Right on the beach between the Pitons – St Lucia’s iconic, densely forested volcanic cones and World Heritage Site – work is under way to relaunch the Jalousie Plantation hotel as The Tides Sugar Beach. This perfect crescent of sand first caught the eye of Colin Tennant, Lord Glenconner, when he moved to the island from Mustique in the early 1980s.
‘I arrived by canoe, having been told about some hot springs when living, very basically, in the nearby town of Soufrière,’ explains the old friend of Princess Margaret, who is nonchalantly dressed in a white linen kaftan and a well-worn straw hat, relaxing in his half-finished house, which is strewn with Indian antiques. ‘The Jalousie and Beau estates were home to a derelict 17th-century plantation house, where, at one stage, limes were farmed for Rose’s Lime Cordial. My son found out it was for sale, and I bought it on the basis that, when something’s a snip, you’d better not argue.’
And so the Jalousie Plantation was born, with rooms based in cottages in clusters around the resort, managed by butlers employed from the local community. The hotel has since had a variety of owners with mixed fortunes. ‘Essentially, it’s turned from Perrier water to soda water to tap water, but the best chance for it to succeed is now,’ says Lord Glenconner. He’s referring to the fact that the 192-acre Jalousie estate where 24 varieties of mangoes grow is now in the hands of Robert Myers, founder of the Café Rouge restaurants.
Mr Myers was tempted out of retirement when the estate came up for sale seven years ago, and he’s hired the Los Angeles-based Kor Group to manage the hotel, appointed the much-admired architect Lane Pettigrew to update the cottages and design new villas for sale, and asked Lord Glenconner to take out his formidable black book.
‘Roger Myers’ ambition is to create the best hotel in the world on the best site in the world it’s going to be chic by the shore,’ explains Naomi Cambridge, who’s in charge of villa and cottage sales on site. There are three levels of investment: one- and two-bedroom cottages, with their own plunge pools, sold, on a buy-to-let basis, from $700,000; larger, four- to five-bedroom villas, which can be leased back into the hotel when not in use by owners, from $2.8 million; and, finally, seven completely private, five- to six-bedroom villas on Glenconner Beach, which start at $7 million.
‘Mustique has been copied all around the world. It’s the ultimate gated community, but, this time round, I want to do something more inclusive,’ says Lord Glenconner. His eponymous beach will have an ‘exclusive without excluding’ theme, including a small village square for locals to set up shops selling Caribbean produce. ‘Most Caribbean “all-inclusives” don’t let any locals in, but I know some very wealthy people who wouldn’t set foot in such a place they want a more authentic experience.’
This approach echoes that set by UNESCO when it chooses which sites will fall under its protection. ‘World Heritage Sites have a socio-economic aspect, too,’ explains Mr Pettigrew, who lives close to Sugar Beach. ‘They ensure employment opportunities are generated for locals, as well as regulating access to protect the site it’s put paid to plans we’ve heard of in the past, such as installing a chairlift up one of the Pitons.’
In terms of popularity among British buyers in the current climate, St Lucia lies some way behind the favourite, Barbados, where, in the past few weeks, Knight Frank have sold a clutch of properties out of season. However, St Lucia is considerably better value property prices are estimated to be between 30% and 40% cheaper.
And sales at Sugar Beach are outperforming all the other developments on the island (some of which have ground to a halt or not even got off the ground): 39 buy-to-let villas have sold or are in the process of selling, two Ocean Residence villas have been reserved, and there’s ‘serious interest’ in three of the Glenconner Beach properties.
Mr Myers adds: ‘In a difficult economic climate, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the level of interest, particularly in the past six months. Having said that, we’re in one of the most beautiful spots in the world, and it’s apparent to anyone who comes here that we’re creating a unique destination. Visitors love the new villas, and we’ve completed work on three wonderful restaurants, a magical spa in the rainforest and a world-class fitness facility.’
Sugar Beach (020-8812 4773; www.sugarbeachvillas.com)
Glenconner Beach (020-8812 4673; www.glenconner.com)