Relaxing on Canouan

A new star rises in the Caribbean

By: David Swanson

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 1999.

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 was brought 

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 paced. 

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 hole.

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 winter.
877-226-6826, 784-458-8000

Doubles at Tamarind Beach Hotel start at $240 including continental breakfast.
877-707-6571, 784-458-8044

American Eagle offers flights to Canouan from San Juan and Barbados.

Trips to Tobago Cayes and Mayreau on Splendid Adventurer start at $650.