Remember the Sixties? You will here

The private Caribbean island of Petit St Vincent hasn't changed for nearly 40 years. That's its beauty, says Marcus Field

Luxury is not a word we used much when we talked about holidays in the Sixties. It was a time of simple pleasures, as I remember it, when children like me were content to play in the sand in Swanage while our parents were just grateful for a fortnight off work and a Cinzano or two. Luxury, if we considered it at all, was something reserved for the super-rich, and it required two essential ingredients: a journey abroad on an aeroplane and the promise of warm sun and sea when you got there.

Luxury is not a word we used much when we talked about holidays in the Sixties. It was a time of simple pleasures, as I remember it, when children like me were content to play in the sand in Swanage while our parents were just grateful for a fortnight off work and a Cinzano or two. Luxury, if we considered it at all, was something reserved for the super-rich, and it required two essential ingredients: a journey abroad on an aeroplane and the promise of warm sun and sea when you got there.

I mention these things because it was in 1968, the same year the students were storming the barricades in Paris, that Haze Richardson opened the Caribbean holiday resort of Petit St Vincent (PSV) with exactly these pleasures in mind. He bought an uninhabited island in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, then still a British colony, built 22 cottages on it, and promised visitors peace and privacy with good weather guaranteed. Food and drink were provided, of course, but not much else. No phones or televisions and, mercifully, none of the dizzying array of dispensable services - spas, personal butlers, gyms - with which the modern-day luxury hotel is so encumbered.

Nearly 40 years later Saint Vincent and the Grenadines may have become independent, but everything else on PSV remains in a time warp. Richardson, an affable American who has fond memories of the British governor drinking sloe gin at nine o'clock in the morning, is still in charge, and the 1960s ethos of a peaceful, laid-back holiday with sun, sea and no fuss remains the order of the day.

This old-fashioned idea of luxury is fine, of course, if you love sun and sea. But I set out for five days in PSV wondering whether it would be enough. Would I survive without my daily dose of TV news? Could I really live without a phone? And for the generation like mine, which has graduated from buckets and spades to scouring historic sites in search of cultural enlightenment, the question is: what do you do all day on a little island if there is nothing to go and see?

These doubts were still nagging as we flew over an improbably turquoise coloured sea on a tiny plane from Barbados to Union Island, the nearest airstrip to PSV. A short boat ride later and we were greeted at the landing quay by Richardson and a large tray of piña coladas. It may have been the alcohol that did it, but my doubts began to recede as soon as I stepped ashore. From the south coast there is almost no sign of habitation on the island, and its white sand beaches and three small volcanic peaks, covered with lush green vegetation, cry out to be explored. A childish delight welled up in me at the thought of running wild; we could make camps and have picnics, swim out to reefs and go crab hunting. And when darkness came I had my copy of Lord of the Flies to read in bed ...

As it turned out, we weren't expected to sleep rough, kill pigs or elect a chief. A short ride in a Mini Moke from the quay and we arrived at one of the original cottages on the breezy north coast. These single storey buildings, built from blue bitch stone mined on the island, have that cool Thunderbirds aesthetic we now regard as quintessentially Sixties. Richardson tells a good story about how he met their Swedish architect, Arne Hasselqvist, when they were both bumming around the islands on yachts in 1967. You can trace the sophisticated European roots of the cottages in their sliding glass doors, terracotta tiled floors and pivoting louvred panels - a favourite device of Le Corbusier. Hasselqvist, I was interested to learn, went on to have a glittering career designing Caribbean houses before he died in a house fire in the Bahamas in 2001, aged 61.

Despite the no-frills ethos, there is no scrimping on service on PSV and we found that the low-tech approach to room service was just as efficient as the modern-day call down to the front desk. Each cottage has a bamboo flagpole in its garden, and you simply fill out a form for breakfast, lunch or drinks, push it into the pole and raise a yellow flag. One of the friendly staff will soon pass by, pick up your request and deliver your order back within about 30 minutes. Bingo. There are more flagpoles on the beautiful beach at the west end of the island.

After a few days of lying in the shade and reading a bunch of bestsellers I felt too embarrassed to be seen with at home, I began to understand the pleasures of the Caribbean in winter. Apart from the weather, there is the nature around you. Normally I'm so busy on holiday ticking off visits to tombs and churches that I barely have time to look at the birds or the beetles. Here I became transfixed by the darting little humming birds, the land crabs in their colourful shells, the extraordinary stamens of the red hibiscus flowers and the night-time whooping of the crickets.

At 113 acres, there is just enough terrain on PSV to keep you occupied for a few days. It takes an hour or so to climb the highest hill and there's some nice scrubby woodland to give you a taste of the native flora and fauna. And then there's the snorkelling, which offers even a first-timer instant gratification, with plenty of blue tangs and yellow snappers just off shore. Another guest told me where to find nurse sharks and rays, but I was too chicken to seek them out for myself.

So few changes on PSV mean that it is now a relatively eco-friendly resort. There are no swimming pools, the loos are flushed with salt water, there is a desalination plant for washing and drinking water, and none of the cottages is air-conditioned. This last detail worried me at first, but the combination of Hasselqvist's clever natural ventilation system and ceiling fans leaves the rooms feeling breezy and cool. Richardson keeps a flock of hens for eggs and is able to supply almost all the papayas and salad for the island from his garden. The rest of the food is mostly local and unpretentious, with plenty of fish, fruit and beer from nearby islands. At dinner time you can either join other guests at the club house or eat at your cottage. I especially enjoyed the cocktails: the head barman has been at PSV from the outset.

Little else may have changed about PSV in the past 40 years, but unfortunately the prices have. The island has a no-tipping policy, but a 10 per cent service charge is added to your bill. At the rates quoted above, you are still privileged if you can afford a holiday here. Remember what you're paying for though: here's a chance to spend a little bit of your life on a paradise island that feels like it's your own. It probably seemed the ultimate luxury in 1968, and it still feels like it today.

GIVE ME THE FACTS

How to get there

Marcus Field travelled to Barbados with British Airways (0870-850 9850; www.ba.com), which offers returns from Gatwick from £429 if booked by tomorrow for travel 8 May-30 June or 24 August-30 November. Other fares from £581. The resort fixes flights from Union Island to Bridgetown, $160 (£85) each way.

Where to stay

Doubles at Petit St Vincent Resort (001 954 963 7401; www.psvresort.com) cost $740 (£400) per night based on two sharing, between November and August.

Further information

St Vincent and the Grenadines Tourist Office (020-7937 6570; www.svgtourism.com).

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