There are few places on Earth where the "beach gravity" -- the allure of sand and sea -- is as inexorable as it is on Grace Bay.
This 19-kilometre-long curve on the island of Providentiales is rated among the world's top beaches, with the whitest, fluffiest sand imaginable and turquoise waters calmed by a barrier reef. "Provo," as locals call it, is the most populous in the Turks and Caicos archipelago.
Not surprisingly, the powerful beach gravity has drawn its share of resorts, with more than a dozen currently lining the bay and several in various stages of construction. But the beach's large size, coupled with its location within a national marine park, mean beach loungers haven't taken over yet. Indeed, Grace Bay is surprisingly uncrowded, with only two stretches of sand - those fronting the all-inclusive Beaches and Club Med resorts - approaching Cancun-esque levels.
The aforementioned pair are also the only options for all-inclusive holidays, with the rest of the resorts favouring à la carte meals and drinks. While this can make a vacation more expensive, it also allows visitors to sample the island's excellent array of restaurants.
After all, saving money shouldn't be a priority on Provo. Compared with package-holiday hot spots such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic, room rates and menu prices are high. That being said, there is a good range of accommodations, meaning that everyone from Hollywood stars to budget-minded families can find their place on the sand.
Named after Lady Grace Hutchings, who visited the storied property on her honeymoon in 1892, Point Grace sits alone on a bend in the beach, separated from its nearest neighbours by fields of the island's ubiquitous scrub. The beachfront resort's British Colonial domes and columns echo its historic past, while its clientele -- generally well-heeled Americans, Canadians and Europeans -- imbue the place with an aristocratic air.
Suites range from one-bedroom to penthouse, with views of either the Atlantic Ocean or the tranquil pool area and gardens. The pool-side suites are cottagey in appearance, with flower-festooned trellises and outdoor patios. Interiors are decidedly West Indian -- there's lots of dark wood and marble -- and canopy beds and full kitchens are provided throughout. The two buildings housing the "beach residences" are more grandiose -- classical columns adorn their exteriors, while the enormous suites themselves are individually decorated. "The Nonsuch" penthouse, for example, features custom-made Mandalay lamps and a massive handmade Indonesian dining table.
Set in three white-washed buildings, the resort's Thalasso Spa is cooled by sea breezes and offers private views of the ocean. It's European-style treatments include massages, facials and body treatments. With just the sound of the waves filling the air, the spa may be the only place on the island where the beach gravity loses its grip.
The resort's luxe offerings continue at Grace's Cottage, the elegant on-site restaurant focusing on regional ingredients such as mangos, coconut, Kaffir limes and sweet yams. The fresh seafood should not be overlooked, with the five-cay pan-fried red snapper among the menu's highlights. Grace's Cottage is open for dinner only -- continental and hot breakfasts, and light lunches, are served at the pool terrace.
If your holiday standards are high, or if you're looking to spoil yourself rotten, Point Grace is close to unbeatable.
OCEAN CLUB WEST
Like Point Grace, Ocean Club West and its sister property a few hundred metres down the beach offer prime real-estate for kicking back on the sand. The two OC properties take more of a big-box approach, however, with generic condo- and apartment-style rooms and run-of-the-mill beachside cafés and pool areas.
But the resorts do have their charms: Cleaning staff leave fresh flowers in your room every day (staff in general are pleasant and accommodating); the rooms' screened-in balconies and porches provide great venues for escaping the sun; the high-ceilinged Gecko Grill is a joy; and the resort gardens -- which surround the walkways and serpentine pools of Ocean Club West -- are very nicely manicured.
Both OC properties take an all-suites approach to accommodations, with bachelor, one-, two- and three-bedroom options available. (Most suites are owned, and rented out by the resort). All come with kitchenettes and full bathrooms that make efficient use of limited space. The interior decor ranges from drab (hallways) to colourfully eclectic (linens, wall art).
Located in Ocean Club, a five-minute shuttle-bus ride from its western counterpart, the Gecko Grill focuses on Caribbean cuisine, with superbly fresh seafood and pastas. The bar features what must be the widest array of vodkas on the island -- 65, including Ketel One, Grey Goose and Vox.
All in all, the two Ocean Clubs aren't thrill-of-a-lifetime material. But for regular island vacationers -- especially families -- they offer a sensibly appealing option.
For visitors seeking a nice change of pace -- in terms of location, ambience and price -- the Miramar fits the bill. More inn than resort, the property sits on a hill overlooking Turtle Cove, a harbour community of restaurants and dive shops a few kilometres west of Grace Bay. While it's not right on the beach, the Miramar does offer a complimentary shuttle to Grace Bay's nearby sands, and its clean, bright rooms, sunset views and superb next-door restaurant add up to great value.
Rooms are located either in the spacious main building, where reception, a large exercise room and pool area can be found, or in a series of cottages overlooking Turtle Cove. Some units come with kitchenettes, while all feature either a king- or queen-sized bed, air conditioning, cable TV and full bathrooms.
The friendly, helpful staff will serve you breakfast on an outdoor terrace or in your room, or you can stroll down the hill to Turtle Cove to dine. But you should definitely stay up on the hill for dinner, as the Magnolia Restaurant, right next door to the Miramar, is one of the top eateries on Provo. It may even surpass Grace's Cottage when it comes to seafood -- the sesame-and-cracked-pepper-crusted rare seared tuna is outstanding, as is the California-heavy wine list. Magnolia's Bar Terrace, meanwhile, is an ideal spot for a cocktail at sunset.
You may even end up splurging at dinner, but by staying at the Miramar everything else becomes more affordable.
Essentials: Grace Bay; 1-866-924-7223; http://www.pointgrace.com. Provides complimentary shuttle service to and from Providentiales International Airport (about 20 minutes away).
Rates and rooms: Offers 32 suites, ranging from pool-front one-bedrooms ($675 in winter, including a continental breakfast) to a four-bedroom beachfront penthouse comprising the "Nonsuch" suite ($7,700 in winter, including breakfast).
Top draw: The quiet, opulent ambience.
Needs work: All suites contain kitchens, but groceries are hard to come by.
OCEAN CLUB WEST
Essentials: Grace Bay; 1-800-457-8787; http://www.ocean-club.com. Provides complimentary shuttle service to and from Providentiales International Airport.
Rates and rooms: The two resorts' combined 164 suites range from bachelor ($275 in winter) to three-bedroom ($910 in winter).
Top draw: Location, location, location.
Needs work: Both beachfront cafés are lacklustre.
Essentials: Turtle Cove; 649-946-4240; http://www.miramarresort.tc. A taxi from the nearby airport costs around $10.
Rates and rooms: The 19 rooms cost $130 (pool-view) and $145 (ocean-view) during the current winter season.
Top draw: The adjacent Magnolia Restaurant is outstanding.
Needs work: With splintery wooden decks, the pool area is a little rough around the edges.
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