What happens on the tiny island of Canouan must be confusing for the resident turtles as they enjoy their ritual sunset walk.
Come to think of it, the 1,800 human inhabitants of this tiny Caribbean cracker must also scratch their heads at what they witness.
Not so long ago there was no water supply, no high school, no hotel, no golf course, no possible idea of a glitzy marina – and the very idea of an airstrip large enough to accommodate Boeing 737s was absurd.
Pictured is the beach at Mandarin Oriental, which the Daily Mail’s Mark Palmer says is in “one of the most beautiful settings in the world”
Island sights: keep an eye out for Canouan turtles – slow-moving animals outnumber residents
Now? Well, the turtles might outnumber the locals even, but Canouan (pronounced “ka-no-wan”) is billed as the “new Mosquito” or, roughly, “the island where billionaires flee from millionaires. “.
Thank goodness there is more to it. There are gorgeous beaches, a few run down shops and bars, the longest coral reef in the Caribbean, towering Mount Royal (whose top offers views of almost all of the islands that make up Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, including including the Mosquito purses), a multitude of turtles and tropical fish, exquisite hummingbirds and charming people who seem happy to accompany the ride.
The ride is fueled by money – and vision. At one end of the island, which is only three and a half miles long and a mile and a quarter wide, sits the 1,200-acre Grenadine Private Estate owned by Andrea Pignataro, a former Italian bond trader who founded the software company ION Trading. This is where the Mandarin Oriental sits on a sublime stretch of sand overlooking a huge bay and the reef beyond.
Mark says the island is home to “lovely people”, who agree that the island is changing. In the photo, friendly locals
Our room, with its large balcony, presides over all of this. Elsewhere on the estate, individual villas have been built to an exceptional standard, sold for millions or rented for thousands of pounds per week.
Nearby is a charming Anglican church, which appears to have been transported from Blighty stone by stone – which it actually was in the 1800s.
At the other end of the island is Dermot Desmond, Irish billionaire and co-owner of the glitzy Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados, who has built a 120-berth, $ 250 million marina on the west coast of Canouan, as well as ‘a picturesque village modeled on Portofino in Italy.
Desmond was a partner of the original Grenadine Estate, which is why the Mandarin is, somewhat sadly, a Sandy Lane lookalike, albeit with exceptional service and one of the most beautiful surroundings in the world.
Between these two mega-bucks creations is the original sleepy village, where Canouans wake up to the idea that their island is at an extraordinary crossroads – and live in the hope that the trickle-down economy turns out to be a windfall.
Oh, and just to add to the mix, looking up from a verdant height is the Trump Casino, a reminder of Canouan’s recent turbulent history when the Donald briefly threw money at the place, including the creation of ‘an 18-hole Jim Fazio. – designed golf course. The course is still there but the casino is locked – a slight inconvenience.
The imposing Mount Royal, pictured, offers a view of almost all of the islands that make up Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
The map above shows Canouan’s proximity to Mosquito, as well as some of the places Mark visited during his time on the island.
OTHER PETITS CARABES PLUGS
Only 24 miles long, Bonaire is an arid, low-lying Dutch island in northern Venezuela, bordered by 89 dive sites. Many are accessible from the shore.
DO NOT MISS : Washington Slagbaai National Park covers one fifth of the island.
GETTING THERE : KLM offers flights through Amsterdam and the Islander Bonaire Hotel is a friendly base in the capital, Kralendijk, from £ 66 (hotelislanderbonaire.com, tourismbonaire.com).
Visit the verdant, mountainous island of Montserrat and you’ll get a shamrock stamped on your passport, a symbol of its ties to Ireland dating back to the 1630s. The British Overseas Territory is 27 miles to the southwest from Antigua and is very friendly.
DO NOT MISS : When conditions allow, you can visit the Soufriere volcano on foot, from the sea and / or by helicopter.
GETTING THERE : A flight from Antigua. Tropical Mansion Suites have a swimming pool from £ 123 (tropicalmansion.com, visitmontserrat.com).
THE OTHER GRENADA
Grenada’s little sister island, Carriacou, lies 18 miles to the northeast. It does not have large resorts and quiet beaches.
DO NOT MISS : The Carriacou regatta, the first weekend in August.
GETTING THERE : Take a short flight or 90-minute ferry from Granada. The boutique Mermaid Beach Hotel is in the heart of the capital, Hillsborough, from £ 89 B&B (mermaidhotelcarriacou.com, puregrenada.com).
Saba is an imposing Dutch island 45 km south of Saint-Martin, offering excellent hikes and diving.
DO NOT MISS : The Trans-Island Impossible Highway is a magnificent road.
GETTING THERE : KLM serves St Maarten via Amsterdam, then takes a ferry or a short flight. Charming white-wood cottages are available from £ 185 B&B through Juliana’s Hotel (julianashotelsaba.com, sabatourism.com).
No one mentions Trump. Its name does not correspond to the new ambience. This new vibe is embodied by the opening of the first Caribbean company of Soho House following the takeover of Tamarind Beach Hotel, and with the yet-to-be-built Aman Hotel on the island’s east coast.
Soho House is open to members and ‘friends’ (the latter have to pay £ 100 per year, which allows them to book rooms).
It sits on Grand Baie, within walking distance of the village, and has been tastefully renovated, with blue tin roofs and a series of open palapas.
The Aman project seems less certain, with a spokesperson saying “nothing has been announced”. But everyone on the island is talking about his exact location, including the young Mandarin escorting me to the top of Mount Royal, where he insists on taking a picture of me dangerously close to a fall to certain death.
“The island is changing, which is fine with me,” he says. “The continent will take us more seriously in the future.”
The mainland is the island of St Vincent, which is positively lively compared to Canouan. The spirit is mind-boggling at the wheel transactions that take place behind the scenes as people like Pignataro and Desmond go about their business. There’s an almost Local Hero element, with a calypso soundtrack rather than Dire Straits.
“Without Mr Pignataro, the secondary school would never have been built and our children would still live on the mainland during the school term,” tells me a resident at a bar called Seagrapes.
Canouan was originally occupied by Native Americans traveling north from the South American continent. Its name is derived from the Arawakan word cannoun, which means turtle.
In the 1700s, French settlers brought in West African slaves to work on the sugar cane plantations. The island then came under British control before finally gaining independence from the rest of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in 1979.
One day we’re going to have lunch at Shell Beach across the bay, where the Mandarin has a restaurant, and there’s only one other couple there.
Next we hear about Phil Jones, a British boater who has lived on the island with his wife since 1992. He runs day trips to the Tobago Cays Marine Park, an hour’s sail away, where Pirates of the Caribbean has been filmed.
Originally from London, Phil owns two boats: one a 48ft catamaran called Splendid Adventurer, the other a 42ft motorboat called, aptly, Living The Dream. We board the Splendid Adventurer and Phil introduces us to his two strong young crews, both born in Canouan. They move around the yacht with lightning speed and balance.
Traditionally if I put my head under water I end up with an ear infection and have to crawl to a doctor for antibiotics – but the water around the marine park is so inviting I’m on the side and I’m chatting with turtles and starfish pretty much before Phil dropped anchor. And, of course, I don’t have an ear infection.
On the way back, the wind picks up and Phil takes on its full meaning, tracing a course that gives us just enough water to make us feel like we’re competing in the America’s Cup.
It was a great day, which ended with a dinner at a Mandarin establishment on the beach called L’Ance Guyac, where my wife and I congratulate ourselves on discovering Canouan.
It’s only missing a few places to stay that don’t break the bank. It should come – or maybe not, if Canouan is truly the new Mustique.
Seven nights at the Mandarin Oriental Canouan in a one bedroom suite with sea view from £ 5,575 pp B&B, including flights to Barbados, inter-island flights to Canouan and UK lounge passes (0124 489 7294, elegantresorts.co.uk). Book by December 14 for travel between January 10 and February 28.