There are surprisingly few places in the world where royalty and seriously famous A-listers can truly relax. Mustique is one such place: an island where the world’s most instantly recognisable faces can kick off their expensive shoes and relax against an oh-so-paradisiacal backdrop of lush foliage dotted with tropical blooms, sandy beaches and turquoise waters. It’s little wonder the postcard-perfect island in the West Indies nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has long been a favoured vacation spot for blue bloods, the European jet set and rock royalty.
Mustique is a byword for fuss-free, simple sophistication; it’s a place where the famous and the beautiful can mingle on the sands and feel unshackled, happy and free. No one cares that you’re a Rolling Stone, a Fortune 500 CEO, Ziggy Stardust or a even a king-in-waiting such as Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, or “Wils”, as he is affectionately known by local folk.
An aerial view of Mustique in the Caribbean
I arrive wearing designer flip-flops, but I needn’t have bothered as practically everyone I meet – including a well-known American movie star – is barefoot. Only the presence of Kate and William reminds me of the history of Mustique and its legend of “The Aristocrat, the Princess and the Rock Star”.
It’s a tale I love, for all its glamour and awe. Mustique owes much to Princess Margaret, the fun-loving late sister of Queen Elizabeth II. Margaret adored Mustique for its laid-back beauty, swapping her tiara and silk gloves for beachwear and bringing the island to the attention of the world. What makes Mustique all the more fascinating is that little Prince George, another future king (known as “Lil’ Georgie” by the locals), may be only three years old, but he has already visited Mustique and made sandcastles on the beach.
Mustique’s transformation into its current-day status as a millionaires’ retreat was due to the incomparable Lord Colin Tennant, 3rd Baron Glenconner, in 1959. Snapping up the undeveloped island for a mere £45,000 (US$68,300), he engaged Swedish builder, Arne Hasselqvist, to set about taming the knotted tangle of beachfront jungle and cutting paths through the foliage. Soon, rickety wooden jetties stretched out over the warm translucent waters, and deposits were built to provide running water.
When Lord Tennant realised his initial ambitions to create a new cotton plantation weren’t viable, he looked for other ways to develop his investment. The location, a 19-kilometre sailboat ride from St. Vincent and a short flight from Barbados and St. Lucia, made it a getaway that wasn’t too far away – an ideal retreat.
Seclusion at it's finest
With Tennant’s funds, Hasselqvist’s resourceful construction nous and the flair of leading British theatre-set designer Oliver Messel, a luxury resort began to take shape. Collectively, the trio had considerable vision and their first project was to convert the old cotton warehouse into a small hotel. Cotton House set the tone for the impeccable design of the entire island, which was split into equal plots and sold to shareholders.
Numbers were strictly limited to 120 to preserve the character, exclusivity and beauty of the island. Demand was high and parcels of land were snapped up by an eclectic group of socialites, rock stars, designers, artists and private individuals with a keen desire to be part of something incredible and unique. Needless to say, the island had already generated a considerable amount of media buzz since Lord Tennant bequeathed his good friend Princess Margaret a plot of Mustique land in 1960 as a wedding present (“her own slice of paradise”).
Before long, Hasselqvist had created some beautiful houses among the palm trees – all of them with mesmerising, uninterrupted views over blue-green sea. Princess Margaret and her new husband Tony Armstrong-Jones came to adore the island – and as I gaze out from a hilltop plateau over dramatic hilly curves that fall away to reveal powdery-soft beaches, I too am enraptured.
No cell phone, no problem
Aside from the rustic waterside booze-and-food joint Basil’s Bar (+1 784 488 8350; www.basilsbar.com), and the restaurants and bars at Cotton House and Firefly, Mustique may lack nightlife but it certainly isn’t short on entertainment. Take a brief walk anywhere, and you’ll find Mother Nature’s theatre and drama at every turn. Apart from the static drone of insects in the jungle and the rustle of giant palms fringing the sand, only the buzz of a dozen or so brilliantly plumed hummingbirds breaks the silence.
These tiny, iridescent, jewel-toned birds weigh less than a penny, yet dart back and forth in magical syncopated displays at a rapid rate, dipping slender bills into the nectar-filled flowered creepers that climb the trees; such a presence in all their gilded livery, yet so small, so light, so airborne that they are barely there.
Other birdlife includes herons and egrets that ply the water’s edge in impressive aerial swirls in a patient search for dinner before the evening’s entertainment starts: Mustique’s signature chorus of tree frogs. Iguana hide among the lush ferns while the island’s red-necked tortoise are bolder, emerging from their shelter of glossy leaves, palms and crimson blooms. Out at sea, the fertile waters are rich with exotic fish and coral reefs.
It’s relatively easy to catch saltwater salmon, mackerel and barracuda, and even the deep-sea species such as tuna, dorado (mahi-mahi), wahoo, sailfish and marlin seem to leap from the water and onto the deck. Mustique’s climate is near perfect for me – a cold-blooded sun-lover. Princess Margaret and her husband enjoyed the island’s sunshine too, relishing it in peaceful seclusion.
Classical architecture on the mystical island is standard
Away from the prying eyes of the British press, they strolled hand in hand along the beach to feast on freshly grilled baby lobsters and spend restful afternoons in a hammock strung between palm trees. Today, the social scene revolves around the legendary atmosphere at Cotton House, which continues to host gastronomic dinners, fancy-dress shindigs, barbecues and dancing on the beach. After galloping along the sands on a bareback horse ride, or honing your backhand on the world-class courts at the Mustique Tennis Club, it is not uncommon for guests to gather together to share the sunset.
On Mustique, anything goes – and late at night you may well find you’re limboing with a Hollywood actor, or mixing potent margaritas with some of the biggest names in music. Whatever you choose to do, you’re certain to meet an enthralling collection of new-found friends from all over the world – I still exchange emails with a Norwegian politician, a gallery owner from Rome and a Miami poet. It seems little has changed since 1959.
There are few rules on Mustique and mercifully, the island remains unbound by stuffy protocol and red tape. Guests are encouraged to unwind – and most do just that. As an exclusive escape route for VIPs, Mustique gives its guests the most precious and highly prized luxury: time, freedom and space. For this reason I’m sure, the island manages to supersede the French and Italian rivieras, Bali, Tahiti and Switzerland as a getaway for the wealthy and aristocratic.
Another part of the island’s charm is that while it radiates Caribbean beauty, it manages to hold onto the raw and rustic, preventing it from becoming a synthetic-looking resort with no obvious sense of place. Though the size of Mustique makes it easily navigable in a day, there are kilometres of untapped stretches to explore and trails to follow through dense, vine-riddled jungle.
Breezy and beautiful cottages dot the island of Mustique
The island’s slow-paced lifestyle lends it a dream-like quality; I have never slept so long and as deep as in my comfortable Cotton House bed. After breakfasting on tropical fruits and home-baked bread, I board my private charter boat – I prefer this to group tours as it means I can snorkel for as long as I like. Perhaps the following day, I’ll visit the marine conservation park at nearby Tobago Cays – the same flawless group of uninhabited islands where Johnny Depp (my guilty crush) was famously marooned in Pirates of the Caribbean. Back on land, I stop in at the pretty boutique, Pink House (+1 784 488 8521; www.pinkhousemustique.com).
Housed in a fairy-tale cottage the colour of cake icing, Pink House is owned by British designer Lotty Bunbury (known locally as “Lotty B”). She works with local craftswomen to create her distinctive clothing range and I’m a big fan of her silky sarongs. By late afternoon, I’m wrapped in a super-soft, fluffy robe in one of four spa suites at Cotton House Spa. My poison? An hour-long massage using essential oils infused with indigenous plants, nuts, berries and herbs – the ultimate in authentic island-style pampering.
The spa works with award-winning organic spa range ila, which uses moringa and baobab trees as well as regenerative ylgang-ylgang, and revitalising jasmine and aromatic frangipani. You’ll leave feeling totally revived (and smelling sublime). At Cotton House, rooms are light and airy and feature romantic muslin drapes, elegant tiled terraces, slow-moving cooling fans and windows that maximise stunning views of the Caribbean Sea, along with lime-washed wood – a nod to Messel’s signature colonial style.
Interior design dreams are made of this
Rooms come with a private suite and plunge pool, but for more privacy consider a villa – an exclusive hideaway that comes complete with staff. After dinner, you can choose to stroll down to Endeavour Bay to watch Mick Jagger dancing to Caribbean steel pans, or to join actor John Cleese surveying the night sky for the aerial antics of bats.
One of Canada’s most celebrated scientists is discussing last night’s incredible seafood dinner while a family of New York socialites makes plans to snorkel with wild sea turtles further along the coast. I, meanwhile, am getting ready to help out at the library, participating in one of the philanthropic projects managed by the Mustique Charitable Trust (+1 784 457 1531, www.mustiquecharitabletrust.com) to help island communities. Next time, I’d like to spend time reading with primary-school children.
As I head back to Cotton House by “mule” (the are no real roads on Mustique so transport is essentially a souped-up golf cart) I’m struck by just how special, spirited and heartening the island is. It’s little wonder Mustique has managed to encourage generations of returning guests and celebrity residents to give something back. Its natural beauty and genuine atmosphere is idyllic, intoxicating and inspiring – paradise in a nutshell.