The Best Caribbean Hotels 2011
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.
La Banane, St. Bart’s
It comes as no surprise that this French West Indies island, with its white-sand beaches, over-the-top villas, and celebrity devotees, should be home to one of the Caribbean’s most stylishly revamped hotels. Once owned by the late cabaret impresario Jean-Marie Rivière, La Banane was long known for its campy vibe (showgirls and drag queens provided nightly entertainment). Then, two years ago, dynamic new French owner Jean-Marc Israel and manager Benjamin Fabbri set about creating a Midcentury Modern–inspired hideaway. A two-tiered pool gives way to nine white bungalows with pastel-colored walls, custom-designed geometric tiles, and furniture made by Swiss-born architect Pierre Jeanneret for his cousin Le Corbusier. As if the design weren’t enough reason to stay, La Banane’s ace in the hole is the lively Chandi’ Bar, where crowds gather on Thursday evenings to dance to live flamenco music. Doubles from $595.
T+L Tip: For sunset cocktails and ceviche, head to the recently opened Le Bonito restaurant. Rue Lubin Brin; 590-590/279-696; dinner for two $150.
Hotel Le Village St. Jean, St. Bart’s
Before St. Bart’s was considered a Caribbean hot spot, the pioneering Charneau family opened Le Village St.-Jean. Forty-two years later, the bayside hotel, bordered by fragrant palm trees and frangipani, has a fresh new look. What to expect? Colorful paintings by native artists; wood-beamed ceilings and teak furniture; and large, Zen-inspired marble bathrooms. There’s also a well-stocked library full of travel classics that the Charneaus have collected over the years. Despite the upgrades, Le Village’s stone cottages and suites are still among the island’s best deals during high season. Baie de St.-Jean; 590-590/276-139; villagestjeanhotel.com; doubles from $380.
T+L Tip: Book a deep-tissue massage or yoga class on your private terrace, overlooking Baie de St.-Jean.
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.
Love Hotel, St. Martin
When the French couple William and Muriel Demy first visited St. Martin, they fell in love with the tiny town of Grand Case, which is made up of picket-fenced pastel shacks and a long, secluded stretch of sand. The Demys eventually bought a ramshackle beachfront villa and, after a top-to-bottom makeover, opened it as the Love Hotel in 2008. The seven-room property is an updated version of the charming, bare-bones hotel you used to find in the Greek islands 20 years ago. Airy, light-filled rooms have no pretensions and are simply decorated with dark wood furniture built by William. For lunch, order from the hotel café’s chalkboard menu that touts everything from Carib beer ($4) to Ruinart champagne ($100). 140 Blvd. de Grand Case; 590-590/298-714; love-sxm.com; doubles from $142.
T+L Tip: On Tuesdays, Grand Case Boulevard turns into a huge block party with calypso music, dancing, and the island’s best street-food vendors.
Anacaona Boutique Hotel, Anguilla
For decades, this 16-mile-long island in the British West Indies has had what is arguably the Caribbean’s highest concentration of luxury properties. Among the original movers and shakers were Robin and Sue Ricketts, who helped create and manage such legendary hotels as Malliouhana and Cap Juluca. Now the Ricketts have embarked upon a new project: the 27-room Anacaona Boutique Hotel, a stylish and affordable alternative on an island that is known for its sky-high prices. The modern, tropical rooms (Frette linens; gold and lime pillows; iPod docking stations) look out onto one of two swimming pools, and those on the upper floors have vistas of the sea. Best of all, the mile-long Meads Bay beach is just steps from the property. Doubles from $250.
T+L Tip: The Ricketts host frequent cultural events, including appearances by island musicians, actors, and historians.
Nonsuch Bay, Antigua
The former British island of Antigua had a slightly stuffy reputation until hotelier Gordon Campbell Gray opened the sexy Carlisle Bay in 2009. This season, another luxe property is making a splash. Surrounded by two square miles of reef-protected waters, Nonsuch Bay has been designed with the sailing set in mind. Spacious terraces and wood-shingle roofs reflect the island’s Georgian architectural tradition, while the high-ceilinged interiors mix such colonial classics as plantation chairs with contemporary white couches. There’s never a dull moment here, thanks to a range of activities from private sailing classes and kite-surfing school to guided snorkeling trips. But relaxing is encouraged, too: Take a dip at one of three infinity pools, stroll along the private beach, or gaze at the crystal blue sea from the pergola-shaded restaurant. Hughes Point; 268/562-8000; nonsuchbayresort.com; doubles from $327.
T+L Tip: A longtime favorite, the waterside Harmony Hall serves the island’s best Italian-influenced seafood dishes (try the strozzapreti pasta with shrimp and zucchini).
Sugar Ridge, Antigua
High in the hills above Jolly Harbour, on the western side of Antigua, Sugar Ridge resort makes up for its lack of beachfront with its setting overlooking the Caribbean and the neighboring islands of Redonda, Nevis, and Montserrat (there’s a shuttle that takes guests to nearby beaches three times a day). Muslin-draped beds, honey-colored marble bathrooms, and garden terraces, some with plunge pools, are par for the course. But the star attraction is Carmichael’s, the breezy hilltop restaurant that’s a gathering place for locals and expats. They come for the fresh seafood and knockout desserts, such as bread-and-butter pudding with Antiguan rum sauce and coconut rice with mango purée. Tottenham Park, Jolly Harbour, St. Mary’s; 866/591-4881; sugarridgeantigua.com; doubles from $500.
T+L Tip: Sign up for an adventure with Detour Bike Trails (268/772-7343; from $55 for a half-day excursion), and you’ll ride through dense forests, explore rock formations, and visit hidden beaches.
Hotel Chocolat, St. Lucia
One could easily mistake the area of Soufrière for an island in the South Seas: the lush landscape is made even more spectacular by the two conical Piton mountains rising up where the jungle meets the sea. Already the site of St. Lucia’s top resorts, Soufrière has just welcomed one of the sweetest hotels in the Caribbean. The 14 villas at Hotel Chocolat are set on a 140-acre cacao plantation that aims to make cocoa production a sustainable industry. Guests learn to make their own chocolate bars under the expert guidance of chef Jon Bentham. The theme continues at the resort’s Boucan restaurant, with dishes such as cacao-marinated red snapper accompanied by, what else? A chocolate daiquiri. Soufrière; 800/757-7132; thehotelchocolat.com; doubles from $550.
T+L Tip: Once you’ve had your chocolate fix, swing by Martha’s Table for such island specialties as curry chicken, lamb stew, shrimp Creole, and jerk pork, served on the terrace of chef Martha’s house. Malgretoute; 758/459-7270; dinner for two $50.
Rosalie Bay Resort, Dominica
With its lush rain forests, rushing rivers, and charcoal-colored sand, Dominica feels like some primordial lost world. All that’s missing is the dinosaurs. Until now there was no decent place to stay, but the opening of Rosalie Bay changes all that. The brainchild of American-born Beverly Deikel and her Dominican partner, Patris Oscar, the eco-friendly property is a microcosm of the island. Set on 22 acres of verdant grounds, its 28 gingerbread-trimmed cottages, each with carved mahogany and red-cedar four-poster beds, look out onto a rocky beach or the Rosalie River. One of the world’s few carbon-negative resorts, Rosalie Bay not only relies on solar panels but has its own wind turbine, organic gardens, and spring-fed onyx-colored swimming pool. There’s also a spa and a restaurant designed to resemble a Caribbean plantation house, where most dishes are made from regional ingredients—from the Kalinago porridge with cassava root to the smoked cod on fried green plantain. Rosalie; 767/446-1010; rosaliebay.com; doubles from $150.
T+L Tip: Take a two-hour hike (organized by the hotel) on moss-covered trails to the hundred-foot-high Victoria Falls.
Secret Bay, Dominica
Another eco-luxury retreat, Secret Bay seems to rise from the bush. Designed by Venezuelan architect Fruto Vivas, the four wood-and-glass villas on stilts are made from native hardwood with kitchenettes and floor-to-ceiling windows; outdoor showers and hammocks are ideal for watching the sun dip behind the azure water. Two secluded beaches and a hidden sea cave, not to mention a chef at your disposal for en suite meals, offer the perfect excuse never to leave the property. Portsmouth; 767/445-4444; secretbay.dm; villas from $420.
T+L Tip: Arrange a guided tour of the nearby Kalinago territory to see the centuries-old traditions of pottery and basket-weaving by one of the Caribbean’s few remaining indigenous peoples.