As the 879th snowstorm of the winter hits, I have only one piece of advice to offer you: Get out of town. No, really. Just pick up and go. There’s no good reason to spend even one more day bundled up and trudging through snow and slush. I say leave the wintering to everyone else and escape to someplace beautiful.
One of the more gorgeous places I’ve ever visited has been Turks and Caicos, a picture postcard perfect small stretch of islands in the Caribbean. You know those too beautiful to be true pictures of the blue green ocean bordered with sugar white beaches? Well, that’s what you can expect to find in Turks and Caicos. Nature enthusiasts will love knowing that the islands boast the third largest coral reef in the world, visible to the naked eye in the varied colors of the sea. And as warm as the temperatures get, the sand never gets hot because it’s made of pure crushed coral.
What you should know: I stayed on an island called Providenciales (or “Provo” to locals) which is the most populous of the islands and home to the local airport. Grace Bay on Provo is an almost five-mile-long stretch that’s the hub for most local resorts. The islands are surrounded by miles of coral reef and prime for diving. While I was a bit put off by the thought of going on my first dive, my travel companions visited the exotically named Iguana Island and came back with reports of seeing a lemon shark and loads of local fish. You can charter local boats and nearly every hotel and property can help you to set up an afternoon’s diving excursion.
Where to stay: Like most people, I’ve been finding ways to save over the past few years rather than spend. But it occurs to me that if you are going to splurge, you should not only get your money’s worth, but you should come home with an experience that leaves you talking about it for years. While the islands are scattered with impressive properties, my favorite is the Gansevoort resort. If you’ve ever wanted to live like a celebrity for a few days, the Gansevoort Turks and Caicos (which opened in 2009) will ensure that you receive the same kind of treatment that attracts celebrity guests including Ashley Greene, Ellen Pompeo, and Kelly Rowland.
I’ve stayed in some pretty fabulous hotels in my life, but this was a pretty impressive property. Design high points include a 7,000-foot infinity pool at the center of the resort. My suite had a glass patio, so there was nothing obstructing the view of the ocean. There was also this cool but weird and extremely decadent in-room bathtub with a faucet that seemed to magically rain down water into the tub. A kitchen stocked with nearly every appliance imaginable meant that if I had an urge for a smoothie, I could make one myself instead of ordering room service. Cutler bath products in the bathroom were plentiful and smelled heavenly. It was almost an embarrassment of luxury. Almost. There were also practical things like a daily breakfast buffet, free Wi-Fi in every room, bicycles for guests to use, a business center, and a 24 hour gym. It’s also a family-friendly resort, so despite the sleek exteriors there are endless extras available to families.
Exhale Spa maintains a presence at the resort which means that you don’t have to leave the property for a massage or manicure and if you choose you can attend one of the daily yoga or other fitness classes (extra charges may apply). One of the more decadent experiences was taking a yoga class at the outdoor yoga pavilion while watching the sun set over the Caribbean.
What you should eat: The ubiquitous local conch (pronounced “conk”) seems to make its way into a vast majority of local dishes, from salads to main courses. Since I’m a pescetarian by default (a vegetarian who learned to eat fish when nothing else is available), I was relieved to see that fish such as mahi mahi, grouper, and snapper are equally popular around the islands.
Stelle Restaurant at the Gansevoort is an experience in fine Caribbean dining and a local attraction in itself. There’s a live DJ on Friday nights which attracts a crowd of both tourists and locals.
If you’re looking for something a bit less formal, restaurants like Da Conch Shack offer a conch-intensive menu with a nice choice of local beers and rum as well as a signature drink, the Conch Knocker. You might also want to check out the low-key and highly recommended Somewhere Café (it was closed when I visited). Check the local calendar to find out about the next Caribbean Food and Wine Festival a three-day event which takes place on the islands every year. It’s a fun way to spend a few days visiting different properties and sampling a wide variety of locally sourced delicacies and tipples.
What you should buy: While there are lovely shops scattered through the more commercial areas, Turks and Caicos isn’t really a shopping destination. But local generously spiked Bambarra rum cakes are always a pretty safe bet.
What to keep in mind: I’ll be honest, I was a bit intimidated when checking into the Gansevoort. After all, it has the reputation of being the playground of celebrities. And all the perfect bikini bodies made me wonder if I had the guts to bare nearly all, but after a while you just kind of go with it. And the staff was incredibly friendly and I was able to recharge my soul and come back refreshed. Be sure to check the hotel website for frequent specials and packages. And if you don’t ever want to come back home? You can talk to the on-site realtors about purchasing a beach front condo on the property.
Rachel Weingarten is a noted and quoted style expert and former celebrity makeup artist. She’s the author of three non-fiction books. Her new book: Ancient Prayer: Channeling Your Faith 365 Days of the Year will be published by Fall River Press in September 2014. Tweet with her @rachelcw or like her new page on Facebook. Need help style stalking your favorite celebrity looks? Write to Rachel at firstname.lastname@example.org