The lure of beautiful St. John's, USVI; great food, resorts and A-1 beaches
PICS IN ORDER 2558 cruz bay ferry 2568 view from Bordeaux 2576 Concordia 0074 Trunk 0411 close up from trunk beach
One minute you’re on bustling St. Thomas, driving past a series of homes and shops on your way to the Red Hook Ferry. Fifteen minutes later the ferry deposits you in Cruz Bay on St. John.
Even before you hit the dock you sense the slower pace. There are homes on the hills on St. John, but not nearly as thick as in St. Thomas. The town of Cruz Bay, where the ferry drops you off, is slightly busy with its parade of taxis waiting to ferry folks to the beach or a hotel, but feels like a funky resort town; a bit like Lahaina on Maui if you’ve been, or maybe a Caribbean Port Carling. There are two storey, wooden buildings painted a wild shade of lavender and the pretty town square is filled with plants and a cute bandstand.
Nearby bars and cafes spill outdoors into the sunshine and you get a sense of a very cool, understated beach town. The town’s nickname is Love City, which I guess tells you a lot.
It only takes a minute or two to escape what passes for bustle, and then you’re sailing up (on the left side, this being the only U.S. territory, I’m told, where folks drive on the left) a mountain road in your open-air jitney/cab and passing hiking trails and the odd white tailed deer as you crane your neck for awesome views of the blue Caribbean, which is never far away on an island that’s roughly the size of Manhattan but covered with steep, green mountains and winding roads and funky roadside spots.
The island is almost entirely made up of land in the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park, thanks to a huge donation from American tycoon and philanthropist Laurance Rockefeller.
Only 15 or 20 minutes into our ride to the Eco-Concordia tent resort, located on a pretty spur on the eastern side of the island, we passed the Bordeaux Mountain View Point, a wildly-coloured, casual dining spot with a gift shop, ice cream shop and artists’ studio attached. It sits high on a hill that looks down a series of folded ridges to the jigsaw puzzle islands and bays and nooks and crannies of eastern St. John. In the distance you can Tortola, Virgin Gorda and other islands in the British Virgin Islands chain.
Treat yourself to a Dirty Monkey (coconut, I think, with chocolate and rum and ice and other good stuff) and drink in the view. It’s awesome.
The resort is a fun, off-the-grid spot where most units are in tent-like structures with electricity and a small fridge but not a lot of extras. There’s a small pool and a yoga center and, at times, a café.
The real lure lies in being close to nature and living in a structure high on a hill overlooking a deep green peninsula with the crashing Caribbean of Drunk Bay on your left and the calm waters of Salt Pond Bay on your right. There are terrific hikes, especially out to Ram's Head. I didn't have time for the full Monty but did enough to whet my appetite and recommend it. I also got in some good snorkeling Friday morning at Salt Pond Bay.
I can highly recommend Concordia. The tents are almost full structures with lots of ventilation and washrooms and places to cook and all. Units at the far end, away from the office, have awesome views of the coast along Drunk Bay and the staff takes great care to make everything right. They also have month-long volunteer programs where folks can work maybe six hours a day five days a week in exchange for free board in a paradise-like setting.
There’s a fun spot for drinks or sandwiches on the main road near the resort’s entrance called the Tourist Trap, which has an old “Rock ‘em Sock ‘em” robots game on display and small statues of Elvis, plus a space to make donations to help the wild cats in the area.
We had a couple hours at Trunk Bay in the middle of the afternoon (see photo) and I have to say it’s perhaps the most beautiful beach I’ve seen anywhere. There’s hardly a structure to be seen and it’s surrounded by thick, green hills. The sand is a shade invented by a tourism bureau and the sapphire blue water looks straight out of the Bahamas or the Aegean. There’s good snorkeling and an underwater snorkel trail marked by buoys, and you can gaze out at a small island plunked right offshore or out towards small cays and Jost Van Dyke, one of the British Virgin Islands.
Just down the road is stunning Maho Bay and Cinnamon Bay, also lovely. There are a few folks about, especially during cruise season, but it shouldn’t be that crazy crowded, especially in mornings and late afternoons when cruisers are back on board.
We had dinner at a fabulous Italian spot called Zozo’s near Cruz Bay, with an outstanding supersized, grilled shrimp with risotto and also a terrific salad with lump crab, fennel, greens, almonds, goat cheese and a citrus vinaigrette. It’s an open-air affair with dynamite views of St. Thomas off in the distance.
Today was a bit of time to shop and dine at Ocean Grill, part of the lovely Mongoose Junction shopping complex. Very nice shops in an outdoor, jungle setting with huge trees and flower displays and fun shops. Ocean Grill makes great pulled pork tacos and a fabulous salad with greens, grilled mahi or salmon, pineapple, green beans, crispy won tons and bean sprouts that's perfectly fresh and delicious. Oh, and the Tap Room nearby has great local beers, including one with mango.
Tonight it's the lush confines of the Westin (see photo at left), which sits on a nice beach and has tons of amenities; restaurants and tennis and lawns like Augusta National Golf Club and flaming red ginger and bougainvillea plants and more. There's a trampoline floating just offshore that I just have to try, too.,
I’ve only been here 24 hours but I’ve fallen in love with this island and can’t wait to come back some day.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @jimbyerstravel