Canouan Island

Recipe for Success

Floating through cumulous mountain clouds above a Caribbean horizon, I am feeling somewhat like a character out of a 1950’s Humphrey Bogart film. I am not sure exactly where I am, there are six strangers occupying the plane with me, the pilot and I exchanged suspicious glances before take-off, and the sun is setting quickly. A rainbow of colours bounce freeform off every possible surface in my field of vision, and I decide to go with the wonderful distractions and dismiss any worries.

I peer out the windows like a wide-eyed child, and periodically squawk responses to the others, trying valiantly to be heard over the thundering of elderly twin-prop engines. I am oddly at peace in this cacophony, as we dip and glide gracefully through the peek-a-boo veil of lights generated by the sunset. On my way to the Raffles Resort & Spa on Canouan Island, my schedule has me visiting the Trump International Golf Club, trying out the award winning Amrita Spa, touring the Trump Golf & Estate Villas, and yachting to the Tobago Cays in a piloted catamaran. But for now, I am lost among the clouds, caring less about where we are headed than how it feels to be aloft.

Once we touch down on a rather oddly shaped speck of land, Canouan Island is only about three square miles in total land mass, our welcoming committee issue us personal golf carts for the duration of our stay at Raffles Resort Canouan Island. After exploring my hillside villa for a few minutes, not quite believing all this space is solely for moi, I try valiantly to steer my golf cart back through the looming darkness, on the opposite side of the road to which I am used to driving, heading towards a beachfront feast laid out for the visiting dignitaries.

I make my way to the long, waterfront table strewn with candles and fresh flower blossoms. Long torches in the sand stand sentry at the each end of the table, while remnants of the sun strike a dramatic red finale across the distant horizon. A five-piece band plays soft jazz behind linen-covered tables packed with ornate seafood platters, fresh-grilled meats to order, catch-of-the-day, sliced tropical fruits and a separate dessert area showing mounds of chocolate cakes, thick tartes, puddings, pastries and other caloric mysteries. Rum punches arrive at our table, large bottles of Italian sparkling water too, in honour of a writer from Milan named Fabio, and we dine like kings and queens for hours!

Canouan is the Carib-Indian name for “island of the turtles” and I make a point of being up early the following morning to explore the island flora and fauna with fresh eyes. I run into one of the locals outside my villa, we greet each other and talk about my plan to sightsee on his island. He offers to chauffer me through the hills and bays of his home and I accept. I surmise I can learn much more in his company, and he immediately heads to the highest point of the island, Mount Royal, where I can see the Trump Casino Privée perched above the water. I also spot one of the namesake turtles posing on the lawn.

It is a glorious morning, with a signature Caribbean sunrise flooding the vistas and exhilarating body, mind and spirit. One of the young man’s cohorts welcomes us as we arrive at the casino. He is in charge of security at the grounds, and the three of us mount the stairs to the palatial terrace above. We can easily see the islands of nearby Mustique, Union Island, Mayreau, Petit Saint Vincent, Prune Island and Tobago Keys, one of the best diving spots in all of the Caribbean. I will sail there during the week aboard a catamaran with someone named Captain Phil.

Canouan Island is one of the 32 islands belonging to the nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, southwest of Barbados about one hundred nautical miles. The island encompasses 1694 acres of wooded and hilly land, surrounded by coral reefs and sandy beaches, and until recently was relatively unknown except to sailors and fishermen.

Canouan Turnaround

One of the accepted global definitions of success is to be triumphant over obstacles one faces on the way to achieving goals. With this in mind, Antonio Saladino, a Swiss-Italian banker, has reached dizzying heights of success. After a decade of challenges in every shape and form, Saladino is transforming Canouan Island into one of the world’s most luxurious destinations, and quietly doing it on a platform of sustainable tourism.

As recently as 1960, Canouan Island did not have one single jetty, no roads, no electricity, no telephones, no refrigerators, and there was only a primitive ferry to transport residents off this bit of raw real estate. Antonio Saladino has dramatically changed all of that in the fifteen years he has been here. Using a Midas-style developer’s touch, he has attracted three of the most successful brands names in the world to join him in his mandate: Donald J. Trump, Raffles Resorts and the luxury yacht organization Moorings.

What began as an innocent vacation to nearby Mustique, playground for the crème-de-la-crème of Rock & Roll royalty, has become an all-consuming passion for Saladino and his newly adopted and extended family of Canouanians. As he so eloquently says to me while sitting together at the Raffles Resort piazza overlooking the emerald waters of Carenage Bay, “ It seems like the best things in my life tend to happen by accident”. Business mavens the world over might think his “accident” sounds more like a shrewd recipe for success.

His forte is surely his consistent goal to achieve the finest results and to bring together the best people in order to realize such a lofty target. When the initial American resort management company self-destructed, Saladino bounced back by signing the renowned Singapore-based Raffles Hotel Group. The resort’s current General Manager, Gilbert Madhaven, is the epitome of invisible service, as he makes guests feel like they are visiting an old friend.

This sort of understated service finesse continues throughout the resort, as visitors bask under the care of a culinary team led by Chef Eoghain O’Neil and Food and Beverage Director Christof Ganster. The formal dining room at La Varenne speaks of another time, perhaps an easier epoch, where visiting, dining, conversation and elegance had nothing to prove. An evening soirée spent dining on O’Neil’s fresh creations, culled from the garden and the sea, or imported from the finest purveyors on the planet, tends to cause guests to talk to themselves.

I know it caused me wonder aloud how it was possible to have such an extensive menu in such an out-of-the-way place. It was like dining in the finest eateries of London, Paris or Rome, but with no traffic, noise, pollution, crowds, dust or parking problems. My entourage retires to the Trump Casino Privée late in the evening to watch a group of boisterous French visitors at the Blackjack tables, say hello to the one-armed bandits, and enjoy a Cuban cigar on the terrace overlooking the bay.

The next morning is dedicated to golf, and exploring the most challenging course anywhere in the Caribbean. Designed by famed course architect Jim Fazio, the Trump International Golf Course has the fascinating idiosyncrasy of being a mountain course where you always shoot downwards to the pin. This may sound like a bit of a gift to some, but as onsite golf pro Simon Blanshard says, “ Even the best players find this course a challenge to their abilities.” The first ten holes lay inside a volcanic crater near the Raffles Resort, while the rest are located on the opposite side of the island, spread over spectacular hilltop terrain. The 13th green will distract even the most focused player with dreamy vistas in all directions.

Donald Trump recently challenged all golfers to come and compete for a cool one-million-dollar First Prize at his Trump Million Dollar Invitational May 21-26, 2006. Mr. Trump invites both amateurs and professionals to his contest, provided you are a member of the LPGA, PGA, Champions, Nationwide or European tours. Entry fee is $15,000 US, and there are many other cash prizes in the pot.

I then get a chance to inspect one of the Trump Villa estates under construction, to see for myself what many in the business are calling the most complete residential villa packages in the Caribbean. I am chaperoned by Katya Marchetti and Elena Korach, two professionals in charge of sales and management respectively. As one of the Italian carpenters greets us and we tour the site, it becomes amply clear; every possible detail in these villas is top drawer.

Combined with original design elements, painstaking craftsmanship, and a complete rental program, the result equals perhaps the best Caribbean villa buy anywhere. Remember, every one of the Golf, Marina and Beach estates includes the Raffles Resort five-star amenities, beach access, tennis, water sports and full membership at Trump International Golf Club, which includes dining privileges at four gourmet restaurants. There are also facilities provided for yacht servicing and storage by Moorings, located on the other end of the island and integrated into the Tamarind Beach Resort, the only other accommodation on Canouan.

My fondest memory of Canouan Island though, will always be the day trip to Tobago Cays, spent with Nicola and Phil Jones aboard their catamaran Splendid Adventurer, combined with a magical massage at the Amrita Spa after the trip. I could hardly find my way back to my oversized villa I was so blissed-out from diving in the Tobago Keys, and then being under the talented hands of the Amrita Spa masseuse. Of course, it helps greatly to have a perfect day in which to sail; high winds, sunshine, large swells and an eclectic mix of music, food and humour onboard Captain Phil’s craft.

As I reluctantly leave this friendly paradise, and fly over the island after takeoff, I see Canouan from a very altered point-of-view than when I arrived. I think about Antonio Saladino adopting this bird-shaped island and inviting the citizenry to collaborate with him in creating an island oasis, a unique destination for ultra luxury vacations, golf retreats, weddings and water sports. His real creation is his legacy of introducing the populace to new trades, sustainable tools, environmental standards, and a global culture, which will influence this nation long into the future. Bravo Antonio Saladino!

How to Get There

Raffles Concierge Air Service will feature the Raffles Jet service from many islands throughout the Caribbean, and Air-Limousine Service connects from Barbados, Martinique, St.Lucia and Grenada. Commercial access to Canouan is currently available via American Airlines Eagle from San Juan, plus AA & Grenadines Airways from Barbados.