It was a foggy morning in the city, and I had finished my oatmeal and the historical novel I’d been reading. Feeling a little antsy, I decided to fly to the Turks and Caicos Islands because even the name sounds stylishly exotic, am I right? I packed a swimsuit and SPF lotion, plus a seersucker suit and bow tie “just in case,” and headed pronto to San Francisco Airport.
The archipelago consists of 40 islands and cays, eight of which are inhabited, and it is located 90 miles north of the Dominican Republic (and 550 miles southeast of Miami). Made of limestone, the islands were known for their salt trade in the eighteenth century. The larger Caicos were settled by British loyalists and their slaves after the American Revolution. The Turks islands are smaller. Technically, the islands of Turks and Caicos are located in the Atlantic Ocean, not the Caribbean Sea. And the Providenciales Airport is undergoing a major upgrade at present, so there’s a feeling among the locals that the islands are “getting ready for their close-up.”
The legendary service of the Amanresorts chain begins upon arrival at the airport. After being picked up by Amanyara’s Land Rover and given a chilled hand towel, I had a piece of business to attend to: selecting from the Amanyara music menu the perfect soundtrack for the ride to the resort’s exquisite location—at the edge of a national park on the northwest coast of Providenciales Island. I reckoned the moment called for classic jazz and informed the driver. The next thing I knew, Louis Armstrong was thinking to himself, “What a wonderful world,” which was uncanny, because I’d been thinking the very same thing.
The resort’s main buildings are a series of gloriously tall, seemingly weightless teakwood pavilions surrounding reflecting pools and the sunset beach. Rooms designed by architect Jean Michel Gathy are self-contained units, each privately situated amid greenery with views of ocean or pond. In lieu of a do-not-disturb sign, guests hang a hemp rope across the coppice-lined pathway.
Amanyara is known for its Asian cuisine, including curry dishes, but it will happily accommodate special requests. Villas come with the service of a private chef, who works with families to devise special menus—a Thai dinner one night, perhaps, Moroccan the next. Families who return to Amanyara year after year have favorite chefs whom they specially request to serve them.
Peacefulness pervades the resort, where no music is piped into most public areas. Details are overseen by general manager Marco Franck, whom some will remember as headwaiter of San Francisco’s Bar Zinc in the late 1980s. There is a dedicated nature discovery center on the property to teach guests about the abundant flora and fauna.
The patina of Parrot Cay is not glossy, but whitewashed and natural. Barefoot luxury (even the housekeepers remove their shoes before cleaning the villas) is a motto at this resort, which recently won the Condé Nast Traveler award for best hotel in the Caribbean.
The resort is its own private island, frequented by celebrities, including Bruce Willis and Keith Richards. Guests are whisked off by speedboat after arriving at the airport. Recently San Francisco realtor Steve Gothelf took his family to Parrot Cay; the Turks and Caicos Islands are between the Bahamas and British Virgin Islands, of which he has fond memories from his East Coast childhood. He says, “This is an outstanding, low-key resort,” and he raves about “the natural beauty and serenity of a privately owned island. This is the perfect place to do absolutely nothing.”
When COMO Resorts bought the property, the managers wondered why the hotel was importing bananas and coconuts, and they planted groves of Malayan dwarf coconuts and banana and plantain trees, which now supply the resort’s kitchens.
Don’t miss the coconut gelato at the end of your dinner.
The Shambala spa offers complimentary yoga and pilates classes. One morning I noticed a pretty young woman outside the spa picking hibiscus blossoms, which, she explained, would be used for a Royal Lular Bath treatment based on a ritual from the royal palaces in central Java. I’ve never met a Javanese royal, but apparently they know how to live, as do the fortunate guests of Parrot Cay.
The Gansevoort Turks & Caicos is something else again. It has to be experienced to be fully appreciated, but let’s call it a contemporary beach hotel located on a very special slice of Grace Bay Beach. Views of sea and sky are allowed to take center stage here—when you enter the lobby, you will be looking straight at the ocean beyond the pool. The Gansevoort is the place to keep that promise you made to yourself to someday try your hand (and feet) at stand-up paddle boarding. Uncluttered rooms are furnished with Frette linens, and each is decorated with a magnificently scaled print by photographer Steve Passmore.
Chef Mahdi Eghnam joined the staff a few months ago and is making his mark by bringing the Mediterranean flavors of his native Tunisia to dishes that highlight the local seafood. He has recently introduced tagine, a North African dish named after the earthenware pot it’s cooked in, which is served at table and broken by a sword, with a dramatic flourish by the waiter, of course.
From the Gansevoort, it was a quick taxi ride back to the airport, where I picked up a bottle of Bambarra 8-Year-Old Reserve rum to bring back to bartender H. Joseph Ehrmann, who teaches cocktail-making classes at the Boothby Center on Mission Street. Bambarra is only sold in the Turks and Caicos, so what are you waiting for?
Fredric Hamber was raised in Napa and San Francisco. His chapter on the Amazon River will appear in the forthcoming volume Great Boat Journeys of the World.