Escapes to paradise

“There are two kinds of lobster in this world,” the lady on my left was trilling, in a high-pitched, imperious voice. “The kind you get in Scotland — sweet and fleshy and oh so tender. And then there is the kind you get here, on this island, which is basically nothing but rubbery old tire.”

The lady on my left (and please forgive the name-dropping) was Princess Margaret, late sister of Queen Elizabeth II, and the island in question was Mustique, that heavenly fleck in the Windward Islands of the Caribbean Sea, forming part of St. Vincent abd The Grenadines. Being seated next to a princess is the sort of extraordinary thing that happens on Mustique, and you simply get on with it.

But back to those lobsters and while it’s true that the crustaceans of the Caribbean are always going to play second fiddle to their Scottish or New England cousins, in every other respect Mustique is a veritable paradise on earth. What’s more, St. Vincent and The Grenadines have reported only 57 cases of Covid-19, and, as travels restrictions in the island country slowly begin to ease for visitors from the USA (visit bb.usembassy.gov for daily updates), now is the time to consider a safe, socially distanced winter vacation. 

Only three miles long by a mile wide, Mustique is real Robinson Crusoe stuff, with its palm-fringed, white sand beaches and totally laidback vibe. Yes, you might meet Bill Gates, Katy Perry or even Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge at the check-out at the island’s tiny general store, but they won’t bat an eyelid and neither should you. 

As for accommodations, they’re limited, which apart from the island’s extraordinary natural beauty, is really the joy of the place. In other words — exclusivity. Stay at the Cotton House, the island’s original hotel, comprising suites and stone cottages dotted around the lawns, many of them designed by artist Oliver Messel or inspired by his “gingerbread” designs, cool and stylish. Or take a room at Firefly, a private house turned B&B, which over the years has upgraded to a full-service hotel, although it still has only seven rooms. As Firefly’s owner, Liz Clayton, says on its website, “Firefly has a relaxed and friendly house-party atmosphere. It is not for the boring, the pretentious or the stuffy” — which is really all you need to know.

If you’re socially distancing with intent, though, or merely enjoying your solitude, you could spend a couple of weeks in a villa on Mustique — the ultimate luxurious vacation. There are dozens available for rent (including Princess Margaret’s former home, Les Jolies Eaux,) starting at around $40,000 a week for a four or five-bedroom house in high season. Other than your immediate companions, the housekeeper, cook, servers and a couple of gardeners (all villas come fully staffed,) you would never see another soul if you didn’t want to.

Barbados, where Jet Blue and American Airlines have recently resumed service from New York (Barbados is also the hub for onward travel by small plane to Mustique,) is another island with low incidence of Covid-19, slowly reopening to visitors from the USA. Barring the “second wave” we all dread, my prediction is that Barbados is going to be a hot destination this winter. Although a different proposition from miniscule Mustique, 300 square-mile Barbados is the most developed country in the eastern Caribbean, with great roads, hospitals, schools and air connections. 

And right where you want to be, or at least where I want to be, on Barbados’ Platinum Coast — the gentler, Caribbean side of the island as opposed to the more rugged Atlantic side — is Cobbler’s Cove, reopening mid-October. A well-established, family-owned small hotel, that combines an English country house atmosphere with an authentic West Indian vibe, Cobblers is looking spruce after a recent makeover by UK design firm Soane Britain. Out have gone the slightly tired bedspreads and passé batiks, in have come zingy stripes, bright white louvred doors, fresh, new rattan, screen painted linens, soft pastels and acres of cotton voile. 

Situated right on the beach, the bliss of this smaller property is that you’re never more than steps away from the water, with accommodations either in the great house (built in 1940) or in any one of the deliciously fresh oceanfront suites. Service is great, sweet and smiling, and Cobblers’ Camelot restaurant serves some of the freshest, most appetizing grub on an island that has often struggled in the culinary department. No rubbery old tire served here, thank you very much.

Up a bit and left (as they say in the classics,) but still in the Caribbean, Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula right now, like the Eastern Caribbean, is somewhat restricted, but with luck the situation will improve soon. (For latest updates, go to mx.usembassy.gov.) New on my radar near Tulum is Hotel Esencia, an Italian duchessa’s former residence on the ivory sands of Xpu-Ha, the last unspoiled tract of coastal Yucatan. Like the other properties in this month’s roundup, whitewashed Esencia — owned, since 2014, by art collector Kevin Wendle — is a bling-free zone, sophisticated, you bet, but totally understated. Many of the suites come with their own indoor or outdoor plunge pool, with lush jungle all around and the Caribbean Sea at the end of every lane and walkway. 

Every guest room is self-contained, and the resort boasts an impressive set of Covid-19 protocols. But if it’s significant distancing you’re after, then the star accommodations have to be Esencia’s three villas, two of them duplexes with their own swimming pool, outdoor terraces and spacious living areas. 

The third villa, “Yum-Ha,” is a majestic colonial-style three-bedroom house on its own lush, 15-acre property next to the hotel and just a three-minute walk from the beach. With its large swimming pool, private butler and full housekeeping services, this is a step-and-a-half up from even the most glamorous glamping. 

Ready to go? Then run de route, as they say in Bajan (Barbados) creole, because you don’t want to wait a couple of months to make reservations and then find there’s no room at the inn. Just see that your chosen hotel or villa has a fair cancelation policy in place and check that you are following all the Covid-19 rules for the country you are visiting, as well as for returning home, continually up until your time of departure. No one wants to be caught short abroad — even in paradise.

For more, visit cottonhouse.net, fireflymustique.com, mustique-island.com, cobblerscove.com and hotel-esencia.com.

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