With the seemingly endless lockdowns affecting travel plans, I’m dreaming of my favourite destinations, which I hope to visit again one day.
1 – Barbados. This is my favourite spot on the planet. It’s far enough out in the Atlantic to always have a cooling breeze, and far enough south to miss most hurricanes. Perfect for those escaping the snows of winter in the north. The people are wonderful and friendly and I have made local friends in the more than three decades I have been travelling there.
Last December we stayed for a week and celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary at Cobbler’s Cove, an exclusive adults-only boutique hotel on the west coast. We dined on the same spot where we had held our beach-side wedding a decade earlier, with the same friends who stood up for us, altogether a magical evening. We had hoped to spend Christmas 2020 at this resort, but with travel so restricted this was not to be.
Highlights of my last trip included a gloriously windy sail on the large Tiami catamaran, which came with lashings of local delicacies at lunch, followed by swimming with turtles. We drove across the island for a memorable meal at the famous Crane with its iconic columned swimming pool and magnificent Atlantic views. A trip to a rum distillery is always fun and ours ended with a steep climb through an old plantation on the restored St. Nicholas Abbey steam train. There’s lots more to do for those who are adventurous. A small car is easy to rent from the locally owned Stoutes. Booze and jewellery are cheap in the many duty-free shops.
2 – Costa Rica. A few years ago, we decided to take a long winter break and rented a condo for a month in Jaco, a rather honky-tonk town in the dead centre of the west coast. The condo had a great pool, but apart from a few good beach restaurants, I wouldn’t recommend the town. To get away, we took side trips to many parts of this fascinating country. We stayed with friends who had a charming B&B in the surfer paradise of Sámara, on the northern Nicoya Peninsula. A weekend inland on the shores of Lake Arenal was a quiet getaway with views of the perfectly conical volcano, dormant since 2010. We travelled almost to the southern border to visit other friends in their hillside hacienda near Ojochal, with spectacular ocean and sunset views.
By far the most fun was had in Manuel Antonio, where we twice stayed at Hotel Costa Verde. The boutique hotel has large private balconies overlooking the pool and advertises: “More monkeys than people.” There’s also a tree-top suite in an old Constellation airliner. The bar across the road is housed in a 50s cargo plane, both a bit strange but fun. A short walk away, there’s a tiny and outstanding national park, rare white sand beaches and a bustling village with lots of good restaurants and shops.
We skipped the capital San José, but took another break at the mountain-side Casa Cristal Hotel in nearby Escazú. Somehow, in the rush of leaving our condo, I left behind the bag with all my clothes in it, so this necessitated a rewarding shopping trip to the huge Multiplaza mall, equal to any in North Amercia, where there was a most welcome sale going on.
3 – Saint Martin/Sint Maarten. Over many seasons, I’ve enjoyed trips to this delightful island, split down the middle by the French and Dutch. On my last visit, we were loaned a luxury villa by a wonderful and generous colleague. (Thanks, Jim!) Often, I’ve started bare-boat charters from the island, acting as skipper several times. We’ve sailed around the island or to neighbouring St. Barts or Anguilla, and further afield. Island beaches are spectacular, especially the notorious Orient Beach, where there is a large nudist section (the latter unvisited by myself, I hasten to add!) Most of the good hotels are on the Dutch side and most of the good restaurants are on the French side, especially in Grand Case where dozens of spots line each side of the street, and there used to be hundreds to choose from.
A mixed sailing and hotel trip was planned for early 2019, but had to be cancelled when it seemed most of the choice hotels still hadn’t opened, following a direct hit from Hurricane Irma on September 6, 2017. Three years later, recovery is still far from complete, according to the New York Times.
Now with the pandemic, even the normally invisible border between the two halves of the island has been closed to visitors by the French, and the Dutch-side international airport is limiting flights from many countries. Fortunately, the island seems to have escaped the worst of the current hurricane season, with just a brush by Tropical Storm Irma in August 2020.
Let’s hope this one-time paradise finds its feet with the rest of the world.
4 – Bahamas. Although I’ve visited Nassau, New Providence Island, many times and lots of the other islands too, both flying in and boating, my favourite island is Great Exuma at the southern tip of the 150-island Exuma Cays. There’s honestly not much to do here, but for a completely relaxing beach holiday, this is the place. The sand is almost white and the waters such an extraordinary turquoise colour, they have their own brand: Exuma Blue.
Swimming with feral pigs or baby sharks, feeding wild iguanas or snorkelling in James Bond’s Thunderball Grotto occupy a couple of afternoons, but honestly, with a good book, an almost continuous supply of rum punch, brought by attentive staff, and the perfect combination of sun, sand and sea, why wander far from the beach?
On our last trip we rented a two-bedroom villa at Grand Isle Resort. Best resort holiday ever! Sandals Emerald Bay next door is fine for those who like that sort of thing and comes with an extensive Greg Norman designed golf course.
5 – Provence. If Europe seems strangely absent from my list of favourites, it’s because I’ve spend the last few decades living in North America, where we tend to look south for our winter getaways. In summer, I’ve visited England almost every year, but family obligations have tended to inhibit further travel to the Continent.
However, Provence has always had a particular attraction for me, since I first travelled there as co-driver of a then exotic E-Type Jaguar convertible. I was in my early 20s. In Nice, we drove along the Promenade des Anglais to admiring glances. On other trips, I’ve danced on the incomplete Pont D’Avignon and drunk wine in the enchanting hill town of Saint-Paul de Vence, where I had escargot for the very first time. I will never forget the scent of lavender or garrigue everywhere.
I’ve loved St. Tropez and especially the expensive bars along the waterfront, such as Sénéquier, where one may watch the very, very rich at play with their yachts. A dear and now departed friend with a farm house in the hills above invited me for my most recent visit to the area, when we spend a very long and boozy afternoon on the fabulous Plage de Pampleonne at Club 55, where you can’t afford to go if you have to ask the price. Fortunately, my late friend was a very generous host.
That wraps up my top five destinations, where I hope to return when the pandemic permits. On my bucket list of places to discover are everywhere in Portugal, Spain and Italy, especially Florence and Venice, and parts of Greece and Turkey I’ve not seen in decades. Making that bucket list is one of the bright spots of lockdown!
Happy New Year to all our readers and let’s hope for a more travel-friendly 2021.
All photographs by Nigel Napier-Andrews © 2021
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