Six islands, one mission: to uncover the Caribbean’s best, most intimate hotels.
Karibuni Lodge, St. Martin
The Best Caribbean Hotels 2011
Karibuni Lodge, St. Martin
In low-key French St. Martin, which is dotted with fishing villages and authentic Creole restaurants, the hillside Karibuni Lodge resembles an upscale African safari camp. The six rustic-chic studios incorporate rough concrete walls, Guyanese redwood bookcases, and just the right mix of Caribbean and sub-Saharan objets, from corrugated-metal mirrors to hand-carved wooden elephants. Large doors open onto wide terraces with in-your-face views of Cul de Sac Bay and its small islets. Although there’s no restaurant at the hotel, owners Marion and Erick Clement are on hand to take guests by boat to their perennially packed beachside favorite Le Karibuni, on the nearby island of Pinel (hotel guests get first dibs on tables and lounge chairs here). 29 Les Terrasses de Cul de Sac; 590-690/643-858; lekaribuni.com; doubles from $347.
T+L Tip: Don’t miss a dinner of grilled-to-perfection scallops and broad-bean risotto on the Victorian veranda at Ti-Bouchon, down the road. 110 Route Cul de Sac; 590-690/648-464; dinner for two $112.
After hitting the beach in low-key French St. Martin, you watch the sun set over Cul de Sac Bay from the terrace of your rustic-chic studio—one of only six at Karibuni Lodge.
Fans of large luxurious hotels and resorts know there's no better destination than the Caribbean, complete with its celebrity-chef restaurants and world-class spas. But there is another, less well known Caribbean of small and increasingly stylish properties like Karibuni Lodge, where luxury is as much about peace and quiet as it is about the last word in amenities.
My initial encounter with this intimate side of the Caribbean was back in the mid-1990s, when one of my first assignments for Travel + Leisure was to report on a handful of new small hotels. Given my happy memories of that mission, when I was offered a chance to again dip into the Caribbean's small-hotel scene, it didn't take much persuading. And this time, not only were there many more properties to check out, but many of these new tropical gems exhibited bolder and more exciting design than their 1990s counterparts.
Take the Midcentury Modern sleek of St. Bart's stunningly reimagined La Banane. A two-tiered pool now gives way to nine white bungalows with pastel-colored walls and custom-designed tiles. Hotel Chocolat, a newcomer to St. Lucia, takes a more natural approach, blending the design of its 14 villas almost seamlessly with its surrounding lush cacao plantation. Its small scale means guests get special treatment, like learning to make their own chocolate bars with an expert chef.
In addition to breaking new ground on the style and amenities fronts, some of these hotels opened up new geographic frontiers as well. The most notable example is Rosalie Bay Resort—the first luxury resort on the wild, pristine, and still virtually unknown island of Dominica. The pioneering resort is setting a sustainable example for those to come; it relies on solar panels and has its own wind turbine, organic gardens, and spring-fed onyx-colored swimming pool.
So, for winter sun-seekers who prefer the laid-back charms of staying small, here is a look at 10 stylish, intimate finds on six Caribbean islands for the season.