Petit St. Vincent in the Grenadines puts own spin on Caribbean seclusion

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Room Key: Petit St. Vincent Resort

Address: Petit St. Vincent, the Grenadines, St. Vincent, West Indies

Phone: (954) 963-7401

Fax: (954) 963-7402

Reservations: (800) 654-9326

Web:www.psvresort.com

Owners: Haze and Lynn Richardson

Cottages: 22

Rates: Prices vary by season. In the high season, rates are $770 per room, per night, double; in the low season, $605. The resort is closed in September and October. Rates include all meals, afternoon tea, room service, resort facilities, a 10% service charge in lieu of tips and 10% government tax.

Getting there: The resort arranges 55-minute flights from Barbados to Union Island on Grenadine Airways. Guests are met in Barbados and escorted through immigration formalities and are then met on Union Island and driven to the launch for a 25-minute boat ride to the resort.

Facilities: Restaurant; tennis court; glass-bottom kayaks; a fitness trail; scuba and instruction; a 28-foot sport fishing boat; a 73-foot sailing yacht; a fitness trail.

As Capt. Maurice, ferrying seven new arrivals on the Zeus II, neared the shore of Petit St. Vincent in the Grenadines, a welcoming committee gathered on the dock -- the owners, the manager, a quartet of front-office staff and two yellow labs. 

We disembarked. Everyone, save the dogs, shook hands. Introductions were made and fruity rum drinks proffered. Then we were whisked to our cottages. That was check-in.

It was, as I discovered, typical of Petit St. Vincent (usually called PSV), a 113-acre private island at the southern tip of the Grenadines chain.

The resort is the realm of Haze Richardson, a one-time charter boat captain who discovered the island in 1966.

Richardson subsequently helped design and build every structure on it, including the 22 well-secluded stone-and-timber cottages. 

Some cottages are on hillsides, some on a beach, some on a bluff. None are air conditioned but all are angled to catch the prevailing breezes through large, louvered windows.

My cottage was on a headland, with a staircase carved into the rock, leading down to a private beach. Like the others, mine had a large deck, shaded hammock and a rolling drink cart stocked with soft drinks, wine, pint-size liquor bottles and an ice chest. 

Two daybed sofas, several tables and chairs filled the glass-walled living area. A pair of queen beds so high they needed step stools dominated the bedroom, which was cooled by a ceiling fan and breezes coming through the louvered windows.

Each bed had nine pillows and was flanked by reading lamps with individual dimmer switches on the headboards and a bedside table with a radio and dictionary (presumably for crossword puzzle addicts). 

The dressing room had loads of closet and storage space, a hair dryer, makeup mirror, Molton Brown amenities, umbrellas, rain slickers, flashlight, bug spray, Woolite, tote bags and a games box with backgammon and cribbage.   

The bathroom featured a stone-walled shower and enough towels to affect a prison escape. The PSV hosts did think of everything.

The cottages had no telephones. Guests communicated with hotel staff via flags on a bamboo pole and a mail slot by the roadside. 

A raised red flag meant do not disturb. Spotting a raised yellow flag, staff members, who made the rounds every 15 minutes, unscrolled the guest's written request, which could be anything from a breakfast room service order to a time to be picked up for a ride to the dock or to dinner at the Pavilion.  

Although it was possible to have all meals by room service, I preferred the Pavilion's bar and dining areas.

The other guests were convivial in a house-party way and the food so good that it seemed a shame to subject it to a journey.

The unusual communication system was Richardson's idea. He set the resort's relaxed tone and the few rules: no room keys and no cell phones in public areas.

Although his target market has long been North America, a number of English and Italian visitors have discovered the resort in the past few years. He described his client base as "successful couples in their 50s who want a break from their stressful business lives." 

Repeat bookings account for approximately 40% of business, with a good number of families returning each year over the Christmas holidays.

"Some of the children have learned to swim and sail here," Richardson said. "This is their idea of beach."

Less than half of his current business comes through travel agents. 

Activities on the small island are unstructured and include tennis on a lighted court, a hike up and down 275-foot Marni Hill and a stroll or jog along the Fitness Trail, with its 20 cross-training stations. 

Two guests who arrived when I did were on a Hobie Cat 20 minutes after check-in. They took off the next morning for a snorkeling trip to Tobago Cays.

Opting for more sedentary pursuits, I selected a mystery novel from the gift shop's extensive paperback library; had a swim and a snooze at one of West End Beach's private shelters;  took a boat ride for a view of the island's two-mile, beach-rimmed perimeter; and traveled across the half-mile channel to neighboring Petit Martinique, which is part of Grenada. 

Hitching a ride on a Mini Moke (a gas-powered, four-seat cart) with manager Rick Chinsley, I visited 250 egg-laying hens, a papaya grove, an herb and vegetable garden, a rock quarry, a gas pump, a desalinization plant and carpentry and machine shops. 

I met Trevor Douglas, the 41-year-old, British-born chef who took over the kitchen last season.

Douglas's resume includes stints at Brennan's in New Orleans and the Sagamore in Lake George, N.Y., as well as a teaching post at the New England Culinary Institute. In the off-season, he is executive chef at Weekapaug Inn, an ocean resort in Rhode Island.

Douglas changes the menu daily, which pleases guests, who stay an average of 10 days.

Breaking away from the resort's former English-Caribbean fare, he has injected some island flavor into the menu. 

"I want people to realize they're in the Caribbean, but in a subtle way," he said.

Hence, callaloo soup but no bull's foot soup. Guava and green fig sauce with mahi mahi but no goatwater.

"I think we have the best restaurant in the region right now," he said.

He may be right.

A cadre of fishermen and lobstermen deliver their catches to Douglas's kitchen each morning; meats are flown in from a well-known New York butcher; produce comes from St. Vincent, and wine and cheese from Martinique. And then there are those 250 busy hens.

Douglas's current delight, and Richardson's latest improvement, was a wood-burning brick oven at Mr. Green's, the new lunch terrace named after one of the owner's deceased yellow labs.

The terrace's buffet table held soups, salads, cheeses and pastries, while the oven turned out pizzas, barbecued pork sandwiches, grilled shrimp and, on Sundays, beef Wellington.

Home-baked bread is next on the chef's list.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].

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