The real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. – Marcel Proust
I realize now how privileged had been my childhood. By the age of 21 I had been to so many places: the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe – unburdened by a backpack! I used to take great pleasure in telling new friends that I’d seen most of the world. Luckily for me, no one asked had I ever been to Saint Lucia. I might well have answered: “Where?” Same answer for queries about Trinidad, Grenada, Barbados or anywhere else in the Caribbean. Truth be told, not even during my geography classes was the region spoken about. On the other hand, I had heard of Jamaica. But only because when I was a student in London my roommate Haile Selassie’s granddaughter, Kitty, had invited me to accompany her on visits to Selassie worshipper Bob Marley at his Kensington home. Since those heady days, whenever I hear Jamaica spoken of, it is the legendary reggae star who immediately comes to mind, not the island paradise. (You’re probably wondering whether we shared a puff or two. All I’ll say to that is, I never inhaled!)
It’s been some 30 years since I’ve made my home in Saint Lucia and I’ve been to Jamaica several times for fashion shows. Still, I continue to make the knee-jerk association. Which is what branding is all about. Bob Marley (Usain Bolt, too) and Jamaica are today synonymous; as are Barbados and Rihanna. As are Sandals and . . . I almost said Jamaica. Alas, while to some extent that is the case, the greater truth is that Sandals is now immediately associated with the Caribbean, storybook romance couples, magical weddings and honeymoons. Not long ago, while dining with a British friend at Kimono -one of the hotel’s yummy restaurants – I had taken much pleasure in informing him that while the family-owned Sandals had hotels all over the Caribbean, its roots were in Jamaica.
Sandals obviously loves Saint Lucia! It has planted three of its resorts here, with a recently completed luxurious expansion at Sandals Grande of Over-the-Water Bungalows, and now a fourth is on the way. Of course, Butch Gordon Stewart cannot claim ‘over the water’ living as his original idea! The concept of water villas has been popular in such places as Mexico, Tahiti, Thailand and the Far East. But Mr. Stewart is the first to bring them to the Caribbean: to his Sandals Royal Caribbean, Montego Bay, and now to Sandals Grande St. Lucian where there are nine!
The water villas concept had been floated in Saint Lucia since the days of Rosewood. Remember? Well, now the reality is here: and a thrilling new category of luxury vacationing it is. Many pundits believe water bungalows will attract high rollers seeking true luxury just three hours away from Miami! No more 20-hour flights to the Maldives necessary! My doctor in Miami, while I was on a recent visit to his office, revealed that he is a Sandals junkie, having stayed at their resorts in Turks & Caicos and the ultra-luxurious Exuma Bahamas. Now he is considering the swanky Over-the-Water Bunglows in Saint Lucia. He shared that he’d always dreamed of staying in one of these water villa resorts but was put off by the need to spend two days flying to his chosen destination. Three hours was more his speed, especially when he had only four or five days at his disposal.
I could hardly wait to get out of my regular surroundings (relaxing as they are!!) when I was invited to sample Sandals’ idea of luxury living. No surprise that my boring hubby was more concerned about possible seasickness. And since I couldn’t very well dial up some fantasy (god forbid I should end up in Biky B!) I called one of my BFFs, the nearly-always-ready-to-sample-a-new-experience Berthia Parle. Now, I had stayed many years ago in Thailand at an ‘over the water’ chalet on some small island, the name of which I do not now recall. I had a fun time but you couldn’t truthfully associate it with luxury, if you know what I mean. Sometimes nature actually is a euphemism for roughing it. I could hardly wait to discover what the Saint Lucia version offered.
The Sandals experience begins from the moment you drive into the resort to be greeted by your butler offering an iced towel. My uniformed butler was named Michael. He had on white gloves and as he answered our rapid-fire questions he flashed a for-the-movies smile that further tickled our fancy. Michael led us to our villa and, for a split second, I imagined I had landed in Dubai, even Shangri-la. Talk about made for hedonists!
The location is perfect: Pigeon Island on one side, anchored beautiful yachts further enhancing the environment, and local fishermen going out every morning to catch the fish that many of us enjoy so much. The leisure bungalows are so designed that the ocean comes to you. There are glass panels on the floor that light up at night permitting a view of the nocturnal marine life.
I love that this place is serene and so quiet, as if you are alone on a ship anchored somewhere out on the calmest sea. In fact you are not far from Sandals with its adult Disneyworld. Berthia was not about to miss that! And where my BFF goes, she drags me along, should I attempt to resist. On the occasion she had an easy task. Suffice it to say the local talent had us thinking Vegas throughout their performances. But back to my pad on the sea.
Yeah, yeah, I know I sound over-excited. So would you, had you been as fortunate as were Berthia and I at the weekend, courtesy Sandals. Some would say luxury is personal and subjective but I cannot imagine anyone describing the environment of which I speak as anything but luxury. The Guyanese grey and brown mahogany wood floor is so highly polished you could slide across it! There are magnets at the bottom of all the doors so when the sweet Caribbean trade winds blow, you won’t be interrupted in whatever activity you may be engaged.
The bathrooms are a dream, replete with glistening mosaic walls, reminiscent of Roman splendour. The towels and linen are all monogrammed, while my shower featured my favourite Molton Brown. The memories of my Sloane Ranger days flooded back at the sight and scent of these divine toiletries. Actually I had two showers, indoor and outdoor. And a round tub for two! Perhaps when he reads this, Rick might be less inclined to refuse the next invite. That tub for two overlooks Pigeon Point; who could ask for anything more? Clearly the idea here is to promote rest and relaxation, surrounded by nature: birds everywhere you look, fish darting around and simply getting together undisturbed . . . pure fantasy.
You need not be a water person to enjoy the masterpiece. You are free to lie in bed all day, eyes glued to the 60-inch high definition rotating smart TV. (If anything can tempt my husband out of his private library, this is it!) For me, however, it’s the fabulous pristine surrounding water that remains the star attraction. There is nothing in the world more relaxing than the sound of the sea gently caressing the shore, at night especially. You wake up to more soothing sounds, courtesy the birds, then jump into the azure blue water – just as gorgeous as the renowned Persian turquoise – prior to the day’s first coffee. In case you’re wondering, during my two days of super luxury I took my first exhilarating leap into the sea at 6 a.m.
As my friend the late Derek Walcott advised: “Let the sea set you free!” I certainly did. I returned home refreshed, high on life . . . if only until my next visit to Sandals’ Over-the-Water Bungalows!