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The Caribbean's Finest

Our panel of travel experts pick their favorite destinations across the region, and the best hotels, restaurants and golf courses on each island
Larry Olmsted
From the Print Edition:
Ernie Els, November/December 2012

(continued from page 2)

Best Small Resort or Hotel

Hotel El Convento: This San Juan fixture was the choice of nearly every panelist, combining history, location and atmosphere. “This restored 366-year-old Spanish colonial convent, smack in the heart of Old San Juan, just oozes Old World charm. It’s all mahogany beams, hand-carved furniture, and Andalusian floor tiles—but with 21st-century amenities,” says Stoddart. “Its location is ideal,” agrees travel agent Scully.

Best Golf

St. Regis Bahia Beach: “Although Trump International gets all the publicity when it hosts a PGA Tour event, the best course in the Rio Grande environs is Robert Trent Jones, Jr.’s spare-no-expense Bahia Beach Golf Club,” says Golf Odyssey’s Baum. Jones took advantage of the unique setting along a network of saltwater lagoons to bring waterfront exposure into play on 15 of the 18 holes.

Honorable Mention: Royal Isabela Golf Links: “It’s brand, brand new so almost no one has been there yet, but once the word gets out, golfers will be flocking to the this layout, the Caribbean’s version of Pebble Beach, with all the lodging in a handful of villas,” says Cigar Aficionado’s Olmsted.

St. Martin/ st. Maarten

Best Large Resort or Hotel

La Samanna: Not a lot of drama in this choice, which got nearly every vote cast. Why? “La Samanna is the best on the island, period,” says Anne Scully. The Orient-Express resort is a gleaming white temple of beachfront relaxation and elegance that might have been transported whole from the Greek Isles to the island’s finest beach, complete with thatched roof
palapas on the sand.

Best Small Resort or Hotel

Hotel l’Esplanade: An insider’s hidden-gem pick and the favorite of savvy panelists including Fodor’s Arabella Bowen and honeymoon specialist Carrie Wallace, who says, “This immaculate small hotel in Grand Case has terrific water views and a variety of good restaurants. The owners are very involved and provide a personal touch to every guest experience. An excellent value as well in the typically overpriced Caribbean.”

Best Restaurant

TIE: La Cigale; Le Tastevin: On an island very well known for the quality of its food, these two have been longtime favorites. Romantic Le Tastevin has harbor views and its famous lobster bisque, while La Cigale sits right on the beach combining fine French cuisine with island informality. “It’s hard to pick just one in the ‘Culinary Capital of the Caribbean,’ but Tastevin remains my favorite,” says travel and food writer Lynn Seldon.

Bahamas

Best Large Resort or Hotel

Atlantis, Paradise Island: While food and service did not bowl over our very picky panelists, it proved impossible to argue with the mega-resort’s unmatched one-of-a-kind facilities, including: hands-on dolphin, sea lion and stingray experiences; snorkeling the “ruins” of Atlantis; the 11 pools; extensive water park; over-water climbing wall; shark adventure; SNUBA; and the iconic “Mayan” temple. “It redefines large, is less relaxing than stimulating, but is the perfect place to party with multiple generations,” says Becca Hensley. Michael Patrick Shiels echoes the sentiment: “With an innovative water park, shark-filled streams, underground aquariums, a casino and beach, Atlantis has something for everyone—except peace and quiet.”

Best Small Resort or Hotel

Abaco Club on Winding Bay: This unique island retreat is managed by Ritz-Carlton but with a network of cabanas and cottages on a small scale, it is not your typical Ritz. “Conceived by Peter de Savary in the tradition of his Skibo Castle and Bovey Castle, the Abaco Club is pure Caribbean enchantment. No cars are allowed on club property, which extends two miles along curving bays with sugary sand beaches. The guest experience is all about relaxing ambiance, friendly service and barefoot elegance,” says David Baum.

Best Golf

Abaco Club on Winding Bay: While the Bahamas have a few high-profile golf courses, they lack any concentration. Avid golfers are thus choosing a single standout experience and typically head here to experience what golf guru Baum describes as “the lightly played Abaco Club, a Scottish links inserted into a tropical landscape. Holes are laid out two-wide along Winding Bay. Only at the climactic finish does the routing leave the dunes for a bluff-top perch.”

Best Restaurant

Graycliff, Nassau: This classic in-town eatery blends old-world charm with an upscale take on local cuisine. As travel writer Shiels describes it, “High ceilings, sofas and a parlor setting take you a million miles from any beachy thoughts
of Jimmy Buffett. In a building dating to 1740, you’ll experience a historic meal of sophisticated Bahamian dishes, followed by cognac and cigars, in a residence once occupied by a governor.” Cigar Aficionado’s contributing editor Olmsted puts it more bluntly: “A far better choice for a big night out than the overpriced and overrated resort eateries of nearby Paradise Island.”

Anguilla

Best Resort or Hotel, Any Size

Viceroy: The design, rooms, beach and low density of this fast-rising Caribbean star won over panelists of every ilk, from Fodor’s Arabella Bowen to travel agents specializing in high-income clients, such as Stacy Small and Anne Scully, who says, “This is a client favorite. Designer Kelly Wearstler has put her mark on this resort and it could not be more beautiful.” It also won over journalists such as USA Today’s Stoddart and Becca Hensley who added, “The Viceroy rocks with 35 acres of beachfront space.”

Honorable Mention: TIE: CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa; Cap Juluca: Cap Juluca is the island’s classic and thrives on its gorgeous setting, as Stoddart explains: “This place is all about the beach, a luscious mile-long curve of silky white sand called Maundays Bay. Strung along the beach is a Moroccan vision in white of one- and two-story domed, arched villas, some with private pools. Take me to the Casbah!” Much newer CuisinArt has the island’s best golf course and a focus on service and fine dining. “CuisinArt does everything really well, consistently. The food itself is a key reason to go—foodies will love their cooking classes, chef’s table and hydroponic farm,” says Bowen.

Best Golf

CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa: This only recently became a golf resort when it took over Temenos, a spare-no-expense Greg Norman dream design originally built to anchor an enclave of high-priced villas. Because of its very limited access, Temenos, one of the best courses in the Caribbean, never got its due, but now as part of the larger resort it will quickly gain prominence—and already has for golfers David Baum, Brian McCallen and George Ruff.

Best Restaurant

Blanchard’s: Famous for their line of Vermont-made gourmet dressings and sauces under the Blanchard & Blanchard label, this husband-and-wife team packed it all up to leave New England and open a restaurant on Anguilla. Nearly 20 years later, the fusion cuisine and barefoot attitude—or lack of attitude—has won legions of fans including USA Today’s Stoddart, Fodor’s Bowen, travel agent Small and other panelists. Next door is the even more casual Blanchard’s Beach Shack.

St. Barths

Best Resort or Hotel, Any Size

TIE: Guanahani; Eden Rock: No island had as many hotels in contention as tiny St. Barths where the properties are small but the overall quality very high. “I can’t get enough of Hotel Guanahani…very French ambiance—such a romantic stop. As if Paris put on flip flops but still donned a little black dress,” says Hensley. “In an epicentral location in St. Jean’s Bay, this place is happening, particularly during high season.  The beach is great, and foodies won’t be disappointed!  If you want to be au milieu de l’action, Eden Rock is for you,” says Wallace. It also has one of the region’s most unique luxury lodging options according to travel agent Scully: “Their Ultra Luxe Villas are their trademark, especially ‘Rockstar,’ which houses the recording studio where John Lennon recorded “Imagine”. It is among the most coveted accommodations in the Caribbean.”

Honorable Mention: TIE: Hotel Isle de France; Le Toiny: The former has “location, location, location on the island’s longest, widest beach,” attracting jet-setters, according to Stoddart, while Le Toiny takes the opposite tact according to Wallace: “Intimate, quiet, secluded, romantic. For those who just want to escape the world, Le Toiny is the perfect choice.” 

St. Kitts & Nevis 

Best Large Resort or Hotel


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