The Raffles experience
February 4, 2005
The Raffles experience

Just two weekends ago, a group of Vincentians descended upon Canouan for what must be considered a friendly invasion. Not that mainlanders do not usually go to that island, since many of them work down there, but it is not very frequently that they go in numbers and as guests. {{more}}

These invaders were fun and relaxation seekers invited by Raffles resorts to sample the product the resort offers international guests. This gesture was timely too, since there has been no little mystery about the development of this resort, located on the south-eastern end of the picturesque Southern Grenadine island.

The group arrived on Canouan in waves aboard Grenadines Air and were met at the airport by our chauffeurs and gaily-dressed Raffles receptionists/tour guides bearing Mountain Top Water, specially packaged for Raffles, and chilled towels for freshening-up after the fifteen minute flight from mainland.

Our route to the resort took us along the southern hilly coast of the island that offers spectacular views of the southernmost Grenadine sister islands of Union, PSV, and Carriacou with Grenada hidden on the hazy horizon further south. This route avoids passing through the heart of the main residential Canouan, though providing a glimpse of the many newly and brightly painted apartment buildings and residences along the way. Of note was the number of buildings under construction, a spin-off, one learnt, of the ongoing tourism development on the island.

Soon we were at Raffles Canouan reception area where an ancient stone church stands out majestically. This relic of an age past still holds its own amongst the brightly coloured modern villas which dot the hillside and that all look out toward one of the largest reefs in the region – some say world – beyond the crystal white sand stretch of beach.

Check-in is done in an atmosphere of total relaxation; you sip on a tasty fruit punch in the comfort of a lounge chair in the airy reception area while you fill out the registration form. Then it’s off to your own corner – make that villa – via golf cart, where it’s your choice of just laying back and doing nothing, surfing the satellite channels or hitting the road in your assigned golf cart. I chose the latter and headed for breakfast at the poolside restaurant where it begins to hit you that Raffles must have assembled some of this country’s most courteous waiting staff and expert chefs around.

It was a joy to see waiting staff working as though they actually enjoy their jobs. As I commented to Tourism Minister Rene Baptiste my observation, she had one curt answer: “Pride” she said. And who was I to doubt it.

Our invading force finally began to disappear from the breakfast area way past closing time of 11 a.m. to pursue more leisurely chores. The Amrita Spa beckoned, and so did a 12,900 square-foot fresh water swimming pool – the largest pool you’d find anywhere in the region, Raffles claims – as did the 18-hole golf course, tennis courts with coach and the lure of water sports, though I don’t recall seeing anyone venture onto the beach. Must be something about stressed out business people from “the islands”.

Saturday evening began with a cocktail welcoming reception where the cocktails merely served as warm up for the great dig later, which was dinner at La Piazza restaurant. I did mention before about the quality of the chefs. Here was where they really showed off their culinary skill much to our delight. The spread included generous offerings of shrimp, lobster and other ocean wonders, plus a variety of meats prepared every conceivable way. There was caviar and as one would expect at an Italian restaurant, the pastas and pizzas were amazing judging from the response of one Italian-Vincy amongst us.

This set the backdrop for great conversation – or is it the other way around? – which went until late while somewhere in the background Third Eye, a jazz group out of St. Lucia provided music which was classy enough to make itself felt without being obtrusive. Post dinner, the atmosphere was totally transformed as the well fed patrons turned party animals even as Third Eye switched from jazz to Soca, the bandleader confessing that had he known, he’d have prepared some Vincy Soca as part of their repertoire. This session produced an impromptu performance by Vincy songbird Vanessa Layne, who joined the band’s female vocalists for several well-received up-tempo pop numbers.

Nights are forever at Raffles. As if this were not enough, there we were being invited up to the Villa Monte Carlo where the more game among us hit the tables at the Casino. Not my cup of tea, I politely declined and a small group of us departed for our villas.

“Easy as Sunday morning” has a special meaning at Raffles Canouan. After a long Saturday night, there was hardly a soul who would have made an early breakfast, thus our programme offered a sumptuous brunch at the beach side restaurant.

Personally, I chose the luxury of a treatment at the Amrita Spa first being one of the luckier ones to secure an appointment in the well patronized facility. Amrita we are told comes from a Sanskrit legend where deities searched for “Amrita” which would grant them eternal youth. The treatment in this spa does leave one feeling totally rejuvenated. The treatment rooms all offer spectacular views of the rolling waves on the reef beyond while you prepare your body for the oils by soaking in a 40 degree jacuzzi with all the privacy three walls can offer. Then you’re alone with your masseuse for a generous treament of oils and herbs which does leave you feeling several years younger, at least renewed. You wonder if there is some truth to the Sanskrit legend.

But we must get back to the life of mortals and Godhal Beach Bar & Grill still beckoned as the brunch runs up to three in the afternoon and, after the spa treament, I was left with a tremendous appetite.

A feature of this resort is that the cuisine seems always to be of excellent quality and variety. The Godhal’s brunch lived up to the standards we had savoured the night before at dinner. One of the chefs boasted to me that in fact Raffles had the best and so modestly told me he would not work “just any place.” This was a man who was very proud of what he was doing and from the taste of the food prepared he had every reason to be.

The Raffles experience ended just too soon, but then all great experiences are like that. They leave you longing for even more. And that is quite possible, so my calculator has been working overtime planning another visit down to Raffles, though I know that this time I may not be able to escape taking the kids along. This is a resort that seeks to be very family friendly with activities provided for children of all ages. There are even nanny services and a play room with supervised care where the little ones can lose themselves creating art and craft or playing the latest video games while their parents play elsewhere.

The development of the resort on Canouan had started with no small measure of bad publicity and it is great that this new management is making moves to sell Raffles positively to mainlanders. One obvious benefit of this project has been the employment created for persons from throughout the Grenadines and the mainland. Another has been the boost to construction and housing on Canouan. It is my hope that many more persons get the opportunity to savour the magic that is Raffles Canouan.