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


from the archives: hot spas of the caribbean

For too many years, Caribbean spas were strictly amateur affairs. Not anymore: The number of high-tech hideaways scattered throughout the islands has exploded, with each one promising to reinvigorate your body and renew your spirit in new and novel ways. As a bonus, direct flights from JFK abound this time of year, making it easier than ever to escape for a weekend of pampering and be back in time for the Monday morning meeting.

Here’s our guide to five that know how to turn up the heat: CLICK HERE for the full story.


bucket list: 2010 – january

TURKS & CAICOS:  Sometimes it seems like it’s easier to fly down to Providenciales than it is to get across town during rush hour.  Which is perhaps why the islands of Turks & Caicos are so popular with the Northeast crowd.  And me, too.  There’s almost nothing to do on Provo, as the island capital is known, so there’s no residual guilt to be had about not seeing the sights;  you can thoroughly unwind, soaking up the sun on Grace Bay, one of the world’s great sandy beaches.

A trip down here in January is a tonic for the the harsh New York winter and this trip had the added benefit of a stay at the new Seven Stars.  As a New Yorker, it’s a particularly bittersweet pleasure to find a hotel room larger than your apartment.  At the oversized Seven Stars, the bedroom alone was larger than my apartment.  Naturally, I had to be dragged out kicking and screaming – least of all because the beach was right outside my sliding glass doors.

There’s a curiosity that made this trip memorable as well.  A culinary delicacy I’d heretofore been ignorant of despite my many trips to the Caribbean.  Never one to shy away from the local fare, I stepped up and swallowed it raw and whole, according to local tradition.  And what was this sublime aphrodisiac, you ask?  Conch penis.


live blog: the locavore’s dilemma

Blessed with sunshine and moderate daily rains, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Caribbean is a bounty of fresh local food.  With a few exceptions the reality is actually quite the opposite:  most everything needs to be imported.  You see, there is one significant piece missing from the puzzle across most of the islands and that is arable land.  The vast majority of them are essentially giant sandbars.  And what little earth exists underfoot is contaminated by salt and brackish water.  Ergo, no fresh fruit; no fresh vegetables.  What little is able to be produced locally is grown hydroponically in very small batches.  (tiny Anguilla – to its enormous credit – has a massive organic hydroponic farm that supplies a handful of resorts as well as the local community)

What’s a yuppie on holiday supposed to do?  In Turks & Caicos the answer is conch.  Endangered in over 95% of its natural habitat, conch strangely flourishes here.

Da Conch Shack in Blue Hills is a Turks institution and as you might guess, conch is the specialty:  cracked conch, conch fritters, creole conch, stir-fry conch, conch salad, curry conch, conch gumbo, conch chowder – the hardy creature is incredibly adaptable as a meat substitute.  Technically, it’s a giant sea snail, so I’m surprised to not see it served in the French-style, with lots of garlic and butter – but then again, perhaps that cooking method doesn’t really lend itself to the warmer climes.

The Shack goes through upwards of a few thousand conch a week.  Held offshore in giant pens, they are killed – or conched, if you will – to order.  If you’ve time, head to the beach after lunch and manager Peter or one of his staff will show you how it’s done.  Essentially they stab it in the head to sever the connective ligament that attaches the snail to its shell, before yanking it out and cutting off the attached claw foot, eyes, and digestive system.  The tough outer skin is then peeled away, leaving a filet of white meat.

One interesting side note to today’s conch excursion was the chance to try a local delicacy:  conch penis.  That’s right, today I ate my first ever animal penis.  (Prized as an aphrodisiac, it’s really a shame I’m down here solo.)  About three inches long, with the approximate thickness of angel hair pasta, it didn’t really taste of anything besides salt. As for texture I’d liken it to a gummy worm.  How’s that for thinking globally and eating locally?


live blog: spaced out

Space – as any urban dweller can tell you – is always an issue.

So it’s downright delightful to get lost in a hotel room that could easily house ten people.  My biggest concern on arriving was whether I would be here long enough to avail myself of both the second and third bathrooms.  Talk about an embarrassment of riches.

Quick technical clarification:  Seven Stars is not at a hotel, it’s an all-suite resort.  But whatever…even the smallest cheapo-cheapo suites here are 620 square-feet and fully kitted out with over-sized bathrooms,  languorous balconies, and expansive kitchens. (last night I actually dreamt I found a way to smuggle the kitchen cabinets home in my carry-on luggage)

Suites start at $390 a night, which is about 40% off regular high-season rates for the Caribbean, but if you take advantage of a $450 Couples Escape they’ll upgrade you to an ocean view and throw in breakfast, a couples massage, and a romantic dinner in the fine dining restaurant, too.


bucket list: 2009 edition – May



TURKS & CAICOS:  Providenciales has to be one of my favorite islands when I’m looking to kick back and relax. (A rare occasion, but nevertheless….)  So naturally there was an epic internal struggle when I found myself at the minimalist-chic Gansevoort South for a weekend-long fitness bootcamp.  Led by the inspiring  – and very fit – founder’s of NYC’s Core Fusion classes in an outdoor pavillion at the onsite exhale spa, it was a butt-lifting, yoga-infused sweatfest that had me comfortably fitting into formerly-snug jeans by the time I headed home.  And sporting a great tan to boot.

hiking up yer kilt

SCOTLAND:  There must be some Scottish blood in me somewhere because I always feel particularly at home here in Edinburgh.  Even in a kilt – which was the occasion for this particular visit. Interviewing the irascible Howie Nicholsby, designer and founder of 21st Century Kilts, I was tempted to try one one.  After a laddish afternoon together in full kit, I was hooked and had to have my own.  If you’re the kind of guy that thinks a rambunctious puppy or a well orchestrated baby is a chick magnet, I’ve got one word for you:  kilt.  And if you think that chocolate lab melts the hearts of ladies everywhere and leads to phone numbers in pocket, you’ll be bowled over by the inquiring and admiring eyes that greet a man in a kilt.  Gentlemen,  it defies fashion.  And a little bit of turbulence in a kilt goes an awful long way, too.


transformed in turks & caicos

Two months before taking part in a very high profile wedding came the startling realization that A, my “body crisis” had reached a fever pitch; and B, time was running out to do something about it. So I did what any practical person would do and went into retreat.

More specifically, I took my elastic-waist shorts down to the Caribbean islands of Turks & Caicos for the first retreat created by Exhale, the noted New York mind/body spa.   On the agenda was a Core Intensive Weekend geared towards all fitness levels, led by Fred DeVito and Elisabeth Halfpapp, the husband and wife creators behind the Core Fusion classes so many hard-bodied New Yorkers swear by.

Exhale was founded in Manhattan in 2003 and now has five spa/studios across the city, one in the Hamptons and a handful across the country.  Hearing it described by a dedicated follower as a new breed of spa merging mind and body wellbeing into a transformational experience set off a light bulb: maybe those love handles are the result of my mind and not my mouth.  Running with that thought, I set off eager to take the holistic approach – and hopefully get a tan in the process.


Arriving at the Gansevoort Turks and Caicos, a Wymara Resort, for the start of the weekend is inspiring.  Sleek, chic, and minimalist in proportion, home for the next three days embodies everything I aspire to become.  An offshoot of the popular Meatpacking District hotel, this Caribbean counterpart sits on the western edge of Grace Bay Beach, with beachfront rooms along a reef-protected sea.

A delicious lunch is served al fresco at Bagatelle Bistrot, and there’s time to linger and review the program.  The Core Intensive Weekend includes a full immersion in classes proprietary to Exhale:  Core Fusion, Core Energy Flow, Core Fusion Sport and Body Enlightening, with two sessions per day in an outdoor pavilion with views of the sea.

For neophytes, Core Fusion turns out to be self-explanatory:  it fuses the discipline of core conditioning with Pilates, yoga and orthopedic stretching to produce lean flexible muscles. Core Fusion Sport adds a combination of lateral and twisting movements to chisel the arms, shoulders, and legs. Core Energy Flow is designed to induce inner calm and balance through a combination of yoga poses, core training, and Qi Gong movements.  In short, there will be sweat.

Now imagine this regime twice a day in 2 to 3-hour increments with breaks for meals and water.  Sounds like a fitness Gitmo, no?  Actually not.  Certainly there is a lot of effort involved – so much for those love handles of the mind – but it’s also intensely relaxing.  Approach it as you would a mountain hike and it’s not nearly as strenuous.  The cool Caribbean breeze sure helps, as does the freedom of going at your own pace and comfort level.  Meal breaks are leisurely, with time leftover to hit the beach, loll by the pool, or take to the spa for a massage that comes included.  Plus, all those post-workout endorphins really do create a sense of inner calm.  Perhaps that’s the mind body connection Exhale touts.

Day two is another story:  it hurts.  Everywhere.  Muscles you never knew existed sharply remind you of their neglect.  (Misery has lots of company on day two.) But if you can power through it, there’s a rainbow that appears on day three:  a perkier bottom.  No lie. All those stretches and poses have been lifting your derriere from the inside and the notably visible difference is cause for celebration.

The final half-day comes with a victory lap of positive reinforcement and affirmations.  I’ve done it – well, mostly, but let’s not get into that.   Energized, grounded, aching in the good way, this was more like a vacation than imagined. More importantly, my pants are a little bit roomier and the tan lines are divine. Crisis averted.


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