Coveting a dreamy digital detox? Petit St Vincent, an exclusive Caribbean retreat, is the ultimate destination to disconnect, writes Christine Leech
I love watching The Island With Bear Grylls. And it’s not just the glittering turquoise waters, dazzling white sand and swaying palm trees that appeal – I’d love to experience that complete disconnection from the outside world and lack of all-consuming Wi-Fi (the bitching, hunger, heatstroke, and mozzie bites? Not so much.)
So, when a digital detox to the five-star island resort of Petit St Vincent came up, I jumped at the chance. Located in the sun-drenched Grenadines, this was all the good bits, minus arguments over when/if to kill a pig.
With Wi-Fi only available in the main reception and no televisions in rooms, a full digital detox is on offer. Or, you can be like me and have a sneaky 4G session behind the beach bar each morning to post envy-inducing Insta shots. I also love my telly, so arrived fully loaded with Killing Eve Season Two. Suffice to say, I didn’t watch a single episode. Not one; not even on the plane, which flies into Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados. From there, it’s a 55-minute flight on a tiny eight-seater to Union Island, and then a 20-minute boat ride. Thanks to the weather gods, we had clear skies and were greeted on the dock at sunset with delicious rum punches.
The island’s main mode of transport is a fleet of Mini Mokes – a glorified beach buggy that makes getting around feel easy and look pretty cool. You can walk around the coastline in about 40 minutes, but there are also complimentary bikes everywhere so if the 30C heat starts bearing down, you can pick up a set of wheels en route and pedal to your destination instead (spoiler: this may induce red-face syndrome).
The accommodation: villa for one, please!
There are 22 individually designed villas on the island; 13 beachfront and then another handful tucked away on hillsides and secluded deep within the forest. Originally constructed in the 1960s in traditional West Indian style, the stone-built properties have a cool mid-century vibe about them and have recently been extensively renovated, with beautiful hardwood floor-to-ceiling glass windows; and porcelain tiled floors throughout. Each villa also has its own private outdoor space complete with sun loungers, hammocks and dining areas to lounge in. Beachside, you can also expect decks flowing straight on to the golden sand, while those nestled in the hillside enjoy panoramic views of the wild Atlantic ocean. All boast insanely comfortable super king beds, Bulvgari toiletries in the bathrooms, a Nespresso coffee machine, plus a never-ending jar of cookies placed temptingly in the lounge.
The food: whatever, whenever, wherever…
Petit St Vincent is an all-inclusive private-island resort, so your meals (yes, even afternoon tea) are covered. In short, if you can’t decide what to have for breakfast, have it all! The French toast is all squidgy golden deliciousness and, with a side order of fruit salad, yoghurt and muesli parfait, you can still feel virtuous. My daily pineapple, watermelon, papaya and fresh ginger juice kept my vitamin C levels topped up nicely, while the grilled halloumi and vegetable kebabs for lunch meant I didn’t even need to leave the hammock as I sipped on an ice-cold Pina Colada. Holiday vibes, much?
In fact, room service operates via a slightly eccentric flag and pole system (which I am thinking of introducing in the office). Each villa has its own flagpole with red and yellow canvas flags, plus hollowed-out bamboo tube attached to it. Don’t want to be disturbed? Raise the red flag. Need some attention? Write a note or fill out a menu form, then roll and pop it in the bamboo tube before raising the yellow flag. Staff patrol the island every 20 minutes or so checking the flagpole situation to respond as necessary – and with a staff-to-guest ratio of three to one, you’ll never have to wait long for snacks to arrive.
Of course, if you can tear yourself away from the hammock (easier said than done), then the main Pavillion Restaurant is a short walk or Mini Moke drive away (just write a note and raise your flag to request a ride). The kitchen is headed up by chef Andi Cahyono, who creates a wide variety of dishes – many with a Caribbean influence – and uses island-grown produce grown from the hotel gardens. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets are all catered for, and the aubergine mousakka, squid ink risotto and caramel and dark chocolate tart (dreamed up by resort manager and former pastry chef, Matt) are the Greatest Things In The World, Ever!
The restaurant also hosts a variety of entertainment throughout the week, including a BBQ and steel band night, serving up the freshest fish, giant steaks and marshmallow skewers for desert; film nights under the stars; and reggae bands to dance the night away with. Meanwhile, Goaties bar is a great spot for sundowners on the beach at golden hour.
The must dos: spa, dive, day-trip
You can actually do nothing on this island and have the most perfect of days. When I told my friends I was going to the Caribbean, where the temperature averages 31C and the three main things to look at ate the sea, the sand and the sky, they were all slightly perplexed. “But you hate the sun; you’ll be too hot; you’ll be bored; there’ll be nothing to do,” they cried. But fear not, readers. The scorching temperatures are actually tempered by an onshore breeze and there is plenty of shade available, with the beach fringed by tropical woodland and hammocks slung beneath palm-leaf-topped palapas. It’s very easy to while away the hours in a languid stupor induced by the hypnotic sound of waves and I actually spent one entire day in this exact state. My main activity was walking the 40 steps from my private beach to greet room service and collect my breakfast, lunch and afternoon-tea orders. My personal trainer would be proud.
If you feel you need something extra to get you to full zen-like relaxation, then a treatment at the spa may be in order. Previous to working on Petit St Vincent, manager Matt was based in Bali and he and his wife have recreated a traditional Balanese haven on the island. Nestled in the tree tops with the wind creating gentle ripples through the delicate decorative shell curtains, the spa is the perfect place for a spot of pure self-indulgence – and, if (like me), it helps you avoid a tropical thunderstorm of biblical proportions, even better.
On the flip side, if you can’t do without your daily hit of endorphins, tennis, yoga on the beach and a fitness trail through the woods are also on offer. Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of water-themed activities, too. Jean-Michel Cousteau (the son of famous ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau) has a diving school here, and the team provides half-day or full-day experiences (I mean, if you’re going to learn to dive then you might as well learn from the best right?).
Alternatively, head to the Dock house, which is home to everything from snorkel kits and kayaks to Hobie Cat sailing boats for hire. I didn’t make it out in a kayak but I did snorkel every day and, after a trial around the shallows of my villa beach, I headed to the pier at Atlantic Beach. There are so many fish living right under this dock that you can pop your mask on, stick your head and shoulders under the water, and see the entire cast of Finding Nemo without swimming a single stroke. Slightly further out, you can visit some of the island’s coral reefs, where staff have created a nursery to begin a restoration and regeneration programme. Conservation and an eco awareness is present everywhere at the resort: the straws in cocktails are made from vegetable matter; the drinking water is desalinated sea water filtered on the island; and glass bottles are already replacing plastic in the bedrooms, with a series of water fountains also being introduced around the island.
One of the highlights of our stay was the day-long boat trip to the Tobago Cays. We set off after breakfast in the resort boat, aptly named Beauty. This majestic wooden schooner was built eight years ago on the neighbouring island of Petit Martinique and is now crewed by Simba and Donnelly. After an exhilarating hour on the high seas (read: slightly harrowing because of the strong gusts), we arrived at the National Park. Tobago Cays is a collection of small, unoccupied islands (including Captain Jack Sparrow’s ‘Rum’ hideout from Pirates Of The Caribbean) that’s full of wildlife. We weighed anchor and, in full snorkel gear, went for an easy swim through the coral reefs, drifting gently back towards the boat with the current. We spotted starfish bigger than your head, stingrays burrowing in the sand, and played follow-my-leader with sea turtles (taking care not to get too close). A short hike with Donnelly on one of the islands saw us meet a tortoise, witness a stand off between a giant lizard and a mother bird protecting her nest, and pick a welcome crop of aloe vera (note: remember to pack the mozzie spray).
Back on board Beauty, we devoured a delicious lunch of steak and salad washed down with the obligatory rum punch before sailing back to Petit St Vincent. The journey back was calmer and, as the sun was setting , we started up a new game of spot the flying fish.
Final thoughts: Never. Gonna. Leave.
I spent a fair proportion of my time at Petit St Vincent working out ways to stay. These ranged from marrying a local, making myself indispensable to the island staff, and rescuing the treasured pet of a rich guest that had found itself stranded out at sea in a kayak (I might have been on the Margaritas at this point). Yet, all too soon, we were back on the boat with our individual picnics for the journey home. We were waved off from the dock by Matt, Anie and our favourite Mini Moke. Deep sadness followed.
Villas cost from £870 per room, per night, based on two sharing a one-bedroom cottage in low season. Price includes meals, butler room service, use of all non-motorised water sports and island facilities. Return flights with Virgin Atlantic to Barbados from London Gatwick start from £535. Visit petitstvincent.com for further details or to book.