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Cool Concierge Tips: The Caribbean

Savvy travelers know that it's always best to vacation like an insider-not like a tourist. And we're here to help you do just that, with tips from our Caribbean sources-including concierges and other on-site staff at our partner hotels and resorts in The Hideaways Collection®-that are guaranteed to improve your travels there this season. When we recently asked for their restaurant suggestions, favorite shopping experiences, and best hidden beaches, we couldn't believe what an overwhelming response we got-and what great tips these folks offered!

In fact, it was way too much juicy insight to squeeze into just one issue of Hideaways Life. And so, as promised, here is the second installment in our series of "Cool Concierge Tips," focused on our partner getaways in the Caribbean. Still to come: Be on the lookout for Italy and South America in future issues.

In the meantime, if you missed our European edition of "Cool Concierge Tips" in the July/August 2013 issue of Hideaways Life, you can read the full version online at www.Hideaways.com/europeconciergetips.

JAMAICA

Let's start our tour of the Caribbean in Jamaica, where the livin' is easy and the people are warm and friendly. At Round Hill Hotel & VillasTHC in Montego Bay, concierge Gavin Forbes has no problem pulling several great restaurant recommendations out of his hat, including Round Hill's own Seaside Terrace, known for its delicious Pan-Seared Snapper served with traditional sides like roasted breadfruit or sautéed callaloo. He also suggests the HouseBoat Grill-yes, a real houseboat moored in the calm waters of Montego Bay-for their famous Grilled Tenderloin, and the Lobster Trap, where you can sit ocean-side and crack open a fresh-caught grilled lobster lightly seasoned with a special blend of jerk spices.


If you want to get off the beaten track, Gavin suggests a trip to Mayfield Falls & Mineral Springs, a working tropical farm and "truly a nature lover's paradise, with two beautiful waterfalls, natural pools, and an abundance of exotic flowers and plant species." Another huge attraction, he says, is a dolphin swim at Dolphin Cove-something he suggests booking well in advance of your arrival to secure your preferred reservation.

Shopping for Jamaican arts & crafts is another big attraction, and the Montego Bay Craft Market is huge for souvenirs-but beware of aggressive sellers. If you prefer, buy your mementos from Round Hill's on-site craft vendor who offers authentic Jamaican arts, accessories, and unique hand-woven baskets of all shapes and sizes.

At Jamaica Inn in Ocho Rios, Nicole Henry keeps her finger on the pulse of what to do and where to eat. "I recommend Miss T's Kitchen for authentic Jamaican cooking in a colorful courtyard setting," she says. "My favorite dish is Escoveitch Fish and Bammy (traditional Jamaican cassava flatbread), with their Oxtail Stew running a close second. And at Mom's Homestyle Restaurant, the fried chicken with rice and peas is amazing. If I leave the office to go get pick-up at Mom's, I can't come back to the office with just my lunch, I will definitely have other orders."

For a favorite local excursion, Nicole chooses river tubing at nearby White River Valley. "It's a wonderful way to cool off on a hot summer day, floating along and enjoying the scenery, with a few rapids thrown in to give you some adventure." If you prefer something romantic, she suggests the Inn's own couple's moonlight massage. "Our guests usually arrange room service that same night so that after their treatment, they can enjoy a romantic dinner on their own candlelit terrace."

For shopping in Ocho Rios, be sure to visit Wassi Art (www.wassiart.com), where you can buy handmade ceramics. "They sell everything from amazing teacups and plates to vases and planters. You can go and see the whole process, from the mixing of the clay right through."


ANTIGUA

With its lovely location practically right on the sand, Blue Waters offers a number of water-based treats and excursions. The resort's tour coordinator, Nian Blanchard, says a few of her favorite un-crowded beaches are Long Bay, Valley Church, and Rendezvous Bay. Each has turquoise water and an uninterrupted stretch of white sand. She also suggests a visit to Stingray City and a boat tour around the island as fun ways to spend an afternoon.

The Montserrat Volcano Tour by helicopter (about $250/person) is very popular and should be booked in advance, Nian says, as should the excursion to Barbuda aboard The Excellence, an 82-foot "Power Cat" with a full bar and plenty of snorkel equipment ($150/person). For shopping, she recommends Silver Chelles in Redcliffe Quay, "which makes great seashell-and-pearl-combination jewelry. Pink sand from Barbuda also makes a good souvenir, as does a bottle of English Harbour Rum-especially the ten-year-old!"

For dining, nothing says Antigua like the tropical waterfront setting of The Tides Restaurant, just a quick drive from Blue Waters. According to Nian, both their Pan-Seared Red Snapper and Barbuda Lobster are very good. She also recommends La Bussola, which serves great Italian food (she likes the veal) along with beautiful waterfront views of Runaway Beach.

Nian's parting tips? "Visitors should be advised against booking tours with beach or jet-ski vendors who try to sell tours on the beaches and ask for cash deposits," she warns. "And also be aware that Visa and Mastercard are more widely accepted on the island than American Express and Discover."

At Galley Bay Resort & SpaTHC on Antigua's tranquil west coast, concierge Joan Johnson is happy to point you in the direction of her favorite restaurants. "For ambiance and personal service, I always recommend Papa Zouk Fish 'n' Rum for Creole-style food-my favorite dish is Creole Snapper with fried plantains-and OJ's Beach Bar & Restaurant, which serves a wide variety of seafood and has great views of the neighboring islands.

"My favorite local excursion also involves food," she adds. "It's our Pinching Bay Picnic, where you're taken on a short boat ride to remote Pinching Bay Beach for four hours. You're left there with a champagne lunch consisting of lobster or shrimp salad, pastries, fruit, drinks, and a cell phone to call for pick-up. It's a very romantic getaway for two."

For a real thrill, Joan suggests the Rainforest Zip Line Tour (www.antiguarainforest.com) that consists of 13 zip lines-some as high as 300 feet above a lush gorge-plus suspension bridges and a series of short trails. You can even zip-line under the full moon!


VIRGIN ISLANDS

Traveling on through the Caribbean, we come to the Virgin Islands and The Buccaneer THC, on the island of St. Croix. Although you could easily stay put at this expansive resort, concierge Adrien Reinhardt has several off-site restaurant recommendations. "Savant is tops on my list for its delicious fusion of Thai, Mexican, and Caribbean cuisine," he says. "The atmosphere in their courtyard is very romantic, and you feel as though you're visiting a home rather than a restaurant. My favorite dish is the green curry shrimp-that is, if I haven't filled up on the appetizers of grilled calamari and mahi ceviche."

Another simple spot for lunch and dinner is Eat @ Cane Bay, a casual, open-air restaurant just steps from the beach. "The view is amazing, and so is the food," says Adrien. "My favorite thing to order is the mahi sandwich with sweet potato fries."

Probably the most popular excursion from The Buccaneer is a snorkel trip to Buck Island Reef National Monument, and Adrien says you'll want to guarantee your space on the boat by booking ahead during high season. He adds that rental cars also should be reserved well in advance during busy holiday seasons.

If you've fallen in love with St. Croix during your stay, Adrien suggests taking home the traditional hook bracelet of St. Croix as a remembrance. "Sonya Ltd. sells the original hook bracelet in sterling or gold. You wear the opening of the hook toward your heart if you are taken, and away from your heart if you are single and available."

The British Virgin Islands harbor the very private resort of Guana IslandTHC, where no more than 30 guests enjoy seven deserted beaches, 26 hiking trails, and total peace and quiet. The resort's Director of Marketing, Jason Goldberg, points out that his favorite don't-miss experience is a private Castaway Picnic on Bigelow Beach, which you'll have all to yourselves. He also loves the hike out to Long Man's Point, "home of the massive Chicken Rock. You can indulge in some sunbathing, swimming, and spectacular snorkeling-again, all by yourselves."

You never have to leave the island to fill your time with adventures. "Don't miss the tour of our organic orchard, where all the fruits of the Caribbean grow," says Jason. "Sample them all with your tour guide, and then take some back to your room! Another 'don't-miss' is the snorkel tour to Monkey Point, a Marine National Park off the southernmost tip of the island, and home to some of the best snorkeling in the BVI. Also, be sure to bring a fly or spinning fishing rod to enjoy shots at bonefish, permit, and massive tarpon-all feeding right off our shores!"

If you must leave Guana, Jason suggests you take the 30-minute trip by resort boat to Pirates Bight at Norman Island, Guana's sister island to the south. "Pirates Bight is the BVI's most gorgeous dining establishment. It's right on a beautiful beach and offers an unbelievably vast menu of great local dishes like conch fritters, seared yellowfin, and steamed lobster, and drinks like the Bushwacker and Painkillers. My 'must-haves' include the curried Chicken Roti and Barbecued Baby Back Ribs."


OTHER CARIBBEAN RETREATS

Last, but certainly not least, we wrap up the Caribbean with a few longstanding Hideaways favorites. CovecastlesTHC, on the island of Anguilla, is a stylish resort of just 16 architecturally stunning villas right on the beach. Founder and interior designer June Goldfinger acknowledges that Anguilla is known as a mecca for exceptional dining, so finding great local restaurants is easy.

"Probably the most well known and unique experience is dining at Scilly Cay, a tiny coral islet off the west coast," she says. "A launch picks you up to take you to this small but lively experience. Dancing in the sand to the sounds of a local band is one of the hallmarks of this Robinson Crusoe adventure. You'll find beach lounges under umbrellas and exceptional barbequed crayfish and chicken-but no electricity, so everything is prepared fresh daily. The bar makes a rum punch for which Scilly Cay is famous."

Other favorites of June's are Blanchard's, one of the island's most famous fine-dining experiences (she suggests you book way ahead in high season), and Picanté, a Mexican restaurant June describes as "like no other. The bar is always crowded because the drinks are exceptional, and the restaurant itself is always full of patrons dining on fish tacos, chili, and massive burritos, all followed by desserts like flan and everyone's favorite, chocolate mousse in a martini glass. Reservations are a must!"

As for excursions, June highly recommends taking a charter boat to Little Harbor, where you can swim with the fish in a secluded cove at the bottom of some sheer cliffs. Or let Covecastles' concierge make reservations for a glass-bottom boat tour to the nearby reef. "If you have a rental car," she says, "it's always a pleasure to wander the roads of Anguilla, with local resident Coville Petty's Anguilla History Museum as your final destination."

The French-influenced island of St. Martin is home to Belmond La SamannaTHC, and it's no surprise that their concierge supervisor, Benny, recommends two restaurants that specialize in French cuisine. The first, Le Pressoir, occupies a 19 th-century Creole beach house in Grand Case. According to Benny, Le Pressoir is famous for its tasting plate of four kinds of foie gras, as well as the grilled Dover sole in saffron sauce. His second recommendation is La Cigale, located on the lagoon in Nettle Bay. "They serve French Mediterranean cuisine," he says, "and are famous for Chilean sea bass with black olive tapenade, tomatoes, and pesto sauce-a taste of Provence right here in St. Martin."

For a castaway beach experience, Benny suggests Pinel Island in Orient Bay, where the main beach is part of a nature reserve. "This is one of St. Martin's best-kept secrets, and popular with the locals," he says. "Take a boat over from one of the water sports concessions on Orient Beach (about $6 roundtrip). The main beach is not clothes-optional, but you can take the ten-minute walk to one of the island's deserted beaches if you want to shed clothes."

For great souvenir shopping, Benny tells guests to wander the open-air market at the harbor in Marigot, which is open Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Vendors sell everything from fresh fish and spices to shells, trinkets, and original art. He also recommends the specialty shops in Grand Case that are open at night and sell traditional arts and crafts.

Tucked into a hillside on the Spice Isle of Grenada is LalunaTHC, a beachfront hideaway that administrative assistant Cassandra Williams says is just minutes from excellent off-site eateries. "The elegant Beach House Restaurant is just a two-minute stroll down the beach," she says. "I like their house-specialty seared tuna topped with teriyaki ginger, garlic, and mustard sauce and served with wasabi mashed potatoes. We also recommend BB's Crabback for local Caribbean cuisine. Their signature dish is tender goat meat cooked in curry and coconut milk."

If you have a romantic streak, Cassandra suggests a guided spiritual hike into the rainforest. You'll meander through the lush tropical forest to Grand Etang National Park, where you can feed the mona monkeys, and then hike on to Seven Sisters Falls for an invigorating swim. "Our tour guide can even take guests off-trail a short distance to breathtaking Honeymoon Falls, where the water flows into a heart-shaped basin."

You'll want to take home a memento from Grenada, and Cassandra says to visit Art Fabrik (www.artfabrikgrenada.com) for a wide selection of hand-painted batik clothing, accessories, and jewelry. "Then, if you'd like to visit the batik studio, they'll escort you through a lovely arched entrance into a courtyard where you can watch the batik dying process and see beautiful batik fabrics hanging in the tropical breeze."

Wow! If this impressive list of Cool Concierge Tips doesn't motivate you to pack your bags for some warm Caribbean travel this winter, we don't know what will! Check online for even more great concierge tips (www.Hideaways.com/caribbeanconciergetips), then contact your Hideaways Travel Specialist ( 800-843-4433, or ts@hideaways.com) to get you there in style, with member-only perks and privileges.

September/October 2013

 
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