LETTER FROM OVERSEAS EDITOR

As I write this issue my little white MacBook is perched on lap and my feet are dug into powdery soft sand while the turquoise and white tide retreats in front of me. Sigh… I’m in the Bahamas staying at Pink Sands on Harbour Island in the coveted Bimini Cottage overlooking the crystal emerald blues of the Atlantic. The biggest decision of the day is what to do after swimming in the bath-like ocean – have a jacuzzi on my private deck or go for a walk on the 3-mile beach? Hmm… At night the mere 15 other guests meander over to the main hut where the daily catch of fresh fish sizzles on the grill for dinner. Afterward, we lackadaisically wander back to our beach homes to fall asleep to the ocean lapping on the shore. Does it get any better than this?

I’ve been enjoying the islands of the Caribbean all my life. Growing up on the East Coast of the States, the Caribbean was our version of Australian’s Bali – a mere half day of flights and you’d be lying on the beach. Since each island is so unique, I’ve tried to visit as many as possible over the years. However, there are a select few which are so special that I find myself returning time and time again – Cap Juluca on Anguilla for instance. This issue I’ve been to all the 7 islands covered below to bring you a completely personal touch from the islands’ traditions, tastes and radiant colours.

Next week, I’ll be joining Edge’s Leisure Director Yvonne Verstandig and her family in Salt Lake City for a white Christmas on the slopes. Yvonne has challenged me to a black diamond run down the back bowls of the Canyons – I’ll keep you posted on the winner. So after a little downhill inspiration, the first issue of 2009 coming out in February will be an in-depth look at American ski towns. Also in the next issue, I’ll be announcing a worldwide Edge competition that all of our clients can enter so stay tuned.

As this economically and politically historic year draws to a close and you reflect back on your own triumphs and tragedies of the year, we thank you for your loyal commitment to travel through it all. With the utmost humility I personally extend my gratitude for welcoming this newsletter into your homes and trusting my travel advice. On behalf of everyone at Executive Edge Travel & Events, may you and your loved ones be blessed this holiday season. From all of us at Edge who believe the destination is always worth the journey, Happy New Year and safe travels in 2009.

Sincerely, Kimberly Rosbe
Editor at Large

EDITORIAL

Sailing Questions

“More champagne?” the skipper asks. Sure, why not. No matter that I passed out from near heat stroke earlier today. If you are going to go down, might as well go down in style on a catamaran off the coast of St. Lucia. This sunset cruise reminds me the liberation of sailing. Water lightly spraying from the stern, sails billowing in the breeze, legs dangling over the bow. Such freedom, serenity and relaxation may even open our eyes to possibilities onshore in one’s own life…

The captain skirts the circumference of the island passing the iconic Piton twin peaks cloaked in lush rainforest. Is that a rainbow I see appearing in the hills? And the sun blazes a deep orange beyond the horizon and begins to set sinking quickly into the ocean. “Cheers to us,” we say. I’ve been on many a sailing excursion off various Caribbean Islands over the years but this one remains imprinted in my mind. Someone I once knew asked me a very important question on this evening cruise that changed the course of my life. I know now that certain questions are better left unanswered.

FEATURE

Caribbean Chillin’: Island Classics, Vol. I

ANGUILLA

When I think of the prototypical Caribbean island, Anguilla immediately springs to mind. Also home to my single favourite resort in the Caribbean, Cap Juluca. You know those precious and rare moments in life when you are completely content and at peace with the world and, perhaps dare I say, truly happy? The last time I was in Anguilla I experienced one of those moments.

Anguilla, the most northernly of the Leeward Islands in the eastern Caribbean and only 5 miles north of St. Martin, is a mere 12 miles long. You could make a case that the 20th century passed right by this island in the British West Indies – Anguilla didn’t even get electricity until the 1970s. And although this beachy enclave has admittedly become synonymous with palatial villas and celebrity sightings, the island remains completely unpretentious. Celebrities escape here because the locals and guests couldn’t care less that the famous are walking around in tank tops and shorts wearing no make-up. In fact the only main attraction notable enough to label “famous” on Anguilla are its beaches – 33 in total and they are sheer perfection. If you are wanting the ultimate beach vacation in the Caribbean, this is the place – wide, tranquil white sand beaches before calm 80 degree warm turquoise ocean. Makes me sigh with pleasure even thinking about it.

Most hotels on this island seem to be white to match the sand and contrast with the ocean. The jewel in Anguilla’s crown is Cap Juluca on Maundays Bay. Viewing this resort by air is almost surreal with its 19 exotic Moorish-style domed arched villas oceanfront along the private one-mile crescent stretch of powder white sand beach of Maundays Bay . This resort’s 6 ultra-private pool villas are a favourite among celebrities but management guards the secrecy of guests who have signed its register. Nevertheless, the staff sometimes let name-dropping slip. The first time I stayed at Cap Juluca, Courtney Cox and David Arquette were there on their honeymoon. The last time I was here two years ago, P. Diddy checked out of the very villa (18B) that we moved into. The accommodations are more spacious than most resorts and boast a multitude of options from junior suites to pool villas at the end of the property. No matter what category you choose, you will enjoy enormous Italian marble bathrooms with outdoor showers, Molton Brown accessories, private walled terraces overlooking the ocean and a complimentary bottle of rum. Although the room service and all service here is superb, the three restaurants are a highlight. Treat yourself to elegant fine dining at Pimms, perhaps the most beautiful restaurant experience in the Caribbean under white arches only feet from the sea, or opt for the more casual George’s which once a week offers the best beach barbeque I’ve ever had. Finally, their newest addition, Kemia, prepares Moroccan and Tapas cuisine and live entertainment three nights per week. The food is top-notch, the atmosphere is intimate yet sophisticated. Ten out of ten, each and every time.

If you’d prefer luxury homes with private pools and multiple bedrooms for a group or several couples, the ultimate choice is Kamique, a newer property which sits on Anguilla’s South Shore commanding its own secluded cove beach and wide-open plan layouts which embrace the mesmerizing panoramic views of the mountains of St. Martin. Designed by renowned New York architect Lee H. Skolnick, the four to six-bedroom retreats have almost no distinction between indoors and out blending clean Asian lines with more traditional island touches like wooden shingles and open-beamed ceilings. They call it “contemporary Caribbean with a touch of zen.”

For more modest boutique hotels on the island, try Blue Waters Beach Apartments or Rendezvous Bay Hotel and Villas. Blue Waters is a small self-catering resort with one and two-bedroom apartments on Shoal Bay West which shares the beach with the extravagant Cove Castles. The kitchen comes well-stocked but if you aren’t in the mood to cook, stroll three minutes down the beach to the casual Trattoria Tramonto – authentic northern Italian fare served on an open-air porch on the beach. Rendezvous Bay was Anguilla’s first beach resort. Choose one of the 24 deluxe one-bedroom villas on beautiful Rendezvous Bay. The hotel’s Cedar Grove Cafe is one of Anguilla’s best restaurants in a setting evocative of Casablanca. The menu is ever-changing and specialties are based upon the freshest ingredients but the coconut-crusted shrimp in a mango-ginger sauce is certainly worth a try.

For a very down-to-earth watering hole with true island authenticity, The Pumphouse across the street from one of Anguilla’s most popular beaches at Sandy Ground provides ample evidence that Anguilla is the real Caribbean without the glam. A fiberglass pirate hangs from the rafters and vintage metal signs fill the walls. Dig into the pub menu as retro acoustic harmonies from traditional string bands play live late into the night.

ST. LUCIA

Snuggled beneath the mosquito net of my four poster canopy bed at Ladera and the ever-watchful eye of the Pitons outside, I remember pondering this island. St. Lucia is perhaps the exact opposite of Anguilla in Caribbean terms. Covered in rain forests, the topography is green-mantled mountainous and its pinnacle-oriented skyline is as dramatic as any of the Caribbean islands. Mount Gimie is the tallest point at 3,145 feet but the most famous peaks are certainly the landmark Pitons, Gros and Petit. The climate ranges from subtropical to bloody hot, which is when I went in late August. The daily dumping of rain in late afternoon like clockwork does little to change the temperature except to make it even more humid. Prepare to be literally dripping in sweat and perpetually damp as very few of the resorts have air-conditioning – which, of course, is part of the authentic St. Lucia experience, so don’t complain. Not to mention a prominent feature of some of the top resorts here is the open-air concept of its accommodations. Ladera , supposedly Oprah’s favourite resort, is positioned high on the hills to make the most of the breathtaking and oh-so dramatic Piton and ocean views. The west side of each of the hotel’s six villas and 18 suites, which are perched on the edge of a steep hillside, have been left totally open to the elements. This no wall, open-air concept led to one of the best laughs of my life… This place is not for the nature faint of heart as the soundtrack here is provided by hummingbirds, large insects and rustles in the rainforest just off your private deck. The staff at Ladera are immensely friendly, the food at Dasheene restaurant is West Indian and the guests don’t care if you wear the same sarong a few days in a row.

Below Ladera in the valley, it will be easy to find sweet deals in this paradise as despite the new batch of luxe landings like Jade Mountain Resort, the island retains a healthy quota of moderately-priced options. If you stay in Rodney Bay, you can walk to the island’s busiest beach and find plenty of restaurants or catch the bus into the capital of Castries. For very affordable St. Lucia you can try Coco Palm five minutes walk from Reduit Beach, the island’s main strand in Rodney Bay. Not to be missed though is the southwest village of Soufriere. Here on the edge of town is the nine-room Hummingbird Beach Resort wrapped in a tangle of flowers and fruit trees. Three of the rooms have a Piton view from their balconies.

As the island is not known for its beaches which tend to be golden and small, go for a hike through the rainforest hinterlands where the reward may be a glimpse of the multicoloured once extinction-threatened St. Lucia Parrot.

THE BAHAMAS

The versatility of The Bahamas is its greatest draw. Playground of the rich and famous or sleepy island bohemian backwater, 5-star large resorts or family-run guesthouses – this semitropical archipelago can be anything you want it to be. Particularly popular with yachties, The Bahamas begin 50 miles from the Florida coast forming a 760-mile arc through the Atlantic which includes approximately 700 islands, 22 of the largest are inhabited. The island of Bimini is the closest to Florida while the southernmost island, Inagua, is 60 miles from Haiti. The Bahamas tend to be judged by its two most popular tourist destinations, New Providence and Grand Bahama. Grand Bahama is dominated by mass tourism so avoid its poor quality hotels and tacky ‘close encounters with a dolphin.’ The one exception is Old Bahama Bay, a 5-star yacht club, villa and condo-hotel complex in the former rum-running settlement of West End. Its beaches are clean, the tides are relatively still and the accommodations are conceived by the late Arne Hasselqvist who is responsible for some of the best houses on posh Mustique. Its 72-slip world-class, night navigable marina makes the resort popular with West Palm Beach yachties who sail in on weekends for dinner. Paradise Island is home to the most famous of the 5-star resorts in the Bahamas, the One & Only Ocean Club. If you don’t intend to leave the hotel’s manicured confines, this is the only place that justifies a holiday in or around Nassau (the capital which is connected to Paradise Island by a bridge). The Ocean Club was originally owned by Huntington Hartford II, a famous playboy of the 1950s and 1960s who made the resort old Hollywood’s Caribbean playground.

Always searching for hideaways which are quintessentially local, The Bahamas’ Out Islands are my preference. The Out Islands, principally Abaco, Eleuthera and Exuma, are fairly tricky to get to but well worth the effort. They are known for game fishing, sailing through off-shore cays, emerald-blue seas and the lack of commercial development. My favourite of the Out Islands is the picturesque little freckle of Harbour Island. In my opinion the hottest island in The Bahamas is hot because it’s not. There is no scene just brilliant wide pink sand beaches. Yes PINK, that is the signature element of this near-perfect beach running the length of its Atlantic coast. This stretch of beach is possibly the most photographed in the world as models and photographers flock to this island to shoot beautifully lit sunset layouts for high fashion magazines. Although the island does have famous faces including Elle Macpherson, a regular and property owner on the island, the island caters to a very different clientele – hippy casuals and locals. Dunmore Town, which is easily reached within minutes of any island hotel via rented golf cart (the preferred mode of transport), is a sleepy, candy-coloured, picket-fenced clapboard classic. Of the handful of restaurants, Acquapazza was the best complete with outdoor waterfront seating and dock to some very impressive private yachts including one named ‘One More Toy.’ But absolutely no one dresses up.

The place to stay is unquestionably Pink Sands, Harbour Island’s original fashionable hotel. The cottage-style accommodation have undergone a much-needed renovation in the last year under the astute eye of charming French General Manager Jacques Brouchier and now exudes a combo Ralph Lauren meets Morocco aesthetic. The two-bedroom Bimini Cottage is the highlight of the property located at the far end of its lush 20 acres perched over the dunes overlooking an expanse of blue ocean on its massive private deck complete with jacuzzi for eight. Casual breakfast and lunch is served at the Blue Bar at beach edge where you will be greeted by Thomas, the maitre d’, who is the patriarch of Pink Sands and perhaps the most gracious person in the Bahamas. Keep in mind everyone is on “island time, ” so chill. A more formal dinner is held by candlelight in the Garden Terrace Restaurant with a mixed menu of mostly seafood including grouper, conch, lobster and snapper. This place is the real Caribbean from the old days. Without a spa or water sports, there is very little to do at Pink Sands which is the virtue, so settle in with a good book and appreciate the pink sand. If you are lucky, wild horses will gallop along the beach as you wade in the shallow ocean.

MIAMI CONNECTION

In the likely event you have to layover in Miami given the limited small-craft flights down to the Bahamas, a word to the wise if you choose to stay in famed South Beach: do NOT stay at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach as it is perhaps the most overpriced, overrated luxury hotel I’ve ever stayed at with absolutely shocking service, decor and pool. Instead opt for one of the smaller boutique hotels right on the beach with far better service, taste and intrigue. I recommend The Tides in South Beach which debuted its new Art Deco design in the Fall of 2007, The Park Central also on Ocean Drive which has a great restaurant Quinn’s where you can sit outside and watch the street scene, or the barefoot chic South Beach classic Delano with its soaring columned indoor/outdoor lobby, legendary white guest rooms and its Starck-designed Water Salon and Orchard.

BARBADOS

What is it that attracts the glitterati to Barbados? Is it the easy accessibility to the Caribbean’s largest island via direct Concord flights from London or American Airlines from New York and Miami? Is it the Caribbean’s greatest selection of luxury hotels and magnificent private villas along white sandy beaches? Or is it the sophisticated British-influenced lifestyle with its cricket enthusiasts, racial harmony, 98% literacy rate and highest quality of living standard amongst Third World countries? I believe this kind of peace and prosperity allows every visitor to feel like a celebrity.

Barbados is the easternmost Caribbean island, part of the Lesser Antilles, situated 285 miles northwest of Venezuela. Touring the island you’ll find a drastic difference between the two coasts – the silver sand beaches and perpetually flat still waters of the Caribbean side contrast sharply with the rugged rolling green hills and sheer cliffs of the Atlantic side. The West Coast (Caribbean side) is aptly named the Platinum Coast for all its high-end hotels, while the sparsely populated East Coast offers exceptional surfing as some of the best waves in the Caribbean crash here including 20-foot barrels in the winter months. My spin on Barbados is that it cultivates two distinct personalities blending a water-sporting, beach and surf-loving persona with a refined and proper British decorum. For the civilized, sip the fine Mount Gay rum, the oldest rum in the world renowned for its darker, more flavourful taste than the Puerto Rican or Cuban versions, on the verandah of a Platinum Coast resort. For the beach bum requiring action, head to the big East Coast breaks at Soup Bowl, the site of the annual Reef Classic International. For intermediates, try the rollers at Six Men’s Bay on the West Coast or the beginner-friendly and easily tamed waves near Freights Bay. Ultimately the island has ridable swells on all coasts for windsurfing, kitesurfing and paddle surfing as well.

The culinary riches of Barbados are plentiful as the island boasts the Caribbean’s first and only Zagat Survey-rated nation. Try the local specialty of broth-bathed flying fish accompanied by polenta-like cou-cou. My favourite restaurant in St. James, and certainly the most romantic with its torchlit tables and white draped tents, is The Cliff perched on the water’s edge in minimalist chic open-air space and views to rival the cuisine. For a more casual dining experience, Champers on Skeetes Hill has a colourful Jimmy Buffet vibe, also on a cliff-top locale. L’Azure is a Barbados trademark in St. Philip at The Crane and the place to be seen on Sunday mornings. The music at the mile-long buffet brunch is live Gospel rendering the food an afterthought, almost.

Also in abundance are a range of world-class resorts. Most hotels are located on the Platinum Coast to take advantage of the still winds and pristine white sand beaches. Most renowned are two Barbados classics on the West Coast – Sandy Lane Hotel & Golf Club where Tiger Woods tied the knot and the Coral Reef Club built in 1952 steeped in tradition spread out over 12 acres of fragrant and colourful gardens. I suggest try The House at Tamarind Cove for a new standard in boutique luxury and personal attention. Upon arrival there is no front desk only a white linen-clad “ambassador” who will greet you with a tropical drink before leading you outside for a complimentary jet-lag relief massage on the beach. While you are de-stressing, the staff will deliver your luggage to one of the 34 junior bedrooms or suites and will even unpack for you. Did I mention the complimentary champagne breakfast daily? On the isolated Atlantic side but far less populated, The Crane is abound with superlatives – not only is The Crane the Caribbean’s first resort hotel but also it sits above Crane Beach rated one of the ten best beaches in the world by Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Offering two types of accommodations – the 1887 resort apartments (of course have been updated) and private residences which marry 19th century grandeur with 21st century amenities – the original historic hotel is more charming with its antiques, 12-foot ceilings and wrap-around balconies with breathtaking ocean views. For an alternative on the East Coast for very low-key and inexpensive yet historic accommodation, the Atlantis Hotel is a mere 10-room Bed & Breakfast overlooking the sea with a family-friendly atmosphere.

JAMAICA

Are you ready to chill out? Jamaica’s rich musical culture perhaps captures the essence of the Caribbean’s third largest island the best. Bob Marley’s music in particular brought Jamaica’s relaxed vibe to worldwide attention with his dreadlocks and reggae singin’ “everything’s gonna be alright.” To fall under Jamaica’s spell, best to adopt the same laid-back attitude as you vacation here. When I think of Jamaica, I think of its vibrant colours – multitudes of exotic flowers, fruits, plants, birds and butterflies in rainbows of the most spectacularly bright and vivid kaleidoscopes. With its rich soil, sunny climate and adequate rainfall, this lush vegetation island has it all amongst its 4 main resort regions: Montego Bay famous for its grand resorts, Negril and its 7-mile stretch of beach where by law no building is higher than the highest palm tree, Ocho Rios with its breathtaking waterfalls and Port Antonio with its elegant villas sprinkled amongst tropical mountains. World-class resorts are found in each region, many worthy of a visit so try to stay at a few to experience the variety of Jamaica.

Not many tourists venture to Jamaica’s eastern end tucked between the Caribbean and the majestic Blue Mountains. Remember that classic 80’s movie Cocktail with Tom Cruise? Filmed here near Port Antonio. Stay at the quirky 28-room Trident Hotel built in 1968 which looks like a 1930s Hollywood notion of an English seaside hotel. From your deck, you can virtually fall into the clear still ocean. Don’t leave without having lunch at the Blue Lagoon, a popular waterside restaurant among celebrities balanced over a thick aquamarine lagoon where legend has it that a fountain of youth bubbles from a hillside spring. Between Port Antonio and Ocho Rios in the little fishing village of Oracabessa lies Goldeneye. Ian Fleming built this cliff-top dream house where he wrote the James Bond novels and entertained Elizabeth Taylor. The villa, along with several others, is now the site of music mogul Chris Blackwell’s compound that accommodates up to 22 guests in several houses. The grounds are kept jungle-wild with rough stone paths which lead to the sea. About 20 miles up the coast is Ocho Rios where cruise liners disgorge their passenger cargo multiple times per day for the town’s many street hustlers – which is fine if all you are seeking is a tan and a pina colada. But just outside the town is the Jamaica Inn which might as well be on a different planet. Winston Churchill said it was his favourite hotel in the world and became a regular after it opened in 1950. The discreetly subdued and very old-fashioned inn is still favoured by the elderly establishment. Set 35 degrees to the beach, all rooms get sea, land and mountain views and it is still one of the best bargains on the island. Another bargain is Jake’s, a cluster of 15 idiosyncratic cottages set on Treasure Beach painted in shades of yellow, jade and cobalt blue with decks just above the lapping sea. In Montego Bay on 100 hilly acres is Round Hill, the original and still finest Jamaican resort. Round Hill became the chic place to stay in the 1950s when Jackie and JFK spent part of their honeymoon there. Grace Kelly, Clark Gable, Rock Hudson and the other Hollywood elite soon followed and Round Hill has retained its celebrity status ever since. Today, it has 36 hotel rooms, 74 villa suites in the 29 cottages, which are individually owned by various celebs but rented out. Ralph Lauren designed the china and linen here as well as owning a villa on the property. There’s a private club atmosphere at Round Hill and every guest is made to feel like a member. Where ever you stay, anyone who discovers Jamaica craves more of this laid-back pace of life.

ST. VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES

The barefoot life of a traditional West Indian island is exactly what you’ll find on St. Vincent and its string of Grenadine islands which reach south towards Grenada. These islands, which include the sun-swept satellite islands of Mustique, Bequia, Canouan, Petit St. Vincent, Mayreau, Palm, Union and Young Island, have been relatively unknown to tourists so they are still an undiscovered pearl. Until recent years, these satellite islands were accessible only by sea using inter-island schooners and ferries. Now with the addition of small airstrips on the islands of Mustique, Union, Bequia and Canouan, these enchanting hideaways are within quick and easy reach of Barbados. Comprised of more than 30 islands and cays in the eastern Caribbean, cultural ambiance is one of their greatest attributes offering an eclectic blend of English traditions, African heritage and French, Creole, Portuguese and West Indian influences. St. Vincent is the principal island of the southern Windward Islands group and unusually has darker, almost black sand as it is wholly made up of volcanic rocks and home to the most active volcano in the eastern Caribbean after Mont Pele on Martinique. On picturesque St. Vincent you’ll find quaint fishing villages, coconut and arrowroot plantations and palm-fringed coves of charcoal sand. The Windwards offer some of the best sailing, diving and snorkeling in the Caribbean. Without a large tourist industry, small inns provide much of the guest accommodation on St. Vincent and The Grenadines with the notable exceptions of Mustique and Petit St. Vincent.

The rich and famous find their home away from home on Mustique which is a privately-owned island catering to an elite group of travelers, keeping guests far away from the public eye. Mustique is said to have a languor, an idleness born of wealth and privilege. The place to stay here is the Coutinot or Cotton House, a former storage house for Mustique’s cotton crops restyled into one of the most beguiling lodgings in the Caribbean where afternoon tea on the terrace is one of life’s necessary interludes. The Cotton House has but 20 rooms so most visitors rent one of the 80 odd villas on this posh little island. Mustique is less about the land itself, which is a range of hills covered in scrub, white cedar and cactuses, and more about the people who come here – New York Post’s ‘Page Six’ society and financial notables. The staff at the Cotton House are used to dealing with the quirks of the megarich so their job is to make anyone feel comfortable. Chauffeur Bopsin will cheerily shuttle you from beach to beach, yes it requires a jeep ride to get to the beaches, while dishing on the residents. (the prices are no more than a typical 5-star resort, rest assured)

Petit St. Vincent is a classic Caribbean escape – a quaint resort that provides guests with a pleasant dose of intimacy, seclusion and privacy. Although the rooms are admittedly in desperate need of renovation, just pretend you are experiencing the Caribbean of yore. 22 villas are scattered over the private 113-acre island, some on hillsides, some set into the sides of cliffs and some right on the beach. The best beach villa is number 12 and the best cliff villa in total isolation with panoramic views is number 1. There is no air-conditioning, no telephones, no television and no room keys. If you want something, you’ll have to raise a yellow flag outside your cottage and wait… This is the place to truly relax and unwind away from modern chatter, so come here for the ultimate respite. Hike the circumference of the island in an hour and see all its terrain in splendid solitude.

ST. MARTIN/SINT MAARTEN

St. Martin/Sint Maarten, located in the outer arc of the Lesser Antilles, is my least favourite of the islands in this issue; however, if you are looking for a more eventful holiday, perhaps St. Martin is the place. Most renowned for its shopping, dining and casinos, this island is action-packed. St. Martin combines two destinations in one island, French St. Martin and Dutch Sint Maarten , giving visitors a double dose of culture, atmosphere and cuisine. Shared between France and the Netherlands St. Martin/St. Maarten is the smallest territory in the world governed by two sovereign states. St. Maarten is somewhat smaller but slightly more developed than St. Martin, its French counterpart. Divided into two parts geographically and politically, both sides are defined by their capitals – Philipsburg and Marigot. The Dutch side and southern part of the island’s busy capital is Philipsburg which lies on a sandbar between Great Bay and Great Salt Pond. The capital’s duty-free shopping mecca is Front Street where more than 100 shops line the mile-long thoroughfare carrying some of the most sophisticated electronics, imported jewelry and designer clothing available in the Caribbean. Outside of Philipsburg, there are parks, hiking trails and beaches including Cupecoy Beach with its sandstone cliffs and caves considered to be amongst the most beautiful in the Caribbean. Hiking opportunities also exist above the hills of Marigot – Chewbacca Rock, a viewing point 900 feet above sea level, is within Loterie Farm, the islands only private nature reserve at the foot of Pic du Paradise and highest point on St. Martin. In Marigot, the quintessentially French capital, the shops center around Port la Royale on the marina and across the street along the rue General de Gaulle, rue de la Liberte and rue de la Republique. Given the French influence, this port is the perfect place to purchase Cartier at a discount. St. Martin is also known as a haven for yachts. As Marigot is a mere 20 minute ferry ride from Anguilla, I suggest staying on Anguilla and making a day trip of St. Martin to enjoy its shopping and culinary variety but head back to a quieter island without the bustling casinos, bars and restaurants at night.

The only resort I can recommend is La Samanna near Marigot as it retains a more boutique, Caribbean ambience. The restaurant offers an innovative blend of French cuisine with a touch of Creole and Caribbean flavours and a superb wine list, one of the most extensive in the Caribbean.

EDGE GOLD LIST

Top 10 Caribbean Private Islands

Want a private island for that special family affair or commemorative celebration or just for a romantic escape for you and that special someone? Below are a few of the creme de la creme of private islands for rent in the Caribbean. With the current economic downturn in the States, these private resorts may be much more affordable this season.

1. PARROT CAY, Turks and Caicos

A short hour’s flight from Miami on its own private island in the Turks and Caicos, Parrot Cay is a well-known celebrity hot spot. Detox in style at Parrot Cay’s Eastern-influenced Como Shambhala Retreat which soothes weary souls with yoga, meditation, Pilates, acupuncture and Ayurvedic treatments. Since it opened in 1998, the resort holds up to 100 guests at a time with names including Donatella Versace, Amber Valletta, Raquel Welch, Bruce Willis and Paul McCartney, just to name a few. With a Robinson Crusoe feel, the island has no restaurants (besides the resort), no shops, no houses, no stores and most importantly for the famous, no paparazzi. For the not-so-famous, Parrot Cay is offering three great deals for 2009 bookings including free nights, additional spa treatments and early bird specials. See the website for more details – www.parrotcay.como.bz/. Accommodation interiors are simple whitewash with teak finishing and range from garden view singles to ocean facing rooms to one to five-bedroom suites and villas. Dinner is served alfresco beside a 5, 500-square foot infinity pool or at the Terrace restaurant which serves healthy organic fare to compliment a feel-good vacation regimen. Consider it a health retreat for the privileged.

2. GUANA ISLAND, British Virgins

Built in 1930, Guana Island is one of the oldest resorts in continuous operation in the Caribbean, yet still flies below the radar of many tropical travelers. Its owners have painstakingly preserved its old-Caribbean character and charm. There is absolutely no glitz or glamour here. Guana is an 850-acre private island nature preserve and wildlife sanctuary on the north side of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands only accessible by boat. A maximum of 30 guests get their choice of 7 talcum-sand beaches, miles of well-marked trails through unspoiled foliage and a myriad of boating activities. The exteriors of Guana’s white-washed, blue-shuttered seven cottages, each named for a different Caribbean Island, resemble a hillside Aegean village. Despite the opportunity for total seclusion, you are expected to mingle with the other guests at dinnertime for family-style meals with an all-inclusive plan. At night kick back on your veranda and read about that rare bird you spotted on today’s hike. This is low-key private island living at its most humble.

3. NECKER ISLAND, British Virgins

Owner of Necker Island Sir Richard Branson never does anything halfway. In fact, his life is defined by superlatives. His claim, accordingly, is that Necker Island is the most beautiful place on earth. 74 acres in the turquoise British Virgin Islands with swoon-worthy views, the resort is known for its prodigious luxury. A staff of 31 caters to guests within 12 bedrooms on 5 Balinese-style cottages and one Great House which is the centerpiece for dining and communal activities. At the main house, every window is open to a 360-degree view of the sea and the green hilltops of the surrounding islands. For almost 30 years, Branson’s island has lured the wealthy who rent out the complete island for as many as 28 people starting at $48,000 US per night. Although during a few special weeks per year, mere mortals can overnight in individual rooms for around $1,000. What a bargain!

4. PALM ISLAND, The Grenadines

On this 135-acre southern Grenadines gem, you’ll share this casually-elegant all-inclusive private island resort with no more than 80 guests in its 40 lodgings. With no televisions or phones, you are at liberty to enjoy hiking on its three nature trails, laze in hammocks on one of five beaches or snorkel its rainbow-coloured reefs and shipwrecks in unusually calm, clear, warm waters. Accommodations range from palm view or beach view rooms to lofts and villas. Palm Island is consistently rated one of the world’s leading private islands by Fodor’s, Travel & Leisure and Caribbean Travel and Life.

5. LITTLE WHALE CAY, The Bahamas

A group of up to a dozen guests can charter this paradise island in the heart of the Bahamas and make themselves at home in the trio of villas on this luxurious 93-acre eco-friendly outpost in the Berry Island chain. Easily accessible from Florida or Nassau, Little Whale Cay has its own airstrip so you can arrive from London or Nassau in time for afternoon tea. The island boasts a nature reserve, villas use solar-panel heating and food comes from organic farms and local fishermen. Accommodations are in three secluded sea-view houses named Little Whale, Peacock and Flamingo with a total of seven bedrooms. Each house has flat screen TVs, music systems, DVD players and Wi-Fi as well as all other modern amenities including air-conditioning. Guests also have access to two motorboats for exploring the neighboring islands’ restaurants and bars.

6. CAYO ESPANTO, off Belize

In the calm waters of the Western Caribbean just off the coast of Belize, Bali meets Belize in this secluded four-acre speck of sand. The six villas can be individually rented or choose full island rental, the rates include personal butler service, 3 tailored meals per day, snacks and drinks (excluding wine and champagne), San Petro Airport greeting and all non-motorized boat activities. The island’s maximum 16 guests share a chef who changes the menu daily and prepares cuisine to suite your personal tastes. The scuba and snorkeling here are the real draw with the world’s second-largest barrier reef system just nearby. The fly fishing is also superb for chasing snapper, bonefish, parrot fish, tarpon or barracuda, if you dare. This island is miniature, barely large enough for its villas which are right on the edge with no beach, so unless you are an avid water person, you may go stir-crazy here.

7. PETER ISLAND, British Virgins

The resort, located on a private island off Tortola in the British Virgins, has a ferociously loyal clientele with about 50% of its guests are repeats. Although more upmarket than most all-inclusive resorts, Peter Island Resort still has all the traditional features of a good old-fashioned package holiday: an American Meal Plan (breakfast, lunch and dinner included but not drinks), a meet-the-managers cocktail party, themed buffets and local entertainment at night. The 1,800-acre island also offers five beaches and the Virgins’ most sumptuous beachfront spa. From your spa steam, you can spot Dead Chest Island where, as legend goes, Blackbeard marooned 15 mutinous men, leaving them with just a cask of rum. As you drift off to a heavenly massage, the silly pirate jingle may linger in your head, “Fifteen men on the Dead Man’s Chest, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.”

8. LITTLE PALM ISLAND, off Key West

Tucked into the Atlantic Coast and only 15 minutes by small plane from Florida’s Key West lies Little Palm Island. It only measures 5 acres and used to be a private fishing camp for U.S. Presidents – Roosevelt, Truman and Nixon were all guests. Now it holds a resort with 14 Polynesian tiki huts each with a living room and jacuzzi. There are no televisions, so the main activity is lolling – on the beach, by the pool, in the hammocks strung up on the imported Jamaican palm trees. Rent individual rooms or rent the entire island for yourself and friends. A must? Have a champagne and caviar candlelit dinner under palm trees on the beach.

9. MUSHA CAY, Exuma Chain

Rivaling Richard Branson’s Necker Island is none other than the ultimate illusionist himself, David Copperfield, with his own private island getaway. Some years ago, David purchased a group of 11 islands in the Bahamas’ Exumas and named them fittingly The Islands of Copperfield. (if you pay $50 million you can call it whatever you want) The tab for a week to luxuriate in Musha Cay’s 5 guesthouses with private pools can come to a whopping $350,000 per week at its 24-guest capacity. Needless to say the clientele is rarefield – Oprah, Steven Spielberg and the U2 entourage are some of the big names who have stayed here along with various other moguls and magnates. A crowd with high expectations, which Copperfield plans to exceed with appropriately magical standards. He still plans to ship in half a dozen giraffes, create an Indiana Jones-like Secret Village full of squirrel monkeys who have artistic abilities and make it snow on the beach – all adaptations from one of his spectacular stage stunts. We will be watching from afar…Copperfield’s philosophy sums it up, “Hospitality is all about theater.” (the website alone is worth a visit with its inspiring soundtrack – www.mushacay.com

10. YOUNG ISLAND, off St. Vincent

One of the most affordable of the private islands in this top ten list, Young Island is a mere two-minute launch from St. Vincent’s southern shore. A tiny reserve that’s home to agoutis (similar to guinea pigs), iguanas and endangered parrots, this 35-acre outpost of easygoing luxury has 29 airy private cottages discreetly nestled around the gumdrop isle, three with plunge pools and one with an infinity pool. Don’t worry about losing your room key – there aren’t any. An enticing bonus – you will have two private yachts at your disposal.

CARIBBEAN DEALS

One good bit of news in light of the economic recession in the United States means anxious hotel operators and hot deals for consumers in the Caribbean. U.S. airline flights have been cut by 10 percent and the Caribbean has been hit the hardest by the flight reductions. Accordingly, there will be more deals this winter than in the past and steep price reductions will be seen across all price points including luxury. Even the luxury market will typically reduce their guests’ bills in innovative ways through upgrades, free meals or free spa treatments to get your business. Sandals Resorts is providing as much as $1,100 per couple credit to offset the cost of airfare to its properties in the Caribbean. And through packages sold by wholesalers such as GoGo Vacations, the Four Seasons Nevis will reimburse you for the cost of your airline ticket if you stay five nights and your companion’s airline ticket as well if you stay ten nights. (see individual websites for details) It’s finally a buyer’s market.

CRUISE NEWS

The Moorings Crewed Yachts

If you want to see the islands via boat, this is without a doubt the best way to do it. The Moorings pioneered the charter industry and has been offering individualized crewed yachting itineraries for over 40 years – they are the best in the business with an unmatched reputation for customer service and the finest new yachts. They offer Stateroom Cabin bookings, Moorings Power catamarans for self-drive vacations as well as all-inclusive Full Yacht charters with a professional captain, crew and chef at your service. The cost, surprisingly for such personalized attention, is comparable to most cruise liners, resorts and other all-inclusive holiday options. www.mooringsvacations.com

 

EDGE TRAVEL

Athina’s Travel Diary –
Six Senses Hideaway Yao Noi

Everyone deserves to live in the lap of luxury at least once in their lives and to date, my holiday at Six Senses Hideaway Yao Noi was mine.

Koh Yao Noi Island is situated in Thailand in Phang Nga Bay between Phuket town and Krabi. My girlfriend Karen and I arrived at Phuket airport and had a private car transfer awaiting us to take us to the port (about 30mins) and then from the port to Koh Yao Noi Island by speedboat (about 40mins).

The vista that awaited us was nothing less than surreal. The resort faces and overlooks the most amazing limestone pinnacles. There are a dozen or more and it’s as if they magically rise out of nowhere. As we approached by boat, the resort was to my left and as I turned to my right, I had to do a double-take to make sure that I was actually seeing these large monoliths in the middle of Phang Nga Bay. What a backdrop! At certain times of the day you can look up and they seem to have mist and clouds covering them glowing a certain haze which make them seem virtually unreal.

Their leads in rooms are not quite so “lead in” as one might expect. With their generously proportioned Pool Villas with your own plunge pool and alfresco hut with sun loungers, my girlfriend and I could have lived on either side of this villa and not seen each other for the entire day! Other accommodation categories are Deluxe Pool Villa, Pool Villa Suite, The Retreat and the Hilltop Reserve.

We did not want for anything with our own personal butler Poui who was on-call for us at all hours of the day. From making our dinner bookings and spa treatments to organising a buggy to take us to The Main House for meals or arranging off-site excursions and private dinners at our villa, she made us feel like royalty.

Six Senses are renowned for their spa treatments and therapies for revitalisation and rejuvenation and it would have been remiss of us if we did not partake in their specialty. They did not disappoint. Situated on a hillside with a stream running below, spa treatments are performed in thatched huts (most of them air-conditioned). The outdoor sounds of nature, frogs chirping and running water from the nearby stream, provide the soundtrack – no CDs necessary. My favourite treatment was their signature massage called the Holistic Massage. This has to rate as the single best massage of my life.

There are two main dining areas – The Living Room which is an all-day dining area, and The Dining Room for evening fine dining. Our preference was the bar called The Den, which we found not only provides a great Berry Capriosca but served a great dinner (menu from The Living Room). Other services available are a library, free internet services for all guests, waters sports, excursions and a private beach area.

What Six Senses Hideaway Yao Noi fundamentally represents is privacy and luxury encompassed in a serene, natural environment. This resort is unquestionably for couples – especially for honeymooners. I definitely left Six Senses so relaxed and at peace. I hope to return to this amazing hideaway resort once again but if not, it’s definitely a paradise experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Linda’s Travel Diary –
New Caledonia Cruise

Like many other people I thought cruising was more for the older generation. Now after having experienced my first cruise, I couldn’t be further from the truth. I recently spent 10 nights on the Royal Caribbean Rhapsody of the Seas cruise ship which set sail from Sydney and visited the ports of Noumea (New Caledonia), Vila (Vanuatu), Luganville (Vanuatu) and Isle De Pins (New Caledonia).

The first thing that impressed me was my cabin. I was expecting it to be much smaller, but it was more than adequate. One of the many advantages of cruising is the fact that you only need to unpack once…heaven. Sailing out of Sydney harbour whilst the sun was setting was certainly at the top of the list of memorable moments. Standing on one of the outside decks with our new friends, sipping on cocktails and listening to the tunes of a Caribbean band whilst the sun was setting was unforgettable. In fact, every sunset was a highlight of the cruise.

Apart from having totally different experiences at each of the 4 ports we visited, for me the best part were the days at sea on board the ship. Who would have thought that there could be so many things to do on a cruise ship? Every night a Daily Planner is placed in your cabin. So many choices so many decisions….Which bingo session do I go to? Which gym class would I like? Do I join the walking group? Do I watch a movie? Do I laze by the pool or do I join in the pool activities? What treatment would I like at the day spa? Which trivia competition? Do I go and see the show at night? What time should I play blackjack at the casino? Are my feet up for another night of dancing at the disco? Should I just have a nightcap in one of the late bars? There are also lectures of varied topics such as nutrition, health and fitness, learning to play bridge and cooking lessons, to name just a few. There is something for all ages and all interests. If you ask me, it is just a matter of fitting it all in.

One thing that amazed me too was the fact that I was sharing this space with about 1,700 people and it never felt crowded. Incredibly, there were times when I wondered where everyone was. I was also pleasantly surprised by the mix of passengers. Naturally there was the older generation, but there were also plenty of young families and groups, so I did not feel out of place at all.

So now I am back on land, my sea legs have disappeared and I am eagerly looking forward to my next cruise. BON VOYAGE!