Caribbean Exclusivity ~ Sandy Lane, Barbados
Sandy Lane is a romantic retreat for those seeking seclusion, or the perfect location for families who desire the finest holiday experience, says Mary Gostelow.
To get to Sandy Lane, I flew into Barbados' Grantley Adams International Airport from Grenada, by the sometimes unreliable LIAT (which fortunately that day was exactly on time).
As always I was hand-baggage only, which meant that thanks to the airport greeter, I was quickly in the Bentley, gliding through Sunday morning's not-so-busy traffic. At the resort’s main gate, Richard the gateman saluted and waved us through. At the porte cochere, bellmen in ecru tops and pink trousers were joined by the iconic resort's CEO, Michael Pownall, in a pink shirt. We walked back to the rear of the open lobby, to a terrace looking down to the beach, and drank welcome pink punches.
Pink, it appears, is the favorite hue of the colourful Chairman of Sandy Lane, Dermot Desmond, who, like one of his colleagues, another Irishman, JP McManus, has a five-bedroom apartment, with private pool, on top of the luxury resort. With their fellow countryman John Magnier and two Brits, the team bought Sandy Lane, originally conceived by Ronnie Tree, in 1995. They closed it 1998, re-opened it in 2001 as a 112-room new hotel, with interiors by Richmond International. The team also invested in a third Tom Fabio golf course, the par 72, 7,343-yard Green Monkey Course (photo), which seems to sneak in and out of an old quarry, now a riot of brightly collared bougainvillea (around the course are 110 residential lots, minimum size an acre and a half.)
Sandy Lane is, as we all know, its own brand. Their regular guests top the billionaires’ list. They know they must stay a minimum two weeks over Christmas, paying a seasonally inflated rate, with preference given to last year’s guests. Many come with masses of children, nannies and bodyguards.
I was escorted to 221, an 867 sq ft Ocean Room on the upper - reception - level. Whereas rooms downstairs do give immediate access to the gardens and beach, I think on reflection I prefer the private balcony upstairs, looking right into tree tops. The suite has marble flooring throughout, and off-white walls and ceilings. You walk along a short corridor into the area of closed closets, with wood and satin hangers and an easy-work safe. Leading off this is the bathroom area - a big main room, with the two sinks, an oval tub that is just too short for the average height guest properly to soak, a toilet/bidet room and a glass fronted shower room with a massive overhead spray and assorted side plunges. The lighting is good, and there are marvelous towel-lined Sandy Lane robes from Robe Works. There are plenty of towels, all white. Big-size pink toiletries are produced for the resort by Pacific direct. Pink-embroidered disposable slippers sit on a glass Thinner scale. A Sandy Lane bath menu offers a romantic encounter drawn bath, which comes with rose petals, scented candles, music and a glass of champagne.
The main room is dominated by a king-sized bed, with down under blanket and, at night, three different sizes of pillows (including, blissfully, a baby-size for people like me who like their head near the mattress). There are two heavy wood headboards, to a height of about five feet. High above is a long gold-ended horizontal rod from which hang two pairs of floor-length cream curtains, held either side of the headboards by heavy gold retainers. From the headboards protrude fiber-optic lights on stalks - a good feature since all the other lighting in the room is romantically subdued. The walls are variously hung with gold-framed prints, either local modern art or paintings of local ladies carrying things on their heads. There are also mirrors in heavy gold frames. There is a proper dressing table, dark wood with inset mirror, proper hair dryer and hand-held as well as unit-set mirrors. Above the marble-topped dark wood chest hangs a 42-inch Panasonic plasma wide-screen television with Neos Entertainment features, which can be activated by remote control, in the room, bathroom or out on the balcony. An arm-chair, with padded footstool and side table, is conveniently placed to face the screen.
As well as the minibar, I have a Nespresso machine, Twinings teabags and gold-banded Bernardaud china. The desk has a long-stalked orchid in a glass pot, and a hand-held phone clearly marked with the main hotel number as well as your direct number. Unlike many hotels, which merely give a couple of pieces of cheap notepaper and envelopes you have to lick, Sandy Lane gives a plenty supply of superior quality - and self-seal envelopes and a pencil - all stored in a hard-sided box that you can use to write on. On the wall near the desk are plenty of electric sockets, and a push-button wall panel that activates lights and the door lock and tells you if Do Not Disturb is on. There are other control panels inside the front door, in the bathroom, standing on both bedside tables, and outside on the terrace. There are fly-screen and glass doors, with, in front, sheer curtains, cream drapes and, set on the main room wall, purely-ornamental half-curtains hanging from gold rods and held back by gold retainers. Out on the marbled terrace, there is enough furniture for eating and lounging.
I had time quickly to check emails via the excellent WiFi wireless facility, and check the hefty Guide To Services manual (well, there is so much to do here!) - and to make a stay as stress-free as possible Pownall has added a simple single-fold card with basic opening times of restaurants, and relevant dress codes. I checked the room service menu, which has an enticing 'inflight' section, meals to-go, to take on your Learjet or BBJ. I decided I might have chosen a Transatlantic Dinner from this selection, my choice of tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella with caprese dressing; pan-seared Atlantic salmon, aubergines, and chive beurre blanc, or USA prime lamb cutlets with toasted couscous; roast aubergine with garlic and thyme; Valrhona Grand Cru Guanaja chocolate, ginger and banana brownie cake and a bottle of Evian.
Then it was down to the Sunday brunch buffet, a fabulous spread in Bajan Blue which obviously regularly attracts immaculately-groomed local expats from their luxurious island villas (my new-best-Maltese-girlfriend and I wished everyone was wearing a name label as I could not, sadly, recognise a soul). There were stations of sushi, sashimi, the most beautifully-arranged salads, full prime rib roasts and a grill-to-order. Next on the agenda was a visit to the spa, a three-floor palace (45,000 sq ft, 11 treatment rooms and 35 well-trained therapists). I had an hour-long Sandy Lane full-body massage, deep pressure as requested, by an amazing young man from Kerala, Prabhu - and yes, I have noted his name. The Sandy Lane signature oils he used came from Aromatherapeutics, he said. I recovered by taking an hour-long power walk along the beach, past the neat rows of the royal blue beach loungers that introduce another color element into this rosy ambience. Later, as dusk fell and kids had been taken by their parents back to their suites, I swam in the complex of curvilinear pools adjacent to the spa.
All right, you will now say, after all this you want to the upper-floor L’Acajou restaurant, designed by David Collins. But no, I did not, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the luxury resort's celebrity Culinary Director Grant MacPherson had not yet arrived on-island, but primarily I was having an evening off, a respite in a non-stop diary of marvelous gourmet dinners. So I retired to my extremely agreeable suite for that ultimate solo dining experience, namely a hamburger, with fries and a salad and perfectly-chilled Laurent-Perrier. I saw that night turndown had left the usual paraphernalia, plus a CD-ROM and book to induce sleep (Deep Sleep 101), and a Thomas Carlyle quote, 'A great man shows his greatness by the way he treats little men'.
I slept extremely well, and awoke with the dawn. I followed the resort's recommended three-kilometre run, up through some of the residential area behind, showered and enjoyed the breakfast buffet back down at Bajan Blue - they cleverly store all the breads in muslin-covered baskets as protection against the many hungry birds.
It was, sadly, time to go. But that is the story of my life.