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Cay to Happiness

A new chef and spa have made the Caribbean's Parrot Cay resort even more enticing. Just ask Bruce Willis or Robert De Niro.

As I relax on the floor at the end of an Ashtanga yoga class at Parrot Cay resort, the room sinks into a silence marked only by our breathing. In the distance, I can hear wind chimes and the chirp and buzz of insects. I know I am supposed to be meditating on my breath, but my mind keeps flashing back to my lunch: a warm root salad with baby spinach and a roasted-vegetable club sandwich with a layer of roasted red pepper. Mmmmm. I mean, om.

For the past two years, Parrot Cay's quiet seclusion has attracted such celebrities as Bruce Willis and Robert De Niro. Set on its own private island, the resort is accessible by a van ride and a half-hour motorboat trip from the Turks and Caicos airport, on Providenciales, in the British West Indies. Now that Parrot Cay's Shambhala retreat and spa is complete and a new 27-year-old executive chef has shaken up the menu, it's even more alluring.

Chef Amanda Gale has the energy and daring of her native Australia, where she apprenticed with the renowned Neil Perry of Rockpool in Sydney. Her food features a blend of Asian and Mediterranean flavors that reflects her Aussie background. Dinner might be roasted swordfish with Jerusalem-artichoke sauce, asparagus and gnocchi, or slow-roasted chicken with shiitake-mushroom sauce. Or you can order off her spa menu—perhaps a Mediterranean-style chickpea patty on homemade pita bread with tofu aioli, or udon noodles made from brown rice with a lime-soy vinaigrette. For dessert you can decide how indulgent you want to be and choose between a devilish chocolate sablé or a saintly lemongrass sorbet.

On my first day at Parrot Cay, I was so tense I thought I would just run up to Shambhala for a quick massage, but I found myself seduced into staying for hours. I grew addicted to the homemade ginger tea served there and began arriving earlier and earlier for treatments to allow more time for tea drinking. Shambhala is a world within a world, with its own infinity pool, a yoga pavilion, a meditation garden and a cottage for private treatments. Ask for a Thai massage and you'll meet Song, who was a Buddhist monk for 10 years before becoming an instructor at the Old Medicine Hospital in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Or request the Javanese Royal Lulur Bath and you might find yourself in the expert hands of Balinese therapists with Four Seasons credentials.

The resort's unpretentious luxury and intense privacy are the vision of Singaporean owners Christina and B.S. Ong, who also are the proprietors of the Halkin and the ultrachic Metropolitan in London. Mrs. Ong brings a strong fashion sense to the resort: She owns the trendy store Club 21 in Singapore, and represents designers such as Armani, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein there.

Her influence is clear in the look of Parrot Cay. My airy beach house, made of weathered spruce, has simple white walls, Balinese teak furniture and a small plunge pool set into the wooden deck. The beach houses line the dunes and have spectacular views of the ocean (as will the new beach villas being built this winter). Other rooms are located in two-story white stucco buildings at the top of a rise, and their wide verandas overlook a quiet garden.

Most of the island is completely untouched. You can kayak through mangrove swamps and explore solitary white beaches. Or you can take one of the resort bikes, ride past the nursery where herbs, lemongrass and papayas are grown, and pedal a couple of miles to the end of the island. Parrot Cay offers trips to nearby deserted islands, including one inhabited by iguanas who rush to greet visitors in the hopes of a handout of fruit. There is also scuba diving, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, waterskiing, windsurfing and tennis. It's easy to take a half-day trip to Providenciales for shopping or golf, and with enough notice, the staff can even arrange a day trip to Cuba.

But most visitors, like me, come to relax. I was happy to spend the day reading, stretched out on the couch on my expansive screened porch. So, it appeared, was my neighbor, who emerged only to deposit his room-service trays outside and occasionally burst into song, his voice drifting across the bank of beach grape that separated our cottages. Only when I spotted him making a rare foray to the restaurant did I realize he was Nathan Lane. He kept a "Do Not Disturb" sign on his door and his wish was granted.

Privacy was all he needed to unwind. All I needed was the sea. Every morning I ran down to the beach and threw myself into the water, where I bobbed like a cork, trying hard to remember why I'd been so ridiculously tense.

Laurel Delp is a writer who lives in Los Angeles.
Published January 2001
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