The history of Mustique and the Grenadines dates back to the fifteenth century, when Spanish sailors first sighted this chain of small rocky islands and named them los Pájaros (the Birds) because they resembled a flock of birds in flight. Pirates renamed them the Grenadines during the seventeenth century, using their sheltered bays to hide ships and treasure. The islands were later used by European planters to grow sugar beets; however, during the eighteenth century farmers discovered that sugar beets could be grown in Europe, leading to a rapid decay of life in the Grenadines and eventually their abandonment. On Mustique, an intimate, three-by-half-mile island surrounded by the Caribbean Sea to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the jungle reclaimed almost all of its settlements, with the notable exception of the Cotton House, a sugar plantation residence.
In 1958 Mustique was purchased for a mere £45,000 by Colin Tennant, 3rd Baron Glenconner. Before succeeding the peerage, Tennant had been a great traveller, notably in India and the West Indies. He was a close friend of Princess Margaret, to whom his wife was lady-in-waiting, and gave her a 10-acre plot of land on Mustique as a wedding present in 1960. The Princess’s house still stands there today – alas, no longer under the ownership of her family – and she was said to have been heartbroken when ill health prevented her from returning to it in later years. The photographer (Lord) Patrick Lichfield, cousin to the Queen, was a neighbour, and his decadent portraits of the early days of Mustique are infamous. It was during this time that the Cotton House was restored, under the direction of the late British designer Oliver Messel; it first opened as a hotel in 1962.
Today, there’s no shortage of glamour. Various rockstars still own houses on the island, and recent visitors include Hollywood movie stars and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge before their wedding. Paul McCartney was even rumoured to have spent his honeymoon there last year. But reading all this, you might expect something rather glitzier than what you find on Mustique. On this sleepy island, guests are seen wandering around barefoot under blue skies dotted with the odd fluffy white cloud. And although the airport may have been modernised in some reassuring respects – the landing strip is now paved – its bamboo building remains unchanged since it opened in 1969.
The island’s only full-service hotel, the Cotton House has been managed by Paris-based GLA Hotels since 1998 and is also a member of Leading Hotels of the World. Within it there are plenty of luxurious accommodation options, from individual cottages – named Paw Paw, Guava and Mango – to Superior rooms in the ‘Tower’ with elevated bathtubs for magnificent sea and evening views. Superior suites are ideal for families, including a living room and sofa-bed. Duplex suites have a bathroom on each floor and a large private balcony perfect for in-room dining or a private spa treatment. Better yet, the terrace downstairs has its own private plunge pool. For those who need more space, the Cotton Hill Residence is a two-bedroom house on a hilltop with views over much of the island. The house has its own swimming pool plus a team of dedicated staff, all designed to provide the ultimate experience for guests. Panoramic views, flowing white curtains, contemporary rattan chairs, mosquito nets and ceiling fans (though of course air conditioning is installed too) mean the Cotton House is a perfect partnership of modernity and British colonial spirit.
Each of the hotel’s 17 luxurious guest rooms, cottages and suites offer the best features and amenities: a pillow menu; flat screen TVs with DVD players; stocked mini-bars; iPod docking-stations (pre-programmed iPods are available at reception); Nespresso coffee makers and mosquito net-covered beds. A complimentary unpacking and pressing service is even offered to all guests on arrival.
Guests can order a private picnic lunch to enjoy while exploring the island and its secluded beaches. The Beach Café, the best spot for lunch on the island, twice-weekly plays host to a buffet and beach BBQ at night, and for those looking for a more serious meal, gourmet dinner is served by candlelight in the Veranda restaurant. Although there is a beautiful pool, the Cotton House is directly on the beach, with windsurfing, kayaking, paddle-boarding, sailing and scuba diving facilities. Snorkelling equipment is complimentary for all guests, and the hotel also has two tennis courts. The beautiful Cotton House Spa – ask for Rockell! – offers a full selection of ESPA treatments and also houses a fitness centre, equipped with the latest from Technogym, and a boutique.
The Mustique Company hosts their weekly cocktail party in the hotel’s Great Room, providing guests with a good way to get a feel for what’s happening on the rest of the island. Nature hikes, fitness trails and beach strolls are among the favourite island activities. For local transportation, guests can rent a ‘mule’ (motorised buggy) – well worth it just to visit the island’s infamous Macaroni Beach and Basil’s Bar to watch for a ‘green flash’ at sunset. Aside from the hotel the island has 74 private villas available for rent, but be warned: there’s hot competition when it comes to booking!
Enjoying the luxurious surroundings of the Cotton House is an idyllic existence – the ultimate in relaxation. Spending a little time there, it’s not difficult to understand the magic of Mustique.