Owner Andrew Barnard is relaying the history of his family’s 50-year-old hotel property when his voice catches. “I’m sorry,” he says to the 200 hotels guests gathered on the beachfront lawn. “This is emotional for me.” The crowd murmurs its appreciation; when Barnard finishes his speech a few minutes later, the applause is thunderous.
This moment tells you everything you need to know about Rendezvous (Malabar Beach, Castries City 00000, St. Lucia; 758-457-7900), a boutique all-inclusive in St. Lucia that officially celebrated its half-century birthday in July (thus the speechifying). It’s luxurious and secluded, yes, but its exclusivity is outdone by the familiarity between guests, staff and yes, even owners.
The origins of Rendezvous sound like something out of a Humphrey Bogart movie. Barnard’s grandfather, Denis Barnard, bought three acres of beachfront St. Lucian property in 1948; he and his wife would then regularly trek from their inland sugar estate by horseback to reach the spot on weekends. (The Barnard family has ties to the Caribbean that date back to 1652.)
For the first years of ownership, the family kept the property private, content to spend their days relaxing in a modest cottage complete with beachside bar. There was only one problem: Beachgoers kept wandering in, mistaking the bar for a restaurant. Lionel, the family’s legendary butler, would mix up a few drinks for the guests, and when they eventually reached for their wallets, he would politely explain that it was a private residency and that the drinks were on the house.
Denis Barnard, a gregarious man by nature, saw an obvious opportunity. Malabar Beach Hotel opened with three modest cottages in 1966, becoming the island’s first boutique hotel and one of the first in the Caribbean. The early years were heady, to put it mildly: Led Zeppelin—yes, the entire band—made an appearance. The hotel didn’t actually become an all-inclusive until 1983, when it morphed into Couples St. Lucia, becoming the island’s first all-inclusive and again one of the first in the Caribbean. Finally, in 1993, Couples because Rendezvous, and its current era began.
The property today
Fifty looks great on this place. Now spread across seven acres, Rendezvous is all lush, flowery gardens, expansive palm-dotted beaches, and lovely but unobtrusive buildings. Hammocks dot the entire property; oversized chandeliers hang from trees and illuminate the property at night. And not to insult the parental set, but the hotel’s strict no-children policy means that the grounds remain tranquil throughout the day and night. You can finally hear yourself think.
This is an all-inclusive in miniature: just 100 rooms across the entire property, most of them shiny and new thanks to a recent $12.5 million property upgrade. Of those 100 guest rooms, 35 are suites, but even the standard oceanfront room I stayed in was undeniably luxe, with a massive dark wood poster bed, replica Henri Matisse sculpture, and hammock on the private veranda overhanging the beach. The one thing you won’t find in any of the rooms is a TV—sorry, sports and news cycle obsessives. If you must scratch the media itch, there’s a common room in the spa house with an oversized flat screen. (And fret not: There’s free Wi-Fi throughout the property.)
The restaurants (and bars)
“All-inclusive” is a loaded term. While there’s much to embrace about a resort that lets you (over)indulge to your heart’s content, many all-inclusives attract a raucous party crowd focused on the bottomless frozen margaritas. Just another reason to love Rendezvous’ chill restaurant and bar scene. The workhorse is the Terrace Restaurant, which puts out a massive breakfast and lunch buffet along with an afternoon English tea. Malabar Beach Club, the newest restaurant, offers a lighter a la carte menu and a terrific setting; it’s located entirely on the beach underneath a sail, and has a strict no-shoes policy.
Couples wanting to go all out can splurge at the glamorously appointed Trysting Place. If you’re feeling antsy, you can request a transport to The BodyHoliday, Rendezvous’ sister property, and dine at one of the health-conscious spots there. Happy hour is all about the AC-ed Champagne Bar, complete with bubbly tastings and a real live piano player. But at the end of the day (or night), the place to be is at the Terrace bar, which overlooks the Caribbean Ocean and sits astride the property’s 150-year-old Saman tree, twinkling with small Christmas lights at night. No matter where you settle, the serving staff is gracious, accommodating and above all gregarious; it’s rare to feel so taken care of in such a kind manner. Just one example: Within minutes of sitting down at the beach on my last morning there, a staff member approached unannounced with several refreshing drink options, including ginger ale and orange juice.
Again, this isn’t a 20-pool Sandals. Instead, there are two serene swimming pools—one with a swim-up bar—and one lazy river, all dotted with plush lounge seating. To swap chlorine for sea salt, you only need meander a few yards down to the beach and then pick your water-logged sport of choice. Kayaking? Snorkeling? Sailing? Tubing? It’s all on the menu, complete with lessons offered throughout the day (just check out the chalkboard behind the Terrace bar for the day’s schedule). The staff was fantastically patient about gearing my group up for a snorkel trip to nearby Pigeon Island and letting us stay in for as long as we wanted—and it was supposed to be the captain’s day off.
The lilliputian spa, amazingly enough, used to be Andrew Barnard’s childhood home (yes, the lucky man also grew up at the resort). With just three treatment rooms, you might have to wait a day or two for your preferred time, but the staff is eager to fit you in as quickly as they can. Treatments here are about unbridled relaxation; a masseuse might gently nudge you towards a Swedish massage even if you’re clamoring for deep tissue. Just give in. I did.
Going off-property—for plenty of Pitons
You could easily spend a week lolling on the property—have we mentioned the hammocks?—but because it’s Oprah’s world and the rest of us just live in it, you must make time to visit the majestic Pitons, one of her “five things to do before you die.” My group spent an afternoon with St. Lucia Taxi & Tours touring the twin peaks before taking a plunge at the sulphur springs, said to de-age you 10 years.
For better or worse, we offset that later with copious Pitons (the local beer) at St. Lucia’s famous Friday night street party. What began as a humble fish fry in 1999 has morphed into an epic island rager that only starts to warm up after midnight. The hotel is happy to transport you there, and to give you the name of a taxi driver who can take you home in the wee next-day hours. Our only advice? Don’t book your departure on a Saturday—you’ll need a full day to recover.
For more on Rendezvous, visit theromanticholiday.com.