Top Trumps in the Caribbean

The US real estate tycoon Donald Trump has teamed up with the luxury hotel operator Raffles to entice the Lear-jet set to a new resort on the castaway island of Canouan. Villas start at $1m. Graham Norwood reports
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The Independent Online

If Robinson Crusoe existed today he may be washed up on a Caribbean island such as Canouan - but he should make sure he salvages his wallet from the shipwreck.

If Robinson Crusoe existed today he may be washed up on a Caribbean island such as Canouan - but he should make sure he salvages his wallet from the shipwreck.

The tiny island, three-and-a- half miles by one-and-a-quarter, looks like paradise with sandy beaches reaching out to tranquil blue lagoons, rugged lush green hills rising sharply, and just 1,500 residents. Now much of the island is facing a makeover, thanks to Donald Trump. The American businessman who has made (and lost) billions of dollars in property, gambling, sport and entertainment ventures has bought the majority of the island to convert it into a swanky estate consisting, at first, of 30 villas and 67 three-acre plots for people to build their own super-luxurious homes. More will follow in the next five years.

The first 10 villas came on sale this month priced from $1m (£555,600) to $4.5m (£2.5m) depending on size, view and proximity to a beach. Plot prices start at $2.6m (£1.4m) although by the time the vast homes are constructed the cost for each may hit $5m (£2.8m).

"Values are competitive with other places in this part of the Caribbean. It's expensive but no more than many other islands, and cheaper than some, such as Mustique," says Achille Pastor-Ris, Trump's Man Friday who is managing the development of the island.

This has been a long-term project for the Trump empire, which has been involved with Canouan Island since the early Nineties. It has helped fund sewage, drainage and drinking water systems to allow the 1,200-acre estate to support sophisticated westernised homes that would appeal to international buyers. This may be difficult and costly at the best of times but it becomes especially challenging when almost everything, from raw materials to much of the labour force, has to be bought in from other, larger islands.

Trump has also attempted to placate millionaire buyers who are worried there may be too little to do on an island which, beyond the fences of the estate, boasts just one village, four shops and two cars. He has brought in Raffles, the flambouyant Singapore luxury hotel operator, to construct an up-market holiday resort.

Over the past two years Raffles has built an extensive leisure infrastructure. There are holiday villas (rented by the week, costing upwards of £1,750 per person and kept well away from the privately owned homes). There are also sport and hospitality facilities designed ostensibly for holidaymakers but which the forthcoming home owners can use too.

Pride of place goes to a stunning 18-hole, international-standard golf course featuring spectacular hillside tees and billiard-table greens hundreds of feet below. It is a glorious course with few holes that do not take your breath away because of their long-distance views and their low-par challenges.

Then there is a hillside Balinese spa that has its own little funicular running down to two glass-bottomed treatment "islands", which have remarkable views of the coral reef that circles Canouan. A large casino and gambling room on the other side of the resort is next door to a restaurant offering glimpses across the Caribbean. There are cafés, bars and bistros, too, with a lot of children's facilities.

"In our opinion there's nothing of this quality anywhere in the world," says Markus Tscherner, Raffles' reservation manager, who is in charge of the 186-room holiday resort. "A lot of resorts claim they have golf, a spa, beaches and so on, but just not of this unspoilt quality. Then there is the privacy - it is not easy to get here, so those who are around you will be wealthy and like-minded, which should make a stay much more relaxing."

All facilities are open to plot- and villa-buyers, who receive equal treatment to the holidaymakers. Everyone arrives by plane (there are scheduled prop-driven flights but the Trump empire has extended the airport to accommodate private Lear jets, too). Then visitors are ferried by people-carrier to the estate where they are given buggies to whizz from beach to villa, and from tea room to tee off.

"Many people think we are trying to compete with Mustique," says Pastor-Ris, referring to the nearby private island where many wealthy Britons and Americans own homes. Princess Margaret famously owned a home there from the Sixties to the Nineties. "But that's not our game. Mustique has many people who live there full time and are nearing retirement. It is a manicured island, which the residents there like. Here on Canouan we are likely to be attracting younger business families who are perhaps more active people," he says.

Canouan is the latest example of how this part of the Caribbean is reaching out to the world's richest people with burgeoning resorts for millionaires. A short island-hop away on one of the ramshackle scheduled flights that buzz about this part of the world, there are a dozen other islands, each vying to attract outsiders.

Compared with some of its rivals Canouan is a little inaccessible. Unlike, say, Antigua there are no direct scheduled flights from major countries and it takes 11 hours to reach from London. If you get bored with Canouan's up-market leisure facilities there is no night-life outside the estate, unlike renowned party places like Barbados. Canouan is also distinctly international and lacks the semi-colonial feel that you get on islands such as Mustique.

However, in years to come, the combination of global brands such as Trump and Raffles may well give Canouan a cachet that could allow it to edge ahead of many Caribbean neighbours. In any case, it already outdoes most of them in terms of its hours of sun, acres of beauty, rounds of golf and number of unspoilt beaches.

Robinson Crusoe never had it this good. But then again, he could never have afforded it.

Canouan's Trump Island Villas and plots are on sale from Knight Frank (020-7629 8171; and A A Altman Real Estate Barbados (00246 432 084;