Department Article
Resorts in the Turks & Caicos redefine tropical vacationing

by Chelle Koster Walton

In the Turks & Caicos Islands, folks are in the business of creature comforts. For some creatures, that might mean a simple conch shell. But for others, over-the-top villas and condos are more to their liking.

One of forty-nine islands in the Turks & Caicos archipelago, Providenciales, the most populous and touristy of the bunch and mercifully known as Provo, was once a quiet, unknown place at the bottom of the Bahamas chain. In the 1980s, it got a Club Med and a conch farm but was still mostly taken up by preserve lands and a scattering of locals.

Resorts slowly continued to pop up, specifically along the fluffy white sands of Grace Bay. As the years passed, the resorts grew grander, not only in size but also in concept. Grace Bay Club opened in 1993 in neo-Mediterranean style and started a trend toward luxury with deep character and exquisite attention to detail. Today it’s as though there’s a contest for how unusual and elegant developers can make their Provo resorts. Many of them are privately owned, but some upmarket chains are getting into the act, and it’s finally spreading beyond Provo.

“Here in Turks & Caicos, we’re so lucky to have these top luxury resorts, where each one has its own feel,” said Kathryn Kilberg from Grace Bay Club. The trend forerunner added thirty-eight family-friendly villa accommodations, including four top-floor penthouses with terrace Jacuzzis, to its original twenty-two suites in 2005. It’s also just completed a component called the Estate, a hotel-within-a-hotel concept with twenty-two luxury units complete with Bose stereo systems, plasma TVs, and other high-end touches. It still maintains its adult-only suites complex with private Jacuzzis accessible from the master shower and a separate pool, fine-dining restaurant, and what’s touted as the longest infinity bar in the Caribbean.

“With the high-end resorts like this, the most beautiful part is you have beaches with practically nobody on them,” says Alex Sky, conference and event manager at the Regent Palms. That could change now that the local government has loosened the height limitations from five stories to seven in some places. Already higher rises are rising. Three-year-old Regent Palms, however, keeps in gracious good taste with its low profile and plantation-manor style. Built of solid Barbadian coral stone, which has become a rare material, its 164 individually owned condos have all the luxuries, from 400-thread-count sheets to kitchens equipped entirely with Viking appliances.

Its Sonya Dakar spa is expanding from ten to sixteen treatment rooms, and on the beach guests can grab a cabana or paddle out to the reef in a see-through kayak. The resort’s main restaurant, Parallel23, spills out onto the terrace through French doors. Lunch at the sunken, poolside Plunge is popular. Try the passionfruit margarita and a conch specialty made from the locally farmed crustaceans.

Next to Regent Palms, the Somerset opened in November 2006 as a fifty-three-condo resort with three types of accommodations. The English Cottages are built townhouse style and boast views of the resort’s croquet lawn. Top of the line are the Estate Villas, which each occupy an entire floor of a five-story Mediterranean-style building. The top-floor penthouses come with four or five bedrooms, and all are decorated with impeccable taste and the latest amenities, from Wi-Fi and Viking appliances to iHome audio hookups and zoned air-conditioning.

Among the first luxury properties to make the split from the Grace Bay scene, Amanyara is also one of the island’s most highly hailed for its unequaled Asian esthetic. The Singapore-based Amanresorts chain professes peace and harmony. Sequestered from the rest of the island by a massive preserve, it is in its own little world. Guest pavilions, as they’re called, are encased in glass on three sides. Heavy sliding glass doors open onto outdoor living areas with views of either the sea or a central reflecting pond. The restaurant, bar, and library cluster around their own reflecting pool, with views of the sea and a stretch infinity swimming pool. Futon-like mats, pads, and pillows make cozy corners for romance, but the resort also accommodates families with water sports, movies in its screening room, and a dazzling white sand beach.

In April 2008, an all-new brand launched its ultra-luxury concept on Provo. Nikki Beach Hotels & Resorts first opened forty-eight rooms and suites and is now working on another 110 rooms and a spa, expected to be completed by 2010. This new phase, says company president Gary Sims, is more reflective of the overall brand’s clean, global design concept, which is already spreading to fifteen other locations worldwide.

“It’s a holistic design, with lots of curves and soft finishes, wood, and fabric,” he says. “We have envisioned a Caribbean Riviera, and the Turks & Caicos is very open architecturally. They want to see interesting buildings, which has given us the opening to come and be creative.”

In the past few years, other top-shelf resort chains have begun to set up shop on the country’s out islands as well. Taking a cue from Parrot Cay, a Filipino-style resort on its own island, the Ritz-Carlton has announced a brand new luxury eco-lodge product on uninhabited West Caicos. The new line will be labeled Ritz-Carlton Reserve, with this particular property named Molasses Reef. Here, like at Amanyara, human habitat meets wild habitat. For humans, there are traditional Caribbean-style suites and villas. For wildlife, there are a sanctuary and two national parks, home to nesting flamingos, iguanas, and sea turtles.

Likewise, in 2010 Mandarin Oriental plans to open its brand of luxury on a separate island named Dellis Cay, part of a design-forward resort community being planned by seven top-name architects and designers. Italian architect Piero Lissoni has designed a sleek, modern fifteen-room boutique hotel and rental residences inspired by the open lifestyle and natural attributes of the islands.

“These islands have strict regulations on building codes, and we find that very appealing,” said Sims. “It gives the islands longevity.”

All in all, one could fearlessly say that human habitat in the Turks & Caicos Islands has crawled out of its conch shell and into the limelight.

Chelle Koster Walton is the cuisine and travel editor for Times of the Islands and RSW Living.