Good value in Tobago

May 27, 2012 in TRINIDAD & TOBAGO | Comments (0)

Turtle Beach swimming pool

Turtle Beach by Rex

 

The hospitality of the GM was our first impression.  He offered us the breakfast we had missed though lack of service at Le Grand Courlan.

A nice buffet breakfast with omelette station, pancakes, and hot dishes including beans and curried things.  Seems very nice for a 3 star resort.

The GM took us round himself. We saw immaculate rooms with crisp colours and views from every one of gardens or sea. Beach on two sides, one a long and famous beach.

This is one of the island’s best spots for turtle watching as they come up right in front of the hotel. The reception wakes up anyone interested when a turtle comes up at night to do its ancient primeval  thing. One had come up in the early hours that morning.

Lots of tours are available. Activities like diving, sailing and jungle vistis are very popular on Tobago. Virgin is one of two charter operators we saw with notice boards. They were giving a briefing in the conference rooms.

125 rooms

Karowak

A clean and intimate bungalow hotel best known for its restaurant offering generous authentic meals. Thailand feel to the bungalows grouped round a pool in a tropical garden near the airport. Actually you do not hear the planes as they fly straight out over the sea.

The place is the creation of an Englishwoman with striking red hair. The food is moderately priced and the choice good. My meal was dolphin fish which I am assured has nothing to do with those adorable mammals.

(I never eat mammals)


Bacolet Beach Club & Half Moon Blue

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Bacolet Beach Club lobby

Bacolet Beach Club

Kindof wow! So individual and so Caribbean. Eclectic mix of velvet, carved and stylish furniture. Four-poster beds draped in netting. Rustic but glamorous it reflects the glorious Gloria. Gloria Knapp Jones the owner is a former fashion model. Indeed a fabulous lady. Still with long espresso legs and cute lipstick drama lips, dazzling smile. Tall and dramatic, and free in her gestures and drawls of “darling”.

A painting of her is among the local art adorning the lobby, where her passions linger for velvet and art nouveau re-iterations of classic style.

Here and there little signs of comfortable age and laid back ways. Pampering personal service goes with taking it easy.

The beach is liked (in Trip Advisor) but it is an Atlantic Beach  with the unpredicable ways of the ocean when not hemmed in by reef. It’s a steep walk down, with little resting spots by the stairs – nice places to be, with views.

To their embarrassment the waves had brought up seaweed in the night. A small flowery seaweed, apple green, not offensive – but obviously less than desirable. There was a rather rustic toilet down at the beach bar.

The rooms all report a seaview and are extravagantly romantic  with netting over the four poster beds. Seagreen glass hand basins and showers with curtains. I thought shower curtains had died out but they are alive and well and sagging in Tobago.

I think the outside probably needs a little bit of attention so it is not for your neurotic ceaselessly home renovating types. The pool  is small and you would be watched by those with pool view.

But all in all it is a lovable intimate place with style and glamour albeit rustic touches.

20 rooms – Bay deluxe, junior penthouse, senior penthouse, senior penthouse deluxe.

Half Moon Blue

Only 10 rooms. Just over the road and up the hill from Bacolet Beach Club – strikingly Caribbean in feel. Purple is the colour.

The strikingly purple wooden building has its own Bohemian style reception, but the former restaurant is now just a public space and meals are taken down at Bacolet Beach Club. In fact it is really an annex, but with its 3 stars and more funky style is best marketed separately Gloria explained.

The views are just as good or better. The pool is small quiet and very private. And you have the same four paster beds with veils for romance. Same room types basically as the Baccolet Beach Club … standard (called Blue rooms), junior suites and the senior penthouse. The senior penthouse is something else.

Definitely this suite is something for those of Bohemian spirit with its artist’s attic style. Best feature is a huge comfortably furnished porch with seaview. The planning creates a treasure hunt situation. You wander around discovering nooks furnished occasionally for mysterious purposes. A long L shaped desk, a washstand, 2 four-poster beds all tucked away under tall attic ceiling with beams. For a family really, two couples might find it a bit lacking in privacy though perhaps the netting offers a bit more opacity than you realize.

Repeaters? Oh yes.


Coco Reef: olde charm

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Coco Beach sunloungers

Coco Reef Resort & Spa

Beachside property. Pastel and pretty, with an old fashioned charm some might call dated. Flowers flourish in and out, on curtains and bedspreads, and in immaculate manicured gardens with white Italian style balustrades. Little bas reliefs remind of century old boudoir ware. Rattan furniture, sea views and the palm-lined beach, bring a meeting of beach holiday feel and pretty parlour hideaway.

The lobby is a pleasantly spacious place, with gleaming earth coloured tiles, high roof, mini gardens and white marbled sculptures echoing a quant old fashioned feel in new mint condition. Very fresh!

We were shown a honeymoon suite and given a two bedroom suite as dayroom, both of which opened into a garden and terrace with seaview.

The honeymoon suite was on two levels, had a smart up to date bathroom, pretty bedroom (of course) (not super-king as I remember it), lounge  and dining room opening out onto the terrace and its sea view. The TV was gigantic, which might be a good place to hang since some former guests have complained on Trip Advisor that there was not enough to do.

Problem there. Some want lots of entertainment and partying. Some want peace and quiet. So hotels do need to decide who they want to please. I think Coco Reef might have chosen the latter.

Anyway the Coral Suite we enjoyed had two very nice pretty bedrooms en suite with more old fashioned bathrooms. Everywhere the old earth coloured gleaming tiles (that I personally like very much for their genuine feel), small lounge and kitchen.

Who are the customers I asked?

Couples or families, UK Germans, Scandinavians.  No kids club but activities in season.

135 rooms, suites and villas, 114 with ocean views. Only 3 minutes from the airport, but the planes do not fly over the resort.


Two “Grand” hotels, one grander…

May 15, 2012 in TRINIDAD & TOBAGO | Comments (0)

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Le Grand Courlan

Three of our party were located there and did not like it. Service was almost non existent. Their room was not made up in the morning. Breakfast on day 2, we arrived to find they had not been served for 20 minutes. The one and only waitress was involved with looking after a group of Asians who all wanted their eggs in different ways. It took all her energy so she did not even say: I will be with you in a moment…

When we arrived Tiina and co stormed out. We met the GM arriving and told him we had not been served.  He said “But why did you not eat the buffet?” There was no buffet we said….”Oh” he said and marched in, with some displeased sounds in his ears….

The hotel had a wide tropical pavilion for eating, quite pleasant.

Nice pool area – on a long beach (separated by fence and gate closed at night). Green canal with fish was a bit slimy some thought.

Sofia went through the gate early in the morning and discovered Tobago Villas, each with a private pool and what is more right on the beach (some nicer than others). The owner told me “almost as good as Stonehaven Villas” but Sofia felt that many people would prefer them because of their beach position.

The other nice villas are Plantation Villas – they have a shared pool but are smart and modern I gather.

Magdalena Grand

Relaunched with bright or gleaming yellow and white paint – a former Hilton. A big hotel with a big pool area, it probably tops charter lists. Family friendly, kids club, lots of activities.

Its colonial past lives on in a lounge of cosy subdued brown leather. I haven’t seen anything so brown since the seventies though its heritage goes further back and it feels plush and lux.

Otherwise it all has a new spruce look. Another lounge and bar has playful Disneyish features (Spielbergish?)…Pirates of the Caribbean pop us as large sculptures, one of them in a corner with a treasure chest overflowing.

Beaches? Because of more powerful waves, not protected by coral reef,  a breakwater has been built to make safe quiet swimming along the sandy beach.

200 rooms. Only 15 minutes from the airport. Free shuttle.


Stonehaven Villas: pools & flowers

May 14, 2012 in TRINIDAD & TOBAGO | Comments (2)

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Infinity pool and morning flowers

Tobago. Prime accommodation we felt was Stonehaven villas.

2 May

Fell asleep in my romantic bed, dreaming of morning. To open the plantation shutters and walk out barefoot onto the terrace, to see my two housemates floating in the clear infinity pool, with view of bright flowers and sea.

Magical enchanted place.

Stonehaven Villas lie high on a slope with a view of sea, above a beach we didn’t visit, though we glimpsed its palms and sand from Le Grand Courlan.

Among bougainvillea, palms and mango trees, the 14 villas are built with a stately colonial residence feel. Their best feature, the wide verandahs overlook a private infinity pool and the sea way below.

There is a sense of calm, space and permanence. You walk through  into a lounge and open plan kitchen – no kitchenette here, just the real thing. Gleaming black granite tops and barstools by the counter between lounge and kitchen.

Two bedrooms upstairs each with its own very desirable balcony with sea views. Master bedroom (mine) downstairs with a welcome laid out in flowers and swan shaped towel. The bed as wide as it was long was a four poster .

Plenty of sunbeds on the terrace, dining table for 8 on the verandah, and lounge furniture.

The house sleeps seven – there is also a maid’s room for the seventh person.

Duane the pleasant hands on GM was there to greet us – and the next morning to serve us at breakfast, cooked by the housekeeper. Very friendly nice man, enthusiastic about his marketing. The villas, 14 of them, marketed entirely through word of mouth and social media networking events. For example they invited young couples to an event – tipped off on who was not yet engaged but likely to take the step. They were shown the wedding facilities, their imagination stoked by romance of weddings, plus armed with professional images taken at the event, they were guided to publish themselves, their romance and Stonehaven villas on Facebook. They also ask celebrities to use twitter and Facebook.

Our first enthusiasm at the sensational charm of the villas put them at 5 stars. But in the morning we understood they are perhaps 4 and a half stars. The showers in typical Tobago style have shower curtains, and no hand shower attachment – only overhead and foot section. Not wanting to set my hair I ended up washing in the foot shower.

But this is a tiny hitch in relation to the overall charm.

Each villa is a well built spacious shady building (10 years old). It doesn’t meet the current fancy new standard in some respects, but in five years when flashy villas built today already are fading, these will still be beautiful and classy.

They are privately owned and renovation ongoing.

Service is not 24 hours.  The housekeeper is available from breakfast to 2pm, but she will discuss what you want for dinner, cook it and leave it. You do the shopping I gathered (hire car seems essential) but she will cook a meal for you and leave it for you to heat up later on. She will draw up a shopping list for you based on your wishes.

Up on the crown of the hill lies the reception building and restaurant, along with a larger infinity pool. The terraces have magnificent view …. Very charming place. 


Tobago & Caribbean magic

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Pigeon Point

Tobago for sand and water

A really pleasant island, somehow untouristy despite its little craft stalls and days when cruise boats come … on those days the pace is quite different in the Scarborough area.

With the Caribbean on one side (or two) and the Atlantic on the other, there are different types of beaches, some thundered upon by wind and wave, others more protected.

The silky white paradise beach of the tourist  brochures is at Pigeon Point, an area fenced in and protected – with a modest charge for entry. Previously developed with restaurants and cabanas by private capital it was sold to the government recently, who have maintained the fencing and fees for entry. Probably the only way they can protect this wonderful resource.

Palm trees, turquoise water and real glittering white coral sand declare it a cut above other rather nice beaches  elsewhere. We ate at the restaurant on the beach – which did feel very local with its Caribbean fare and roaring fan combating the 30 deg heat. I ate red snapper (yet again).  

From the picturesque pier a little walk along the beach, we were given a taste of sea sports. A glass bottom boat ride, with a chance to snorkel on a coral reef and swim. Floating over Buccoo reef we saw plenty of picture pretty fish through the glass bottom  – more than usual said out guide – so perhaps our fab experience is not 100% guaranteed. Afer snorkeling the next stop was “nylon pool” . No pool was lowered as expected – it was purely a shimmering white sandbank covered by swimming-pool-deep turquoise seawater.

Our boat continued on to a romantic island of palms and sand – called no man’s land. A popular destination for boat rides, picnics and grill parties.

We were staying on the south western coast (Caribbean), the most developed area, with plenty of sandy biscuit coloured beaches and volcanic beaches, not too far a ride from this coral sand paradise. Some Atlantic side hotels (facing east) run shuttles to Pigeon Point  and Store Bay.

The north of the island, which we did not visit, is reputed to have many excellent drift snorkeling spots. Also the north boasts a mountain ridge with a long protected rainforest with attractive walks to waterfalls and so on.

Climate

Temperatures from  23 deg C to 32 deg C. July to December is the rainy period but September and October can be nice, and May and June can be rainy. It had rained for days when we arrived.

How to get to Tobago

Direct flights from Gatwick with BA and Virgin Atlantic. Flights from Trinidad and New York with Caribbean Airlines. Between Trinidad and Tobago the air shuttle service goes every hour, for a modest charge. So it is easy to put a Trinidad experience in your Tobago itinerary.


Tobago: water bliss

May 13, 2012 in TRINIDAD & TOBAGO | Comments (0)

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Stonehaven Villas early morning bliss

and at sea

Food on Tobago

 

We dined at the Seahorse Inn one night. One of the island’s best finds. Just off the road it has a pleasant terrace where you look  down through palms to glimpses of sea. I ate red snapper (c 150 tt dollars) but the lobster looked divine, especially the thermidor version (395 tt dollars), a good price by our Northern standards. We only had two nights on Tobago (and one on Trinidad) that “long” visit. The first night we ate at Le Grand Courlan I had a nice red snapper but Tiina was very cross over her overdone steak (also on second attempt).

I ate fish (red snapper and dolphin fish) and salads throughout my stay. Christine at the tourist office had told me T&T is hygienically “just like home”.  So I ate freely without my usual concern over food poisoning as experienced a few unpleasant times in life. My confidence somehow caught up with me, to be exact during a hotel inspection. Facing the plane journey I was given some immodium.


Cool jungle walking & “flying”

May 3, 2012 in TRINIDAD & TOBAGO | Comments (0)

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Coastal drive from Trinidad North coast

Trinidad for jungle adventure

Trinidad is only 7 miles off the coast of Venezuela.  The bigger of the two islands it has extensive areas of jungle in difficult and rugged terrain. On Trinidad there are three mountain chains. Here you find many species of South American birds and mammals, even vampire bats.  (Actually hidden away in caves.) There are many species of bats, even fish eating bats.

In this jungle Courtnay Rooks gave us a taste of soft adventure  T&T style. But first,  direct after arrival in Trinidad with BA we were whipped off on a mangrove swamp tour. Caroni Swamp is a nature reserve much enjoyed by local Trinidadians. Crossing an industrial area we reached a canal long used for draining the swamps and entered a big wooden boat. Then we glided through the swamps between the  otherworldly fingers of mangrove roots,  tangled and reaching for air. There is no air in the soggy mud of the swamp – and roots need air as well as water. Hence these strange species of plants.

In these waters and among the mangroves there are caimans, fiddler crabs, boa constrictors, multitudes of birds too floating and flying. We saw a boa twirled round a trunk. Waiting for prey – birds I guess.

Birds are the main reason people visit the swamp. Beautiful birds fly in multitudes with a whirr of scarlet and crowd along the edge of the mangroves lining a wide inlet from the sea . Scarlet ibis they are called – the national bird.

We got “home” to the Hilton Trinidad, set up on a hill with views over the lights of Port of Spain.  It was 2am our biological time and I had not slept on the plane despite the wonderful flat beds on BA business class, nor the night before at Gatwick Sofitel, notwithstanding the comfortable beds and quiet room.

Now we were to change into city clothes to go out on the town of Trinidad and eat street food and play with steelpans till 6am Swedish time…

Dizzy after 36 hours of wakefulness, I enjoyed instead my nice room and my nice bed, nice bath, nice amenities and in the early morning refreshed, luxuriated in my view of the swimming pool surrounded by tropical vegetation.  Breakfast too had a view into the tropical garden. The others in my party had an exciting evening learning to play steelpans and tasting street food and looked very tired at breakfast while I radiated the good life.

 Then a jungle tour. This soft adventure was a walk up the Marianne River in 30 deg heat. Actually a perfect way to walk at that temperature, under the shade of rainforest trees, crisscrossing a river. We were given sandwiches for lunch and bottles of water which we carried ourselves. I had bought a backpack especially for that – but put down my foot at buying shoes just for one walk. That turned out tricky. The banks were muddy and my un-useful gladiator sandals slippery, so I had the kind advantage of the large ebony guide to hold my hand in some very tricky places.

Once at the waterfall  – some 45 minutes – we swam in the pool and others climbed the 20m waterfall to abseil down, with a fair amount of drama as one girl seemed to be hanging upside down because her legs had gone weak from fear. It is a grade 6 slope. I didn’t take any photos of her as it seemed too callous in case she fell. Our 3 intrepid adventurers did not see the other girl’s unwelcome drama fortunately and so came down as if they had done it all their lives, even sailing or seiling through the spray of the fall. I took some pix. Very nice day. Only question mark was changing for lunch and the flight to Tobago in a simple home where there were no hooks to hang your clothes in the toilet shack.

The ride back over the northern range was a little hair raising as the road had been partially washed away – which did not however perturb Courtnay Rooks, and we walked over the tricky part. Our lunch was at a wonderful spot – Asa Wright Nature Centre. There is a lodge there where birdlovers get great food and traditional  or Colonial mahogany beds, as well as bird watching hikes and endless hours lounging on the verandah with camera and telescope. The birdlife is a fluttering mass of brilliant colours and delicate shapes – humming birds and the like. We did no more than stand there and the sense of voluptuous nature enfolded us. A big monitor lizard and a strange large rodent were among other habitués.


Trinidad – tropical swamps & home at the Hilton, Port of Spain

May 2, 2012 in TRINIDAD & TOBAGO | Comments (3)

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Trinidad & Tobago

Twin islands in the southern Caribbean, outside the hurricane belt. Like other Caribbean islands (and Mauritius) they have a rainbow society. Mixed with the original Caribbean people (Caribs and Arowaks) are Indian cane workers, African slaves and British and French colonialists. All speaking English with the Caribbean lilt. Sunny smiles, relaxed ways, and like you expect of the Caribbean, carnivals and music.

Trinidad is the source of Calypso, soca and steelpan – said to be the only non electric music form created in the 20th century. Also home of my favourite writer and Nobel prize winner VS Naipual.

 Powered perhaps by a degree of independence from tourism (though of course they love and would like more tourists) Trinidad is actually an exporter of oil, gas and foodstuffs for the rest of the Caribbean, and has a more buoyant economy than most Caribbean countries. The country is more genuine in the sense of having its own life apart from the tourists.  Less touristy.

 The “disadvantage” might be obvious to those who want service, shopping and dining at luxury level. Apart from a few business hotels in Port of Spain (like the Hilton where we stayed one night and a new and striking Hyatt), you expect more charm than sophistication in T&T.

 At the same time the advantages sing out loud for those like things unspoilt. We found some delightful places to stay on Tobago, where our tour was mostly focused: peaceful, beautiful and perfect for families. See following entries.


Trinidad & Tobago – end of a long first day

May 1, 2012 in TRINIDAD & TOBAGO | Comments (0)

About to take off for the last leg to Trinidad. A long day that began in Gatwick at the Sofitel, but calm, pleasant and easy lounging in BA business class.  Breakfast in the Gatwick business lounge – thanks to BA’s educational efforts among travel agents in Scandinavia. Yes, we came via Heathrow yesterday from Stockholm and Copenhagen, with a smart and nippy private transfer. Works out cheaper than the bus actually if you are mre than one…