Photography by Phillip Bermingham
Sitting in front of your computer screen, or across from a trusted travel agent, or perhaps over cocktails with friends, you cast about your imagination in a vain effort to draw a destination to give reference to the Grenadine Island of Mustique.
But you can’t.
There is no other destination, no island, no resort, no hotel, no actual place you could visit that is anything like Mustique.
Sure, perhaps in a romance novel, or some star-studded spy movie, our heroes may curl their toes in the sand of a deserted beach while sipping champagne from iced flutes, while a butler stands by with chilled grapes. You suspend your desire to be there, because it is fantasy-imagination. Or is it?
Just south of the island of St Vincent, the Grenadine islands curl to the south. Each unfolds its authentic and unique Caribbean personality as travellers experience the Grenadines with much less tourist influence than countries nearby. The multi-acre all-inclusive cookie-cutter resorts that populate other islands are absent in St Vincent. Only a handful of exclusive four- and five-star properties are based in the country. St Vincent’s beautiful waters are favoured by sailors seeking adventures and great vistas on its gentle sea. For those to whom roughing it means a junior suite, then Mustique is your West Indian destination.
Mustique is barefoot opulence with a pervasive ease of living. The luxury, blissful comfort and quiet sophisticated existence are seconded in a discrete and beautiful package. Small private charter planes ferry guests to Mustique’s open-air bamboo airport where hotel or villa employees greet the newly-arrived wonderstruck guests, gently guiding them through the smiling immigration process. It is custom on Mustique to leave problems—and often shoes—at the airport, where they may be reclaimed on departure. Problems surrendered, guests board a mule (an open-air four-wheel vehicle) or an air-conditioned van and travel slowly along winding, groomed roads rimmed with flowers and palms, passing horse stables, tennis courts, a quaint primary school, library, lily ponds and other interesting bits that hold promise for future exploration.
The newly arrived settle into their villas, and explore the décor and garden of their holiday home, drinking in the magic of Mustique. They begin to make lists: tennis lessons, horseback riding on the beach, scuba diving, and hearty hikes along the nature trail. The anticipation of such dreamy activities is almost as intoxicating as Basil’s Rum Punch. After a fabulous dinner and French wine, guests fall into fluffy white net-covered beds. Morning brings more wonderful food and that first island exploration. Guests usually get as far as one of Mustique’s great beaches and soon, the easy rhythm of Mustique routine sets in: breakfast, beach, lunch, nap, sunset cocktails, dinner, party/dancing, bed.
And so it goes.
The culprits of these unmet good intentions of exercise and activity are Mustique’s gentle style and, of course, those beaches. The most famous is Macaroni. Long, wide, soft and sandy with its playful waves, it has more than once been named one of the world’s top ten beaches. On a very rare busy day there may be 30-50 people. Sunny, breezy reading may be interrupted as horses gallop by or the dive boat passes, but rarely by noisy neighbors.
Pleasant breezes and gentle sea spray cool beach-bound bodies until promises of poolside lunches entice sunbathers back to villas. Beach picnic tables are sometimes populated by small groups lunching, as chefs grill meats and fishes on nearby barbeques. Lobster salad is a favorite lunch at Basil’s Bar in Britannia Bay and the Firefly is famous for pizza, while the Cotton House Beach Café explores fusion cuisine.
When real adventure is sought, then horseback riding on the beaches is a memorable way to tour the island. Mustique’s resident tennis pro offers group or private lessons or will arrange matches for adults or children. Mustique Water Sports offers scuba diving, from introductory to advanced. The snorkelling on Mustique is so good, that boats come from nearby islands on day charters just to snorkel the reefs of Endeavor Bay. In high season, various sport camps are offered for children, and an outdoor movie is shown Friday and Saturday . At Basil’s Bar, the final weeks of January bring the most legendary of Mustique festivals: Mustique Blues Festival.
Mustique planned its development with sensitivity, setting aside lands that will remain untouched. Those can be explored with a good set of hiking boots, a dousing of sunscreen and a knapsack with a bottle of water. A simple field guide of Mustique’s flora and fauna is available.
The night life on Mustique is legendary. While there are only three bars, they are the watering holes for some of the world’s most interesting characters: parties at Basil’s Bar continue until the last man falls. The Firefly offers its martini club and for the more sedate, there is the Cotton House. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at all three. The elusive green flash is seen with some frequency from beachside bars as the beach weary enjoy cooling cocktails. “Jump Up and BBQ’’ at Basil’s Bar on Wednesday night has such a reputation, it is listed in the book, 1000 Things to do Before you Die.
Guests on Mustique have only three choices for accommodation: the Firefly is a small but elegant inn, the Cotton House is a five-star 22-room hotel, or the Mustique Company offers 60 private villas that may be rented by the week. There are only a handful of permanent residents on Mustique and almost no unemployment.
Perhaps it is because it is not widely known, or perhaps it is difficult to believe there is such a perfect place as Mustique, it is not on the common destination circuit and has retained its special community intimacy. Mustique’s notoriety is more often for its sensational visitors and not its considerable beauty. Happily, it remains a very small and very exclusive retreat. It is not especially easy to reach Mustique, and it is even more difficult to attain financially, but when you arrive on these golden shores, you begin to feel like that movie star and you may even meet one or two as well.M