Life’s a Beach
…but a sweet one, sighs William Cash, as he relaxes at St Lucia’s Sugar Beach. Lord Glenconner would have approved
BACK IN THE Sixties, when Hugh Hefner was jetting around the world spreading the Playboy gospel in his own jumbo jet — fitted with a super-king bed and a small cheerleading squad of Bunny Girls — he declared that he wanted the Playboy Mansion to be run like a hotel, and that he was addicted not to sex, but to room service.
This ambition to fit out one’s own home with the sort of luxury appointments, technological gadgets and facilities — including full-time butler, staff and spa facilities — that one normally only finds in a five-star hotel is no longer just the preserve of the eccentric billionaires. For so many of today’s ultra-high-net-worth class, the room service lifestyle is standard. An increasing number of ultra-wealthy New Yorkers now prefer to live in apartments in such iconic addresses such as The Mark, The Surrey or The Plaza (which is no longer even a hotel, simply being private residences run like a five-star hotel).
This five-star lifestyle concept originated in Los Angeles. When I lived there in the Nineties, I remember meeting with the film producer Don Simpson (Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop) at his vast mansion — which he called ‘The Embassy’ — less than 200 metres from the Bel Air Hotel. He said he could not function without the hotel’s room service and the main reason for buying the house was because of its proximity to the hotel.
What’s all this got to do with Sugar Beach, the 130-acre luxury resort on the south-west coast of St Lucia that was formerly home to the late Lord Glenconner?
Sugar Beach — formerly known as the Jalousie Plantation — is now the main reason that many discerning jet-setting cognoscenti are now choosing St Lucia over Barbados, Antigua and other Caribbean islands. The prices on St Lucia are more affordable; flights from both Americaand Britain are daily; property is booming; and the entire image of St Lucia (at least in the south, around the Val des Pitons) has reinvented itself. This is partly thanks to Condé Nast putting the white sand resort under the Val de Pitons on its Gold List.
FOR ANYBODY WHO likes to blur the lines between an exclusive private home and a five-star hotel, the 37 new residences at Sugar Beach have turned the standards of hotel private living into a new art form. It comes as no surprise to learn that the management company entrusted by former Rolling Stones accountant Roger Myers to run the $100 million resort is none other than the LA-based Viceroy Hotel Group.
The residences will include five ultra-exclusive homes on Glenconner Beach — where the late Lord Glenconner used to hold court at his beach bar, Bang — as well as 37 private homes, with sophisticated interior detailing, as well as French colonial features: four-poster beds, private swimming pools, walk in showers (inside and out), claw-foot bathtubs, the finest wooden flooring and sheets with a thread-count that you might expect at Claridge’s. Prices range from $2.4 milion to $9 million. Subletting, leasing and all other formulas for getting the maximum rental return on your investment can be explained by sales director Naomi Cambridge, who is based in London.
Obviously there is a spa, but, like most things at Sugar Beach, it is rather different. The Rainforest Spa is a quirky treehouse complex surrounded by jungle vines where treatments use island products such as coconut, aloe vera and cocoa butter. It’s regarded as one of the most unusual and architecturally bold spas in the Caribbean. No polished marble or Swiss-like Zen plunge baths here — the Rainforest Spa is about rejuvenation through a return to nature.
For those who don’t like being too far away from the room-service speed-dial, owners of the residences will have full access to all the facilities of the five-star Sugar Beach Hotel, now one of the chicest hotels in the Caribbean. (You might think that spending millions on a residence that you own but is attached to a world-famous hotel would always give you hotel rights, but actually that is not always the case elsewhere.)
SUGAR BEACH WAS where Lord Glenconner exiled himself after his Mustique adventure imploded and he sold up on the place he turned into the most exclusive — and forbiddingly expensive — private island in the world ($10 million is entry level, for a small villa). Alas, although Glenconner was a visionary in so many ways, commercial sense as well as social and island politics were not his strengths and he ended up falling out with the very community he had created from nothing but an original £50,000 inheritance with which he bought the mosquito swamp of an island in 1950s. He then invested hundreds of thousands more of his private wealth without properly thinking through the issues relating to infrastructure and residents’ rights. In short, his approach to Mustique was that it was pretty much his private playground.
Glenconner was a man obsessed with beauty, and he knew when he first saw the extraordinary beach and setting of the great Pitons that it was even more magical a place than Mustique. Just as with Mustique, Glenconner’s vision has largely made Sugar Beach now one of the most desirable addresses in the world. What is remarkable about Glenconner’s foresight and achievement with the beachland around the Jalousie resort is that no hotel developer in their right mind would ever have considered buying it, as the land had no planning permission and no access from the poor coastal road that wraps its way around the island from nearby Soufrière.
Thankfully, the current development team, backed by the deep pockets of Roger Myers, along with the brilliant skill of the top Caribbean architect Lane Pettigrew (who was a close friend of Glenconner and has built his own villa close to Glenconner Beach), have pulled off an extraordinary project, and it is obvious that the Sugar Beach residences will quickly become as desirable as other super-exclusive beachfront enclaves as Jumby Bay, off Antigua; Mustique; and Round Hill in Jamaica, still one of my all-time favourites, where Jackie Kennedy went on honeymoon with JFK.
THERE ARE OTHER advantages for UHNWs buying in St Lucia: its government has discussed a bill allowing anybody who buys a property at Sugar Beach to automatically receive full residency status for St Lucia; in addition there is no VAT, capital gains tax or inheritance tax and a fifteen-year income tax holiday for owners. Of course, dark ironies abound in the case of Lord Glenconner himself, who controversially bequeathed the majority of his estate to his former servant rather than to his family.
It was only because of Glenconner’s close relationships with the St Lucia government that he was able to persuade them (quite how is a mystery) that the real future of the island lay in going upmarket and developing the much more beautiful south.
‘The aim is to create an enclave for the rich,’ the official website states, ‘where they feel at home while mixing with local people. Exclusive without excluding.’ Perhaps that should be the new family motto of the Glenconner family.
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