Every now and then, a little-known island emerges on the
Caribbean tourism map. Canouan, this season’s “new” star, is found
midway through the Grenadines, the ribbon of small outposts which
lies between St. Vincent and Grenada. The archipelago has been
cherished for decades by the yachting set, and a few of the
Grenadines have been developed for tourism.
The multi-act story of Canouan’s evolution begins in 1991, when
a group of Italian investors created Canouan Resorts Development.
Lavishing $160 million on Canouan, the company built desalination
and electrical plants and a new airport. A hundred
multi-million-dollar villas were drawn up, but the development’s
focal point was the 156-room Carenage Bay Resort, which debuted in
Alas, on the road from sleepy backwater to luxury destination,
Canouan encountered a few potholes.
The resort finally closed in 2002. The management company had
been fired; lawsuits were filed. The problems weren’t just with
management but also because the original concept had serious flaws,
ranging from luxury rooms designed without air conditioning to a
golf course with only 13 holes.
Two-and-a-half years and another $39 million were spent
reconceiving the resort, and Singapore-based Raffles International
in to run the operation. Following a soft reopening last summer,
and a quick cleanup after getting its mop mussed by Hurricane Ivan,
the resort celebrated a new grand opening as Raffles Resort Canouan
Island, on Nov. 20.
Encompassing the northern two-thirds of Canouan, the resort’s
layout has not been altered, with the exception of a new road
entrance which parallels the beautiful, three-mile-long reef
protecting the island’s Atlantic coast. Arriving by water one sees
the Raffles fanning out in a broad amphitheatre around the bay.
Just up from the dock, is a 12,900-square-foot swimming pool while
above, next to reception, is a restored Anglican church.
The property was designed by the late Italian architect Luigi
Vietti, famed for his Sardinian resort Porto Cervo. But Vietti’s
original design was a turn-off to many, so the color scheme was
toned down, and the grounds were warmed up with modern water
features reminiscent of Asian hotels. Golf carts one for each room
are the primary transportation, which makes sense as you take in
the sprawl of the property.
My suite was a colossal two-story abode that even a couple could
find themselves lost in. Beds are wrapped in Frette linens, and an
in-room espresso maker helps one greet the day. News hounds will
delight in the selection of more than two dozen newspapers from
around the world, delivered to your room in full-size format no
mere New York Times Fax here!
The place my golf cart headed first was the RafflesAmrita Spa.
The facility has 11 treatments, each sheltered with billowing
thatch from Venezuela. The menu of services utilizes Raffles’
signature spa products, along with chic Phyto Mer, and treatments
conclude with meditation time to admire swaying against the azure
lagoon. I discovered this is best enjoyed from the Jacuzzi
accompanied by a pot of tea.
The facility is not only Canouan’s jewel, but easily one of the
top spas in the Caribbean.
Raffles has four restaurants serving excellent food, with
French, Italian and Asian accents, and most of it is extravagantly
priced. The service was exceedingly friendly, if not leisurely
To me, the resort’s Euro-style casino is a white elephant,
visually and otherwise, perched on a remote shoulder of 877-foot
Mt. Royal. To seduce more high-rollers the room has been spruced up
with a scarlet paint job, a private, members-only salon has been
added and Donald Trump was brought in to keep the tables busy
(hence the new moniker, Trump Club Privee).
I’m not much of a gambler, so I shouldn’t judge the casino
harshly. Nor am I
a golfer, but I can safely report that, following Jim Fazio’s
makeover the new 18-hole course boasts a spectacular layout. Known
as the Trump International Golf Club, the front nine lie in the
amphitheatre of the resort, while the back nine are over the hill
on the otherwise untouched north coast of the island. Golf pros
looking for the Caribbean’s next big thing will be challenged to
keep their eye on the ball, especially at the course’s 13th
Canouan is a non-starter for the backpacking set, but on the
other side of the island from Raffles, the 10-year-old Tamarind
Beach Hotel is a fine option for those a few greenbacks shy of
Trump’s billfold. The two-story buildings possess 40 rooms with
wicker furnishings and louvered Jalousie windows. The hotel lines
gleaming Grand Bay beach, just outside Canouan’s main village, and
next door is the Moorings’ charter yacht base for the Grenadines
and Canouan Dive Centre, which explores these fertile islands.
There’s a surprisingly good Italian restaurant, and live bands
Friday and Saturday evenings.
At three square miles (about a third the size of St. Barts), and
with a half-dozen beaches, Canouan offers plenty for a few days,
but if the travel bug bites mid-stay, you can always shuttle over
to a neighboring islet. The 40-foot catamaran Splendid Adventurer
based in Canouan does day-trips to nearby Mayreau (home to lovely
Saltwhistle Bay) and the Tobago Cayes, a quintet of uninhabited
islets with grand snorkeling and a memorable shooting location for
“Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Garden-view rooms at Raffles Resort Canouan
Island start at $385 in summer (May 31-Nov. 10), $475 in
shoulder season (Apr. 4-May 30 and Nov. 11-Dec. 20) and $675 in
Doubles at Tamarind Beach Hotel start at $240
including continental breakfast.
American Eagle offers flights to Canouan from
San Juan and Barbados.
Trips to Tobago Cayes and Mayreau on Splendid
Adventurer start at $650.