15 July 2014

On Location - Mustique

Famous for its white-sand beaches, renowned rock star owners and jaw-dropping villas, Mustique is one of the most captivating of all Caribbean islands. Nestled in the heart of the Grenadines, it is prime Pirates of the Caribbean territory, an area where 17th century pirates used the sheltered bays to hide their ships and treasure – and modern-day travellers come to escape the stresses of our fast-paced world.
Mustique is a place of contradictions, where some of the most expensive villas in the Caribbean are accessed by deliberately unpaved roads, where the great and the good lounge on beaches decorated with old turquoise and yellow fishing boats and simple thatched huts, where rickety timber jetties stretch out into the crystal-clear turquoise waters. It is eloquently summed up by Mustique aficionado Tommy Hilfiger: “It’s sophisticated yet natural, Caribbean casual yet upper East side elegant, endlessly social yet perfectly private.”

Mustique_3832Stay - The mystique of Mustique

Mustique was arguably the world’s first private island resort, thanks to the farsightedness of one Lord Glenconner: who bought the island in 1958 with the dream of creating a private island sanctuary far from the madding crowd. A wedding present of land for a holiday home to Princess Margaret (sister to the Queen) put the island on the map for the aristocratic jet-set pioneers. It is easy to see the attraction. With its white-sand beaches, crystal-clear turquoise waters, beautifully preserved coral reefs and verdant island interior, it is the quintessential Caribbean island. And thanks to its heritage and Lord Glenconner’s vision, it retains its unique charms of being both utterly exclusive and wonderfully unspoilt. Five decades on and Mustique has lost none of its allure, welcoming everyone from famous entertainers to the royal family. The island keeps its celebrity cards close to its chest – discretion is paramount – but it’s in the public domain that David Bowie, Raquel Welsh and Tommy Hilfiger own villas on the island. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited in February and the island has also long been a hideaway for those most esteemed of rock stars, The Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger is another owner and if you time it right you may see Mick and the boys performing an impromptu gig down at Basil’s Bar, almost as venerable an institution as The Stones themselves. Development is restricted to 100 villas, 80 of which are available to rent; the 17-suite boutique Cotton House, one of the most elite hotels in the Caribbean, and one effortlessly stylish four-bed boutique hotel, The Firefly. Since 1979 the island has been owned and managed as a collective by the property owners, and in many ways is a kind of dryland superyacht, with the same alluring appeal of freedom, privacy and exclusivity. Although it is a private island, superyacht visitors are welcomed and can moor up in Britannia Bay, either staying on board, at the Cotton House, or even taking a villa. Many of the island’s regular visitors first arrived by superyacht on a tour of the Grenadines. Be warned, your visit may prove expensive, some liked it so much they bought a villa here.

Mustique-283Play - Cocktail culture

Perhaps because of its collective ownership, the island has a wonderful community feel. Be sure to visit the Cotton Club and get the lowdown on the week’s social events. Most evenings there’s a cocktail party at either the Cotton Club or one of the villas and everyone on the island is invited, including the kids. It’s the kind of place where you may end up chatting to a barefoot billionaire over a banana daiquiri, bump into an F1 driver on a mule (the charming acronym for the island’s electric golf buggies), or pick up some tips on your tennis from the local coach. You really are rubbing shoulders with an eclectic crowd: it’s great networking but very low key, think kaftans and flip-flops rather than sequinned bikinis and heels. Yet it remains incredibly discreet, with no paparazzi ever allowed on land or nearby sea.

Drink - Basil!

Arriving by boat the first place to greet you is the fabled Basil’s bar, perched on stilts by the jetty in Britannia Bay. Whether it’s a chilled-out sundowner or a late-night stiffener, a pina colada at Basil’s is the ultimate taste of the party side of Mustique. Basil’s has seen some legendary soirées over the years; if the stars are aligned the cocktails keep flowing and music keeps pumping till dawn. Thankfully nothing to do with Fawlty Towers, it is run by the very charismatic Basil, who epitomises the Carpe Diem spirit of the bar. His joie de vivre is infectious, be you a business mogul, supermodel or simple wayward sailor. One of the most lively times to visit is over the last week of January and the first week of February, when the bar plays host to the Mustique Blues Festival – you never know who may step up for an impromptu performance.

Mustique_4576AEnjoy - Surf the Macaroni

The island has nine main beaches to explore, all of which are characterised by white sand and turquoise waters. Most of the beaches and infrastructure are on the West Coast, but it is the east side which has perhaps the island’s standout sand trap. When the surf’s up Macaroni Beach is the perfect spot for some body-surfing, big-wave action. A long ribbon of protected white sand backed by coconut palms and verdant rainforest, it is quintessentially Mustique, unspoilt and utterly romantic. On the west side, don’t miss an evening swim or coral-rich snorkel off Lagoon Beach, the perfect tonic before the evening’s gin.

Ride the spine

The island has an equestrian centre and horseback is the ideal way to explore the hilly verdant interior. Herons and tortoises prowl the wetlands and there are more than 50 indigenous species of birds, including the Mangrove Cuckoo, shimmering green Hummingbirds and the Tropical King bird. Follow the trail through St Vincent’s rainforest, canter through the open spaces or even gallop through the surf on l’Ansecoy beach. Alternatively, take a local taxi tour and the charismatic cabbie will give you the lowdown on the history of the island and talk you through who owns all those knockout villas. Or saddle up a mule – the island’s very own 4x4 electric golf buggy – and do your own exploring.

Mustique-619-cleanCocooned in Cotton

Finish your ride at the plantation-style Cotton House, built into the coral stone walls of an 18th-century cotton warehouse. Have lunch at the beach cafe on the water, or afternoon tea which is laid out by the lily pond. The hotel also has a renowned spa, perfect to soothe those horse-drawn muscles. The great room bar and veranda is the place to be at cocktail hour, or for those looking for something a little more romantic, check out the Firefly, whose hilltop position and infinity pool affords the island’s best sunset view over Britannia Bay. For more information visit www.cottonhouse.net This article originally appeared in Fraser yachting magazine