In my view, cold winters = warm getaways. Sure, I love a ski, but what better to soothe winter ills than hot sand, turquoise waters, tropical drinks, and that sun-kissed no-make-up look the beach demands? The sultry paradise of the Caribbean will do. Here are a few hidden treasures...
This sizable isle (113 sq. miles) is a rainforest, which makes for lush environs, and activity. Grenada is a bit off the map tourism-wise, and that?s what I like about it. After all, Lisbeth Salander (aka The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo) hid out here for a few months after embezzling billions. Grenada is a member of the British Commonwealth, so listen for chirpy English accents, and know that drinking starts at 11am. Kate Moss, actually, introduced me to the place, I mean sort of. The Supe had just vacationed at this subdued, but no less sublime, retreat there called La Luna, about ten years ago. I had to see these secluded white beaches for myself.
There are two direct flights a week to Grenada from New York. Good luck catching one. In any case, as a guest of LaLuna, a 1980?s era E-class Mercedes will fetch you at the steamy local airport, likely with enough time to grab a Ting for the drive (the grapefruit flavored Jamaican soda which I liken nectar of the Gods). Brave the bumpy dirt road to Morne Rouge, and isolated bliss awaits. From now on, you don?t have to leave. Really, ever.
From the first rum punch handed over upon arrival to the endless lolling from infinity pool to aqua-blue sea; every whim will be sated under La Luna?s straw thatched Balinese huts, every care soothed by the lull of crashing waves and staggering sunsets. You will share this lo-tech luxury with a few other lucky guests, but never many, as there are only 16 cottages?scattered like sun-bleached color swatches up the steep hill from the beach. Make sure to wander through the haphazard gardens of palm fronds and frangipani to the spa. Since my first visit, the dashing Italian owner, Bernardo Bertucci, erected a Bali-style temple, with Indonesian massage geniuses to boot. Even my Superman-proportioned husband turned to butter in these diminutive womens? hands.
While I mean the bit about not leaving, there is a lot to do around the island. Two standouts: A stroll down the shore to the Beach House Restaurant in the starry night, is romantic. Conch (lambi to locals), lobster, and steak dinner await. The still functioning Nutmeg Plant in the town of Gouyave hasn?t changed much since the 1800s, complete with handwritten logs and payment books. After the drive through the jungle and historical port town capital St. George?s (built on 70 degree hills at points), take a tour through the rafters of aromatic nutmeg.
St. Lucia is on everyone?s lips, including Oprah?s (she named St. Lucia and its Pitons as one of the ?Five Places to see in Your Lifetime?, they are UNESCO landmarks). But the rugged, mountainous, volcanic, emerald isle remains largely undiscovered. The 2500-foot high jutting twin peaks (the Pitons) crown the North East coast, and the chicest getaways reside in their shadow. Here, niche power-resorts like the Jetson-esque Jade Mountain and the colonial Jalousie Plantation sit above St. Lucia?s only white sand beaches (all Lucian beaches are black?the white stuff is imported).
In this corner of heaven, we stayed at the Robinson Carusoe-style Ladera. Our tikki inspired three-story, three-bedroom suite, tricked out with ladders, colorful mosaic bathrooms, is completely open to the elements on the ocean-side. Weather be damned. To this end, the all wood-interior is shellacked to within an inch of its life. Overshadowing the groovy decorating are the jaw-dropping views from every vantage, smack in between the Gros and Petit Pitons, about 1000 feet up. Dasheene, one of the island?s best restaurants is at Ladera, and the creole food delivers. Tables are replete with water guns, to spray away local birds curious about the menu too.
There is one disadvantage to such glorious heights: the beach is far below. For that, there is the aforementioned Jalousie, where pina colodas and Continental fare are served under umbrellas, and in the white washed shade of their Bayside Restaurant. And did I mention snorkeling? Dive in at the far right of the inlet to splash around with bright fish above the handsome reef. Mask, snorkel and fins provided.
Getting around St. Lucia?s craggy terrain makes for some mind-bendingly long (and expensive) car-trips. Take a water taxi instead, and turn a halting hour-long drive into a 20-minute smooth as silk delight. Jeanique Francis is our favorite captain (+1758-718-0317). The handsome 25-year old Soufriere native will take you on day trips to secret caves, snorkel spots, or even to the airport with luggage in his pink lined fishing boat?talk about arriving in style. To really shake yourself of the bright lights big city mindset, take a night cruise. Enveloped by inky black sea, sky and land (Jeanique?s only illumination is a pen-light, no kidding), the sensation is equal parts terror and ecstasy.
To complete the James Bond thrill, pull into the Rainforest Hideaway for dinner. Order a cocktail, still swaying with the sea, as this chichi gem sits on two dramatically lit adjacent docks. Another must-visit-by-boat is Marigot Bay, where the British once ambushed the French in the 18th century. To commemorate, stop in for a rum punch at the most excellent yachtee bar, Chateau Mygo (+1758-451-4772). We bantered with the sassy staff and snapped pics of pics of Nicholas Cage in a group hug there, and cheeky sailor sayings carved into wooden signs hung about the place. For more details, check out the FB Appreciation Society for this watery icon!
Next destination, St. Barths
What can I tell you about this pinnacle of Caribbean glamour that you don?t already know? Not a lot. There is name-dropping to do, but how boring when the list is that long? In summation, when you nose-dive into the island?s perilous little beach-to-mountain runway, know that you will do so in the company of the world?s finest handbags (and their owners, of course), I spotted a Celine on my last plane ride back. Despite rumors to the contrary, Saint Barths is a barefoot bohemia, just a fabulously wealthy one. And the beaches rule.
Ok, let?s focus on shopping. Hermes, Cartier, ok. But, Lili Belle is the one for me. Virginie Marquant?s Saint Jean boutique is like an international tastemaker?s souk. The sultry French brunette slash Earth goddess carries Italian liberty-print cotton bikinis to rival Brigitte Bardot?s, face-illuminating Indian silk scarves, paisley rompers and romantic off-the-shoulder long dresses which can be beach chic or city exotic. Nothing is over 300 euros. I could buy gifts for self and friends here forever. And don?t even try to find her on the internet, just show up. Le P?lican Page, St. Jean; 590-590/87-46-14.
One of the best parts of tropical island living is wearing virtually nothing. I call it apr?s-pool. Perfecting this effortless look is harder than one might think, unless one knows about Poupette St. Barth. Poupette?s (the designer?s nickname) light as air printed dresses, shorts, rompers, and blouses dry in minutes and are unbelievably fetching. But, these man-friendly confections do not come cheap. Be prepared to drop $205 for an embroidered nothing of a tank dress. The good news, it looks and feels like heaven.
Other points of interest:
Match Supermarket, Saint Jean. Across from the airport, one can find premium produce, a cheese section to die for, French grocery classics, and wait for it? BIllecart Salmon Rose, Duval Leroy, and Ruinart. Three of the rarest and most delicious champagnes EVER, and for good prices. Ah, I love St. Barths.
Low-key beach restaurant: Le Grain de Sel. Before or after a trip to Salines beach next door (the insider choice), stop in for the plat du jour and an Iguane (a bright green Pernod and water) to match the enormous lizard mascot who slithers around this local French Creole favorite.
PaCri Restaurant, Rue de Saline, Gustavia. Simple, flawless, Italian food. Fabulous ingredients, fabulous prices, and I don?t mean cheap.
Eddy?s, Rue du Centenaire (near rue G?n?ral du Gaulle), Gustavia. The locals and sailors all stop here. Try the goat curry.
Get on a boat: The clear crystal waters in Saint B are truly mesmerizing, especially when staring at the ocean floor forty feet below. Hire this Catamaran fleet to come over from Anguilla for the day, and snorkel with giant sea turtles at the otherwise inaccessible Colombier beach. Choose from the Scoobi Doo, Scoobi Too, or Scoobi Free.