"You have great architects and great architecture," says Korach, who is chiefly responsible for the redesign. "But not all great architects make great architecture. The upper string of villas looked like a concrete necklace. The comment we always got was that the place didn't have a heart. This is what we have spent so much time and money on, acquiring a heart."
Korach's bosses invited more trouble by running Carenage themselves. When that didn't work, they signed a deal with Rosewood Hotels & Resorts. Based on its track record in the area—Rosewood manages Caneel Bay on St. John—the partnership seemed a winner. But just like some people, some resort owners and operators are never meant to get engaged, let alone walk down the aisle. Rosewood refused to comment on the marriage, which crumbled after 15 months.
Even before Ivan, from which the reborn resort has substantially recovered, some followers of the saga had simply concluded that the place was cursed, an assessment Jennie Chua, Raffles International chairman and CEO, rejects.
"Cursed is a strong word," Chua says evenly. "It comes from superstition. What you're talking about is a troubled history. Why does one hotel make it and another fail?Relationships. Not only do we respect the owners, we think they're really super guys. We were aware of the weaknesses from the beginning. As a prospective manager, you ask yourself, 'Are these contracts I can live with?Can the investors give me the product that allows me to fly my plane?' The answer was yes."
Amazingly, Chua insists that the due-diligence study she conducted did not include "asking why the other guys didn't fly the plane so well. We were more interested in the fit—was it a good one?" Similarly, she will not discuss how things might have been done differently on her watch, asserting that criticism after the fact is too cheap, too easy.
Of Course, if Chua and Saladino fall out of love, there is always that boxing ring. For the moment, though, everything is hugs and air kisses. If you overlook tacky additions like the glass water wall outside Jambu's Restaurant, there's a lot to love at Raffles Canouan beyond three-digit martinis and personnel who perform small acts of kindness while you dream.
Carenage was not famous for its service; now it's superfriendly, if not quite the "gentle breeze" Raffles promises. You can arrive by water, imagined as the tropical version of traveling by boat from Venice airport to Piazza San Marco, or by land, through a gate that opens onto a magnificent file of grugru palms. The color volume on the villas has been turned way down, from yellow and pink to beige, which does much kinder things for the landscape. Dressed up with stone arches, Vietti's bunkers look like the sumptuous villas they were always meant to be.
The rooftop air conditioners are history, replaced by discreet ground units. Heroically, and against every law of nature, the beach has been lowered three feet, so guests in the pool no longer get sand in their eyes. The pool is one of those biomorphic affairs with bridges and an island of lush vegetation. Handsome canework canopy beds invite conking out. Say what you will about swim-up bars, they do embody a certain ideal of hedonism. If they also recall some of the more extreme episodes of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, who cares?Raffles Canouan makes no excuses for guilty pleasures.
But what, you are entitled to know by now, could possibly cause a martini to cost more than many American families spend on groceries in a week?Anchored for the evening on a stool in the Jambu Bar, romanced by a steel band and the glassy night sea, with a hot breeze at my back, I learned that the answer lay partially in the glass. It was handblown, asymmetrical, strung with beads, and twisted with wire.
The other thing that made the drink so expensive, and I hope you're sitting down, was the 24-karat-gold toothpick, a facsimile of General Robert E. Lee's fabled sword Old Glory, which gives this concoction of bourbon and sweet vermouth its name. I was invited to take the sword, which speared a cherry, home, a kind of gift-with-purchase. But as good as the Old Glory is, it cannot help being upstaged by everything going on in and around it. Sometime later, I remember, barman John Paul Ford, who served under General Tommy Franks in Korea before seeking a career in outrageous cocktail creation, persuaded me to try another of his fantasies in the same series, involving an Excalibur. After that, my memory is unreliable. My 2 a.m. crawl to the new casino was a blur of vermilion Venetian stucco. The next day, Korach told me it was conceived to evoke a high-class cathouse. She was joking, I think.
The only thing more decadent than wrapping your lips around an icy, bank-breaking martini at Jambu Bar, I discovered, is summoning one while stretched out on a lounge chair on the beach. You know how the beaches of some Caribbean resorts are packed so tightly, you can read the small type of your neighbor's chick-lit paperback?Well, that kind of thing never happens here. Like the tables in a good restaurant, the lounges are spaced for privacy. Without having to lower my voice in the slightest, I began making the kind of treacly noises to my loved one that are the fallout from too much alcohol, too much spicy food (lunch was chicken-habanero empanadas), and too much sun.
Having warmed to the idea of collaborating with people who are experts in their fields, CRD went on to enlist The Apprentice taskmaster, a.k.a. Donald Trump, to manage the two casinos as well as a community of 135 yet-to-be-built new villas, and to build the par-72, Jim Fazio- designed golf course, which has been renamed the Trump International Golf Club. (The villas are a long way off, but if you think Raffles Canouan may be for you, book before they go up. Once they do, many of the resort's most beautiful vistas will be swallowed up.) CRD has also been instrumental in bringing in the Moorings, the charter yacht company that has made Canouan the sailing capital of the Grenadines.
Indeed, CRD seems to be doing everything right these days, including working with airlines to guarantee seven nonstop flights a week from San Juan and Barbados. The resort's brass were humbled by Ivan but at their desks the next day, tapping out orders to fluff the bougainvillea. The fate of Raffles Canouan now lies in the hands of the guests checking in for its first big season. They're the ones who will ultimately decide if the place has been able to acquire a heart. As everyone knows, you can't buy love.
CHRISTOPHER PETKANAS is the special correspondent for Travel + Leisure.