from the archives: beachfront bliss

alg-grace-bay-beach-jpgThe most developed of the 40-strong chain of islands that constitutes Turks and Caicos, Providenciales – or Provo, as the locals call it – is no mere gateway, but a destination unto itself. Pristine nature and crystal blue waters coexist easily alongside chic hotels and elaborate spas. And since Provo is also a nonstop flight from New York, the powdery Turks and Caicos beaches are a lot closer than you’d imagine. READ MORE

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the people have spoken

carnival kit

I’ve gotten a number of e-mails from readers wondering why, despite the volume of fanciful Carnival pictures posted, I’ve neglected to document my own festive gear. In spite of my tendency to remain in the background – at least visually – the people have spoken, what can I say? Witness then my first (and likely last) personal appearance on this site. Oh and just to be clear, I’m on the right.

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no man’s land

no man's land

I can think of no better way to end my short visit to the islands of Trinidad and Tobago than today’s catamaran sail around the Caribbean coast. My destination: a little peninsula affectionately known as No Man’s Land, which more than lived up to the promise of its nickname. As always, click then double-click the image for greater detail.  And yes, the water really is that Crayola shade of  blue-green.

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tucking in, up a tree

Jemma's Sea View Kitchen

Don’t let the boarded up window on the side of the road dissuade you, Jemma’s Sea View Kitchen has one of the best views in Tobago. And yes, like the sign says, it’s a proper treehouse, too, resting in the boughs of an Indian almond tree. (Which goes a way towards explaining why the breeze from the sea – and the panorama of Goat Bay and Little Tobago – is so fine.) It’s also a popular location for home cooking, Trini-style: curried shrimp, fish stew, grilled lobster, and a handful of old-fashioned herbal drinks like maundy fizz. Beyond having a nice piece of fish or fruit, I’ve never had an affinity for Caribbean cuisine. It’s so boring – and starchy. Not so Trinidad and Tobago, however; the influence of French and Indian flavors combine to create dishes that are unique, like roti, a thin Indian bread piled with potato, chana and curried chicken, doubles, which I’ve already gone on about, and pelau, a rice and chicken jambalaya that’s closer in spirit to paella. Two new additions to the favored list, thanks to Jemma: breadfruit pie, which has all the texture and taste of a really creamy mac ‘n’ cheese and tanya fritters, a crunchy hush puppie made of ground provisions with a healthy kick of cayenne. Does the rest of the Caribbean know what’s going on here – or do they just not care?

breadfruit pie

tanya fritters

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from fallow to cocoa

tobago cocoa estate

In the early half of the last century cocoa was one of the major crops grown on Tobago and many of the island’s larger plantations, such as the Roxborough, Richmond and Goldsborough Estates – all over 100 acres and more in size – devoted their efforts to the cultivation of prized Trinitario cocoa beans. But something inexplicable happened and by the 1970s, the situation had changed drastically: cocoa production on Tobago was all but abandoned and the great estates were left to ruin. Hoping to rejuvenate the once lucrative industry, native Tobagonian Duane Dove returned to the island after several years living and working in Europe. Over the past decade he invested in reinvigorating a fallow estate and the result is Tobago Cocoa Estate: part plantation, part history park. Though no actual chocolate is produced on site – the roasting and blending of the beans happens in France – a visit to the estate still makes for an enlightening look at how an artisanal producer manages to retain the hands-on traditions of caring for the plants, harvesting the pods, and drying the beans for export. The best part, however, is saved for last: samples of the estate’s Gold Medal-winning chocolate paired with a smooth single-barrel rum.

cocoa pods

cracking open a cocoa pod

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toboggoning

tobago

There’s another post-Carnival tradition many Trinis indulge in: escaping to the laid-back sister island of Tobago for a few days of rest and relaxation. In for a penny, in for a pound, I say – so it’s off to Tobago I go.

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panorama: maracas beach

maracas beach panorama

As always, double-click the image then click again for greater detail – this time for the best beach on which to beat that Carnival hangover.

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by the beautiful sea

The one thing I never expected to find on Iona: a glistening white shell sand beach and crystal clear water to rival the Caribbean. Granted that water is colder than a witch’s tit but still, lovely to look at. Two of the nicest stretches of sand are at the north of the island, tantalizingly close from a perspective atop Dun I. Traigh an t-Suidhe or Beach of the Seat on the western flank of the headland is stunning and secluded. Even on a sunny day like today there are few people about and it’s easy to pretend this is my own private strand. Traigh Ban Nam Monach which is Gaelic for ‘white strand of the monks,’ is equally beautiful and its eastern-oriented bluffs are very popular with the sheep population.

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last looks

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beating a not-so hasty retreat

Flying in and out of Nevis was so much easier than anticipated – as well as a nice change of pace from my last arrival on the island, which included landing in St. Kitts and taking a ferry across the straits. Bonus points to Cape Air for launching the daily non-stop service from San Juan into Vance Armory airport. It meant not having to check out of Four Seasons Resort Nevis until 45 minutes before take-off. Even better: no lines at the airport. In fact, not only were there no lines but we were the only passengers on the only flight leaving that morning, which lent an air of glamour to the whole experience – as though flying private. A pretty perfect send-off, if you ask me. If I have to leave Nevis – and unfortunately, I do –  this is the only way to go.

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hugging the coast

Breathe deep and take it all in. (Oh, and click the image for greater detail, too.)

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smells like me

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve breathed in that fragrant mix of flowers, fruit and tropical Caribbean wood and wished I could somehow capture it and take it home. Just a little something to get me through the dog days of winter. So imagine my excitement at discovering how the Spa at Four Seasons Resorts Nevis  – intoxicating in its own sublime way – has partnered with noted organic alchemist, Ajne, to take those smells a flacon further and create 100% natural, one-of-a-kind perfumes. Typically a customized formula takes weeks or even months to complete – and often costs a small fortune, too. Yet Ajne’s ingenious blending process takes a cool 90-minutes while lounging by the Spa pool or taking in the Nevis sunset, cocktail in hand. To create my bespoke formula a Melangeur, or mixer, administers a quirky computerized fragrance analysis based on Sanskrit chakras, which divide the body into energy centers. Test questions determine fragrance preferences and help find areas of the body and psyche in need of balancing. The Melangeur works like a private scent sherpa, guiding me over the fragrant terrain and assisting me in discovering ingredients ideal to my body chemistry. Working one-on-one she mixes combinations of rare and precious plant oils – some worth their weight in gold. Not only do I walk away with a greater understanding of myself, but the real results are delivered to my room an hour later: a hand-blended smell that is individual and entirely me. And totally Nevis, too.

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can’t get enough of my shake-shack

This would be the waking-up-from-a-food-and-wine-induced-coma view – before running around the back to play peekaboo hide-and-seek with a yacht that is.

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a perfect picnic

Picnicking at the beach house made for the most atmospheric en plein air lunch I’ve had in I don’t know how long. Poached shrimp on a citrus salad with avocado and shaved fennel, and a meaty lobster sandwich with celery, red onions and spicy creole mayonnaise on lightly-grilled brioche made the perfect foil for a splendidly chilled bottle of rose. The postprandial nap was equally sublime, too – just in case you were wondering.

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welcome to my shake-shack

I’ve never been much for the cabana experience. Frankly, I just never saw the point; I mean you’re already paying to stay at a resort on the beach – why would you pay even more for what amounts to little more than a pup tent with a day bed? Yet the trio of miniature beach shacks at Four Seasons Resort Nevis struck me as far too inviting to not finally break down and give it a try. Each architecturally detailed bungalow comes fully loaded: couch, dining table, flat screen tv, wi-fi, iPod dock, fruit, stocked refrigerator, loungers on the deck, loungers on the sand, loungers on your own stretch of beach, and best of all, a butler. I had no idea what I’d been missing. Happily ensconced after breakfast in my little home away from home, I didn’t want to leave. So I didn’t. I read a little, I slept a little, I listened to all six hours of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung while navigating between the three levels of lounge chairs at my disposal. I swam, I snorkeled, I got spritzed with Evian and cooled by soothing mint-scented towels just as the beads of brow-sweat were becoming an irritant. When hunger hit, a feast was delivered. So, too, a crisp bottle of Chateau D’esclans Whispering Angel rose. In fact, every time I had passing thoughts of some thing that I might like, the butler was there with a toothsome smile and one treat or another, be it the aforementioned spritz or a mid-afternoon mango smoothie. The phrase “treated like a king” gets bandied about these days with far too much frequency, so let’s just say I was duly recognized as the reigning royalty of my little shake-shack. Alas, time passes far too quickly when you’re being coddled. Before I could truly appreciate it, the sun was setting over the Caribbean and I was draining the last dregs of rose – raising a glass in toast to the purest day of wanton leisure I’ve had since I was 10 years old.

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