Last updated: 03:00 AM ET, Thu October 29 2015

Touring Capella’s Caribbean Debut At Marigot Bay

Hotel & Resort | Lori Rackl | October 29, 2015

Touring Capella’s Caribbean Debut At Marigot Bay

Photo courtesy of Capella Marigot Bay. All other photos by Lori Rackl.

MARIGOT BAY, St. Lucia — Novelist James Michener proclaimed this serene, forest-flanked inlet the most beautiful bay in the Caribbean.

It makes sense that Capella Marigot Bay Resort and Marina would want its diners to feast on the scenery along with their food, so the property’s flagship restaurant relocated to a loftier perch for better sightlines of the breath-taking bay.

That’s just one on a long list of changes the Atlanta-based luxury hotel group made when it took over the former Discovery hotel and re-opened it as a Capella creation less than a year ago.

The 124-room resort — the largest in the boutique brand’s portfolio — added a chic rum cave and Capella’s signature Auriga spa, a secluded indoor/outdoor oasis tailored to the predominantly couples crowd.

Another pool was built on a lower tier of the terraced property, whose Achilles heel is the lack of a beach. (Recognizing this weakness, the resort pulled out all the stops to create an especially inviting swimming and sunbathing expanse.)

A modern Caribbean aesthetic now pervades the 67 refurbished guest rooms and 57 suites, many with kitchens, laundry facilities and balconies boasting private plunge pools and views of the protected turquoise bay that’s a magnet for yachts, big and small.

“We’re also looking at adding a tiki bar for boaters coming in and wanting a little more of a casual atmosphere,” Capella Chief Operating Officer Kit Pappas said.

Capella Marigot Bay is one of the newest five-star options on the island, an increasingly popular destination for U.S. tourists. The number of American visitors swelled from 98,685 in 2009 to 142,746 last year, according to government statistics.

It also marks Capella’s first foray into the Caribbean.

"With ultra-luxury travelers, it used to be if you had a nice pool or a nice beach, that was the extent of their vacation. Now, they want to do things and feel like they’re a part of the places they visit.”- Kit Pappas, Capella

“St. Lucia is such a great island,” Pappas said about this 238-square-mile mountainous patch of the West Indies. “The service culture … and the national government is very pro-tourism. Also, there’s the physical beauty within St. Lucia, all of the activities available. With ultra-luxury travelers, it used to be if you had a nice pool or a nice beach, that was the extent of their vacation. Now, they want to do things and feel like they’re a part of the places they visit.”

To that end, the hotel’s small army of personal assistants helps guests charter boats for fishing and snorkeling trips or beach outings. They’ll arrange a hike up the Pitons or a visit to the mud baths at Soufriere’s sulfur springs. Other excursions include a tour of a nearby rum distillery — the same one that fields hordes of cruise ship passengers — and Castries Market, where guests can shop for spices to infuse their own elixir at the resort’s rum cave.

When I spent a few nights at Capella in October, the hotel lined up a forage-to-fork experience led by a local Rastafarian. He took me on hike in a rainforest where we plucked plantains, green bananas, wild spinach and other fixings that went into a callaloo stew cooked over a wood-burning fire. I washed down lunch with the clear water of a green coconut before capping off the day trip with a mud bath and invigorating soak under an off-the-beaten-path waterfall.

Back at the resort, I took a private cooking class with St. Lucia native and senior sous chef Klent Abel and newly christened head chef Billy Boyle, a Memphis native who’d taken over the kitchen’s reins that week.

“I want to get more local dishes on the menu,” Boyle said about his plans for Capella’s cuisine, whose highlights include grilled lobster with Creole sauce, tuna tartare and a decadent chocolate sampler dessert that celebrates the island’s abundant cocoa crop.

“We’re lucky to be surrounded by so many great ingredients,” he added. “When I was cooking for my interview, I needed some coconut. So one of the guys went to the garden and got me one right off the tree. Banana leaves, citrus — everything is right here, just outside the door.”

The Grill is the main eatery, where a refined spin is put on the fresh-caught fish and other staples you’d expect at a high-end resort. Guests looking for a little exclusivity can reserve a private table perched in a tree house or have Boyle cook for them in their suite’s kitchen.

The intimate rum cave serves tasty small plates along with 30-plus varieties of the eponymous liquor. An enthusiastic bartender named Andre led me through an edifying tasting session of half a dozen rums, including a coveted Ron Zacapa from Guatemala.

Guests can dig in to sushi at the pool’s swim-up bar or grab a fresh-baked croissant and cocoa tea at the casual Bayside Café in Marina Village, a complex whose modest offerings include a small grocery store, a jewelry shop and an outpost of a popular Indian restaurant in Rodney Bay. A Heidi Klein clothing boutique is slated to open soon.

“By the end of November, we’ll have Marina Bay all rented out,” Pappas said.

Now that Capella has a foothold in this part of the world, could another Caribbean island be far off in the hotel group’s future?

“Our development team is staying very, very busy,” Pappas said, holding his cards close to his vest. “We would love to operate more hotels in the Caribbean.”

Overnight rates start at $550 at Capella Marigot Bay, located on the Caribbean-facing west side of the island, about an hour’s drive from Hewanorra International Airport (UVF). 

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