How do you wrap up a sublime stay on an idyllic island known for its breathtaking beaches, fantastic food, and stunning scenery?
With a stay at Belmond Cap Juluca, that's how.
But to call it a stay is really to sell it short. Cap Juluca isn't just a stay, it's an experience.
That experience begins when you arrive and are led through a series of Moorish arches into the stunning open-air lobby.
The soaring white dome dotted with touches of pale blue mimics the powder-white sand and turquoise sea just beyond.
Then again, the pedestrian "turquoise" doesn't even begin to sum it up. Is the water azure? cerulean? teal? sapphire?
Yes, it is.
A complimentary rum punch arrives during check-in, and soon you find yourself wondering: Is the rum is getting to you, or does every single staff member you've encountered thusfar really know your name already?
Yes, they do.
In fact, no matter the question, the answer at Cap Juluca always seems to be "yes."
Fresh fruit and cheese awaiting us in our room? Yes.
An icy bottle of Côtes-du-Rhône to accompany it? Yes.
A beachfront villa with a view of a sea so blue that it doesn't look real? Yes.
And a private solarium where one can sunbathe au naturel should the mood strike? Oh, yesssss.
Indeed, the only down side to all this pampering is how easy it is to get used to. And so, when you return to the real world and your boss inexplicably fails to address you as "Mrs." and doesn't pull out your desk chair for you and neglects to bring you a rum punch while you draft that memo, you can start to feel rather slighted.
We'd already been on island for nine days when I surprised Angel with a short stay at Cap Juluca to wrap up his birthday celebration. I wasn't sure he'd appreciate having to pack, unpack, and then re-pack in order to move hotels, but it turned out I had nothing to worry about: When we first arrived on the island, an immigration officer noticed the repeat visits on our passports and asked Angel what his favorite beach was. Expecting him to mull it over before answering, I was stunned when Angel responded, without even a split second's hesitation, "Maundays Bay."
The man has good taste. Named the number-one best beach resort in the world by Andrew Harper’s luxury travel magazine The Hideaway Report in 2013 and again in 2016, and one of the ten best beach hotels in the world by Coastal Living magazine in 2015, Cap's claim to fame is a pristine, secluded stretch of white sand and crystal-clear water, punctuated only by loungers, umbrellas, and serenity.
I mean, New Yorkers rarely smile as it is, let alone like this.
We didn't have much time to spare, so after settling in at the room, we sunk our feet into that floury sand and took a swim before lunch.
Eventually we tore ourselves away, but only because food was waiting.
We snagged a front-row table at the beachfront Blue, where Angel perused the menu while I continued to nurse my rum punch from check-in. This, of course, did not go unnoticed by our server, who immediately inquired, "Would you like some more ice for your drink, Mrs. Gonzalez?"
Why, yes. Yes I would.
And maybe a Junior Special with Bailey's, coconut, banana, and nutmeg to wash it down.
I know that pita bread and bikinis make for bloaty bedfellows, but the lobster salad with lemon vinaigrette was calling my name, and who was I to ignore it?
Angel ordered more sensibly, deciding on the "deconstructed" Caesar salad topped with a spicy Serrano chili frico.
And we both kicked things off with the cool, refreshing honeydew cucumber gazpacho with shrimp salsa.
The service at lunch had been impeccable -- warm and friendly, but also professional -- but that came as no surprise, since Belmond operates some of the world's poshest hotels (the five-star La Samanna in St. Martin), restaurants (the famous "21" Club in New York City), and even trains (the Orient-Express!), with Cap Juluca being the most recent addition to its collection.
After lunch we ignored the advice of mothers everywhere and catapulted ourselves straight into the water for a swim.
By late afternoon we were ready for another cocktail, but this is Cap Juluca: They certainly won't be stopping by your lounger every so often to see if you'd like anything (wouldn't want to disturb you), and you certainly won't be getting up to get it yourself (wouldn't want you to even have to stand up, let alone walk 10 paces to the beach bar).
And so you simply reach up and send out a distress signal, and a server appears with a menu and a smile.
We stopped by the pool on our way back from the beach.
Though we both agreed that the pool is lovely, it is also about as useful as a screen door on a submarine when the world's largest swimming pool is just outside.
That evening we had reservations at Pimms.
My reputation apparently precedes me, as we were thrilled to learn that the resort had graciously arranged for us to enjoy a complimentary tasting menu.
Widely regarded as one of the most romantic restaurants in the Caribbean, Pimms is set directly over the water at the west end of Maundays Bay, affording a front-row seat to the waves below as well as a panoramic view of the bay.
The resort's new chef, Gabriel Kolofon, was born in Argentina and most recently cooked in Riviera Maya, Mexico, bringing a beachy vibe to Pimms and a little Latin flair to the lounge at Spice.
We were over the moon when Chef Gabriel came out to consult with us on the tasting menu, offering recommendations and suggesting that we go off-menu for a course or two so that he could introduce us to a few of his favorite dishes from Spice as well. He even arranged for us to receive our own dish for each course so we could share our thoughts, but not our food. (Like I said . . . my reputation precedes me.)
We settled in with a favorite bottle of wine -- the excellent Clos Beylesse "blue bottle" rosé -- and spent a few giddy minutes speculating as to what surprises might be on their way from the kitchen.
The first was a conch fritter with spicy aioli, followed by cool, refreshing watermelon and feta salad with pickled onions, slivered almonds, arugula, and an anise-watermelon vinaigrette.
Next, a creamy butternut squash risotto with calamari and aged parmesan appeared. If you're thinking that calamari and butternut squash make for an odd couple, let me assure you that they are actually having a hot, steamy affair.
The next course took us off-menu: A fantastic, crispy-skinned pan-seared snapper atop a sweet potato-couscous mash, accompanied by a rich, creamy sweet potato puree that could have been an entrée all by itself.
We'd devoured three courses plus an amuse-bouche thus far (leaving absolutely nothing, save for the carrot tops from the snapper dish) and apparently Chef Gabriel knows a couple of gourmands when he sees them. (As with most words, "glutton" sounds so much nicer in French, n'est pas?) And so, out came an Angus beef tenderloin with smoked truffle potato mash and tiny ceviche'd mushrooms . . . followed by a lemon-lime sorbet in Proscecco . . . followed by a plate of chocolatey baked goods . . . followed by dessert.
The tenderloin was bathed in the most decadent sauce I think I've ever had -- a creamy truffle foie gras sauce so sinfully delicious that we could probably call off the war on drugs if they'd just bottle this stuff up and give it away.
The desserts were magically tailor-made for our individual tastes: A velvety vanilla creme brûlée with blackberry and raspberry sauce, gelled raspberries, and a crunchy vanilla cookie crumble (for me) . . .
. . . and a chocolate soufflé with vanilla bean ice cream, plus ginger biscotti and a tart sauce of strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries to balance the sweetness of the soufflé's warm, gooey center (for Angel).
It had been the meal of a lifetime: Four courses of sheer perfection -- plus conch fritters, plus the sorbet and Prosecco, plus the tiny cakes, plus an icy bottle of our favorite rosé -- all tailored to our specific tastes by one of the most thoughtful and talented chefs we've ever had the pleasure of meeting.
Even if all of our chatting and photographing did mean that we lost a little bit of that vanilla-bean ice cream along the way.
We made our way back to the villa, guided by a full moon illuminating the night sky.
Back in our room, the small hurricane we'd left behind in our scramble to make our dinner reservation on time had miraculously disappeared: Our clothes were folded into neat little piles, our shoes were paired off and stowed away, the lights had been dimmed, yards of mosquito netting were draped over the perfectly-turned-down bed, and a citronella candle glowed softly in a corner.
And as if the entire setup couldn't get any more romantic, we had just snuggled under the sheets when a light rain began to fall, pattering softly against the wooden hurricane shutters and lulling us into a deep, blissful slumber.
The next morning we bounded out of bed with one thing on our minds. No, not bacon . . . or, rather, not just bacon. We needed another swim in Maundays Bay.
Breakfast is complimentary at Blue for guests of the resort, so we secured a beachfront table, then took at a peek at the offerings.
In addition to baked goods, smoked salmon, and assorted yogurts and cereals, there's hot food (eggs, sausage, and the aforementioned bacon), along with an omelet station.
Although I'd declined an iced tea from our server earlier, I changed my mind and went up to the buffet to grab one. I found the tea, along with glasses and straws, but didn't see any ice. I must have been wearing a confused expression because, literally within seconds, I heard someone stage-whisper, "So-and-so! HELP Mrs. Gonzalez, please!"
As with the other pampering Cap offers its guests, this kind of treatment, too, has set unrealistic expectations at home, where I now expect to have every single thing I want at the exact second I want it . . . and Angel now expects that sooner or later, he is going to have to shoot me.
After breakfast, we made a beeline back to the beach for one last swim in that glorious water.
That's when we noticed that a ground sea had rolled in while we were at breakfast, bringing with it a few tiny pieces of seaweed.
I was tempted to ask the staff if someone could come out and pluck it out of the water by hand, but figured I'd better not.
I knew the answer would be "yes."