My wife and I spent eight days in early January at a place in the Caribbean I had only vaguely heard of, Turks and Caicos. The islands, and there are about eight of them, are a series of coral outcroppings in the Atlantic about 70 miles due east of Cuba, some inhabited, such as Providenciales, which we were on, some not.
They are part of the British Commonwealth, so driving is on the left. Also, they haven’t put up road signs yet. Also, they haven’t put in any traffic lights yet. How people know where things are is by a series of 14 roundabouts that may be found along the main road—paved just five years ago—that traverses this 25-mile long island. They know the names of these roundabouts. You don’t, of course, and there’s no sign on any of them, but if you have a map and can count, you can figure out where your turns are. Driving is certainly a challenge.
All of this is to tell you that Providenciales is largely still a native island, the way it used to be, but in one area, a magnificent eight-mile-long arc of a beach called Grace Bay, there are a great many major hotels that are to die for. They feature fine restaurants, shops, waterfalls, spas, infinity pools, nightspots and even a “downtown,” which is not the local’s downtown but their own two-block long version of a high-end shopping tourist town with rows of palm trees along the boulevard that passes through it. You’d think you were in an old Caribbean town all fixed up. It is five years old.
What we did was stay not at the end of Grace Bay, where there is all the whoop de do, but at West Bay Club, a small but quiet new oceanfront luxury hotel and condominium complex that is at the undeveloped western end of Grace Beach. This resort includes a beach with thatched huts, a restaurant, a spa, a helpful staff and an infinity swimming pool with waterfalls. What it didn’t have, however, was crowds of people, people who “dress” to be seen poolside. And it didn’t have nightlife that kept you up till the late hours.
We stayed here in a spotlessly clean suite with views of the ocean, a stunning boardwalk down the dunes to the beach to enjoy sun, swimming, peace and quiet, and just alongside our beach the best snorkeling reefs on the island—so wonderful that they are a protected underwater national park just a hundred yards off the shoreline. You swim out to them and find a floating rope and buoy arrangement in a small circle for you to hand-over-hand take yourself on a self-guided snorkeling tour of the underwater world below.
And we drove our rental car to enjoy the far away resort whoop de doo six miles away.
“I have here,” I told the woman at the front desk of the West Bay Club, “the names of the ten most highly rated restaurants on Providenciales according to the Fodor Guide. We’ll be here for ten days. Could you book us into dinner for two at 7 p.m. at each of them?”
And of course she did.
So that’s how we spent our days and nights. In the morning, we swam and sunbathed at the West Bay Beach, where on a chaise lounge under a thatched hut I wrote articles for Dan’s Papers—I had a daily banana daiquiri from the beach bar late every morning—then in the afternoon we explored the dusty, coral outback of the island in our rental car from Budget (one afternoon we took off from doing that to play golf), and then in the evening we ate at the fancy restaurants in the hoo ha, some as gorgeous and fine as the ones in Miami Beach.
Of course, all of this involved the anxiety of having a four-year-old American-style rental car with a steering wheel on the right, with dents and scratches, no interior lights, intermittent door locks and a hubcap missing, to drive on the left often on dusty roads with no road signs, occasional roundabouts and sometimes a local dog walking slowly across the street, heading toward unknown destinations that involved dirt roads—check that, chalk roads—and in one case, when we got completely lost at the end of a lonely place called the Turtle’s Tail, to a view of a 30-room castle on the beach owned by the rock star Prince, who, I should note, was not home.
Among the many restaurants we ate at were the Shark Bite (Provo’s answer to Gosman’s), Somewhere—actually a Mexican beach bar about a mile down the way from West Bay Club—and about half a dozen other restaurants with serious aspirations. Restaurant prices, I might note, were high. (On a coral island, nothing grows, so everything has to be brought here—except fish and lobster, of course.) Two or three restaurants, all with the manners of a fancy New York restaurant, had entrees in the $40 to $50 range. What I will call moderately priced restaurants were in the $30 to $40 range for the entree. Unless you went to Shark Bite or Somewhere or maybe a few we never ate at, you wouldn’t find anything along Grace Bay that could qualify for $20 or $30 entrees.
Among the standouts in the upper price range were Parallel 23 and Coco Bistro. But in our opinion, the best restaurant as far as food was concerned was Coyaba. It is near the beach in a setting of palm trees and gardens at the tourist end of Grace Bay, and I have to say if the celebrated chef Daniel Boulud came to this island and opened a restaurant, this is the food that would be served—a merger of grand cuisine and Caribbean specialties, with a new way of putting them together that turns the whole thing special.
For an appetizer, I had coconut shrimp tempura, which consisted of four juicy shrimp in a crispy crust sitting in a fried noodle basket on a sweet chopped salad accompanied by three large spoons, each of which contained a dipping sauce. One was sweet and sour, the second was soy teriyaki and the third was a white sauce that was made from a coconut honey rum.
It was at this point that I asked for a pen and paper so I could write things down.
My wife’s appetizer was gnocchi gorgonzola with toasted walnuts, on top of which was a dollop mix of spinach and oven-roasted “love apple” tomato-based relish.
I had mahi-mahi tandoori as a main course. This was a sautéed, breaded fish over Indian spiced rice with corn peppers and sweet spices. The whole thing was kept warm by a thin, crisped Indian flat bread over it. You broke off pieces of this flat bread to get to what was under it. I cleaned my plate.
My wife went for something simpler, a breast of Henry’s freebird lemon and rosemary chicken, juicy and tender under a natural reduction sauce that included carrots and ginger puree, arugula and sweet potatoes gratin.
For dessert, I had apple pie, freshly baked to our order and served hot with the crust pressed over the apples—I had never seen this before—and my wife had a chocolate fondant.
I will remember this meal forever. It rivaled anything I have had for dinner in New York and here it was, on this Caribbean island.
I can also recommend another restaurant at that end of the bay. This is O’Soliel, also in the tourist area of Grace Bay. The food, which is an international affair, kind of leans into an Italian cuisine, and although a notch below Coyaba, is nevertheless excellent.
I had a great conch chowder, one of the house specialties, which is made from a spicy coconut-tomato broth, island spices, root vegetables, potatoes and rum; my wife had crab ravioli—blue swimmer crab, roasted garlic cream, sautéed spinach and red peeper coulis. For a main course, I had a pan-seared red snapper, gingered sweet potato puree, roasted plantain and pineapple salsa. My wife had a seafood pasta.
But the main thing was the setting. The restaurant dining room is a grand space under a vaulted ceiling with four crystal chandeliers and sliding glass framed by a series of 12-foot billowy white curtains. Service is silver and china. Servers are friendly and knowledgeable. This is one of the only air-conditioned dining spaces on the whole island and you should enjoy it while staying on Provo. Prices? Moderate.
As far as our forays to more remote parts of the island were concerned, this was, for us, among the best things we did on this vacation. We enjoyed fish and chips at the fishing harbor of Turtle Cove. We drove out to the ferry dock where boats come in and out to the other islands in Turks and Caicos. And we went to Chalk Harbor, a sunny scene of natural beauty where the water of the harbor, enriched by the chalk itself, is just such a stunning contrast of green against the land around it.
One of the best things we thought to do was to have my wife use her cellphone to make a video of me hang gliding. She was to point her camera to the hang glider soaring through the air hundreds of feet above the sea a quarter mile out from the West Bay Beach and make comments in voiceover such as “I can’t believe your dad’s doing this, way to go Dan” and so forth and so on. We’d email it to our kids. I’d be standing right by her side, of course. It would be somebody else up there. I’m deathly afraid of heights.
But we never got around to it. We’ll have to come back.