Few Americans have had the urge to go far afield this fall or winter, but the Caribbean is so close to homeand a hop to the tropics might be just what we need this holiday season. What I'm looking for is the feeling of being on solid ground and well looked after. I've gone back to the classics and picked out places that have been around long enough to run like clockwork while a guest winds down. Keeping cost in mind, I've included at least one fine budget hotel in each of the five categories that follow. (Rates and contact information appear at the end of the article.) These classics have all the requirementstalcum beach, glass sea, breezy terracesand super service. With one exception, a new resort so satisfying that it qualifies for instant-classic status, they're all tried-and-true (but far from tired), and all of them, I'm glad to report, are worth another visit.
On the undeveloped southwest coast of St. Lucia, Anse Chastanet has a breathtaking view of the Caribbean's prettiest pair of mountains, the extinct volcanoes just offshore called the Pitons. The items in the rooms are proudly St. Lucia-made: the furniture, the art, the madras cotton bedspreads. The best rooms have walls of slatted wood that fold away to reveal sky, treetops and your own private Piton panorama, plus huge open-air showers. Some rooms you climb a hundred steps to reach; others are deep in tropical foliage; still others are on the ideal beach. The dive shop is famous, the chefs are superb (tropical world cuisine, they call it). This is one of the Caribbean's most unusual, most nature-loving resorts. Higher up around the bay, Ladera has the same Piton viewas well as big, big three-walled rooms (all are open-fronted, like tree houses), four-poster beds and private plunge pools, plus a well-thought-of casual restaurant, Dasheene. What's the catch here? No beach. Considering that the sea surrounds it on three sides, Biras Creek, on Virgin Gorda, has a surprisingly small beach, but you can always take a Boston Whaler (with a picnic lunch) to a deserted bay. High on the bluff is a cone-roofed, open-sided bar-restaurant, where the chef is the talented Swiss Jérôme Gottraux. Below, the simple, comfortable, if not hugely beautiful rooms, look out on the waves. (Skip the claustrophobic garden rooms.) There's tennis, water sports, a pool, a library, a TV room, acres of trails, and bikes to explore them, and blessed peace. The locally owned Fat Virgin Café on one of the docks is a must. Budget: Asa Wright Nature Centre and Lodge. Deep in Trinidad's rain forest, these wooden one-room bungalows set around a nicely shabby Great House belong to one of the earliest eco-tourism resortsnothing short of a bird-watchers' heaven.
For 30 years, the Hokin family has run Virgin Gorda's remote, raucous, sprawling, every-sport-under-the-sun-or-in-the-water Bitter End Yacht Club. You can sleep on a boat or in a villathe thatched Swiss Family Robinson ones that they call Beachfront are the bestand join the legions of Americans who consider this resort their second home. Kids love the barbecue-and-seafood menu. Expect tears when it's time to leave. To call Anguilla's famously elegant 17-year-old Malliouhana child-friendly may seem counterintuitive. But this grand cliff-top resort in late-'60s Palm BeachmeetsFrench Riviera style, all white tiles and glass tables and bamboo sectionals, offers what you might call remote-control parenting. For the kids: a new, supervised, supersize playground. For you: the renowned French chef Michel Rostang, a notable 25,000-bottle cellar, floodlit tennis courts and a spa that's scheduled to open late next year. For the whole family: outsize rooms with grand terraces, two beaches and five freshwater pools. Budget: Blue Horizons Cottage Hotel. In high season, under-12s sleep free (in low season, under-18s), making the Mediterranean-style apartments at this six-acre Grenada resort irresistibleespecially since world-class Grand Anse beach (with the hotel's grander sister, Spice Island) is steps away. The restaurant, serving Frenchified local food, is a Grenadan hot spot.