If you’re looking for a dead-of-winter sunny getaway where the water and air are mountain-fresh, the views breathtaking and the all-organic meals prepared daily, consider Jade Mountain, a resort on St. Lucia in the Caribbean. But be sure to pack a nest egg you’re willing to crack.
When my husband first read about the place, a passing reference to “only three walls” caught his eye. We booked our stay for March 2015, then returned for another week in January 2017.
The first time I stepped into our room I was rendered speechless, a condition uncommon to me. Our room, one of about 30 built into the mountain, did, indeed, have three walls. What would have been an enclosing fourth wall was wide open, from the 15-foot ceiling to the quarried coral floor. That afforded a 30-foot-wide open air view of the Caribbean, with the volcanic Piton Mountains reaching for the starry sky.
A purple-glass-tiled infinity pool, long enough to swim laps, spilled over the open side of the room to a trough below, while an unobtrusive metal fence blocked off the rest of the open area to protect sleep walkers from a terrifying drop. The floor was smooth and dark planks of mahogany and other indigenous woods. Comfortable furniture made mostly of wood was scattered about unobtrusively. A king-size bed draped with netting kept the birds out. We never saw a mosquito.
Actually, resort managers don’t call the place where we stayed a room. Rather, each private space is a “sanctuary.” The word is pretentious, but accurate, and the staff goes to extremes to protect the privacy of its guests, some of whom are household names. The sanctuaries are positioned so that no one can see into them, which makes skinny dipping in the infinity pool all the more comfortable. Good thing the resort has instituted a “no drone” policy.
Doors are now opened with chipped key cards instead of the metal keys we used two years ago. In some cases the staff politely protects an entrance to a sanctuary, particularly for guests who arrive by helicopter.
Jade Mountain has no reception area. Instead, when you exit the shuttle from the airport, you are greeted by at least two staff members with huge smiles. “Welcome home,” one said to us because it was our second visit. Another handed us a delicious punch drink and a cellphone, saying, “If you need anything just call.”
Three butlers, or major-domos as their gold name tags say, are assigned to each sanctuary, working eight-hour shifts. So there is someone at your disposal 24 hours a day. They are the nicest people I have ever met, and genuinely want to make your stay the best it can possibly be.
Want a dessert brought to your room late at night? No problem. Need to book the sunset champagne cruise? Right away. Need your clothes unpacked or washed? At your service. Interested in learning how to make chocolate? They’ve got it for you.
Here’s a tip: If you are the type who likes a hug along with breakfast, ask for Philomena when you book your room. You will have a new friend for life.
The psychology of space
Because our food was delivered to our door we did not leave our sanctuary for the first two days we were at Jade Mountain. In fact, we didn’t set foot inside a four-sided area the entire week. After leaving home when the temperature was 4 degrees below zero, I was especially appreciative of seven days of continual contact with fresh, clean air and water that had been scrubbed by nature.
That’s exactly what Nick Troubetzkoy, a Canadian architect, had in mind a few years after arriving on the island to work with an architectural firm in 1970.
“The development of Jade Mountain is in some respects a response to almost every hotel I’ve ever visited,” he wrote in an essay for WaterShapes. ”I wanted to create individualized spatial environments that would enable guests to forget about the furniture or the fact that they’re in a hotel room — in essence, to forget about everything but experiencing the psychology of the space on an intuitive level.”
You’ll find no telephone, no TV, not even a radio in any of the sanctuaries. However, in a nod to reality, Jade Mountain installed internet access in the past year.
Today, Troubetzkoy is a big, white-haired, bearded man in a rumpled shirt who walks as if his head must reach his destination before his body. He nods pleasantly to guests but avoids the marketing aspects of the resort. That’s handled by his wife, Karolin.
Jade Mountain’s philosophy stretches beyond respect for guests to a sense of responsibility for the 240-square-mile island itself. Instead of relying on municipal water, Jade Mountain has developed its own reservoir system to collect rainwater and opened its own plant to treat sewage in aerobic reed beds. None of the wood was clear-cut in building the resort, including that used for the 12-foot louvered doors to the sanctuaries.
You’ll find all the same activities at Jade Mountain that are available at other Caribbean resorts, deep sea fishing, riding a zip line, dolphin and whale watching, sailing, sunset cruises, group or private yoga (tip: ask for Laura), scuba diving and snorkeling.
I asked a couple of divers about the quality of diving. Both said it was fine, but, said one, “the hotel accommodations are better than I’ve ever seen on this scuba trip.”
Snorkeling, on the other hand was ill managed, in our experience. One end of the beach is cordoned off for snorkelers, to keep them separate from the flotilla of boats that come to shore to pick up divers and sightseers. The metal ladder that snorkelers could use to get into the water was closed off that day, so we had to swim while avoiding the propellers nearby to get to the snorkel area. One of the swimmers got caught in the strong sea current. Another guest had to find a staff member to save the poor fellow who had managed to find temporary safety where the incoming tide of waves battered him against an outcropping of rocks.
There are also forest tours and jungle biking. For the extremely fit, a guided climb of the Pitons is an option. In fact, one must be somewhat fit to stay at Jade Mountain. Because the sanctuaries are built into the side of the mountain, and because every sanctuary has its own bridged entrance, climbing many stairs is a must. For those hoping to strengthen their quads, getting to your room can be a training session all its own. However, there’s no elevator, so anyone with mobility issues would have a tough time.
The chocolate lab
If you’re willing to leave your sanctuary, there’s plenty to do that isn’t common to most seaside resorts.
Chocolate is a thing at Jade Mountain. You can get a chocolate massage, which smells delightful, or tour the resort’s organic forest, which is planted with alternating rows of coffee — the best I’ve ever had, by the way — and cocoa trees. There’s also a class on how to pair chocolate and wines.
We made a point to take two chocolate classes. The first began when the assistant chocolate maker explained how the cocoa beans are harvested, dried by hand, then crushed in a grinder to a fine powder. Then the chocolate-maker-in-chief gave us an hourlong demonstration on how to heat sugar to a syrup to be mixed with the chocolate powder, then work the mixture by hand until it becomes fudge.
Turns out that’s all there is to organic fudge. Just sugar and cocoa powder. No added ingredients, such as emulsifiers, which keep sugar and chocolate from separating in processed foods.
Each of the six of us on the tour took a turn making our own bonbons and chocolate bar, which we took back to our sanctuary. The organic chocolate bars are so sensitive that they have expiration dates. Never again will I pay a lot of money for a chocolate bar that lists emulsifiers among its ingredients.
Given the emphasis on the food of love, I was not surprised to see many couples who appeared to be on their honeymoon. Twice I watched servers waiting politely for their guests to break a lengthy lip lock before presenting them their food.
Most nights we had dinner brought to our sanctuary, where we could enjoy the spectacular display of stars, breathe fresh air and be lulled by the waves lapping the shore below.
In our last couple of morning hours at Jade Mountain I sat in a lounge chair, feeling totally relaxed. Turning to my husband I said, “I have never felt so healthy in my life.”
Judith Yates Borger of Minneapolis is the author of three mysteries. She’s working on a novel.