Hotel Spotlight

TOBAGO: Stonehaven Villas

A Caribbean Branch of Heaven

By Patricia Keegan

Discovering glimpses of heaven by candlelight was our first introduction to Stonehaven Villas. Shortly after we landed on the Caribbean island of Tobago, power was interrupted, and we stood in darkness outside the airport. However within minutes, the airport’s generators were activated and lights came on. The rest of the island remained without electricity for several hours.

We rented a car next to the airport, and with only our headlights to guide us, wound our way through a dark, mysterious island in search of Stonehaven Villas, our home for the next week. Passing through the small commercial area near the airport, we paralleled the Caribbean coast through several villages for 15 minutes until we saw the sign to Stonehaven. We were checked at the security gate, and as we climbed a steep hill leading up to the villas, the headlights shone on grassy slopes covered with red and pink bougainvillea. Even in the dark we could see flowers everywhere. At the reception area we were greeted by Randall, a concierge carrying a flashlight who apologized for the inconvenience of the unlit island, who then showed us to our villa, the Parakeet. Guiding us up the path with his flashlight and unlocking the front door of the villa, he turned to us with a laugh, saying this was the first time he had shown guests around in the dark. He lit candles, and between the light and shadows we sensed the spaciousness and comfort of this 3,700 sq.ft. villa.

On the first floor, candlelight revealed a lovely suite with canopy bed, dressing room and oversized bathroom. A large living room opened to a kitchen with gleaming granite countertops, mahogany cabinets and many windows. Upstairs we could partially see two more bedrooms, one with two single beds, and another with a lovely blue and white canopy bed, both beautifully and spaciously proportioned. Responding to my oohh’s and ahh’s, with a sweep of his hand, Randell opened up huge mahogany doors to the upstairs terrace, allowing the fragrant scent of flowers and sea to flow inside. 'In the morning you will have a lovely view of the sea.'

Assuring us he would return with hamburgers, (Stonehaven’s generators were operating for cooking), and that the lights would soon come on, he left us sitting comfortably in chaise lounges next to the villa’s infinity pool. At that point my husband and I were so thrilled with this dreamlike setting that we forgot about our hunger. We didn’t need anything more --- certainly not something as commonplace as electric light. Lying back in our lounges, looking straight up at a waxing moon, beside us the flaming torches lighting up the huge veranda, we were convinced we had landed in heaven, or at least a branch thereof.

We had come to this island on March 13, determined to take a break from the intensity of the buildup to war in Iraq, and had vowed not to turn on the TV. We wanted one week to wallow in the serenity of nature. About 20 minutes later, our outdoor reverie with the moon was interrupted by the sudden burst of light from inside the villa. The pool in front of us became a dazzling sight of azure accompanied by the comforting sound of gurgling water. Everything had returned to normal. We hurried inside to have a clearer look at our villa, and what we saw brought on a spontaneous dance of joy. Our home for seven days was spectacular, and we planned to enjoy every second.

Stonehaven Villas was two years in construction and completed in November 2000. It consists of 14 stately, manicured homes, each with its own pool, beautifully landscaped grounds, and wide angle views of the Caribbean and its glorious sunsets. Stonehaven was designed in 18th-century French plantation style by the late, renowned architect, Arne Hasselqvist, who also designed the homes on the island of Mustique in the Grenadines, including the home of Princess Margaret who spent time there. Landscape artist Jennifer Avey created the inspiring ambience during the construction by saving palm trees and spreading tropical plants and flowers in masses everywhere, adding a soft, enchanting touch. It would be hard to find luxury villas anywhere to top this visionary design. On the outside, each villa is set well apart for privacy, blending with the flowering landscape, while inside attention has been focused on the finest details, large and small. The crisp, fine cottons used on the canopy beds and elsewhere come from Trinidad, as well as the hand carved mahogany furnishings. These custom made furnishings, in French Colonial style, create an elegant, yet comfortable, ambience. The compact laundry closet encloses a washer and dryer and shelves abundant with soft, fresh-scented towels. The kitchen is a dream --- from all the drawers filled with sparkling silverware to the glass cabinets containing five shelves of crystal and two sets of china. The kitchen has enough countertop space and large ovens to make even the prima donna of chefs a happy camper. But the best part is that if you are too busy out scuba diving, hiking, sailing or exploring, you have the option of having your own housekeeper ready with dinner upon your return.

Every morning around 9 a.m., the front doorbell would ring and the smiling face of Patti, our housekeeper, would appear. After her cheerful, 'Good morning,' she asked if she could cook breakfast for us. Since my husband loves to cook, he was reluctant to relinquish his creativity to Patti; however, we thoroughly enjoyed having her come around. She was friendly and very helpful with our questions about the island as she cleaned, tidied, and did the laundry, and with only our villa to care for, she was ready to meet every need. Should a family with children be in residence, an extra little bedroom for the housekeeper allows her to stay overnight and baby-sit. That delightful green and white cotton room, just off the kitchen, has its own bathroom and can be used for an extra guest. So the villa can comfortably accommodate seven people and even more for a family reunion or a wedding.

Stonehaven caters to even the smallest whim for what must be a spectacular wedding party, from the renting of as many villas as necessary for family and guests, down to the bridal bouquet and every detail in between. The energetic and fun-loving deputy manager, Wasipha, amazed us with stories of the lengths the staff of Stonehaven will go in fulfilling the role of 'wedding planner.' Wasipha is the sparkle of Stonehaven, totally dedicated to keeping everything in perfect balance and believing in the importance and long term value of personal service.

We spent our days exploring the rainforest, driving the 28-mile length of the island to the sleepy fishing village of Charlottesville, enjoying a great seaside lunch of home cooking at the famous Gemma’s, discovering the secluded Englishmen’s Beach, bird watching and just relaxing. Tobago is famous for its diverse tropical bird population, and many tourists hike the island with binoculars and birding guides in hand.

Addicted to the sound of the steel band, wherever it was playing, we were there. We had heard steel bands in the Caribbean before, but none as talented as the Buccooneers, a local band from the nearby village of Buccoo, whose 16 members can play anything from waltzes to reggae to pop, all ingeniously rendered by expert steel drummers alive with enthusiasm and movement. We also shopped at local markets daily and returned to the Parakeet loaded with fresh pineapple, papaya, mangoes, coconuts, and fish to cook on our outdoor gas grill. The spacious veranda, with its polished mahogany table and chairs for eight, is perfect for early morning breakfast, accompanied by happy feathered friends from the neighboring bird sanctuary.

Evenings came heralded by a horizon splashed with dramatic, fiery colors and a cool breeze blowing up from the sea. Every night we studied the stars and watched the moon move a little lower in the sky, as though its fullness were weighing it down. On several evenings we donned some civilized attire and went to dinner at the wonderful Pavilion Clubhouse, the center point of Stonehaven. The restaurant ambience is low keyed but memorable, with open air, candlelight, and gentle breezes next to a moon-shaped infinity pool with seascape beyond. The creative menu has ample choices of local seafood delicacies as well as more traditional entrees.

It's no wonder Stonehaven Villas is considered one of the best new resorts in the world, with, according to Conde Nast, 'a rare confluence of style, service and sense of place.'

Who could have thought that on our last morning, rising reluctantly at 5:30 a.m., allowing ourselves just enough time for one last breakfast on the verandah, we received a spectacular send off. Looking up through the misty morning, we saw a rainbow, arching and double arching, across the sky over the Caribbean.

Weeks later, reflecting on our stay, I realized it was the confluence of the Gods: the inspiration of the people, Arne the architect, Jennifer, the landscape genius, the sunsets, full moon, stars and double rainbow that made this serene getaway far more than we ever could have dreamed possible.

There it waits --- this branch of heaven --- Stonehaven Villas, only a five-hour direct flight on BWIA from Washington Dulles to Tobago.

For more information and rates on Stonehaven Villas, visit their website at Tel: 868-639-0361. Fax: 868-639-0102.