By DAVE GOLOKHOV
Special to The Globe and Mail
Saturday, November 17, 2018
AC HOTEL SAN JUAN CONDADO, PUERTO RICO
Beach vacations can be tricky for those who, well, aren't really into the beach. Yes, we want sun and sand and fruity drinks with giant chunks of pineapple for garnish - but some of us grow bored quickly and demand more from our mid-winter escape. Perhaps some urban thrills, dare we say.
San Juan, with its mix of bustling nightlife and bright coast offers a solution. And the AC Hotel San Juan Condado specifically captures these two personalities. Situated in the bustling Condado neighbourhood, it provides easy access to shopping, independent restaurants, nightlife and - should you fancy a bit of culture - is a quick 10-minute drive from Old San Juan (Uber is cheap there). But guests also gain entry to the nearby San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino and its expansive beachfront. Ta da - it's sophistication and sun in one booking.
The AC is Marriott's design-focused brand and that ethos is visible the moment you step into the uncluttered lobby and take in the modern art pieces and striated stone check-in counter. To the left is a small snack shop; to the right is the AC Library sitting area and beyond that the AC Lounge and its glowing bar.
Neutral rooms showcasing various shades of grey contain everything you need but nothing you don't, which means you can finally live those minimalist fantasties that never seem to materialize at home; the closet, for instance, is more of an open clothes rack. The bathroom features a large counter, terrific vanity lighting and a proper hairdryer. (If only more hotel designers understood how easy it is to please a woman.)
The rooftop continues the clean aesthetic, with a white-onwhite scheme of plush chaise lounges and tables surrounding a mid-size sparkling blue pool. A bar serves up tasty pina coladas (Puerto Rico's national drink) and sufficiently filling snacks such as sliders and fries. Enjoy them with a view of the city and the ocean beyond. You might be tempted to skip the beach altogether. Rooms from $285; marriott.com - DOMINI CLARK FAIRMONT ROYAL PAVILLION, BARBADOS Barbados is a beautiful, but busy place. If you land during rush hour be prepared for a nail-biting, noisy ride from the airport. It is, after all, the most densely populated major Caribbean island, so a private paradise it ain't.
Pass through the gates of the Fairmont Royal Pavilion, however, and the chaos fades rapidly. As you enjoy a complimentary rum punch and house-baked turtleshaped coconut cookies during check-in, the body and mind freely switch into full-on vacation mode. A sign on the lush property reads: "Please do not feed the monkeys." Clearly the real world has been left far behind.
Originally built as the Miramar Hotel in the 1940s, the property has undergone several changes through the decades. Most recent was a multimillion-dollar refurbishment that preserved the classic colonial architecture while adding a modern Bajan vibe. The pink exterior gives way inside to contemporary rooms decorated with light neutrals - including a desk with a clever pop-up vanity mirror - and accented by vibrant works from local artists. Oceanfacing balconies are furnished with large round loungers that can comfortably hold two people.
Put on the cute blue-and-white striped lightweight robes, pour some chilled white wine and you've got yourself the perfect low-key romantic evening.
When you're ready for more activity, all water sports are free, including Hobie Cat sailboats (yes, they will give you a lesson), stand-up paddleboards, windsurfing, float beds and turtle snorkelling trips - a must-do while in Barbados.
Dining options are open air and comprise a beach club for light meals, Taboras for main meals and the grand Palm Terrace for breakfast. Many of the guests are British, so the menus are an amusing mix of island specialties (a flying-fish sandwich is a must) and old-school classics (ploughman's lunch, anyone?) New room categories are being introduced in December, 2018, but all feature ocean views and will include perks such as fast-track VIP service at airport arrivals, a weekly manager's cocktail reception, daily breakfast and one afternoon tea for two. No word on whether you can invite a monkey. Rooms from $1,400 a night, fairmont.com/barbados - DOMINI CLARK QUINTESSENCE HOTEL, ANGUILLA Wouldn't it be nice if we all had a wealthy friend with a mansion in the Caribbean? If you're a rich buddy short, the Quintessence Hotel in Anguilla has you covered.
If you're looking for something that's the exact opposite of an overrun, all-inclusive resort this winter, consider the tropical island of Anguilla in the British West Indies and the Quintessence Hotel.
The luxurious escape, which opened its doors on Jan. 1 of this year, feels nothing like your typical cookie-cutter resort. Rather, the Q Hotel (as it's also known) is a tranquil grand mansion on a white-sand beach accompanied by nine swanky suites and villas.
Surrounding the property is a supporting cast of tall palm trees providing peace and privacy.
The Quintessence is one of the newest additions to the Relais & Châteaux boutique collection and, more importantly, it's an upscale addition to lesser-known Anguilla, which had been lacking that upper crust. It's not as if the Caribbean is overstocked with Relais & Châteaux offerings; this is just the sixth resort with such a designation in the area.
On the inside, no expense was spared. From handmade fixtures to owner Geoffrey Fieger's incredible Haitian art collection scattered throughout (paintings and sculptures), the interior surrounds guests with luxury. In the rooms, the Hastens Beds, marble bathrooms and Gilchrist & Soames amenities continue the rich atmosphere.
Throughout the grounds, you'll find an array of activities for every type. The tennis court and yoga pavilion will appease the active crowd while the massages and beach life will satisfy the sedentary. The swimming and snorkeling in the crystalclear waters is particularly recommended, as visibility of the reef and colourful fish is excellent.
One particularly standout feature of the resort is the five-star dining at Julians. Good restaurants can be found throughout the Caribbean, but few and far between offer a French bistro experience with this type of execution. And it's a fun spin on tradition as they apply locally sourced tropical ingredients to the classic cuisine. Chef Dominique Thevenet, who was born in Lyon, France, oversees the operation.
Sure, it might seem a bit odd to savour French dishes on a British territory in the tropical Caribbean. But you're on vacation.
Rules don't apply. Rooms from $985 a night, including breakfast; qhotelanguilla.com The writers stayed as guests of the properties, which did not review or approve this article.