TRAVEL: International travel may be on hold for now, but that doesn’t stop us planning for the future. Venetia van Kuffeler recounts a recent trip to Mustique
Despite returning fromthe Caribbean just over a month ago, the current global situation makes it seem like a lifetime ago. A special week away with my mother was the first proper holiday without my children in seven years.
Located in the southern Caribbean, St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) comprises 32 islands over 45 miles. A member of the Commonwealth, SVG has a population of approximately 101,000, with over 50 per cent working in services based on a growing tourism industry.
Our destination was Mustique – a jewel in the Caribbean with a rich history – just 20 minutes from St Lucia airport on the twin-otter island-hopper aircraft. The journey culminates in an exciting landing on the runway in the centre of the island. Mustique was recently splashed across the headlines as it was revealed as the hideaway destination chosen by Prime Minister Boris Johnson for his New Year break with his fiancée.
After an absence of a few years, my mother and I were returning to Mustique to experience the Cotton House, the island’s boutique hotel for the first time. In the past, we had stayed in various different villas – part of the 90 or so collection – cleverly hidden amongst the island’s green foliage and hilly landscapes.
Just as the name suggests, the hotel occupies the site of a former sugar mill and cotton warehouse. Mustique’s plantations had been abandoned and overgrown by the encroaching jungle, which is how Colin Tennant, 3rd Baron Glenconner, found the island when he purchased it in 1958. Under his flamboyant guidance, the island began to flourish, and its reputation as an idyllic get-away began to grow. In 1960, Princess Margaret accepted a 10-acre plot of land as a wedding gift from Lord Glenconner, and a new era began. Not only for Princess Margaret – her villa on the island would go on to provide her with a whole new life – but the Mustique company was formed in 1969 and the airport opened the following year.
In the late 1960s, the Cotton House hotel was designed by Oliver Messel, a British theatre stage designer who had developed a reputation for the colourful houses he had designed on neighbouring Barbados. It soon became a landmark destination in the Caribbean.
Today, the hotel has undergone a recent refurbishment and sympathetic restoration of Messel’s style, conserving the hotel’s original features and character. Under the careful stewardship of General Manager Emilie Polastron, the property houses 15 luxurious suites and cottages with private verandas and plunge pools, set amongst acres of tropical gardens leading down to Endeavour Bay. Our two-storey duplex suite had a bedroom and bathroom on each floor, plus separate sitting room, large balcony and private plunge pool, whilst soft interiors and beautiful palm print curtains had been created by on-island designer Lotty Bunbury, (also the doctor’s wife).
Guests are assured of complete privacy, and yet the beach and the restaurants are just a few minutes’ walk away. Dining varied from sashimi and fish tacos at the Beach Café, to formal à la carte in the Veranda Restaurant, plus a grilled lobster BBQ.
So what did we do all day, you might ask? The island’s Macaroni Beach is regularly lauded as one of the top ten beaches in the world, but many prefer the clear waters at Lagoon, which make for a peaceful afternoon, whilst a scramble over the rocks reveals Gelliceaux, the magical turquoise bay where Princess Margaret was known to take her daily afternoon swim. Other activities included a rum cocktail masterclass at the Great Room Bar; an indulgent massage in the Cotton House spa (Bamford products have me converted); an outdoor movie night under the stars, a 5am sunrise walk around the island; classes at the beach yoga pavilion; daily coconut water drunk direct from the shell; plus an evening at Mustique’s annual Blues Festival at Basil’s Bar. A recent two-year project saw Philippe Starck oversee the total re-build of this over-water rum shack. The legendary Basil is still at the helm, welcoming old friends and guests as the season gathers momentum.
As the week went on, Cotton House guests began mingling in the bars and restaurants, creating the overall feeling of a lovely, relaxed house party. Hosted by the Mustique Company’s MD, Roger Pritchard, the Cotton House’s weekly cocktail gathering is a chance to meet with some of the other guests on the island, and from there, invitations to the private houses often follow.
Mustique also leads SVG’s charge to conserve the islands for the next generation, even actively involving the guests. Just off the Cotton House pier, a pioneering coral restoration project is five years into its infancy and thriving. Guests regularly dive or snorkel to visit the nursery and assist with cleaning and measuring the coral. Their efforts are already reaping returns, as there’s a dramatic increase in numbers and species of fish in the bay since my last visit just a few years ago.
I was fortunate to enjoy a snorkelling excursion with the island’s Environmental Manager Nakita, even swimming with turtles. Much to my excitement, I learned that a 2009 ban on turtle hunting has led to a huge increase of hawksbill and green top turtle sightings throughout the Grenadines. A conservation area encompasses the entire island and extends 1,000 yards from the shore, which is a protected area for all animals and plants. Above water, magnificent Brown boobies (birds!) are seen diving into the sea to fish. On land, the island’s thriving tortoise population is a constant source of fascination for young and old alike.
What a refreshing escape from reality! A week at the Cotton House is certainly good for the soul. I left relaxed and refreshed, ready to tackle reality. Or so I thought…
The Cotton House, Mustique
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION AND RESERVATIONS PLEASE CALL THE MUSTIQUE COMPANY
UK OFFICE ON +44 207 201 6831 OR VISIT WWW.MUSTIQUE-ISLAND.COM