This time around, I went about it backwards. Rather than picking any particular destination – I wasn’t even committed to a particular body of water — I idly searched for vacation villa rentals on the internet. When I landed on The Retreat, I knew it was the place I wanted to stay. What caught my attention? There was a main living space with 3 glass garage doors on the water side, and a 4th facing the private pool; each of the 2 bedroom pavilions also had a glass garage door. With the push of a button, the doors were retracted and all that is between the inhabitants and the elements is screens. This was a concept that attracted me.
After falling in love with this villa, I found that it was located on St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. OK. Never been there; never really thought about it. Why not? Two-thirds of the island is National Park, and you can’t fly there directly. And the villa was located on the secluded east end of the island, perched over lightly-visited Haulover Bay. Sounds like just our speed.
We did some advance pre-planning: I arranged provisioning with our on-island manager Dena; we and fellow Sabre sailors Jeff and Ginger each rented our own Jeeps; and we had paddleboards and kayaks delivered . Finally, we set off, the last weekend of February. Rick and I flew to St. Thomas via Philadelphia (what a terrible airport!), while J&G flew via Dulles. The wind was howling on arrival, resulting in an aborted landing for J&G (second time’s a charm), while our jet merely skipped from side to side down the runway. White knuckles all around!
The flights were merely the beginning of our journey. First, the long cab ride from the St. Thomas airport to the ferry terminal in Red Hook – against all odds, Rick and I made the 4 p.m. ferry despite leaving PHL 45 minutes late. Then the 2 block luggage drag from the Cruz Bay ferry dock to L&L Jeep Rentals (they are excellent, BTW, and their customers can park in their lot, which is no small benefit given the tight parking in town). Then the drive to the villa, following Dena.
Just to put things in perspective, the distance from Cruz Bay to our villa is less than 12 miles. But the trip takes about 45 minutes. The speed limit varies from 10-20 MPH, and that’s not just because you drive on the left. St. John is a very hilly island, and the roads are narrow, incredibly steep, and full of blind hairpins and switchbacks.
And, this being the Caribbean, you’re like to encounter roosters and goats crossing the road, not to mention two new ones for me: donkeys and deer. Our drive to The Retreat confirmed my initial plan to eat lunches out and dinners in so as to avoid driving past dark.
I’d never seen a deer on a Caribbean island before. This time around, I saw several, like the one hidden in the brush behind Francis Bay here. And yes, they did jump into the roadway as well.
Once we got there, we found The Retreat to be the perfect vacation rental for us. Cantilevered on the steep cliffside overlooking Haulover Bay and the Drake Channel over to Tortola, the villa is truly an escape from everything (including Verizon cell towers – our phones picked up signals from Lime in Tortola).
Looking out from our living room (open walls) across the Drake Channel to Tortola.
The site is hidden from prying eyes and ravenous goats by a wall, foliage, and gate. Parking is at the top of the site, where we also found our watercraft and a hot tub deck we never used. The next level down features a shady lap pool with iridescent tiles, connected to the main building by pergola.
One either side were the bedroom pavilions, each with a private balcony and outdoor shower (yea!).
Our bedroom above, and the view from our shower.
Dena gave us a brief tour, showed us how to operate the doors, and left us to our own devices. And the vodka. That first night was like most of the others – vodka and/or rum cocktails, wine, cooperatively made dinners (with pricey but surprisingly decent groceries), and me and Jeff taking turns serving as DJ.
Some of our gourmet dining efforts — grilled mahi mahi with salad, and fish tacos (made with fresh red snapper). Locally caught seafood was fairly easy to find.
The world’s slowest (and most expensive) taxi driver took us to and from dinner for a full moon pig roast at Miss Lucy’s midweek, under the full moon that brightened our nights all week.
Moonlit nights were delicious. We had perfect weather all week (with a brief daily shower that spawned rainbows, and some rain at night), and the weather, open walls and comfortable bedding induced good nights of sleep. At home, I’ve been sleeping with a white noise app (set on “peepers”); here, I had the real thing: tree frogs, soft surf, and wind whispering through the lush vegetation. Every now and then, a strong waft of jasmine added to the dreaminess.
The remote location of the villa was mostly a blessing for me. But it came with challenges. Though I had the best of intentions to kayak daily, there was NO WAY that kayak was going to make it down from the house to the bay. Unburdened, it was a steep hike down to the water’s edge, first by a wooden staircase, and then by a well-groomed track that had rope handholds. Water shoes were a must, because the shore at our landing was rocky and slick.
The steep stairs down to Haulover Bay (above). Meanwhile, Rick builds one of his trademark cairns at water’s edge.
Rick reported that the snorkeling in our largely undisturbed bay was excellent; far better than at the famous Trunk Bay snorkel trail. However, there would be no paddling in our bay for me.
As well, the famous north shore beaches on St. John were a 30-minute drive for us. So regardless of how tempting it might have been to loll around in bed all day and watching the passing boat traffic from bed, we pushed ourselves out of bed to optimize beach time. Still, this was a leisurely schedule for me. I’m usually at my desk by 6:45 in the morning; here, we “forced” ourselves out the door by 9.
More to come….