Political turmoil rarely bodes well for a nation’s tourism sector. In an odd twist of fate, though, 1983’s Operation Urgent Fury, the U.S.-led invasion of Grenada, would set the stage for the tiny island nation’s entrance into the high-end travel market. True, the bombing of the harbor (spurred by fears of a Cuban-Grenadian Marxist alliance) destroyed the Islander Hotel, where much of the famed 1957 movie Island in the Sun was filmed, and transformed the capital, St. George’s, once a yachties’ haunt, into a ghost town practically overnight. But in the sleepy decades that followed, Grenada would have time to observe the mass-tourist mistakes of other Caribbean destinations. By 2000, the (stable and democratic) government, determined to steer clear of frat parties, fanny packs and all-inclusive resorts, had set high standards for interested developers and established a rather quaint Caribbean construction code stating that no building could be higher than the island’s tallest palm tree. Over the years, a few in-the-know Scandinavians (drawn to the sailing), Canadians (lured by Grenada’s proximity and decent flight options) and Germans (always early visitors) arrived and fell in love with the island’s combination of white-sand beaches and wild jungle, as well as with its laid-back vibe. Many built summerhouses, while others, like former Armani consultant Bernardo Bertucci, moved in permanently. But as luck would have it, in September 2004, just as Grenada was developing status as a chic upscale hideaway, Hurricane Ivan struck. The first hurricane to hit the island since 1963 (New York City actually experiences more), it took an enormous toll, damaging more than half the buildings on Grenada.
Tragedy once again bred opportunity, though, for Ivan put Grenada on the radar of one rather prominent, perhaps even legendary, investor, one the government was only too happy to welcome. The British-born hotel titan Peter de Savary, whose portfolio includes such high-end properties as England’s Bovey Castle, Scotland’s Skibo Castle and the Abaco Club of the Bahamas, had last visited Grenada on a family vacation in the 1950s. On returning in 2006, he was smitten all over again and has since spearheaded most of the island’s current development: the construction of a group of villas, two luxury hotels and an inland eco-spa and the massive rebuilding of the St. George’s lagoon area, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Ivan. With typical charismatic bravado—but one that demonstrates a deeply vested interest—de Savary (known as PdeS to those close to him) has likened Grenada to an unfinished painting, with himself holding the brush and the potential to create either a masterpiece or a total flop.
So far the picture, though incomplete, looks pretty good. Mount Cinnamon, de Savary’s collection of twenty-one villas, is up and running (though the rental pool won’t begin until March), while numerous high-end retailers and restaurants are already sniffing around the construction site that will become the re-created port. Other trailblazers, hot on de Savary’s heels, have joined the game. Four Seasons, after some initial controversy, will build its largest-ever hotel on the southwest coast’s Mount Hartman Bay Peninsula. Ritz-Carlton is looking into one of de Savary’s aforementioned luxury hotels, while Six Senses is discussing with him plans for the inland eco-spa. Despite this recent influx of cash (de Savary’s properties alone will double the number of high-end hotel rooms), crime remains low. According to one local, “Grenada is so small. If you get on someone’s bad side, you might as well move to another island.” Poverty exists, but it’s not as dire as you might expect. Still, the new developments will aid the local economy—and knowledge of this has earned de Savary much support among permanent residents. So you could say the painter is succeeding with his canvas. Of course, it helps that the background is one of clear blue Caribbean seas, lush green rain forests, quaint red-roofed houses—and, still, no low-budget mass resorts.
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