Published 23 January 2000 Style Magazine 341st article
Pulling up a chair: Miss Lid, Michael Winner and Vladimir Ashkenazy, with Lord Glenconner, seated (Jeremy Mutton)
I was chatting to Michael Edwards, superboss of Caribbean Connections, about where to go after La Samanna in St Martin was hurricaned. "How about Coral Reel, Barbados?" he said. "That's not a first-class hotel," I responded. "I'll try the Jalousie Hilton, St Lucia." "That's certainly not a first-class hotel," said Mr Edwards with such scorn the phone wilted in my hand. Mr Edwards is right. The Jalousie Hilton Hotel and Spa is certainly not a first-class hotel. But I went there, extended my stay to 16 nights and declare it one of the most pleasant holiday experiences ever.
I was for many years in real estate - an absurd business where any moron can make a fortune and then preen around as if they'd done something clever. There's a golden rule about buying property. You need three things: location, location and location. In this respect Jalousie is unparalleled. It's the most stunning hotel location I've ever seen. A beautiful tropical rain forest set between two 2,000ft-high mountains - the Pitons, clad in luxuriant tropical growth - was cleared by an Iranian prince, then working with Lord Glenconner. A plantation style hotel appeared. I saw it being built. I went there when the prince ran it. I saw it go into semi-liquidation and close, until, two years ago, Hilton took over. They added a marvellous white sandy beach and run it to their own standards, which are okay, but nowhere near the class of the Orient Express Group or the Amman people. This is a pity, because Jalousie, notched up, could be one of the best hotels in the world.
My trip started badly. I took Concorde to Barbados and then a 40-minute flight by an excellent private airline, SVG of St Vincent, to St Lucia. Rui Domingues, the general manager of Jalousie, had assured me a helicopter would be waiting. There was nothing and nobody to greet me. "Well, Rui," I said alter a 45-minute bumpy taxi ride on potholed roads past stunning scenery, "you're at rock bottom now. You can only go up." Hui promptly left for 12 days in Canada. "How bizarre," I thought, "for a manager to go on holiday during the peak Christmas season." "I'll be looking after you," said his No 2, a pleasant young Englishman called Jeremy Mutton. He said it with confidence. "Doesn't know what he's in for," I thought. Things went pretty well, except for horrific trench warfare on the beach, which I shall detail another day. We had a small house overlooking the sweeping gardens and the bay. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a sizeable roof terrace.
The first irritation was tacky piped music blaring away at breakfast. It showed management's view of the place and customers - the most ghastly lot I've been in a hotel with, mostly there, it seemed, on Hilton points collected from using other hotels. "We're sitting here with a wonderful view, with the sound of the sea, tropical birds, the wind in the palm trees, and there's this horrific music," I said. Eventually they got rid of it. It was the same at the Bayside beach restaurant. "Most of our guests request background music," said the boss there, Alan Pierre. "Absolute nonsense," I said. "Let's you and me go round all the tables right now and ask if they want this appalling, cheap din." Mr Pierre, wisely, didn't fancy his chances. The music was turned off.
The food is below par even for the Caribbean. But I learnt to make do. I had English muffins with fried eggs for breakfast, plus excellent fresh orange juice, specially squeezed. Mr Mutton had tried to put me off. "It's very pale," he said, obviously preferring me to have the mass produced muck. In fact, it had a marvellous taste. For lunch I made do with a mini-steak, charcoal-grilled, or hamburger and caesar salad. They let us sit on the breakfast terrace for dinner, Miss Lid and I, solitary, with a waiter. The soups were fine. Later, their storm-damaged Pier restaurant buffet opened. I scoffed the kiddies' menu of meatballs, spaghetti and baked beans.
Lord Glenconner, who has a restaurant complex next door, always came for breakfast. One morning, exceptional piano playing waited down from the terrace above. "It's Vladimir Ashkenazy," I said. "No, it's an automatic piano," his lordship replied. It turned out to be Ashkenazy, who'd bought two hotel cottages. He played every morning. Breakfast with a witty lord and the world's greatest concert pianist is quite bearable. You could go to Jalousie for £2,168 per person for two weeks for a standard room, no food, including airfare. Vladimir will have gone. With luck, the piped music won't have fought its way back.
While in Canada last month visiting my parents, we dined out at a Chinese buffet. The food was delicious, but I was particularly delighted when Winner's wipes were handed out at the end of the meal. Naturally, I thought of you. Perhaps you could award them to restaurants that have served you well.
Patricia Ellis, Walgrave, Northants
My wife and I recently spent our silver wedding anniversary at Chewton Glen in Hampshire. Thank you for the recommendation in your column. Despite my initial reservations about whether the price was justified, I can now say unhesitatingly that it offers value for money. The staff were amazing, making us feel at ease all the time, the place itself is beautiful and the food wonderful. I have always wondered what you really mean when you describe food as "historic" - but their lemon tart with raspberry sorbet must just about fit the bill.
Robin Taylor, by e-mail
The fact that your photograph at La Chaumiere is dramatically out of focus bothers me not one bit. What is unforgivable, however, is that the fine leg of lamb you are brandishing, being even nearer the camera than you, cannot be fully appreciated. Focus on the food and we will all be happy.
Dr Andrew Bamji, Sevenoaks, Kent
Your paunchy photo at La Chaumiere in France (Style, January 9) aptly demonstrates the downside of a gourmandising lifestyle. I'd recommend the new fat-blocking drug Xenical, which allows you to overindulge, confident in the knowledge that all the fat passes quickly into the sewers where it belongs. I've lost 1st in six months and have never eaten so well. It may even extend the number of years we can continue enjoying your column.
Dr Russell Reid, London
I have followed with interest the arrivals and departures of the various Miss LIDs (Ladies In Danger). If you ever change the title to Miss LYD (Lucky Young Dear?), let me know. I could sell you the vehicle registration 1LYD, thus enabling you to chauffeur around the fortunate lady with suitable ostentation.
Graham Thomas, by e-mail
You know that the food and drink in Ireland are second to none. Yet it is ages since you graced the shores of Kerrygold country with your presence. Come on over, my boy.
Noel Lawlor, Dublin