Kimberly Rosbe spends a sojourn on the glamorous, ultra-exclusive Caribbean island of Mustique, where the rich and famous escape to seek total seclusion
On the Barbados tarmac, beaming covergirl and fashion icon Olivia Palermo swishes in front of me gleefully snapping photos of our aircraft bound for Mustique, the most legendary island in the Caribbean. As the only passengers, Olivia, her model husband Johannes Huebl and I casually heft our luggage into the cargo and grab any seat. Fully aware of her designer labels and impeccable taste as a style ambassador for Elle magazine as well as being named by The New Yorker as ‘Best Dressed’, I quip, “Any chance we can swap suitcases?”
But despite this celebrity company, our transport isn’t the glamorous private jet you’d imagine. Instead, we putter down the runway on a Turboprop ten seat 1960 Twin Otter – a clunky, informal charter that is the singular option to access Mustique. Since there are no helicopter pads and the island’s ultrashort runway isn’t long enough to land a jet, whether you are Prince William and Kate or a billionaire owner of one of the villas, the rickety Twin Otter is the only way on or off the island by air serving as the great egalitarian leveler of this exclusive enclave. Therefore, odds are you will be flying into Mustique sitting within inches of a business titan, Hollywood producer or a chap with some close connection to a monarch.
Even amongst the most discerning jet set travelers, Mustique represents mythical status as the ultimate private island in the Caribbean. Steeped in history, this nearly five-kilometre-long discreet retreat has long been the choice for the mega wealthy, famous or royal since the 1960s. Lord Glenconner purchased the island in 1958 and gave Princess Margaret a 10-acre plot as a wedding gift in 1960, where she built a home and became a beloved regular.
In 1968 The Mustique Company formed, the airport was built, The Cotton House opened as an inn and the first villas were constructed. In 1979 the island became a limited company comprised of the villa owners as the shareholders. With no desire to turn a profit, today everything remains exactly how the owners want it – peaceful, civilised and unchanged.
Premium on Privacy
The Mustique Company puts a premium on privacy, acting as a custodian whose goal is to retain the isolationism of the island with absolutely no intrusions. There are no nightclubs, no golf courses, no advertising and no road signs. There aren’t even cars. Everyone lackadaisically moves around on bicycles, on foot or on oversized golf carts called Mini Mokes or ‘mules’.
Although the 120 villas are undeniably extravagant, and their owners are either running the world or known the world over, this tiny Caribbean hideaway remains completely unpretentious and under the radar. A haven for celebrities and aristocracy, film stars to business tycoons all delight in complete solitude and a lack of paparazzi, complete anonymity and a freedom to be their true selves, rather than their public persona. Planes aren’t even allowed to fly over Mustique’s airspace. As the Managing Director of The Mustique Company once famously declared, “You can build as many helicopter pads as you like, you just can’t land on them.”
And so the world’s elite have flocked here over the decades, making Mustique a name-dropper’s paradise. The Middletons, Peter Lynch, Tommy Hilfiger, Denzel Washington, Prince George and the Duchess of Cambridge, Pierre Lagrange, Tom Ford, John Travolta – the list goes on. Brian Adams left the day before I arrived and Mick Jagger flew out the week prior.
Jeanette Cadet, known as Mustique’s unofficial gatekeeper, gives me a tour of several villas whilst zipping around effortlessly via golf cart on unmarked hilly roads. Jeanette has been working for The Mustique Company for 30 years and it’s rumored that she quietly vets potential renters, as all guests must be pre-approved. Jeanette explains that there are 120 villas on the island, but only 85 for rent. “Yes, the billionaires don’t exactly need the rent money,” she deadpans. The villas all come fully staffed with their own chefs, butlers, gardeners and housekeepers.
The rentable options range from the charming Yellow Bird three-bedroom cottage to the epic Toucan Hill, a four-bedroom home on par with a Moroccan palace commanding 360-degree panoramas. Rentals run the gamut from USD 5000 per week to upwards of USD 150000 per week. Jeanette mentions that there is one lot left for sale at USD 8 million with views of both the Atlantic and the Caribbean boasting sunrise and sunset – bargain!
The Cotton House
Luckily for mere mortals like myself, there is The Cotton House. Set upon a picturesque hillside of 13 tropical acres along the sea, the colonial style Cotton House is the only hotel on the island. Its original 18th century sugar mill still stands on the property surrounded by 15 accommodations – garden cottages and one- or two-bedroom residences with plunge pools and private terraces.
The property is so tranquil and relaxed that abundant large tortoises roam around unfazed, and The Cotton House’s activities mimic that chill factor. Biking around the island, indulging in spa treatments, practicing yoga, paddle boarding or picnicking on nearby Macaroni Beach is about as boisterous as it gets.
I opt for the Equestrian Centre. In my opinion the best way to explore the island is on horseback. As an experienced rider, the stables saddle up Chip for me, a strikingly beautiful velvety brown and white pinto, their go-to horse for Vogue photo shoots. Chip and I trek up hills for spectacular panoramic views, canter through wooded trails and open fields and finally cool down with a saddle-deep dip in the ocean. I discover Chip is surprisingly as comfortable in water as on land.
Tales of Princess Margaret
Each Tuesday night The Cotton House’s Great Room hosts a weekly cocktail party congregating all the villa and hotel guests in one place – moguls, rock stars and Hollywood elite all nonchalantly share a drink with absolutely no pretentiousness whatsoever. A dapper British fellow with a wicked sense of humor introduces himself as being ‘in publishing’ and casually mentions that he is staying at Palm Beach Villa, Tommy Hilfiger’s six-acre British Colonial style oceanfront estate (USD 90000 per week). After a couple of cocktails, he divulges spellbinding stories of his childhood recalling his mother’s dinner parties in London with, yes, Princess Margaret and how she was always the last to leave.
After the cocktail party, I attend a dinner affair at the Villa Sienna – a magnificent 15000-square-foot 6-bedroom Mediterranean sanctuary with lush tropical gardens enveloping a stone pool, grand marble bathrooms and sweeping Atlantic views.
The guest of honour is Basil Charles, ‘the godfather of the glitterati,’ and the occasion is his semi-retirement. As the owner of the lone drinking establishment on the island – aptly named Basil’s Bar – it’s thanks to Basil and his beachfront wooden shack that A-listers over the years have been able to knock back a pina colada and revel barefoot in the sand without worrying if a photograph will end up in the National Enquirer.
Digging into my entrée, I notice a small furry creature positioned under my banquet chair, who I find out is Mick Jagger’s Jack Russell, fittingly named Star. Directing an indignant ‘woof’ at me, I get the green light to feed him a bite of filet mignon. Star promptly spits it out. Apparently, Star has an extremely discriminating palate – not surprising considering the company this island keeps.