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We’ve been on Mirounga for nearly 2 weeks now. We’ll write about it in due course. We badly want to record what’s it’s like, but we also want to absorb everything and choose our words carefully.
In the meantime, we can now share more about where we were between leaving The Lookout on 10 April and moving onto Mirounga on 25 April.
Mangwana is the Bequia home of Richard and Suzanna Roxburgh, the former owners of Mirounga. They spend part of the year here, where they are well known on the island, not least as Richard is the founder of Action Bequia. For the rest of the year (obviously more recently Covid-allowing), Mangwana is available to rent.
We’ve referenced Mangwana in other posts, but have shied away from sharing too much detail because we were staying as non-paying guests. As it is, the Roxburghs are happy for us to talk about our time there and their beloved home. We just wish we had taken more photos!
We will call this a review, as we now have a good idea of what guests could expect. It’s important, though, to be aware that we were staying at a very unusual time!
We knew for some time that we’d have a little time staying at Mangwana. We would either be arriving when Richard and Suzanna were there, or while they were transporting Mirounga from St Lucia. Covid and its impacts on travel had meant that plans had to be flexible. R&S had been trying to get to Bequia since November with no luck. Rolling lockdowns in the UK had just made things too awkward. Quarantines made things extra complicated.
In the end, they flew to St Lucia the same day we flew to Barbados. As we quarantined in Bequia, they quarantined in St Lucia. They then had to prepare Mirounga, sail her down, and go through testing and quarantining again. This meant that we moved to Mangwana while they were still taking Mirounga out of her long-term slumber up north. And then, of course, the volcano added extra complications. They didn’t want to bring Mirounga south just to have her coated in ash.
We always knew that Mangwana was an impressive home, and somewhere the likes of which we’d probably never stay in again. In the run-up to staying, the opportunity to stay felt magical and so exciting. It was a dream.
Once you add the bizarre circumstances, the dream felt more like delirium.
A low key arrival
We arrived at Mangwana on 10 April, the day after La Soufriere erupted explosively for the first time since 1979. One of Mangwana’s most impressive features is arriving through a mezzanine level door. From here you look down across the living room through incredible 16ft high Brazilian hardwood doors to the pool and courtyard, and the spectacular views beyond.
Unfortunately, La Soufriere had other ideas. Our friends Chris and Louise from The Lookout drove us up and helped us with our luggage. All the while ash was floating in the air around us. They, with John the Groundskeeper and Kathy the Housekeeper, had sealed up Mangwana as best as possible against the ash. So it was that our first glimpse was coming through the kitchen doors, into a hazy great room with its magnificent doors shut. If you’ve ever encountered ash, you’ll know it gets everywhere.
We’ve lived in houses having damp proofing and renovation work done. That kind of mess has nothing on volcanic ash…
Stepping through one of the two wicket gates to the courtyard and pool, everything was ash. The pool we’d been daydreaming about was blackening. The terrace quickly took on a trail of footprints as we carried a couple of bags to our room.
Through the haze
Those first couple of days we were in the strange state of being in awe of the architecture we were surrounded by, but frustrated at not knowing where to start cleaning up. We took advantage of the rain and water from the pool to sluice away as much ash as we could. We cleaned the kitchen over and over. And we stayed indoors – it wasn’t yet safe to do anything else. At times, between the ash fog and the rain clouds, we couldn’t even see an island beyond our fortress, let alone the Southern Grenadines.
But then, we found Mangwana.
On Monday, Kathy came and started the frankly epic clean-up job. Knowing the house and its quite staggering rainwater storage capabilities meant she could clean far more than we ever could. She worked tirelessly that day, hosing down the ash outside so that it might cease to creep indoors. By the end of the day, we could walk around without traipsing ash indoors, and sit outside. We could find new spaces, like the deck outside the games room where we would watch the sunset each night. We found a table cloth and ate dinner outside at last. The Grenadine islands stretched out as we looked to the horizon.
On Wednesday, Curtis from Sun-Tec came and cleaned the ash from the pool, and we could swim. By this point, the air was fresher outside. And by Friday, we could start to open up those magnificent doors. By the time we had been at Mangwana a week, we were getting to see the beautiful property in all its glory.
A family home, or a Bond villain’s lair?
Mangwana truly is like no property we’ve experienced. We have a Scottish friend who has strong connections to Bequia who refers to the house as Colditz. It’s not an unfair comparison from some angles. Perched high on Mount Pleasant, with its sheer concrete walls, it does look imposing from the outside.
The beauty of Mangwana, though, is that it is full of surprises.
Designed by British-based architect Jake Edgley, who trained with Sir Norman Foster, Mangwana was built between 2007 and 2010. Apparently, his brief was to “create something with a high “wow” factor that is very comfortable to live in with lots of natural ventilation”.
If this is the case, the brief was perfectly executed.
The great room
When you step into the great room, the first room you encounter, the sheer scale is staggering. We felt as Frodo and his companions must have as they stepped into the great halls of Rivendell. We were like The Borrowers, gaping up at her vast beamed ceiling.
Windows that reach the ceiling, a sweeping staircase, those 16ft doors. A kitchen island that’s larger than the entire kitchen in our old Edinburgh flat. A huge dining table which begs to have Blofeld at its head, cat on lap, grilling his henchmen. The fact that this room is the only way into Mangwana’s inner sanctum only reinforces the feeling of being within an impenetrable fortress.
And yet, at the same time, it became a space we were completely at home in. We could absolutely see a family relaxing in this expansive room.
We worked, ate, and relaxed in the space. Colin liked to stretch out on the mezzanine sofa. We both liked to work at the dining table. We enjoyed social lunches with Kathy sitting at the kitchen island. And when Richard and Suzannah arrived home, we only felt more at home. It felt strangely natural to do the washing up singing along to the Meatloaf coming from the Sonos speakers. The lighting is gentle and versatile. The art is carefully chosen to give the space colour and personality, balancing out the chic black and wooden furniture.
The Roxburghs have kept this imposing space casual and welcoming.
The kitchen had everything we could need – a large fridge-freezer with an ice maker, a huge walk-in pantry, a dishwasher, an electric oven, and a 5 burner gas hob. It’s a kitchen to cook a feast in. One highlight was the hummingbirds, who like to pop up in front of you as you wash up, looking for some sweet nectar. Only one little soul got lost coming in from the courtyard and finding a closed window. It recovered in Ailsa’s hands and flew off unharmed.
The courtyard, which the great room opens on to, has an unmistakable Moroccan feel, albeit with a twist. Riads tend to have a fully enclosed space with a water feature in the middle. The fourth wall of Mangwana’s courtyard remains open to the views beyond. The 10m infinity pool is the star of the show. The same depth throughout, it has a lovely shelf to sit on and watch the clouds go by. When you swim, you feel like you’re swimming to the horizon. At the same time, you are also beautifully connected to whatever is going on in the rest of the house.
A special mention should go to the shower beside the pool. With its little window to the west, the sunset views from the shower were stunning.
To either side of the pool, steps lead down to an incredible wide wooden deck. From here you can easily see both the east and west coasts and the hills at the south of Bequia.
To either side of the courtyard are two wings, each essentially made up of two towers. There the Moroccan theme could equally be pueblo, with the neat staircases and cuboid forms. Each side has a family room, an upstairs bedroom suite, and a ground-level bedroom suite. There’s also a lower-level room on each side accessed from the wooden deck (Richard’s study, and a twin bedroom).
Mangwana has 6 bedrooms in total, 5 of which you access from the courtyard.
We stayed in the upstairs room on the eastern side, also known as the breezy side.
Up its own staircase, our room was spacious and opened out onto two private terraces. The eastern terrace, with its louvered doors, gave us delicious cooling breezes all night. By day, we could open these and enjoy stunning views towards Mustique from our bed. For our first few days, when we kept the louvers shut because of ash, the ceiling fan kept us cool. Mangwana is high on a hill, so gets few mosquitos, but mesh in the louvers helps just in case. We didn’t need to use the mosquito nets above the huge bed.
We had plenty of storage – shelves, a wardrobe, and a large side table. Again we found the lighting options flexible and sympathetic. The bathroom, which opens up to the tower’s high ceiling, was cool and comfortable with the prettiest stone-clad shower.
A door to the west opened onto a balcony that overlooked the pool. This provided a lovely shady place to relax in the mornings and late afternoons.
A mirror of our room was on the other side of the courtyard and would have beautiful sunset views.
The ground floor bedrooms have walk-in closets and larger bathrooms and again are mirrored on either side of the courtyard. All rooms have a sun lounger, on the balcony or courtyard. It’s safe to say that, having stayed in a smaller room, there is no short straw with rooms at Mangwana.
Beneath the upstairs bedrooms are two family rooms. On the east side is a TV room, with a comfortable sofa and plenty of books and DVDs. Once discovered this became Ailsa’s favourite spot for working. It had a constant cool breeze and was where we retired to after dinner. This room has a large outside terrace, complete with table football (which we still kind of regret not using). Poolside, there are two very comfortable seats, perfect for a morning coffee. We loved the lizards of Mangwana – small and unobtrusive, but often to be found in ‘favourite’ spots.
On the western side, there’s an outside dining table and a games room. You’ll find all sorts of fun – a ping pong table, games, toys – and some of the best views from this room. This was where, every night at 6pm, we settled ourselves with a beer to watch the sunset.
It’s worth mentioning that the twin bedroom has a massage table, should you choose to have someone visit. We went down to the Serenity Day Spa a short drive away, where both the prices and massages were fantastic.
Other outside space
When you enter Mangwana, you can go through the mezzanine entrance to the great hall. Alternatively, you can go down a wooden staircase to a shaded terrace and the kitchen entrance. This terrace made us think of restaurants in Italy and Southern France, with a wooden pergola and climbing plants. This area really becomes spectacular at night with fairy lights lit. We’d be lying if we said we didn’t daydream about what it would be like to celebrate a special occasion or birthday here. We can see friends around the beautiful big dining table, the sun setting behind us, and lights glinting overhead. A magnificent stone table can be used as an outdoor bar (or, we mused, a risk-free game of beer pong).
From this terrace, you can access a handy WC, a storeroom, and a separate building that has a second small kitchen and a dedicated laundry room. There is also a further terrace dining table, a large BBQ grill, and drying lines.
Accessed through both the great room and courtyard there is a small garden to the east. This has a small lawn and shade (and more fairy lights). It would be perfect for children to play as it’s safely enclosed. This was one of Ailsa’s favourite spots for video calls. It’s lovely to sit on the cool stone benches with a small bamboo plantation as a backdrop.
Mangwana is set above woodland and is surrounded by nature. There is a path around her grounds that we enjoyed exploring. It’s possible to hike down to Friendship Bay through the woods (though we didn’t get a chance to try this).
Despite her imposing walls, Mangwana at a distance sits subtly in the landscape. The outside walls are tinted green, and her position in the forest makes her blend in surprisingly well.
The drive to Mangwana is a fun one. You get a feeling of being in an exclusive area, but not isolated. It’s been described to us as the Beverly Hills of Bequia, with the impressive Sail House next door. Mangwana felt very safe. There are so few points at which the property is accessible that as long as you lock up when you go out or at night you can otherwise relax. We didn’t close the large driveway gates.
Service and amenities
We were given the use of a car (a Rav 4) while we stayed, which is essential given the location. Driving for us was fine, and we were glad after 2 weeks of quarantine to explore the island. The drive is large and has a double garage.
The staff that take care of Mangwana were a highlight for us. We got to know Kathy the housekeeper best and very much enjoyed her company. On the days where she put in extra hours to clean up the ash and prepare for Richard and Suzannah’s arrival, we prepared some lunch for her alongside ours and we enjoyed eating together. She was incredibly professional, thorough, warm and welcoming, and is an asset to the property. If you book Mangwana, Kathy will take good care of you. John, who manages the garden and grounds, was also very friendly and thorough. He had a big job of clearing ash from the roofs and we were very impressed by his agility!
Reflecting on Mangwana
We are truly grateful for our time at Mangwana, and to Richard and Suzanna for letting us stay there. It gave us an experience we would never have had – knowing what it’s like to live in a luxury hilltop villa in the Caribbean! It also gave us chance to pause and reflect between quarantine and the volcano and moving on to Mirounga. The ever-changing views were constantly captivating.
Mangwana is a stunning home that certainly has the “wow” factor that the Roxburghs asked the architect for, but it also has a relaxed charm. It’s a space that can bring families and groups together beautifully for entertaining, whilst also allowing the more introverted to find a peaceful spot to read a book. It’s cool and fresh in a hot climate, which makes it a welcoming escape.
Staying as a couple, on our own, we felt the house start to come alive when Richard and Susannah arrived – it begs to be filled with love, companionship, music, and laughter. We hope that this review will help some people make up their minds about booking Mangwana and filling the house with these things with their loved ones.