July 1, 2004
The tiny island of Tobago hovers just below the radar of luxe-life aficionados who make careers out of publicizing the world’s best-kept travel secrets. Quietly and patiently, just like the pace of life in Tobago, this island’s tourism pitch has taken its sweet time cultivating a unique identity. A three-hour flight from Miami, Tobago is becoming a popular haven for travelers seeking a custom-tailored tropical retreat.
Your escape begins by checking into an expansive hillside villa perched over the azure sea with plush poolside pillows and a sumptuous sunset vista. In the early ’90s, Italian, German, Austrian, and British investors launched a quiet invasion of Tobago, buying coastal lots and building holiday cabanas and boutique hotels. Simultaneously, a local businesswoman formed Island Investments to sustain a local stake in Tobago’s premium acreage.
Today, Island Investments’ portfolio contains more than 27 furnished and fully staffed vacation villas that rent for $200 to $1,500 per night (868-639-0929; www.islreal.com). The hillside properties provide breathtaking views and a serene atmosphere. Villa Petrus is one such resort. Set in lush hills, surrounded by tropical flowers and orchards, it offers fresh fruits and vegetables daily, teakwood floors, cross-flow ventilation, and three different views of the Caribbean Sea. The Villas at Stonehaven, also hillside, are an ensemble of 14 full-service villas, with 50-foot verandas and a private infinity pool overlooking Tobago’s south coast. Nightly rental fees start at $400 (868-639-0361; www.stonehavenvillas.com).
Of course, there are a number of trails, waterfalls, and gardens to explore—as well as more adrenaline-packed activities. The Tobago Game Fishing Tournament last March brought anglers from around the world who pulled in blue marlin, tuna, and dolphin. The popular Sunday school provides anything but Bible lessons. There’s lots of dancing to Caribbean beats. Vendors sell crafts and culinary treats such as curry crab and dumpling; doubles, a fried dough wrapped around curried chick peas; and roti, curried meat or vegetables wrapped in thin, flavorful dough. Ask for kutcheela, a blend of coarse and fine seasonings used to spike any dish, and wash it all down with the island’s favorite brew, Carib beer.
Eco-lovers and epicureans alike will enjoy dining at the Arnos Vale Waterwheel restaurant. Its open-air dining quarters are nestled in a thicket of skyscraping trees and tropical blooms that shape a nature reserve coexisting with remnants of an 18th century sugar and rum factory. As dusk descends, lanterns are set aglow and the ambiance steals your last breath.
On the heels of this year’s Carnival, which is a hot tourism draw for Tobago’s big sister, Trinidad, actors Gabrielle Union and Dorien Wilson were teeing off with cricket phenom Brian Lara at a celebrity charity classic, while The Duke of York, Andrew Albert Christian, toured the island’s east coast. All the while, the air remained tranquil. Undaunted, uncluttered, untouched, this is the charm of Tobago for the celebrated citizens of the world who retreat to its shores. And that’s how locals insist it shall remain whether on or under the radar. For the best online guides to