart's. The captain's only folly: a miniature zoo with caged monkeys and toucans.
163 Blvd. de Grand Case, Grand Case; 590/87-56-85, fax 590/87-83-88; doubles from $90. You might mistake Hévéa for a simple restaurant. The porch blackboard beckons with filet de canard miel (fillet of duck in honey sauce) and langouste grillé thermidor. But step inside, beyond the white-linen dining parlor, and you'll find a dollhouse-sized inn decorated in French colonial style--carved mahogany headboards, stucco walls, painted pine beams. Tiny gardens and fountains are tucked into corners and along passageways. There are two rooms, three studios, and three suites; go for one of the studios--by far the biggest and best spaces.
Brown's Bay, near Freetown; 268/460-4120, fax 268/460-4406; doubles from $120. Built around a 200-year-old sugar mill, Harmony Hall is best known for its fabulous restaurant (local fish, olive oil from Italy) and its lovely little gallery, which stages monthly exhibitions of Caribbean artists. Even without advertising, the word is spreading about Harmony's other treasure: six inexpensive guest rooms. Though they are spare--think two chairs and a king-size bed draped in mosquito netting--paintings from the gallery and views of the electric-blue bay brighten the space. Stop by the bar in the sugar mill, which attracts a fair share of yachtie types. There you might have a rum punch with the elegant Italian managers Ricardo and Marilisa Parisi, who keep the place running in style.
Windward Rd., Speyside; 800/544-7631 or 868/660-5268, fax 868/660-5030; doubles from $140. Scuba divers are enthralled by the underwater views off Tobago, and the scene on land (jungly rain forests, all-but-deserted beaches) is pretty terrific too. But most of the island's lodgings are predictable--the same tropical fabrics again. So the crisp blue and white stripes are refreshing at Manta Lodge, a modest 22-room hotel on the island's serene northern end. The pool is sweet, the restaurant appealing, and check out the huge wooden moray eel that curves along the bar. The location may be a bit close to the road, but--big plus--the birder's paradise of Little Tobago Island lies just offshore, as well as some of the best dive spots in the Caribbean.
Sunset Resort Hotel
Calabash Bay, Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth; 800/786-8452 or 876/965-0143, fax 876/965-0555; doubles from $70. This is as far from Negril and its Jell-O wrestling collegians as it is possible to be--ideologically, at least--while still keeping your feet in Jamaican sand. Whisperingly low-key, with a gentility as de-stressing as any New Age massage, Sunset Resort commands a spectacular swatch of hassle-free (i.e., nobody hawking jewelry or cornrows) seafront on the island's untrampled south coast, which, unlike the north coast, boasts zero humidity. The 11 rooms and one suite won't win any design awards, but ceiling fans (air-conditioning for those who must) and tile floors ensure a respectable level of comfort and aesthetics. Don't miss dinner at Jake's Place, Island Outpost's famously funky resort just up the beach, and crocodile-spotting on the Black River.
Lambert Beach Resort
East End; 284/495-2877, fax 284/495-2876; doubles from $150. Carved out of a forested British Virgin Islands hillside that slopes to a half-mile-wide white-sand cove, Lambert Beach is perfect for getting away from it all. Some of the 38 rooms and suites are separated from the beach by a few palms; others are set higher on the hill, with views of the ocean. Each room takes up half of a freestanding Mediterranean-style cottage with terra-cotta tile floors and sand-colored walls. Still higher in the hills are a few two- and three-bedroom villas (starting at $225 a night). Lambert's only drawback is the surf, which can get rough. But for those days, there's transportation to the nearby island of Jost Van Dyke and its calmer waters. Or kick back by the asymmetrical pool, set in a small field at the foot of the hills. It's so gorgeous you might just forgo the beach entirely.