A note on these idyllic isles…
Volcanoes smothered in dense, dripping jungle; turquoise waters lapping powder-white sand, and sleepy bays hiding a frenetic spectacle on a coral-strewn stage below the surface. The Caribbean rarely fails to bowl over those who encounter its tropical beauty. The illusion begins as the clouds break and your plane glides over verdant strips, adrift in turquoise seas and ring-fenced by stretches of blonde sand. The famously laid-back archipelago serves up a variety of landscapes and cultures, from Barbados’ roadside rum shacks to Jamaica’s wild waterfalls. These exquisite islands host a handful of refined hotels that conjure a bygone age of croquet and pre-dinner cocktails, all while maintaining the go-slow Caribbean rhythm. Boutique hotel connoisseurs Mr & Mrs Smith have a soft spot for this ethereal patch of our planet, honing in on island retreats with bags of personality and low-key Caribbean charm. From waterside Jamaican villas steeped in Ian Fleming lore, to grander affairs on Barbados' pretty Platinum Coast, here are Mr & Mrs Smith’s Caribbean jewels – all finely cut in their own exquisite way.
Bahama House Hotel, Bahamas
A Harbour Island newcomer, Bahama House is a palm-smothered colonial property, with knockout views of the harbour and a comforting (if slightly quirky) home-from-home character.
This 19th-century, Harbour Island bastion of Caribbean revelry has been artfully undressed, then redressed by Eleven Experiences (behind Iceland’s Bond-esque Deplar Farm). The overall aesthetic is a refined, quirky spin on island life, with an abundance of cane furniture (including four poster beds), framed exotic plants and fruits and coral-strewn fabrics. But rather than landing squarely in country-club territory, there is a retro, ’50s sensibility at play, particularly in the communal areas, awash with peaches and pastel blues and sprinkled with a mix of Bahamian, Caribbean and Palm Beach heritage pieces. Plantation shutters line the front of the main villa, white fans stud the ceilings and rooms on both sides of Bahama House – opt for those with twinkling harbour views and wrap-around terraces to soak in the salty air with a gin and tonic.
Dinners are available on select nights of the week – a feast of Bahamian classics – though private chefs can be organised for private dinners of grilled just-caught specials and French-Bahamian fare on the terrace where breakfasts take place. These are the hotel’s main event, a feast of rum-and-raisin scones, tropical fruits and smoothies, lobster omelettes and sinfully good waffles lathered in warm chocolate or coconut French toast. The menu for these breathtaking breakfasts changes daily, charmingly scribbled on boards. At the other end of the day, ravishing Bahamian sunsets are accompanied by delectable home-made canapés and rum cocktails – the hotel’s superlative rum bar is also worth inspecting.
Bahama House couldn’t be better placed for Harbour Island first-timers, just 100 metres from the arrival jetty at Government Dock and an easy golf buggy whoosh to the other-worldly Pink Sands Beach. The coral-washed home-from-home is located in historic Dunmore town on the east coast of the island. While the hotel may not be hugging the coast, its location allows easy access to both the beaches and the town’s boutiques and cafes. Those concerned about Bahama House’s patchy evening dinner set-up needn’t be, with hot-ticket restaurants such as The Landing just a leisurely sunset stroll away.
While there’s no bona fide spa, Bahama House’s Experience Manager will see to any in-room pampering whims (though booking ahead is advised). But there’s really little need thanks to the Dermalogica Spa a few metres down the road, offering cutting-edge technologies ready to zap tired, dry or combination skin, as well as nimble fingers for the more traditional facials and massages.
Cobblers Cove, Barbados
Pink striped umbrellas, palms tickling the coral-pink Great House, and tropical gardens snaking down to a generous stretch of milky-white sand. Occupying one of the island’s calmest bays, Cobblers Cove is a Bajan institution – all afternoon-tea rituals and country-club rooms.
This is “Old World” Caribbean, where tropical gardens come to heel around imposing ’40s architecture. A handful of pastel-hued suites, with clipped, country club interiors, are set amoung the hibiscus bushes – their facades decorated with intricate white woodwork and plantation shutters. Inside, the design can only be described as a tropical spin on English country classicism, from hand-painted coral fabrics to bamboo chairs and rattan headboards. Sliding doors open to let in the salty Caribbean breeze and soul-warming sunlight, while bougainvillaea-smothered verandas offer a private perch for sundowners. The Great House’s communal spaces continue the exotic spin on ‘stately’ with a Soane Britain collaboration in the genteel drawing room. Framed botanicals line the walls and the (honeymoon) Camelot Suite is a paean to refined tropicana, with a white four-poster bed decked in the same coral-print fabric as the curtains. Outside, the bass note is laid-back elegance – the sort that trickles down from royalty and Debretts until it finds more easy-going territory. Chunky cane sunbeds come laden with thick cushions, rendering them more day bed than poolside lounger. They pop up in palm-shaded corners of the garden, or on the pool terrace where they match the candy-pink striped umbrellas above.
Afternoon tea is taken seriously here – a feast of fluffy finger sandwiches and scones, washed down with quintessentially English brews or cold glasses of Champagne. An “elegant casual” evening dress code sets the tone for the Camelot Restaurant, helmed by Bajan chef Jason Joseph. Menus shift according to seasons and the fishermen’s haul – island lobster tagliatelle, pistachio-crusted chicken breast, pan-fried catch of the day in a lemony butter sauce. The just-caught menu is the work of Barker, Cobblers’ own fisherman, who also welcomes guests on his daily adventures at sea. The terrace area absorbs those after a more informal style of dining, or those forgetful enough to wear shorts. Weekly, buttoned-down barbecues show off Bajan classics and are typically paired with fine wines and live music. Breakfasts are an elaborate, lazy affair of cinnamon French toast, light boiled eggs and avocado and a kaleidoscopic array of exotic fruit.
With its privileged vantage point on Barbados’ west coast, Cobblers Cove enjoys one of the island’s loveliest views, with the thrill of seclusion that those jetting here desire. The hotel can arrange turtle-swimming adventures or boat picnics, while the independent boutiques and low-key bars of nearby Speightstown can be reached via a 10-minute stroll along the beach.
Tata Harper’s chemical-free, radically organic products have quite rightly infiltrated Cobblers Cove’s light-filled Sea Moon Salon, offering guests nourishing facials and body scrubs that compliment (rather than detract from) any sunbathing. These are joined by locally-crafted St Lucy Botanists – another chemical-free range cobbled together from natural foraged botanicals. Not so much a fully-fledged spa, more a pocket-sized pampering space, Sea Moon is perfectly tuned to the weary traveller looking for a quick pick-me-up (go for the Sun Relief Facial) or more protracted pampering (the Remodelling Facial promises glowy, youthful skin and ends with a heavenly aromatherapy head massage).
Famous for its Fleming pedigree, GoldenEye’s scatter of deliciously simple cottages, perched on the edge of Jamaica’s Oracabessa Bay, saw the legendary writer pen all 14 of his James Bond novels – assisted no doubt by the gentle wash of the sea below and the warm, caressing breeze the villas inhale through permanently open sliding doors and windows.
Much like Fleming himself, the interiors here seize on a stylishly low-key-and-loafered theme. Dark woods, plantation shutters and white-washed rooms, with the occasional splash of colour, leave the surrounding island splendour to do the talking. The hot-ticket villa is, naturally, The Fleming Villa – a three-bed beauty with its own pool and small patch of private beach. Other villas are woven into the jungle-meets-beach setting (the smarter, sweeping-ceilinged Lagoon Cottages and Beach Villas are a delight). There is an understated, island bolthole theme to these rooms that’s a far cry from the country-club style of many Caribbean stalwarts, though a dinner jacket certainly wouldn’t look out of place here. Designer Barbara Hulanicki (of Biba fashion fame) has infused the main spaces with a sense of Bajan authenticity, with locally crafted furniture and white-washed wall panelling referencing the humble beach house – albeit one festooned throughout with shots from various Bond movies and newspaper articles featuring Fleming and his island hideaway.
Toeing the low-key line, food at the beachside Bizot Bar is simple fare done well – typically whatever coastal plunder the chefs are presented with and, famously, GoldenEye’s delicious homemade ice cream. Set along the kick-back Button Beach, this is where breakfasts roll out in idle fashion, and guests paddle in for lunches of Jamaican jerk chicken and grilled fish. Sewn into the treetops, Gazebo is a swishy ordeal approached by a lantern-flanked drawbridge. Chefs here keep in step with Chris Blackwell’s organic farm Pantrepant’s, crafting elegant spins on classic Jamaican curries and more French fancies, such as fillet mignon. Cocktails honour the martini quip, along with Jamaica’s fabled rum punches.
If it’s good enough for Fleming… This remarkably relaxed cluster of villas sit alongside the village of Oracabessa, 10 miles east of Ocho Rios on Jamaica’s densely vegetated northern coast. There’s no palm-flanked entrance or American-style drive-through… in fact, GoldenEye is tricky to find if you’ve never been, and loyal guests would like it to stay that way. The hotel offers a Tuesday-evening excursion into Oracabessa’s warren of bars and restaurants, but guests would be forgiven for simply holing up in their sea-facing villas, blissfully cast adrift from the rest of the world.
An outdoor bath lies enticingly beneath the shade of a large palm tree in GoldenEye’s FieldSpa, a wooden pavilion on the edge of a lagoon. The spa can be reached via paddleboard, for warming ginger and pimento massages or facials channelling the healing powers of roots and herbs collected from Pantrepant Farm. An outdoor Jungle Gym is a refreshing alternative to the “could-be-anywhere” Technogym, while tennis doubles and yoga sessions roll out throughout the day.