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When we stayed at the Sandy Lane Yacht Club, we asked in advance whether there were any tours we could do. They suggested an island tour. Apparently, if we came with a negative PCR test, we could visit the Mandarin Oriental Canouan.
We jumped at the chance. It’s somewhere we know we couldn’t afford to stay but would be an amazing place to spend my birthday. We dutifully had PCR tests in Bequia two days before our visit. You can also take PCR tests at the yacht club.
This is a review of our tour and the accommodations we saw. It would give a good idea of what to expect as a guest. Some information has been gathered from the hotel website.
I should note that we didn’t arrange the tour with the expectation that I would write about it. The idea came to me as we walked around. I was just so taken with the experience and the property that I felt compelled to write about it.
Arrival and Covid-19 protocols
The Mandarin Oriental Canouan is located on the windward, or east coast, of Canouan in St Vincent and the Grenadines. It lies to the north of a long white sand beach, protected from the Atlantic by the largest living coral reef in the Caribbean.
As our taxi drew towards the gates of the Mandarin Oriental Canouan, we couldn’t see much of what to expect. The drive was surrounded by lush green plant life and immaculately maintained. We could see the reef and the glorious area of protected swimming area it creates, but that was it.
A Covid-safe space
At the gatehouse, we stopped to have our temperature check and our PCR test confirmed before we entered the property. Throughout all of our time at the Mandarin Oriental, both we and staff members wore face coverings. Hand sanitiser was placed in strategic locations like check-in desks and on bars. Our guide also explained that restaurant areas are used flexibly to allow quarantine-safe spaces.
The Mandarin Oriental Canouan has been designated by St Vincent and the Grenadines Ministry of Health as a ‘bubble resort‘. This means that fully vaccinated guests arriving by commercial air are allowed limited access to resort facilities and leisure attractions. Social distancing protocols and enhanced hygiene safety measures are in place during their required quarantine period. PCR tests are available on-site, and ‘We Care’ PPE packs are made available to all guests.
When we visited, the quarantine period for fully vaccinated persons visiting St Vincent and the Grenadines had recently reduced from 7 days to 48 hours. Hopefully this means that more visitors will soon be able to enjoy everything this beautiful part of the world has to offer.
Once we had gone through safety protocols, we were driven through the landscaped grounds to the main entrance and lobby.
A grand entrance
The lobby itself is stunning, and so grand. Elegant and intricately laid marble flooring and stone columns frame a view towards the beach and reef. Pink ottomans and plush sofas greet the weary traveller. Pink is the signature colour of the Mandarin Oriental, so features as an accent colour throughout. This was the perfect introduction to the resort.
The reception desks are tucked discretely into alcoves. We were quickly made to feel welcome and invited to sit on a sofa while we waited for our tour guide. We were also offered water. In the tropics this is just as nice after a 20-minute journey as an 8 hour one.
As we waited for a couple of minutes, we stepped outside to take in the view. The balcony looks out onto a mezzanine level terrace below, with an oval piazza on the ground floor. Again, the stonework is beautiful and doesn’t feel at all at odds with the rugged nature of the beach. This is always a fear of mine with large hotels. I’ve seen photos of places like Hawaii. Concrete jungles filled with highrises and snaking adventure pools meet sad, sanitised, bland strips of sand. I can’t stand the thought of that happening in the Caribbean.
Touring the public spaces
Gideon, our tour guide, greeted us, and we set off on an utterly charming tour. He started by leading us to see the restaurants and gym. Connecting all of the spaces are beautiful spaces – elegant spiral staircases, walkways with louvered shutters, classic marble-floored corridors, and open terraces. It made just walking around a dream.
The Mandarin Oriental Canouan has five restaurant and bar areas in total. In addition, the larger villas have full kitchens where chefs can be brought in to prepare food. At the time we visited all of these spaces were being used flexibly because of Covid suppressing visitor numbers. They open for specific mealtimes, which makes perfect sense. The three restaurants are arranged over two floors of the main reception building. Turtles bar is set closer to the beach.
As well as the on-site restaurants, guests at the Mandarin Oriental Canouan can also access the four additional restaurants within the Grenadines Estate. This is the wider luxury hospitality community that covers 1200 acres of the north of Canouan. Guests dining at any of these restaurants can charge their bill to their suite or villa.
TIDES BAR + GRILL
TIDES BAR + GRILL is a fresh, coastal-style haven, evoking seaside summers and mimosa brunches. White and blue decor, with wood paneling and comfy seating – it screams jet set. This is what I imagine summers in the fancier parts of Maine, or beach houses in Malibu, must look like.
At the moment, TIDES is being used as a breakfast space. When everything is fully open, the menu of this evening venue is based around a classic Bar and Grill offering with a Caribbean twist. Outdoor dining is available in fine weather.
We took a quick peek at the 24-hour gym. This is one of the largest hotel gyms I’ve ever seen. There’s a full range of Technogym equipment and a good selection of free weights and weight machines. There’s also plenty of room for stretching. I’ve not set foot in a gym since early-2020. I can feel the lack of fitness that comes from living on anchor. I had an instant urge to work out. I can’t often imagine taking time out of a holiday to exercise, but this inviting space might make it happen.
As well as the fitness centre, Mandarin Oriental Canouan has a selection of other wellness activities. These include yoga, spinning and cycling, walking and hiking, bootcamp and tennis. There are also water-based activities like kayaking, Hobie-cat sailing, windsurfing, snorkelling and paddleboarding. There are 1-5 day wellness programmes available, complimented with spa treatments. In my dreams…
We didn’t visit the spa, which is currently located in treatment suites on the hillside overlooking the beach. Gideon explained that in due course treatment spaces in stilted huts in the ocean would be available. New bridges out to the huts were to be built so guests could access them more easily. The highlight would be being able to gaze down through glass floors at the ocean life during massages. As a cruiser, I can definitely understand why the effort is being put into creating bridges. Having to climb into a tender after a massage isn’t that relaxing!
Lagoon Cafe is TIDES BAR + GRILL’s European cousin. It has a colour palette that wouldn’t be out of place in the south of France or the Greek islands. Elegant yet fun, this is the place to enjoy Mediterranean-inspired seafood and tapas. I could just imagine sitting down to a plate of moules marinere with a crisp white wine here. When visitor numbers are less suppressed, Lagoon Cafe is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
This was the restaurant that really spoke to me design-wise. It’s a truly stunning space. As the name suggests, Asianne is a Pan-Asian-inspired restaurant and is clearly the pride of the Mandarin Oriental Canouan.
The style is a fantastic blend. The wood paneling and geometric stone floor fit with the seaside resort feel of the property as a whole. The displays of vases and crockery add a kitsch twist. The open kitchen where you can see the chefs work their magic is great fun. Then the delectable yellow booths just invite you in. All this detail sets Asianne apart from the other restaurants and gives it real flair.
If I could have given a standing ovation just for that perfect shade of yellow accent, I would have.
Even in the quiet restaurant out of hours, we could feel its life. It wasn’t hard to imagine the sizzle of hot platters, the chatter of happy guests, and the clinking of glasses. The menu sounds divine, and a huge draw. But it’s more than that. When just standing in an empty restaurant makes you want to eat there, you know it’s got that something special.
Asianne is usually open for breakfast and dinner. You had me at avocado toast…
Turtles is the Mandarin Oriental Canouan’s main bar area. It’s a slick nautical-themed jazz bar open from 12:00-Midnight, and overlooking the beach. It reminded me of enjoying a cruise with friends, where we discovered that the jazz and piano bar had by far the best ambiance.
The Hamptons beach house aesthetic is simple and classic and is overlaid by adorable design touches. It felt like a game to spot them all – the lanterns on the tables, the rope wrapped around the side tables, the propeller light features. Beautiful, even though I was less keen on the turtle shells above the bar. The marble bar top and beautiful teal tiling make sure that the cool, classic European style throughout the rest of the property is not forgotten.
As with all the spaces, the tables in Turtles have been spaced out to allow for social distancing.
Pool and pool bar
From Turtles, we took a walk along the beachfront towards the pool bar. The pool is glorious – softly curved, with an infinity edge and a swim-up bar. Loungers and cabanas, dressed in the hotel’s signature shade of pink, are arranged behind and on the terrace above the pool. All of these have been carefully arranged so that each guest has a clear view of the Atlantic.
To one side of the bar is a seating area for guests who prefer to sip without a swim. This is where we came to enjoy a glass of Laurent Perrier at the end of our tour. Were the prices higher than we’re used to? Yes. Yes, they were. But this was a special location and a special occasion. I very much enjoyed my half-hour feeling very special indeed.
The Mandarin Oriental Canouan has one of the longest and most protected beaches I’ve ever seen. There are loungers available for guests, and a host of watersport options. At the time we visited, a lot of effort was being put into keeping the beach clean of sargassum seaweed. This is an issue that unfortunately will affect any windward beach in the Caribbean, and unavoidable. It can be hard for hotels to find the right balance between clearing the beach and keeping it looking natural. It seemed that every effort was being made to find this balance by the dedicated grounds teams. Regardless of the forces of nature, this is an amazing protected beach and the reef snorkeling must be fantastic.
As part of our tour, Gideon showed us three types of accommodation. I never thought I would enjoy looking at beautiful places where I can’t stay so much!
Despite being the smallest suite we saw, this was our favourite. Small isn’t a word that can be applied – the 120SqM suite is still palatial. Just the mirrored walk-in wardrobe alone is incredible.
It’s always been a dream of mine to own a walk-in wardrobe. This is the first space I stepped into after entering the suite. After years of downsizing, I can’t imagine owning enough clothing to fill this space, let alone traveling with it. That was part of the excitement. With its marble floors and dressing table, it’s pure opulence.
The bathroom is located through the wardrobe and was one of the most sumptuous bathrooms I’ve ever seen. And this is the smallest suite? It has a full-sized tub, bathrobes, spacious dual-basins, a separate WC, and bidet. The separate shower even has steam jets. It took a lot of restraint not to try it out!
As you pass into the suite, there’s an honour bar. Beers, non-alcoholic drinks, and snacks have one-time complimentary access, and there is Champagne and spirits to purchase. There’s also a Nespresso coffee machine.
The bedroom was next. A plush bed almost as wide as it is long is decked out in signature pink. I’ll admit to having a soft spot for the tartan throw pillows, having been somewhat homesick for Scotland recently. The walls feature pretty images of seashells, and there is a ceiling fan and desk as one would expect.
What really impressed us was the tech. In front of the bed is a mirror, that’s somehow also a TV! We were dumbfounded. And then Gideon pulled another trick out of the bag. With the press of a button, the mirror/TV slides back to reveal the living room! It’s a door as well?! The whole room is smart-enabled with cool features. The lighting and temperature can be controlled from both wall panels and the in-room iPad. The iPad can also be used to book spa treatments and order room service.
From the bedroom, you enter a spacious living room with a comfy-looking sofa, coffee table, and dining table. There’s another of those amazing mirror TVs fixed to the wall. Hermetically sealed wall-to-wall patio doors can be slid open to reveal a private verandah, with yet more comfortable seating. The veranda doors can be opened to create a semi-outdoor terrace with gorgeous views of the beach and sea.
This room is great for those who need to work while they travel but don’t need an extra bedroom. There are enough seating options and ways of dividing the space to give a couple a private office/space each. We particularly loved that when you aren’t watching TV, there’s no visible TV set. It made things feel all the more refined.
The One-bedroom oceanview suites start at US$1300 per night.
The second suite Gideon introduced us to was the two-bedroom oceanview suite. This has the same finish as the one-bedroom suite, but is a much larger 250SqM.
You enter into space so elegant you can’t really call it a corridor. Off this are a mini-bar, Nespresso machine, and WC. The lounge space opens out from the entryway. This includes a full dining table and an enormous comfy sofa, which can convert into an additional bed. The bedrooms sit to either side of the lounge.
The bedrooms have an even larger walk-through wardrobe than the one-bedroom suite and a similar bathroom layout. They may not have a disappearing mirror TV (in these rooms they are in mirrors fixed to the wall), but they do each have a large sitting area and a desk. One bedroom has beds which can be configured either as a twin or king-sized bed.
All three rooms open out onto a verandah that runs the entire width of the suite. This has the same gorgeous beach views as the smaller suite.
The Two-bedroom oceanview suite starts from US$2350 per night. It can sleep up to five adults, or two adults and three children.
After seeing the suites and taking a pause with some water at reception, Gideon picked us up in a golf cart to give us a look at one of the private villas. We didn’t poke through every nook and cranny, so didn’t see how many rooms it had. I believe, however, that it was one of the 336SqM Two-bedroom patio villas with studio.
Villas are all set comfortably apart and aren’t overlooked so come with a sense of seclusion and privacy. None are too far from the main reception and restaurants by golf cart. Two golf carts are included in the room rate for the two-bedroom villa.
We entered the villa through a rear courtyard and dining area. This is a beautiful space that instantly took me back to a stay in an Ibizan villa. The use of the natural rock face and different textures of stone gave the space an earthy, natural feel. I would love to sit in the shade chatting to friends over a G&T here.
Inside the Villa
Sliding glass doors give access to the main indoor space. The mood in these villas is quite different from the suites – no signature pink here. The vaulted wooden ceilings, glass, natural colour palette, and organic-feeling materials create a more Caribbean mood, with some Italian flair. A large dining table, lounge area, and bar make it clear that this is a space in which to celebrate.
From the main room, we passed through the grand master bedroom with a four-poster bed. The minimalistic but spacious walk-in wardrobe leads to a bathroom I’ll never forget. A beautiful stone tub sits in the middle of the floor. Patio doors can be opened so you can enjoy the view as you soak. There’s even a seat for someone to chat with you as you soak – a social bathroom! Of course, the bathroom also features twin basins, a separate WC, and not one, but two showers. One shower, with dual shower heads, is outdoor and open to the elements, and the second is indoors. Layouts for individual villas vary, but second bedrooms all feature a walk-in closet and a large bathroom.
All of the living rooms, bedrooms, and larger bathrooms open onto impressive terraces, offering incredible open views towards the sea. Here you’ll find a generously sized lap pool with an infinity edge. There’s also a hot tub set beautifully into the stone patio. There are plenty of seating options, from loungers to sofas, and room for every guest to find peace.
All of the villas come equipped with their own kitchen, pantry, and laundry room. There is also a separate studio apartment available should you choose to bring your own staff.
Villa prices start at US$4500 per night, and two, three and four-bedroom villas are available.
Atmosphere, and service
We were only taking a tour and having a drink so I didn’t expect to get much of a feel for the service. Amazingly, we did.
Gideon was a fantastic host and tour guide. He is friendly and chatty, and wasn’t put off by our childlike instinct to explore every corner. We spoke about our outlooks on life and our favourite design features as we walked. It was genuinely a pleasure to spend time with him.
At the bar, the service was perfect. One thing we dislike is ‘slavering’ service, where people come on too strong. Whilst we’ve never stayed anywhere like the Mandarin Oriental Canouan, we’ve eaten many times at Michelin starred restaurants. Our favourites are always the ones where the staff aren’t constantly at your elbow. I’d rather someone be natural and chatty than constantly try to tidy up my napkin. Basically, we like to be around people who enjoy meeting people as much as we do. You really can tell when people enjoy their job, and aren’t just working for a tip.
This was exactly what we felt from everyone we met – everyone seemed genuinely happy. At every encounter, from the front desk through to housekeeping, we were greeted with warm smiles. How did we know people were smiling if they had a mask on? Because it reached their eyes – the smiles were real.
The only guests we encountered were a young family enjoying the pool. They were relaxed and happy, and it was heartwarming to see small children delightedly play in the pool. This was a contrast to the stoic, adult’s only atmosphere at the higher-end hotels we’ve experienced. Both the children and their parents smiled cheerfully back at us as we sipped our champagne – everyone was content. The Mandarin Oriental Canouan has a kids club, and it was nice to get a feel for how family-friendly it is.
A perfect visit
Almost. The only thing that could have made our visit more perfect had been if we could have been guests. We were so impressed by the facilities, and I was absolutely mesmerised by the architecture and design.
Fodors described Canouan as the island where billionaires go to get away from millionaires. I’ve always wondered how a hotel could impress someone who has everything. I think we’ve now had a little glimpse into that world. I would never have guessed that it would be such a welcoming, down-to-earth world.
For someone who lives on a shabby-chic 24-year-old boat, in a 45×21′ space, it was a beautiful break from reality.
We may not have actually stayed at the Mandarin Oriental Canouan, but in our couple of hours there we got enough of a feel for it to put it on our bucket list.