Turks and Caicos
By Paul Mermelstein
What put Turks & Caicos on the wider travel map after years of being an almost exclusive getaway for divers and snorkelers? If you fly from North America to some of the other larger Caribbean destinations, you can see the answer from the air as you pass over this 40-island chain - its long white beaches stretch across much of the shorelines here. Of course you still need to come down to ground level to fully appreciate the underwater world that surrounds it, along with some of the pleasures that an influx of world-class resorts have brought. And it's the stellar resorts that brought the rest of the world to T&C. Spas, golf, tennis, and watersports above the waves are all on hand here geared to every demanding taste. The main concentration of elite class resorts are to be found on the island of Providenciales ("Provo"), and many of these are situated here along the stunning Grace Bay Beach. Grace Bay certainly has to be considered among the very nicest, if not THE nicest beach of the Caribbean. Most of the beach is protected by a long off-shore reef.
Where to Stay
Amanyara - This Turks & Caicos location of Amanresorts was the first to open in the Caribbean in 2006 and remains distinct for its particular style of low-key luxury, with solitude enhanced by the property's location on Provo's more remote northwest shore. Guest accommodation is in 40 individual pavilions and 20 villas designed for total privacy, with plentiful use of natural scrub and sea grape to envelop each building, while inside guests are also surrounded by every high-tech amenity from wireless to Bose sound system to flatscreen TV. The dining under the stars at The Restaurant is Asian-Med influenced, while lunch can be savored at the Beach Club.
The attention to personalized service begins from the minute you touch down on Provo and are greeted by an Amanyara staff member who drives you directly out to the resort about three miles in a Land Rover transfer with the soothing, spa-like Amanyara music playing softly en-route. Another standout is their attention to the personalized experience is the access they provide to onsite guest special trainers in health and wellness. For example, triathlete and swimming coach Boris Talan who offers private sessions; for tennis buffs there is former John McEnroe doubles partner Peter Leonard might be on hand to tune up your serve and game; and for underwater enthusiasts, free-diving champion Tanya Streeter instructs for both adults and kids. The privacy here is almost the trademark character of the resort. This is very much in tune to how Amanresorts present themselves to the world - very low-key advertising, and a very select clientele. They don't boast about what they do at any point - and they act on what each guest is attuned to. The staff is very friendly but leave the guest a perfect space to be alone while still being accessible to any needs. The ambiance is one of East in the West - a feeling of living in Vietnam or Bali almost - understated but deluxe; Ocean view guest suites are surrounded by glass on 3 sides; outside on the back deck, the built in dining table - Japanese style. That touch of the East is also brought to life by the fact that many of the staff themselves hail from places like Bali or the Philippines. Their genuine friendliness and service expertise exceeds that of most any resort property in this part of the world, yet they remain unobtrusive and efficient.
Gansevoort Turks & Caicos - This luxury property is situated on the western section of Grace Bay Beach along reef-protected ocean waters. Beach access to reef for snorkeling is best off of the beach at Coral Gardens - about a 5 to 10 minute walk down the beach from Ganservoort. Featuring dining provided by Bagatelle Bistro and Bagatelle Beach Club along with Exhale Spa and Gansevoort brand signature amenities, Gansevoort Turks & Caicos marries style and luxury to create a beachside sanctuary that redefines the island getaway. Each of the 91 guestrooms offers sweeping ocean views and is positioned and designed to pay homage to the unspoiled island it sits upon. Blurring the lines between indoors and out, the resort blends Caribbean cool with sophisticated style to create a sense of place for guests. Guestroom interiors feature luxurious contemporary furniture and bedding atop Italian porcelain floors, allowing the natural light to illuminate each suite. Accents of warm sand hues, dark woods and exotic materials create an inviting ambiance and complement the area's natural surroundings. Floor-to-ceiling windows capture the beauty of Grace Bay Beach. The design here emphasizes the hip and the contemporary: sliding shutters, a deep-water bathtub that's in the bedroom and that has a faucet that's in the ceiling so when you fill the tub the water actually drops straight down
Hotel features include: a 7000 sq ft infinity-edge mosaic tiled ocean view swimming pool surrounded by an expansive pool deck with tiled hot tub and dining oasis; the beachfront Exhale Spa including 3 therapy rooms with private shower gardens, beachfront pagoda for a variety of classes and treatments, relaxation garden and fully-equipped fitness center with ocean views- it's a very health-conscious crowd that you see making use of the facilities here. For dining, there's the ONE Group gourmet restaurant Bagatelle Bistro, the beach lounge Bagatelle Beach Club. We enjoyed the breakfast buffet here daily, with plenty of fresh fruits and eggs made to order. I found the Bagatelle Bistro particularly memorable for its excellent French med dishes and for the beautiful lighting at nightfall; there is live music on Friday and Saturday nights after 10 pm.
The eye-catching 7000 sq. foot signature pool is viewable from the lobby at check-in. The resort is located on a very quiet end of the beach, with just a few other properties nearby, so you can enjoy the sands in peace. The pool area is also dramatic for having islands within the pool area that contain individual lounges that can be rented ($25 to reserve one of these island platforms).
Parrot Cay - A former pirates' lair made over into a luxurious but laid-back enclave on its own 988-acre offshore islet for discriminating travelers of the tropics, that's Parrot Cay. Our own ride over here was on one of the property's cabin cruisers called the "Parrot II" - a 35 minute ride at fast speed that takes you along the shoreline to your docking where you're greeted by staff who then take you by golf cart to reception. Enjoy a cool drink and warm welcome as you check in.
This haven encompasses all the amenities in both guest and public areas. The main clubhouse building includes the main check-in, a small boutique, and at the other end of the lobby is a round bar with tables for drinks; downstairs in the same building is one of the restaurants for breakfast or dinner. The clubhouse is central to the resort, looking down a hillside and nestled along that are the blocks of guest rooms; there are interconnecting walkways that weave down past these guestroom buildings towards the beach. Private villas and beach houses feature their own veranda, tiled bathrooms, and some have their own kitchens, direct access to the beach and a plunge pool. The villas are modest but elegant - not ultra-deluxe, more of an Asian inspiration in their simpler design. Walk out from your private villa on to one of the best beaches imaginable.
Our ocean view room included a comfortable-size balcony with table and chairs, and also a roomy wide couch that invites you to either lounge or stretch out on. Also indoors, they have ITune players, satellite TV, and four-poster netted beds.
A big draw for many guests is the COMO Shambhala spa, a holistic spa experience in a wood pavilion overlooking the nearby wetlands. I found the pool area here to be a perfect spot to watch amazing sunsets. For those who want to be a little more active, the resort also offers a full range of water sport including scuba, snorkeling, kayaks, hobiecats, or water-skiing. Dining: everything is very health-conscious here: to refuel yourself, repair to the Terrace restaurant for Med style cuisine at breakfast and dinner; lunch and dinner are at Lotus, where Southeast Asian fare is the specialty by the pool. The atmosphere here is one of peaceful "tranquility " as you sit on the porch to decide on the day. The lunch at the beach restaurant is beyond incredible: we especially liked their lobster salad and seared sea bass - their two course menu offerings is remarkable.
A notch or two down from these five-star world class properties are some other noteworthy resorts that still deliver plenty of luxurious style:
Seven Stars Resort - Also within the center of Grace Bay, this elegant resort exemplifies British colonial style from the minute you drive up to its main entrance lined with palms. It consists of three large buildings with a central swimming pool. There are one to four-bedroom suites which continue the colonial theme with four-poster beds, marble floors and wraparound terraces; the modern touch hasn't been overlooked with the inclusion of full or galley kitchens. There's a short boardwalk area that includes a hip-looking location to have drinks or appetizers called The Deck, lit by lanterns at night with a great island-style atmosphere being just off the beach. My accommodation here was in one of the penthouse villas - very spacious, deluxe with marble and whirlpool tub; two decks, one off the master bedroom and one off the kitchen/dining area. The suite was truly beautiful and luxurious.
Nearby are the 18-hole Karl Litten designed Provo Golf & Country Club as well as the island casino, deep sea fishing, world renowned diving, local markets and more gourmet dining.
The Sands at Grace Bay - Enhanced by the addition of a free-standing lobby and refurbished in 2008, this condo property has the benefit of being adjacent to some of the best stretches of Grace Bay Beach. Guest accommodation ranges from garden view studios up to three-bedroom suites with their own screened terrace, a kitchens or kitchenette, and washer/dryer unit. Dining out here is at Hemingway's which specializes in Caribbean international inventions relying heavily on fresh local seafood and shrimp or lobster creations. For the spa-inclined, there's Spa Tropique at the Sands, while the outdoors one can choose from tennis, three swimming pools, and an extensive range of watersport equipment. The pool deck design and layout are a real standout!
Other Dining Favorites
O'Soleil at The Somerset - My server Tanika suggested fresh red snapper with mango risotto. The dish, prepared by Chef Franc Forbes, was excellent. No sea views here - instead, an abundance of elegant decor and gentle music providing a nice backdrop to the very attentive service.
Hemingway's at the Beach - one of the most popular restaurants on T&C; A number of local residents pointed out the guitarist Quentin Dean, who plays Tuesday and Thursday nights at Hemingway's, impressed The Artist known as Prince enough to be invited out on tour. When he's not on island there's a good chance he's on tour with Prince. For dinner here we enjoyed the conch chowder followed by lobster pasta.
Graces Cottage - Easily the best meal on Provo, this restaurant is set in an elegant and garden setting. Start with their tasty home made rolls served with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a mix of chopped sausage, sweet bell peppers and a cheddar butter blend. I could not have enjoyed the evening more as the recommended grilled grouper was fresh and delicious. The sides were not just a simple accompaniment but were highlights as well. Pumpkin mash (like pumpkin mashed potatoes); fresh gilled white asparagus with the roots still attached, and baby carrots - all cooked perfectly. Part of what makes dining at Graces Cottage a special experience comes from the fine table service here, for me it was my server Adeline with her ready smile and suggestions.
Existing routes from North America include American Airlines. New carriers flying in and new routes being added are a sign of the TCI's continuing popularity. JetBlue and Continental have started new service just last month. An extended runway will soon make it possible for more long-distance flights and larger jets from Europe.