Enchantment Reigns at St. John's Peter Bay Gatehouse Villa


Caribbean editor Gay Nagle Myers traded a room in a hotel for a boudoir in a villa on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, recently. She might never set foot in a hotel again. Here is her bedtime story:

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PETER BAY -- It was the mosquito netting that got me.

Draped over the mahogany posts of my king-size bed, the white gauzy material swayed gently in the breeze and conjured up images of decadent afternoons spent on the Nile (where I've never been).

The netting (which I didn't need), the arched windows with wooden louvers, polished dark wood floors, wicker furniture, cathedral-style ceilings with fans, stone sconces, water views and me in the tower reaches of a circular stone gatehouse set a Caribbean scene far removed from most I'd experienced.

Where in the world was I?

Peter Bay Gatehouse overlooking Peter Bay on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, an escapist's dream -- and I never wanted to leave.

The villa stay was an ingenious overnight break in the midst of a hectic three-island press trip.

Journalists were scattered throughout the island in various private residences with names such as Zanadu and Christmas Winds, Paradise and Milesaway, Altamira and Coral Rhapsody.

The lodgings ranged from deluxe hillside casas with pools and wraparound decks to beachfront condominiums that fronted secluded coves and cays.

Our assignment was to sample an alternative form of lodging available to visitors, an option that is easily bookable, commissionable and similar in price to a stay in an upscale hotel.

When we next gathered to compare notes, I was very smug, convinced that I had gotten the best deal for sure.

My villa (I immediately claimed direct ownership) was built of native island stone in the architectural style of a sugar mill, complete with mill tower.

The gatehouse had two self-contained separate units, one upstairs and one downstairs.

Each had a Jacuzzi and its own private entrance, so that two families or one extended family or two couples could rent the gatehouse at the same time.

Coral stone terraces hung from the villa in all directions.

From my upstairs vantage point, I could open French doors in the bedroom to a deck overlooking national park forests; I could relax in my hot tub in total privacy on a side deck brimming with terra-cotta pots heaped with blooming flowers; I could wander out from the living room to another deck offering unobstructed views of Cinnamon and Frances bays and Tortola beyond.

My bathroom had stained-glass windows and an enormous tile-lined tub and shower; my small but compact kitchen had a microwave, a coffeemaker and packets of coffee (nothing bugs me more than having a coffee maker without the fixings), a two-burner stove, a sink and a refrigerator.

My living room had bookcases and reading lamps, candles, comfortable chairs and a music system with tapes and CDs. I never turned on either of the two televisions.

The gatehouse where I stayed was actually the entry point of a 15-villa gated community complex called Peter Bay situated within the national park on St. John's north shore.

Access to the complex was via a tall wrought-iron gate that swung open when the proper code was punched in. All villa guests received coded card keys upon arrival.

A private beach was a 10-minute walk down a cliffside trail (and a 20-minute steep climb back up).

During my brief but blessed sojourn in the gatehouse, I didn't go to the beach, I didn't take a walk and I only reluctantly left my sanctuary for a group dinner in Cruz Bay.

I wasn't being anti-social. Villa life, and this villa in particular, had totally captured me. I was in love with my environment, my surroundings and my views.

I left the French doors wide open that night in my bedroom. When I pulled back the Caribbean print bedspread and crawled into the four-poster, I gazed out on a full moon above, the waters below and I called my husband in snowy New Jersey.

I booked the gatehouse the next morning for our anniversary next January.

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