“ALL ISLAND tours will include five harmonica interludes and palatable humour.” So read the business card of Roger, my driver on the Caribbean island of Grenada, writes Andrea Watson.
Roger is a living Wikipedia on the Eastern Caribbean. Within the space of a 20-minute drive from the airport to Portici Beach, I was filled with facts about the history of the so-called Spice Island, including the 1983 invasion by US troops, the length of the airport’s runway, and the number of students at the Medical School. Roger loves politics and numbers.
Laluna Resort, which was hosting my stay, was built by Italian businessman Bernardo Bertucci and his wife Wendy. He loved the authentic feel of the island and its uncommerciality, and this simplicity is reflected in the style of the resort. “The absence of luxury can be a luxury in itself,” says Bernardo.
The 16 guest cottages are sparsely furnished with giant Balinese four-poster beds with cool linen sheets, deep bamboo framed verandas and open-air bathrooms giving on to private plunge pools.
The resort has a large pool, bar, library and restaurant and, to one side, a cool, dark spa in the Balinese style, with a yoga room similarly designed fronting the beach. All you can hear in the treatment rooms where the Balinese attendants deliver a surprisingly strong massage is tree frogs and the scrape of the sea.
There were almost no guests in late June, the rainy season having begun (though the showers were mostly short and sharp), but everything at Laluna was still up and running. It was rather like having a private resort with dozens of staff to oneself.
The food here is some of the best I have enjoyed in the Caribbean, with a strong Italian flavour to the menu using imported ingredients like Parmesan cheese and olives.
On the second day I met a couple of young people who called themselves Experience Tasters. They worked for a travel agent which specialises in ‘barefoot luxury’ trips to places like Laluna. This was their first assignment. “We look for the five S’s,” the girl told me. “Service, style, sustainability, soul and…. I forget the last one.” Ah well, it was probably, as in the Belafonte song, shining sands.
Grenada has recovered from Hurricane Ivan, which wrecked its forests and economy in 2004, and there is a new luxury hotel due to open next year. The marina, much enlarged by Camper and Nicholson, is capable of taking super yachts, but Grenada’s not remotely like nearby Barbados in anything except size, and there is no sign that mass celebrity package tourism will arrive any time soon.
The marina was originally created by the property entrepreneur Peter de Savary, who bought cheap land after Ivan’s rampage. His hotel, the Cinnamon Resort and Beach Club near the capital St George’s, has a clubroom on Grande Anse beach with a weekly BBQ and band. I met Mark Kitchen, the general manager, who says PdS, as the boss is known, is still very much involved in the island and its fortunes.
Another entrepreneur who has made an appearance here is Samir Sawiris, the billionaire CEO of Orascom Developments, who is building the Silver Sands resort on Grande Anse beach. It looks a bit like a new hospital. No doubt will be a sanitary place to stay, and will answer the need for high-end accommodation.
My week-long stay allowed time to explore the whole of Grenada by car and enjoy simple pleasures, such as a visit to a nutmeg processing factory. A sack of nutmeg may be worth £1,000 today, but in most respects it was like stepping back to the 1850s when nutmegs were first planted here. In the main halls, workers shell and sort the nuts under a sign saying ‘Absolutely No Card Playing Allowed in Working Hours’. In a side room, a man hand stencils the sacks with their destinations: London, Munich, New York, just like it has always been done.
A visit to the Rivers Rum factory was further evidence of the island’s occasional distance from modern realities. The 80 per cent proof gut rot is sold only on Grenada, as it can no longer be taken on board a plane due to rules introduced after 9/11. The presence of a large open fire used to heat the alembic containing this explosive substance made us feel, for once, that health and safety rules might have a place after all.
Friday was passed taking a short (under two hour) walk to the waterfalls in the rainforest, where I was delighted to catch a group of young people happily sliding and diving down the cascading waters.
Better was to come when I joined Savvy Sailing for a little light snorkelling (which I am not so keen on since running into an enraged Moray eel in the Red Sea) and found instead that we had come upon a huge school of dolphin. Now, swimming with dolphin may be on everyone’s bucket list, but according to owner Danny Donelan, who was as excited to see this school as everyone else, if there is a whole lot of dolphin there will be “bigger fish under them”. Say no more: we watched their antics from the safety of the prow.
The Rastafarian who toppled on to me as he took his seat on the Virgin Atlantic flight home had evidently partaken of too much Rivers Rum prior to boarding. Luckily (for me at least) the rules of air travel seemed not to his liking and he was ‘disembarked’ soon after arriving.
Grenada is a long flight because the plane stops at St Lucia, making the whole trip some 14 hours long. It is partly this extra leg which keeps mass tourism at bay, and perhaps indeed is why this island has preserved its many charms, including Service, Style, Sustainability, Soul and probably the last one too, whatever that is.
Andrea Watson travelled as a guest of Laluna Resort (www.laluna.com +1 473-439-0001)
Summer Special Rates until 14 October, US $316 per night for a Cottage Suite. Meals and excursions extra.
Return flights from Gatwick with Virgin Atlantic in July from £1,268.
All images © Andrea Watson