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Wednesday, 01 January 2014 00:00

Turks & Caicos Islands

Written by  Melanie Reffes

Caribbean-TurksClassy and classic, Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) are not about big crowds and noisy nights. Sitting extraordinarily pretty southeast of Miami, below the Bahamas and east of the Dominican Republic, the forty islands and cays that make up TCI have come a long way since Club Med opened in the early eighties. The main tourist center of Providenciales, or Provo, is the big draw with Grace Bay, one of the most stunning beaches in the Caribbean. Diving in the third largest barrier reef in the world, dining at eateries that take food seriously, and celebrating the iconic conch every way imaginable are keeping arrival numbers high. “Many of our visitors are return visitors, but we’re also attracting record numbers of new visitors to our shores,”  said Ralph Higgs, director of tourism.“For a small country, we are extremely popular and are looking forward to a banner year ahead.“

The smaller islands of North and Middle Caicos and the capital Grand Turk, a quick flight from Provo and home to the cruise ship center and coral walls that reach fifty feet below the surface, are making their mark on the destination’s tourism product. West Caicos is the future home of the Ritz-Carlton and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group will build a resort on Dellis Cay. With one of the fastest growing economies in the Caribbean, a $10 million expansion is underway at the Providenciales International Airport with completion slated for later this year. 

Floured, Fried and Fabulous

If it’s Thursday, Bight Park is the place to be for the popular Fish Fry. Chefs from eateries like Froggie’s and Uncle Doug’s hawk fabulously fried fish, bowls of conch salad and lobster mac ‘n cheese, bartenders pour a Gully Wash concoction of gin and coconut water, and bands like the Sea Breeze Rip Saw Band get groovy until 9:30 pm. For the kids, Garland Youth Centre Dancers entertain as the island’s mascot “Henry the Conch” pays tribute to the island’s most celebrated gastropod. 

In the charming neighborhood of Blue Hills, Da Conch Shack is the quintessential beach bar and the hands-down favorite of just about everyone who knows a good rum-laced drink when they taste it. Pairing nicely with the potent brew are heaping platters of floured and fried cracked conch, fritters dabbed with the local pepper sauce called Sakaja (remember to take home a bottle) and ceviche speckled with onions and lime juice. A few steps from the beachfront tables, Zab-Zab delicately removes the meat from the pink shells and if you ask him nicely, he’ll pose for a photo as he explains how to delicately eat a pistol, the conch’s private part. “I eat hundreds of them a day, and I have a nine kids, so I guess its reputation as an aphrodisiac is correct,” he smiles.

Fifteen minutes past Da Conch Shack and the oldest bar on the island, Three Queens oozes TCI history with every pour. With no printed menu, you order what is fresh that day, such as grouper with rice and beans. Chatting up the locals, tourism director Ralph Higgs is a regular. “There’s so much history in here, the minute you arrive, you’ll feel like you’ve been here forever,” he said, while enjoying lunch with this reporter. 

For conch fans, the Conch Festival is the biggest ticket in November. Book early, hotels and flights fill up fast. www.conchfestival.com

Big, Bold & Brand New

New on the site of the former Nikki Beach Hotel which closed in 2009, Blue Haven (www.bluehaventci.com) is open with thirty-five suites, sixteen rooms and a 78-slip marina for yachts up to 220 feet. Following extensive renovations, the suites are roomy with terraces that salute the sea and kitchens with top-shelf amenities. “We offer a worry-free vacation for the discerning traveler,“ said Gerry Dallas, general manager. On a stretch of white sand beach dotted with loungers and hammocks, the resort is a total package with a spa, bocce ball court, gym, infinity pool with swim up bar and three restaurants including Salt Bar & Grille for pub fare and Fire & Ice for a more tropical menu. “We’re appealing to travelers who prefer to stay active while on vacation,” said Ingo Reckhorn, director of marketing. Big Blue Tours (www.bigblueunlimited.com) are on property and can arrange diving, kayaking and deep-sea fishing. Room rates start at $300 per night. 

On Northwest Point, Amanyara, the only Amanresort (www.amanresorts.com) in the Caribbean, has added a Pilates studio with trapeze tables and is the favourite of Victoria Secret models who come to chill at the pool. 

Stars on the Beach 

Named for the seven stars of the Pleiades constellation, Seven Stars (www.SevenStarsGraceBay.com) is all-suite splendour on Grace Bay Beach. “Our reputation is so solid that we’re getting reservations now for next Christmas,” said Roger Harvey, reservations agent. “The booking window is longer due to an improved economy in North America, so tourists are confident to book way ahead of their arrival date.” 

Swank without pretension, the resort has the island’s only heated saltwater pool and three restaurants including Seven; picture-perfect with an innovative menu that starts with an assortment of flavored salts that evoke the islands’ history. Culinary precision under the eye of Chef Kyle Kingrey, stand-outs include melon and cucumber soup and tiger shrimp aromatic with chili, basil and lemongrass. A superb wine and whiskey list complements one of the best dinners on the island.

The only boutique hotel on Grace Bay, Beach House (www.beachhousetci.com) is a 21-suite property with a new beachfront pop-up bar on Dune Terrace and Pampering Pods with staff that delivers homemade popsicles and foot massages.  

A Day Pass 

Not only for overnight guests, Beaches (www.beaches.com now offers family passes. From 10am to 6pm, the cost is $200 for adults and $130 for kids, and night passes from 6pm to 2am run $240 for adults and $200 for kids.  Passes include everything you can eat from nineteen restaurants, and everything you can drink at fifteen bars, plus snorkeling trips, boat rides and nightly entertainment. New in the Key West Village, Bayside tempts with a sushi bar while family favorites include Bobby D’s on Pirates Island, Le Petit Chateau for fine French and Arizona’s with a Caribbean menu by day and Tex-Mex at night. 

Bucket List Beyond the Beach 

Maison du Lac 2004 Chardonnay marries well with a Thai Tuna Salad at Mango Reef (www.mangoreef.com) and when the urge to sample something conch-free strikes, the islands best burger is divine medium rare topped with grilled jalapenos. Open late, the bar is busy with locals enjoying jerk-seared scallops or a hearty surf and turf platter. 

Shop at the Salt Mills Plaza for crafts at Anna’s Art Gallery and spirits at Fottac while across the road, Lemon 2 Go brews an exceptional espresso. Take a tour at Cheshire Hall to see the ruins of a slave plantation. 

If grocery story shopping isn’t your idea of a vacation adventure, think again and head to Graceway Gourmet. Although eye-wateringly pricey, the emporium is a great bet for those in a suite with a kitchen (there are plenty of them). 

Enjoy a Mojito ice cream cone at Island Scoop (www.islandscoop.tc) in Grace Bay Plaza. Infused with the real thing, other potent flavors include Baileys and Limoncello. 

A Window Seat

Air Turks & Caicos has been renamed InterCaribbean Airways (www.flyairtc.com) and offers flights to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Nassau. Flights to San Juan will start later this year.  

Starting March 8, Delta will fly Saturday from Boston and New York (JFK) in addition to daily non-stop service from Atlanta. 

 

 

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