Grenada: a new jewel in the Caribbean crown

Grenada, long one of the Caribbean’s unpolished gems, is suddenly catching the light. Fiona McCarthy heads to the spice isle to take a first look at a new resort that seems set to recast its fortunes

Villas at Silversands bordering Grand Anse, one of Grenada’s most stunning beaches
Villas at Silversands bordering Grand Anse, one of Grenada’s most stunning beaches

Six years ago, when the Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris first visited Grenada, he remembers above all feeling weary. An old friend had insisted he see it, but ground down by his itinerant life as a telecoms tycoon, he suspected that Grenada – the “Spice of the Caribbean” – would be more or less like any other on the long list of places he’d already visited, perhaps even less alluring for its lack of sophistication. But then, he says, “I started to fall in love.” And the love grew the longer he stayed. “In the morning, when I walked along the beach, I’d find four or five guys in the water discussing their day. That’s where they met, these everyday friends, at eight o’clock every morning before they went to work. It’s a simple life, without all the noise and technology of our lives; it’s really going back to the roots here.”

The villas at Silversands have been designed by AW2 to provide uninterrupted views
The villas at Silversands have been designed by AW2 to provide uninterrupted views

In 2018, Sawiris translated his enduring belief in Grenada’s appeal into Silversands, a $125m, lavishly detailed beachfront resort, which opens this month. With its 43 rooms, suites, beachfront villas and hillside houses arrayed around and across a prime section of Grand Anse, one of the island’s most beautiful beaches, Silversands is an ode of sorts to the easy warmth, joy and what Sawiris calls the “laidback life philosophy” of its people.

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Which is not to say that he wants to go back to basics – in fact, where the spectacular Silversands is concerned, quite the opposite. Thanks to the work of architects Reda Amalou and Stéphanie Ledoux of Paris-based design practice AW2 – known for having authored the Six Senses Con Dao in Vietnam, Amanjena in Marrakech and Angkor Wat’s Phum Baitang, among other world-class resorts – Silversands is a game-changer for Grenada, a sensual paean to clean-lined minimalism with nary a colonial pitched roof or sweeping verandah in sight.

St George’s inner harbour, the Carenage
St George’s inner harbour, the Carenage

It’s still easy to see why Sawiris fell hard. It takes little time to adjust to the pace of Grenadian life – breathe in, breathe out, that’s all that is required. Time slows, pulses drop. Here there is no real party scene – the closest thing to nightlife is group stargazing – nor designer shopping arcades; no Michelin-star restaurants or ultra-exclusive beach clubs. The cacophonous whistle of the thumbnail-sized tree frogs and the thump and roll of the waves onto shore are the loudest noises you’ll hear.

Laluna’s open‑air bar
Laluna’s open‑air bar

Tucked at the southernmost tip of the Windward Islands, with St Vincent and the Grenadines to the north and Trinidad and Tobago to the south, Grenada is a happy assault on the senses. In the capital St George’s, where some excellent Georgian architecture prevails, colourful houses – most with bright red roofs, a legacy of the ballast beams once used here – wind their way up the hill above the gleaming turquoise of the Carenage, the inner harbour. Its twisting back roads are lined with trees in flamboyant scarlet bloom and tall candy‑striped pink hibiscus, while red-hot cat’s tail and magenta bougainvillea – the national flower – run rampant down low.

The vista from one of Laluna’s villas
The vista from one of Laluna’s villas

Goats and chickens roam free-range around the bases of towering palms and tropical trees are heavy with ripening fruit: avocados, bananas, soursops, mangoes. The spices the island is famous for, from “black gold” nutmeg and cacao to cinnamon and turmeric, cling to terraces hewn into steep hillsides (Grenadians are nothing if not tenacious: everyone here “farms” and a weekday lawyer might be the man selling you his cucumbers at the Saturday markets). The air is redolent with the scent of cooking from roadside shacks, serving the local one-pot “oil down” (a delectable slow-cooked concoction of salted meat, chicken, dumplings, breadfruit and callaloo) or lambie (conch) souse stew. 

A popular site for snorkelling is the Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park
A popular site for snorkelling is the Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park

Mother Nature’s ubiquity here on Grenada, from lush rainforests and waterfalls to spectacular coral reefs, ran central to AW2’s design theme for Silversands. “We say the building doesn’t stop at the window or wall; it stops where your eye stops,” Amalou says. “So whether that’s the sea, sand, garden or sky, it all becomes part of the texture and palette of the design,” Ledoux adds. Across the resort, top-quality natural materials are in beautiful dialogue with each other – and with the outdoors. Rich South American bulletwood, used for the slatted façades that clad each building, responds to the deeply textured white walnut on the floors and the pale oak used for interior panelling and shelves; delicately veined white and black Calacatta marble plays off honeyed layers of Georgette stone; bronzed metal (used for slender lights, switches and handles) contrasts with the bright white of walls, lamps and swaths of mosquito netting.

The family-owned Calabash resort has an old-school ambience and formality
The family-owned Calabash resort has an old-school ambience and formality

The suites with their wide, deep balconies and the villas fitted with floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors have been so designed, Amalou says, to afford uninterrupted views, morning to midnight, whether you’re sitting inside or out. In the main restaurant, Asiatique, a playful 10m-long wooden veneer and latex sculpture gently twists, twirls and floats up into the space created by a double‑height ceiling. In the capacious lobby, open to the elements and with a vast expanse of smooth limestone floor, two large slatted screens soar to 7m high, framing a spectacular patchwork vista of blue hues, from the shimmering infinity pool – at 100m, the longest in the Caribbean – flowing into the darker sea, which in turn merges with sky. It’s a transformative view and there’s absolutely nothing like it on Grenada. “Immediately, you know you are in a very different place,” Ledoux says.

One of the elegant suites at Spice Island Beach Resort
One of the elegant suites at Spice Island Beach Resort

Local ingredients, on the other hand, direct the cuisine, which is both refined and playful, masterminded by culinary director Jean-Louis Brocardi, who spent 25 years as a private chef. A “Greniçoise” salad substitutes breadfruit for potatoes; ingredients delivered daily include the island’s Belmont Estate goat’s cheese, vegetables and herbs grown by a local women’s farming initiative and fish caught off nearby reefs. It’s a similar story in the spa, where local nutmeg oil is enlisted for detoxifying and freshly harvested coconut for exfoliating. And it wouldn’t be the Caribbean without rum: in Puro, the digestif lounge/cigar “library”, the list of fine aged rums numbers over 100, from Grenada and around the world – and is matched by another list of unique cognacs, Sawiris’ preferred tipple.

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Silversands’ bold lines and sleek finishes are an entirely new proposition on the island and one that’s making news. But there is an undeniable, reassuring charm to the plantation- and cottage-style architecture of Grenada’s incumbent resorts. Like Sawiris, the former Milanese fashion executive Bernardo Bertucci loved Grenada so much when he first visited some 20 years ago from New York – on a trip delivering a sailing boat from Sag Harbor – that he promptly gave up his job consulting for the likes of Prada and Giorgio Armani to build his dream hotel. Unlike Silversands, Laluna, located on its own stretch of Portici Beach to the south, consists of just 16 jewel-coloured concrete cottages with thatched roofs and open-air bathrooms, which have been designed with an altogether different and more bohemian spirit in mind.

The villas, sequestered from one another by a bounty of tropical plants and trees, are scattered along terraces etched deep into the vertiginous hillside; steep steps meander down to the beach and the hotel’s open-air bar and restaurant are just a few feet from the sand. There’s a small Balinese-inspired spa and yoga pavilion, too, overseen by Bertucci’s wife Wendy. And – as with almost all the hotel owners on the island – Bertucci recently completed construction of a clutch of private villas higher up the hill overlooking BBC Beach, available for sale or rental by hotel clients. (One was intended for Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, whose late grandfather had lived on the island, before he apparently changed his mind.)

At what are two of Grenada’s best-known resorts, Spice Island and the Calabash, the service and ambience both still hew to an old-world formality. Owned by Sir Royston Hopkin and just a few kilometres down Grand Anse beach from Silversands, Spice Island is one of the oldest hotels on Grenada; its suites are elegant and eminently comfortable and the beach is literally a footstep beyond each door, but when I visit, the mood and clientele skew decidedly to the retiree. The Calabash, also family-owned (it was purchased in 1987 by former Norwich-based packaging entrepreneur Leo Garbutt), is spread over 27 acres, with 30 suites in one-up-one-down houses designed with simple but classic Caribbean charm. Breakfast is served on your private terrace and British chef Gary Rhodes oversees the menus at his eponymous dinner-only restaurant. Presiding over all, with his wife and daughters, Garbutt as jovial and enthusiastic host lends an appealing authenticity.

Wherever you stay, though, experiencing Grenada from the water is a must – whether whisking around on one of the Calabash Hobie Cats in Prickly Bay or chartering the recently restored SS Corsair, a 42-year-old Mississippi oyster schooner captained by Marc Jehle, a German transplant who hosts guests on day cruises with delicious light lunches whipped up in the galley by his partner Ivonne. Grenada happens to be the perfect jumping-off point for exploring its tri-nation sister islands Carriacou and Petite Martinique – with stops at the various tiny deserted islets, keeping a keen eye out for the leatherback turtles that populate the waters here along the way. (You likely won’t be alone: Grenada’s profile as a yachting hub is up, thanks to the recent completion of Port Louis, the 160-berth luxury marina owned and operated by Camper & Nicholsons just outside St George’s; even if it weren’t a full-service facility, the ideal location – at 12 degrees north and outside the hurricane belt – would be its own compelling sell.)

The buzz that Silversands has generated has already drawn the spotlight down to Grenada, and it might well linger here, given that the resort is just one of several developments Sawiris has underway. There are at least two other projects on the island in the pipeline, details of which are yet to be disclosed. “One of the reasons I invested here was to do some good – a hotel like Silversands will make so much noise, people will come to Grenada just to see it,” Sawiris notes. Such high-profile, high-spec hospitality might mean a permanent and real shift in how the island is perceived; it might, like so much of the Caribbean, become a place to be seen, instead of what Sawiris fell in love with – a place just to be. Laluna’s Bertucci is of a different mind, musing that too much progress, too soon, can wait. He considers that he and his cohort have been lucky that the tourism industry hasn’t ever taken off completely here. “I like progress, but I like quality of life better – I believe Grenada could become more successful by not doing what all other islands are doing,” he says. “In other words, less is more.”

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