Theresa is the owner of Highlife Marketing and an old friend of ours. So when she mentioned a trip to an exclusive private island we had a two-word response: "Take notes". She obliged…
I had not travelled for a while so I was very much looking forward to my trip to Petit St Vincent and the warm hospitality of the Caribbean.
A civilised departure time helped, the chance to do some 'homework' on the plane and then it was time to land.
On arrival in Barbados, I was whisked off to the Mustique Airways check-in by Rose, a vivacious Barbadian who meets all Petit St Vincent guests and ensures a smooth transit to Union Island.
I didn't even have to collect my bag and when I asked Rose for the third time " Where's my bag?" She assured me it would be loaded on the Union flight – and so it was. There are two scheduled flights a day to Union - one at 12.30 and the one I took at 4pm (cost is $615 per person return). Within an hour I was boarding the twin-engine light aircraft for the 50-minute hop.
I could not resist asking the pilot "Is my bag on board?" And he replied that it was always the English who ask about their bags! There's a $30 fee when departing from Union but Petit St Vincent adds this to guests' bills and gives them cash on check out, which makes it a lot easier.
Once in Union, a Petit St Vincent boat took me on the short transfer to the resort (chargeable at $35 per person). Greeted by managers Matt and Anie, my old friends, the journey flew by.
I checked into my cottage on the Bluff, which had a bedroom, lounge and a big private terrace and bathroom. The overall style is rustic but high-end.
There is no wifi in the rooms but after the first day, I acclimatised and saw the benefits of “switching off" especially if you were here with a partner or family. Petit St Vincent is purposefully a digital detox. Guests can connect via the wifi in the main house but for those who are 'addicted' to their phone, this is probably not the place.
Friday night is BBQ night at the beach restaurant so I savoured the fresh king prawns and mahi mahi. All meals are included as are non-alcoholic drinks. For me though, the best part was the steel pan band playing lively, well known tunes and they even had couples up dancing on the sand...definitely recommended. The clientele were relatively young with a good mix of nationalities; in fact about 40% of guests are European.
The following morning, I awoke very early at 3.20am and instinctively reached for my phone to check my emails. The Petit St Vincent ethos is to encourage us all to "unplug" from the technological grip we are all in and enjoy the surroundings and each other. Matt assured me that if guests need news or FTSE index updates, they will be delivered by the Butler each morning or at any point in the day. I tried to get back to sleep and dozed in and out of consciousness until 5.45 when I had to get up and surprisingly felt full of beans!
I decided to test the system for breakfast - they have a box in the room with notelets requesting breakfast, lunch and dinner (with menu options) and guests put their notelet in a bamboo horn at the entrance to their cottage and raise a yellow flag for service. I was told that butlers check the flags every 15-20 minutes (there’s a red flag for Do Not Disturb) and sure enough my breakfast arrived right on time at 8am so the system seemed to work.
The view from my terrace was spectacular and the only sound, the lapping of the waves and birdsong. This is a place to be shared though so I was a little sad to be having breakfast alone in such an idyllic setting!
Later, I had a tour of the island and saw several cottages. There are 22 suites in total and each one has a very different but spectacular vista. Guests can dine in their cottage as often as they want - some guests choose to take every meal in private.
Following lunch and the most delicious ice cream I have ever tasted, I visited Mopion Island, a 10-minute boat ride away. Here, guests can enjoy a romantic picnic or indeed get married in the middle of the ocean! It is a unique place.
One can't help but be impressed by all the eco measures in Petit St Vincent - they convert seawater into drinking water and recently introduced their own bottling plant. They are proud of their organic vegetable garden and 200 chickens. Children can collect the eggs for breakfast and learn how the fallen leaves, cut grass and seaweed are used as fertiliser. Glass containers and cans are crushed and transformed back into sand and small particles. There is also a Children's Scholarship Fund which funds 80% of educational costs for employee’s children from the age of three right through to University.
On day three it was time to explore more. All non-motorised water sports are complimentary and they also have a fleet of 5 boats and I could see that Matt has a passion for them! Black Pearl is a sexy speedboat but my favourite was a sloop called Beauty, captained by Geoff and one of the reasons why guests return year after year. Today he took us to a remote beach and cooked up a BBQ " like only Geoff knows how." Fish has not tasted the same since… it was sensational and so healthy!
Day four was new for me, as I never normally stay more than three nights anywhere but Matt had insisted the extra time meant I get the full experience. He was right.
After breakfast and checking emails (the weekend was over, after all) I joined a group for snorkelling at Tobago Cays, the most stunning collection of five cays each more beautiful than the last, in crystalline waters and a protected marine park for the turtles. We then went to Mayneau, a small island with only 320 inhabitants and 56 houses, where many of the super yachts moor to get supplies, fresh fish, ice, eggs etc.
I had not realised there is a whole industry based around the yachts passing through. It was fascinating. There is even a boat taxi industry should yacht owners wish to come ashore and browse the little stalls of clothes and jewellery and of course stop at the iconic rum punch bar for a mandatory tipple! I really enjoyed meeting these resourceful people and finding out more about their lives and families.
On the return, we passed by Union Island (which seemed vast in comparison to Mayneau) and saw the boat used in Pirates of the Caribbean which can be chartered for day sails.
One of my favourite spots was a restaurant called Chatham, totally remote and a favourite with repeat guests. Our last stop was at Happy Island, built from rocks and conch shells by its eccentric owner Janti Ramage who advocates "rum therapy". The island is actually only a few feet above water but Janti is quite the host and for every punch you buy, there's one on the house!
After this busy and most enjoyable day I opted for dinner in my cottage. It is the same menu as the main restaurant and the table whether alfresco or inside is set as if in the restaurant. It's an extremely romantic thing to do - I just needed George Clooney to walk through the door!