Wedding in Perfect Paradise... Raffles Resort, Canouan
Canouan and the Grenadines
CAN*O*U*AN... Say it again... CANOUAN. I had to practice saying it a few times, which I highly recommend you do too, as it is soon to be discovered as a literal heaven on earth. It is heaven not only for golf, spa treatments, and romantic vacations but also as one of the hottest wedding destinations in the world. Why? Because luxury resort and hotel chain, Raffles, has made Canouan the island the home of its newest resort.Canouan, Arawak meaning turtle, (there are fresh water turtles all over the island, and sea turtles inhabiting the surrounding reefs) is one of the 30 islands that make up the Grenadine Islands in the Caribbean. It stretches a mere 3.5 by 4.25 miles, and is inhabited by 1100 people. The capital of the country is nearby St. Vincent, which supplies much of the food, services, and medical care to the smaller islands. Also very near to Canouan are the islands of Bequiae, Mustique, and the Tobago Cays, which can all be enjoyed on day visits from Canouan for a little variety. The Grenadines are virtually unspoiled as they are far enough from the US and Europe to dissuade the less-than-avid travelers. In my opinion, they are among the most beautiful in the Caribbean, especially if you love lush, mountainous islands surrounded by the clearest water and coral reefs teaming with colorful life.
As fortune would have it, I was the lucky recipient of an invitation to Canouan by Raffles, so that I could review their wedding offerings. As many of you know, I am no stranger to destination wedding venues around the world as I have written a book (Destination Bride: A Complete Guide to Planning Your Wedding Anywhere in the World) that suggests and reviews approximately 500 venues around the world. I remind you of this so that when I tell you that Raffles, Canouan is close to perfection, you take me seriously.
I departed from New York's JFK airport on American Airlines at 11:00 (which was a nice change from the normal 6am or 8pm flight to anywhere in the world!) for Barbados. The funny thing is that when I reviewed my itinerary, which was supplied by Raffles, I did not see how I was to get from Barbados to Canouan. I thought it curious, and figured I had missed a communication due to my hectic schedule, but knew I would find my way somehow. That I did. A Raffles representative met me at the Barbados Airport, took care of customs and my luggage, and led me to the Raffles seven-passenger private jet! (American Airlines and American Eagle now offer daily service to Canouan Island via San Juan. Several airlines offer flights to Barbados, and Raffles will arrange transfers from Barbados, St. Lucia, Grenada or Martinique to Canouan through their Flight Concierge Service. The jet is not always available, depending on arrival times and passenger numbers. There are also prop planes available for the hop over to Canouan. The prop planes do take a little more time, however, rest assured the pilots are amazing and very friendly as well).
Cocktails were available on the plane which made spirits high as we departed on our 30-minute flight to Canouan. I knew we were arriving when we passed a small mountain within what seemed arm's distance! We were greeted with hugs at the Canouan airport, which simply consisted of a thatched building with perhaps two employees. Another Raffles representative helped us with customs again... not that we needed help as we were the only 4 arrivals. We were offered chilled wash cloths perfumed with lemon water, and off we went to the resort. Ten minutes later we arrived at the grand, wood-carved gates, and entered the world of Raffles Resort Canouan Island.
Even though it was dark, I was impressed by its beauty and most of all, by its size. The property is set on 300 acres of a 1200 acre estate, of which only a small portion have been developed to date. The property includes the Trump International Golf Course, an 18-hole, 72 par course designed by Jim Fazio, RafflesAmrita Spa (which I will describe later), 3 beaches, 4 restaurants and 4 bars, a gift shop, a high-end boutique, a childcare facility, a long, serpentine pool, the mountaintop Villa Monte Carlo complete with a very elegant casino, the Romeo and Juliet Villa, which is one of the owner's homes and soon to be available to the public, 156 accommodations including rooms, suites, and villas, with plans to build another 25 private villas, which may also become available to the public based on availability. So you see, when I say it has it all, I mean it!
Our van made its way past the villas, through the center of the resort and past the beautiful 17th century Anglican church. This church was brought to the island stone by stone from England, in the 19th century. Needless to say, I was struck by what an ideal setting the church would provide, on this island paradise, for a destination wedding. After our short tour, we were delivered to the reception building, which is nothing short of magical. Pavilion-style, the room is draped with linen panels for walls, and surrounded by pools of water for an effect that is not only inviting, but sensual.
I made it my business to try everything - well, as much as I could in two and a half days - so that I could share it with you. So I took no time at all to unpack and made my way to the Villa Monte Carlo for dinner at La Varenne and gaming in the casino. The food was delectable... fois gras, lobster, and a raspberry work of art for dessert. Of the four restaurants, La Varenne is the most classic, offering old-world elegance and fine European cuisine with incredible views by day or night, as it is at one of the highest points on the island. It is enclosed in glass, and offers an outdoor veranda for cocktails and relaxing.
The casino is appointed primarily in rich, exotic woods, and feels more like a personal billiards room in a private estate than a resort casino. I am not much of a gambler, so I did not stay long, however, I know that if I was, I would thoroughly enjoy the ambiance and the camaraderie of the local Canouan card dealers.
My room (how could I forget to tell you about my room?) was inviting, to say the least. I had a one-bedroom suite, which they call Orchestra. The accommodations range from rooms to 3-bedroom suites. (Villa Romeo and Juliet will be available in 2007 for guests who want exclusivity, and are staying for at least a week.) The rooms and suites are designed in a Mexican/Caribbean style, with rich hues of yellow, orange, green and blue. The floors are tiled in terra cotta, and the walls are accented with Mexican tiles. I particularly fell in love with the ceramic sinks in the bathrooms. My one-bedroom suite was enormous, with a dining area, living room overlooking my own terrace and view of the sea, two bathrooms, one which had a wonderful, deep tub and a shower as well as two sinks, a walk-in closet and an absolutely dreamy bedroom with a king-sized bed, draped with mosquito netting. The bedroom had two sliding doors opening to the terrace and allowing me to wake with the sun and a heavenly view.
Guests are given a golf cart with their room so that you can explore the resort, play golf, and simply get from point A to point B. Remember, it is hilly. Breakfast is served in Jambu's restaurant by the pool and one of the beaches. Jambu's is designed in a Caribbean plantation, pavilion style with wooden, cathedral ceilings, and open walls. The restaurant is surrounded by pools of water and small, arched bridges. The breakfast buffet is more than substantial with fruit, salmon, meats and cheeses, yogurts, cereals, pastries, an omelet station, waffles, pancakes and much more. One word of advice, however: do not leave your food unattended, as the local black birds are waiting on the side lines for unobservant guests and will brazenly try to nibble at your food despite the efforts of the diligent staff! I thought it amusing, and asked what kind of birds they are. The reply? Naughty birds!
First chance I got, I reserved my spot on the catamaran for a sail to the Tobago Keys for snorkeling. If you love sailing, Canouan and the Grenadines are the place to go as the wind is always blowing, the water is clear, and the snorkeling and scuba diving are amazing. We had wind alright, and swells that must have been 20 feet high. I loved every exhilarating minute of it sitting on the net on the bow. When we arrived at the Tobago Cays, we jumped in with Captain Phil who fed the fish so they would swarm around us. We also saw a ray, 3 green turtles and a giant starfish, which was a thrill. There weren't many shells on the beach, but I collected a few very green rocks as treasures for my little women at home. The excursion lasted about 4 hours, and cost $120.
That night started by sipping Singapore Slings (a drink created by the original Raffles Hotel in Singapore) at Bellini's Bar, a chic, outdoor bar overlooking part of the golf course. Dinner was upstairs in La Piazza restaurant, which feels a bit more modern than La Varenne, and the food leans more toward Italian and Mediterranean. We ate fois gras again, as it is a favorite, fresh pasta, and lamb, which was prepared exquisitely. For dessert, I had a beautiful mousse with a pistachio crust.
Day three was my golf day, so to speak. I unfortunately do not play golf, but I took a tour of the golf course and the golf club (which is yet another very unique space for entertaining). The golf club, which is in close proximity to the conference center, has a large room complete with billiards and a 50-foot glass wall overlooking a small, edgeless pool and the golf course that can actually be fully opened, accordion style to create yet another open-air space. Did I mention that Donald Trump is building a villa on the golf course, and is selling another 24 to be built within the next few years? So, if you are interested in investing in a vacation paradise, call now! I've no doubt they will be selling like hotcakes.
What can I say about the golf course....well, as I said, I am not a golfer. This is because I am the type of person who cannot sit still and needs to be going at a very fast pace....I am a thrill seeker. Well, suffice it to say, I would love to play this course. The best way to explain it is by telling you that the course is perfect for those who love extreme sports. The paths are up and down and switchback. Holes #12 through 15 are the course's most scenic and challenging. In addition to the thrill, the landscaping and the views are equal to none. The 13th hole in particular is absolutely spectacular. It is literally on top of the world....a mountain apex with 360Ã¢—Â¦ views of the resort and all of the surrounding islands. This would be where I would choose to be married if I could do it again. Down below in Grand Bay, is The Moorings, a premier yacht organization with sail-it-yourself and crewed boats that can be chartered for events, or to reach the private beach accessible only by boat that is available for romantic picnics and more.
Each Sunday, the General Manager holds a cocktail party at Bellini's so that guests can meet him and the managerial staff, and mingle with fellow guests. Then, everyone makes their way to the Godahl Beach Bar and Grill for a beach BBQ complete with Reggae. The moon was full, the sea breeze was refreshing, and the buffet amazing: grilled lobster, shrimp, lamb, and chicken, a huge variety of salads and deserts, seaweed salad, raw tuna, pate, fruit, and much more.
I saved the best for the last day at Raffles - the Amrita Spa. Let's just say, an image of the sea palapas is now permanently saved as my screen saver to remind me of the peace and serenity I experienced, being massaged to the rhythm of the sea. The spa is situated in a quiet corner of one of the harbors, in a series of eleven thatched-roof palapa spa suites. The primary palapa has a wharf that reaches out into the sea, where guests are ferried in dinghies to two over-water palapas that have glass floors, which enable the guest to view the marine life while being massaged! Or guests can opt to be in one of the hillside palapas, which are reached by taking a solar powered, open-air funicular. A wonderful tree palapa offers morning Chi and meditation classes with gorgeous views. Each palapa is equipped with two tables, a bathroom, a shower, and a deck complete with a Jacuzzi overlooking the sea. The massage was perfect of course, but to be able to slip into a Jacuzzi after the massage was the icing on the relaxation cake.
My stay would not be complete without a swim in the pool. It is much longer than the average pool, and it is traversed by a couple of arched bridges making lap swimming much more interesting. It is surrounded by relaxation beds, which I was tempted to try, but I did not have time if I wanted to spend any time on the beach before I departed.
The beaches are powder fine, clean, wide, and peppered with the proverbial thatched umbrellas. This is a good place to mention the service. Impeccable... They are watching and taking care of your every need. The staff is generally young and very eager to please.
They bring you towels and drinks on the beach, and I am sure they would even lather the suntan lotion on if you asked them to. By the way, tipping is not a worry as it is included in the price of the rooms which I think is nice and much less awkward.
Destination Weddings at Raffles, Canouan
In this day and age, couples know they can be married anywhere in the world. So why then, if you had $100,000 to spend on your wedding, would you plan a huge impersonal bash for 200 in a banquet hall near home when you could take your dearest friends and family to Canouan for an experience of a lifetime?
Let me paint the picture...
The bride and groom arrive on Tuesday, so that they can settle in before they have to fly over to St. Vincent to get their marriage license. This is an easy process, all arranged and taken care of by the wedding coordinator at Raffles. The trip is necessary to obtain the license if you want it to be a legal wedding in the Grenadines. The trip provides a fun, romantic excursion to St. Vincent. The residency requirement is 24 hours, but I recommend you arrive with a day to spare just in case. Guests will most likely arrive on Thursday or Friday. I recommend Thursday as they will arrive fairly late, around 6 or 7pm. Plan on a welcome cocktail party at Belini's open-air bar and a little fun at the casino the night they arrive.
Suggest to guests that they explore and enjoy the resort on Friday. You could set up a rendezvous with the bride pool or beach side, and a round of golf with the groom, or plan to go sailing with Captain Phil and his lovely first mate, Nickola. Or plan a group lunch and a sail for a little bonding and sightseeing. Plan a beach BBQ complete with the resident reggae band on Friday, as your welcome or rehearsal party.
Saturday will be full of pampering and primping in the spa, salon and in your suite where you can comfortably gather with your wedding party before the ceremony.
At the right moment, you will mount your trusty stead - a gaily decorated golf cart, to make your way to the chapel for a simple, yet lovely service complete of course with tropical flowers and a Canouan gospel choir. If a church (albeit non-denominational) is not your thing, you can choose from any of the entertaining venues, one of the beaches, or the 13th hole at the top of the island and the world with a 360 degree view of the sea riddled with verdant islands.
There is no shortage of scenic backdrops for photos, but the best in my opinion are the chapel, the beaches, the veranda of the villa Monte Carlo; and the best by far is the 13th hole.
A cocktail reception on the Villa Monte Carlo and a dinner reception in the ballroom is the most common scenario, especially for a large group. If a plantation style reception is more to your liking, Jambu's is an option, as is Godahl's beachside restaurant if you do not use it for another dinner reception. The ballroom has wonderful mountaintop views of the sea, and lots of windows. It is cleanly designed in shades of white, and the chairs are rattan, which provides a very elegant yet Caribbean setting for whatever dÃƒÂ©cor you choose.
A Raffles wedding on the Island of Canouan is surely to be remembered, even if it cannot be pronounced right away. The name and the experience will surely be imprinted on everyone's memory in indelible ink.