Aqua therapy

Travel

March 1, 2023



Leave stress behind and escape to the tropics: Turks and Caicos is a 3-hour nonstop flight from Charlotte — and a low-key alternative to crowded Caribbean hot spots

by Cathy Martin

Confirming what many of us have long suspected, research published last year suggests being near water can improve mental health, building on previous studies touting nature’s calming effects.

Providenciales native Beverly Howell can attest to that. Though she’s an avid traveler who keeps her passport at the ready, the soft-spoken general manager at Point Grace, a 28-key luxury resort on the island’s iconic 12-mile Grace Bay Beach, admits to feeling a little anxious when she goes more than a few days without seeing the ocean.  

After a recent visit to Provo, as locals call the third-largest of Turks and Caicos’ eight inhabited islands, it’s suddenly clear. From the moment the plane approaches the impossibly blue waters surrounding the 38-square-mile island, it’s easy to understand why Howell says she can’t imagine living anywhere else. 

Left: Grace Bay Club. Right: Thalasso Spa at Point Grace

Point Grace is a tranquil oceanfront resort that’s been recently revitalized with an interiors refresh by New York-based AD100 designer Young Huh. Post-renovation, the ’90s-era property maintains a British West Indies aesthetic, but heavy, dark wood furnishings have given way to lighter finishes, soft pink and aqua tones, bold palm prints, and a brighter, airier vibe.

At the intimate resort, nestled among palm trees behind privacy walls draped with bougainvillea, the focus is on relaxation. The pool, designated a “quiet zone,” is meant more for lounging and floating than for cannonballs or rowdy games of Marco Polo. Friendly, white-clad staff deliver champagne buckets filled with ice cold water, or whatever else your heart desires from the poolside gazebo bar. And secluded behind the lush tropical landscaping, two open-air treatment rooms at the on-site spa allow guests to enjoy their massage or facial with the bonus of a stress-evaporating sea breeze.

But the resort’s finest amenity might be Grace’s Cottage, a French-inspired fine-dining restaurant with impeccable service in a garden-like setting. Before dinner, settle in at the bar with a Dark and Stormy (homemade ginger beer and Bermudian rum) or a jalapeno margarita and admire the stunning 25-foot Bisazza-glass tile mosaic mural, one of the more striking elements of Huh’s renovation. Service is leisurely — you’ll want to savor the experience — and the menu features Caribbean twists on classics such as Chateaubriand, Caicos bouillabaisse and a decadent lobster Thermidor. 

Left: Infiniti Restaurant at Grace Bay Club. Right: Point Grace and Grace’s Cottage at Point Grace

Point Grace is part of Grace Bay Resorts, a collection of resorts and private villas that is celebrating 30 years while briskly expanding its footprint on the island. The sleek new Rock House cliffside resort on the island’s North Shore opened last year, and South Bank, a residential resort and marina on 31 acres of Long Bay Beach, is set to debut in early 2024. An expansion of Point Grace is also underway. 

Just a mile from Point Grace is the developer’s flagship property, Grace Bay Club, an all-oceanfront-suite resort that opened in 1993 when Turks and Caicos was just emerging as a luxury destination. The sprawling 11-acre resort caters to both couples and families with three types of accommodations: an adults-only hotel with spacious 1- and 2-bedroom suites, family-friendly villas, and the ultra-luxurious Estate — expansive four- and five-bedroom residences with wraparound porches, large kitchens and a separate pool. 

Grace Bay Club is consistently ranked among the Caribbean’s top resorts, and with high-touch service and a location that’s second to none, it’s easy to see why. If the place doesn’t seem crowded, that’s intentional. Even when the resort is at capacity, a lounge chair or private cabana will always be available, with an attendant quick to provide a fresh towel. Guests are assigned a concierge upon arrival; other luxury amenities include a spa and boutique, a kids club, L’Occitane beauty products, and fitness classes, including a yoga program led by David Bowen, the resort’s director of wellness, culture and entertainment, and an island fixture (he’s the former director of culture for Turks and Caicos). 

Left: Grace Bay Beach; right: Rock House, a new cliffside resort, opened in 2022 on Providenciales north shore. 

Infiniti, the on-site restaurant and bar, boasts a hard-to-beat beachfront setting, with live music and creative-yet-approachable dishes, from tapas and sushi to wood-grilled seafood and steaks. Guests dine under palms wrapped in twinkle lights with lanterns swaying overhead, or at the seemingly endless 90-foot bar stretching toward the sea. 

With Grace Bay Club’s stellar dining options — including an open-air grill (also beachside) serving lunch, dinner and a breakfast buffet with options for every palate — you’d be pressed for a reason to venture off-site. But ask any local where to eat, and they’re quick to recommend Da Conch Shack, a casual beachside café in the Blue Hills neighborhood where you can dine on the beach with sand between your toes or at brightly colored picnic tables in the shady courtyard. As expected, conch is the star of the menu, from fritters to “cracked” conch (fried strips served with a zesty dipping sauce) to conch salad, the ceviche-like Caribbean specialty of briny conch meat marinated in fresh lime juice with tomatoes, onions and peppers. Fresh fish tacos, grilled or blackened catch of the day, and lobster are also on the menu, along with rum-focused cocktails. The place really gets hopping on Wednesday “Junkanoo” nights with live music, but Da Conch Shack is worth a trip no matter when you visit.

On every vacation, you reach a point of over-indulgence that calls for a simple, casual meal in a flip-flop-friendly setting. Cocovan, a counter-service al fresco restaurant within walking distance of Grace Bay Club, fits the bill. The casual sibling to the popular Coco Bistro, Cocovan serves a rotating menu of gourmet tacos, burgers and tropical drinks out of a gussied-up 1974 Airstream trailer. Grab a table in the shady courtyard, and wind down with an Airstreamer cocktail (tequila, mango and lime), the perfect accompaniment to a mahi sandwich with a side of crispy Brussels sprouts. 

The Estate at Grace Bay Club, left; a suite in the adults-only hotel at the resort, middle; the iconic Providenciales restaurant Da Conch Shack, right.

With Grace Bay’s immaculate white-sand beaches and three impressive pools — including an adults-only infinity pool and another with a swim-up bar — it can be tempting to spend your entire vacation on a lounger, a glass of rum punch by your side. But with 340 miles of barrier reef surrounding Turks and Caicos, there’s an underwater world ripe for exploration. Activities include scuba diving, kayaking, sailing, even horseback riding on the beach.

I opted for a snorkeling-optional, half-day boat tour. Right on time, the catamaran from Island Vibes Tours pulled up near the shore, I climbed aboard, and we were off. Our guide for the day was equally versed in the local ecology (like the dense mangrove wetlands protecting the coastline) and the latest celebrity scoop (like which villa served as the backdrop for the latest Real Housewives getaway). After cruising the coastline and snorkeling, we picnicked at Half Moon Bay, a sandbar formed after a hurricane in the ’80s where (friendly) rock iguanas roam freely. Back onboard, we sipped local Turk’s Head beers, then paused for a final swim before heading back to the resort.

In the 30 years since Grace Bay Club opened, buildings on the island have gotten taller, and the beaches, while still uncrowded by most standards, are a bit more populated. Yet somehow, the resort still feels intimate. Within a very short time, staff members remember your name, where you’re from and your drink order. Back at Point Grace, Howell says that hospitality comes natural to the people of the islands, who seem to genuinely love their home and are eager to show it off to visitors. “I think hospitality is in our DNA.”  SP

When to visit: Though the weather is less predictable from late August to early October, given Turks and Caicos’ temperate climate, there really isn’t a bad time to visit. Locals say February and March is the most popular season, but even in summer there’s always a sea breeze to beat the heat. To celebrate its 30-year anniversary, Grace Bay Resorts has a slate of special events, including culinary experiences like popups with Texas sushi master Tyson Cole in June and December, private yacht parties, and more. Visit gracebayresorts.com for more information.

Photographs courtesy Grace Bay Resorts & Turks and Caicos Islands Tourist Board

This post was updated March 15 to reflect a revised opening date for South Bank.

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