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The CJ Cool List – the Caribbean’s 10 Coolest Hotels for 2013

The Caribbean is not short on terrific hotels. Every island — every destination — has a range of interesting, original, luxurious properties sure to satisfy any traveler to the region. But this year, we wanted to offer our take on 10 hotels worth visiting in 2013. To be sure, not every country is represented, and some have more than one on the list. And there are, of course, many great hotels that didn’t make it. But we felt that these properties represented the wonderful diversity of product that makes Caribbean travel unique. From five-star beachfront resorts to boutique jewels, from brand-new hotels to seasoned veterans, these are the Caribbean’s 10 coolest hotels for 2013, in no particular order. See you there. — CJ

Secret Bay – Dominica

Secret Bay is the smallest property on our list. With just four units – two bungalows and two large villas, the property near Dominica’s northern tip boasts the country’s most spectacular views. Secret Bay began as a labour of love for developer Gregor Nassief, who grew up in Dominica, dreaming of one day owning the land near Dominica’s magical bay. And now, after launching in 2011, he has created a gem, offering an ultra-luxurious outpost in one of the Caribbean’s best-kept travel secrets. So what makes Secret Bay cool? Well, many boutique properties offer the promise of removal, of a break from reality. Secret Bay delivers.

Graycliff – Bahamas

Nassau is known by many as a stopping point for cruise ships. But if you dig deeper, you’ll find a quaint, antiquated colonial city replete with art galleries, restaurants and shops. And at the heart of Old Nassau — its spiritual centre — is Graycliff. Located on a 17th-century site in Nassau’s old town, once the home of pirate John Howard Graysmith — and the former retreat for many a British royal — is home to what was the Caribbean’s first five-star restaurant. It also boasts its own cigar and chocolate factories, representing the pinnacle of traditional luxury — from the world’s third-largest wine cellar to rooms that give the experience of staying at the home of a wintering Duke.

Four Seasons Resort Nevis

The Four Seasons Nevis might have the top service of any hotel property in the Caribbean. And the resort, which reopened in 2011 following a large-scale renovation after damage from Hurricane Omar, has transcended the past glory that made it one of the Caribbean’s most exclusive properties. But what’s striking about the gorgeous Four Seasons Nevis is its versatility — for a family, it becomes a fun-filled resort; for the honeymooning couple, it’s a very private outpost; for the seasoned golfer, well, you get the picture. And in this era of sustainable tourism, Four Seasons also has a strong relationship with the local community on Nevis, from sourcing local produce from the island’s farms to acting as its single-largest private employer.

Rockhouse – Jamaica

Jamaica’s tourism sector has been showing improvement over the last few years out of the downturn. But while Montego Bay and larger resorts still bring the most tourists, it’s the small properties that are the pulse of Jamaica’s product. At its core is Negril — and Rockhouse — which is, well, not like any other hotel in the country. Perhaps Jamaica’s top boutique property, Rockhouse is located on an eight-acre site on the cliffs of Negril’s Pristine Cove. It’s also notable for its architecture — a series of thatched-roof cottages overlooking a picturesque cove. Rockhouse is definitely worth the trip.

Ottley’s Plantation Inn — St Kitts

Much like the aforementioned Graycliff, Ottley’s emphasizes old-fashioned luxury, with classic colonial architecture and exceptional views. The former site of a sugar plantation (which remained St Kitts’ leading industry until 2005), it is a true country inn. St Kitts is the larger island of the twin-island federation of St Kitts and Nevis, and the site of the country’s international airport. While most visitors to St Kitts head to the Marriott (that is, until the Park Hyatt opens as planned in a couple of years), Ottley’s is the way to experience St Kitts as it once was.

One & Only Ocean Club – Paradise Island

There’s a reason James Bond stayed here in Casino Royale (although, unfortunately, it doesn’t offer the poker room featured in the movie) — it is an exquisite property. With personal butler service, terrific cuisine helmed by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and still managing a relaxed vibe, One & Only deserves its reputation as one of the Caribbean’s high-end standards. And its terraced garden, which leads up a hillside to Paradise Island’s famed Cloisters (a reconstruction from the 13th century), is one of the wonders of the region.

Cap-Est Lagoon Resort & Spa – Martinique

Martinique is slowly emerging on the international scene, and deservedly so — it is a hidden treasure — but probably not for long. American Airlines recently announced the first nonstop service to the island since the Pan Am era, and the French department’s tourism board is making a concerted effort to bring international attention. (You may know it as the location for parts of the film The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)). And Cap Est, a Relais and Chateaux property,is Martinique’s best hotel — and the only true five-star on the island. Cap-Est is old-school, typical French luxury, with terrific food blending cuisines from Asia to the Caribbean.

Viceroy Anguilla

Viceroy launched in 2010, bringing European style to the quiet but tony island of Anguilla. And it’s succeeded in achieving that unlikely balance — between the chilled-out vibe of a Greek island resort and the upscale elegance of a Caribbean mainstay. The Viceroy feels like its own world — sleek, but true to the aesthetic of its surroundings. It’s exotic, and very, very beautiful — just like Anguilla.

Bimini Bay Resort – Bahamas

The small island chain of Bimini was a favourite of Ernest Hemingway and Martin Luther King, among others, and it still retains its sleepy charm. Part of the attraction is its exclusivity — Bimini Bay is most easily accessed by boats, or by small planes landing at Bimini’s tiny airport. That will change soon with the launch of a ferry from Miami, something that will help position the resort, which recently underwent a renovation, as a Hamptons-style retreat from South Florida. And later this year, it will be home to a boutique casino from global operator Genting. Bimini Bay is a an escape — one that cultivates the romance of yesteryear with modern amenities.

Parrot Cay — Turks and Caicos

The Turks and Caicos Islands has experienced political upheaval in recent years – but the Parrot Cay, the part-time home of designer and Caribbean advocate Donna Karan, has remained a beacon of calm. Parrot Cay can be epitomized in one word: relaxation. The Turks and Caicos resort is a property by global firm COMO set on its own private island. Parrot Cay emphasizes wellness — and achieves it – bringing a feeling of total removal and refreshment. You still won’t want to leave when your stay’s over — but when you do, you’ll feel recharged and ready to get back to the bustle.


— CJ

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