Firsthand reports on 14 Caribbean resort spas--from classic to newly born--on nine islands
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Island Hopping: The Caribbean Spa Travel Guide
By Ann Abel, Everett Potter, and Gary Walther
September / October 2005
Anguilla: Malliouhana Resort and Spa
When Malliouhana (the Arawak Indian name for Anguilla) opened in 1982, it made an enormous splash--for its dramatic headland setting, vaguely Moorish archi- tecture, and enormous marble bathrooms, which set a new resort standard. When the 15,000-square-foot spa opened in 2002, it caused barely a ripple--I don't know why--despite being one of the best and most beautiful in the Caribbean. A two-story $5 million glass-and-white-stucco building (top) done in the same style as the rest of the resort, it commands an ocean view. However, the interiors are warmer, with an earth-tone palette and floors of bamboo and tile. Three of the eight treatment rooms are spa suites, with bathrooms and private terraces.
The spa's menu is rooted in director Tanya Clark's long experience in Japan and Thailand, and her partially Asian staff executes it with aplomb. Ticky, one of two Thai massage therapists, perfectly delivered the Suite Dreams treatment (150 minutes, $325), a hydrotherapy bath followed by a scalp massage, citrus salt glow, and Swedish-inspired massage. Her colleague Tang gave me a stellar Balinese massage (60 minutes, $95).
The things that made Malliouhana a milestone in the Caribbean are still there: the enormous rooms (the smallest is 720 square feet); the fan-shaped cliff-top restaurant with a drop-dead ocean view; chef Alain Laurent, from the three-Michelin-star restaurant of La Bonne Auberge in Antibes, France; the wine cellar of 25,000 bottles, second to none in the region; the gorgeous beach. Some things have changed for the better: Laurent's French-Caribbean cuisine is much lighter than it used to be. And some haven't: The 55 rooms (inset), which seemed so beautifully spare in the '80s, now look underfurnished and the rattan pieces a bit pedestrian. As for connectivity--there's no TV, radio, clock, or Internet portal in the rooms--that's your call. On balance, though, Malliouhana, 23 years on, is solidly in the top tier of Caribbean resorts. --E.P.
The Bahamas: One&Only Ocean Club, Paradise Island
If you ranked Caribbean resorts on a luxury scale from barefoot to Manoloed, this 101-room hotel would effortlessly hold down the latter end. It's urbane (the reigning aesthetic is contemporary planter) and self-consciously cultivated--the centerpiece is the gorgeous Versailles garden, crowned by a 14th-century Augustinian cloister brought from Europe (inset). And it draws a clientele that's accustomed to being catered to (24-hour butler service, beach attendants who give foot massages), likes things customized (few group fitness classes, lots of personal training options), and is breezy about public displays of wealth: I saw one woman in the pool wearing about 50 carats of diamonds.
Opened in 1962 by Huntington Hartford II, the heir to the A&P fortune, the Ocean Club was a jet-set playground in the '60s and a Wall Street one in the '80s. Now, after a $100 million makeover by One&Only Resorts in 2000, it's recapturing elements of both eras. The redo included the addition of a Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant, Dune, a seductive beachside room designed by Christian Liaigre. The restaurant serves inspired Bahamian-accented versions of Vongerichten's signature French-Asian dishes, like local lobster in a light curry sauce with fried plantains and bok choy.
The spa, which opened in December 2001, has eight superdeluxe (760 square feet) Balinese-style villas (top), brimming with teak carvings and luscious silks. Each has a changing room and shower, garden courtyard, and daybed for resting between treatments. It's a cocoon, and of course the therapists all come to you. I half-expected six-hand massages and precious-metal oils on the spa menu, but here the resort wisely chose to play it straight. Treatments are from the very good marine-based line Elemis. I tried the Cellutox Aroma Ocean Wrap (110 minutes, $189) and the Pro-Collagen Marine Facial (75 minutes, $140). The therapists were technically proficient, if a bit impersonal (and I didn't like the product hard sell after the facial). But their ministrations made me feel glamorous--which, in the end, is what the Ocean Club strives to do most for its guests. --A.A.
British Virgin Islands: Biras Creek, Virgin Gorda
This resort sits squarely on the Tropic of Rusticity. It's accessible only by boat; the roads are dirt and guests get around by bicycle; the 31 cottages (inset) are comfy but no-frills, with air-conditioning only in the bedrooms and Pier One furniture in the living rooms. The spa, created in 2003, occupies one of the cottages. "It was the least popular room," says GM Christine Oliver candidly.
In short, Biras Creek forgoes style for seclusion and simplicity. Substance it has, though. The food is very good, especially the daily "healthy choice" specials. The main dining room crowns a hill, and the view down the long finger of North Sound is divine at sunset. The wine list is smartly chosen and reasonably priced. And the tiny spa surprises with a long treatment menu and an excellent corps of therapists, many from India.
I sign up for "Mind, Body, and Spirit," a one-on-one yoga session followed by a massage and then a very cooling aloe wrap (180 minutes, $250). Prya, then the teacher, is an almost yoga master, and the class is a solid run-through of basic and intermediate poses. The payoff comes in the excellent massage, in which she focuses on areas of inflexibility that turned up in yoga. Thai massage (75 minutes, $140) the next day with Appu Ganesan, a lithe Indian with bridge-cable strength, is formidable and effective.
One big trade-off here is limited, albeit good, service. There's no room service, no beach drinks patrol, and no one at the pool to turn to in late afternoon when the "Clean Towels" bin is empty. Mealtimes are set: Breakfast is from 8 to 10, and when I turn up at 9:50 for coffee one morning, the staff is already breaking down the tables.
Nonetheless, Biras Creek has a certain appeal, especially for Brits, who make up some 30 percent of the guests. It depends on how much you value simplicity--bicycling to the beach (top), hearing little but the desultory clank of sail cable against mast, having the pool (and the IMAX ocean view) to yourself. It costs more than $800 a night in high season, but that includes three meals. Pricey or priceless? Your call. --G.W.