Gemma Handy

Quirks, comforts and quietude in the place that time forgot


By Gemma Handy

AT DAYBREAK the only sound is the warble of tropical birds, the gentle chirrup of tree frogs and the roll of the waves in the distance. As the sun makes its graceful journey over that wonderful place where land meets sky causing the turquoise ocean to glisten in response, it bathes everything beneath in a rosy hue.

Another morning in paradise.

Remember a time when the Caribbean meant an understated old world charm? When traffic jams were as rare as a post office on the moon and comrades still addressed each other with formal titles? A time before amiable service was replaced by its obsequious counterpart. And before high rises shot up like meerkats in the desert and confined the horizon to a distant memory.

When the world moved on and got itself in one big rush, it left Pine Cay behind.

This idyllic two mile (3.2km) long private island, part of the achingly beautiful Turks & Caicos archipelago, is just a short boat ride from the tourist hub of Providenciales. But while the breakneck speed of development has prompted a wealth of well-heeled travellers to sample the rest of the tiny British territory’s delights, Pine Cay has maintained its marvellously esoteric status.

In fact its only resort, the Meridian Club, is the country’s oldest, continuously operating hotel, having opened 40 years ago when Providenciales was still a sleepy little fishing village.

And very little has changed since at this fabulously eccentric 12-suite beachfront complex. Quirks and anomalies are in abundance. Like the blanket ban on cell phones in all communal areas. Or the banging of the gong which tells guests dinner is served, a nostalgic nod to days gone by.

The absence of room keys is an enchanting testament to the family atmosphere which envelopes you like a soft blanket from the minute you set foot inside. Crime is on indefinite French leave here.

Outside on the sun-drenched deck, guests – more than half of whom are repeat guests – greet each other like old friends. Which indeed many of them are. Newcomers are quickly made to feel at home, however. A cheerfully unruly scribble on a blackboard in reception bids me “a warm welcome”. Underneath “a sad farewell” is given to the handful of people for whom the holiday is over.

Apart from the hotel and a smattering of privately owned homes, the 800-acre (3.23 sq km) isle comprises pure, undisturbed nature. Some 80 per cent of the land is green space, much of it designated as park land.

There are no paved roads, no cars, no TV and no radio – barely anything to signify there’s an outside world at all. And its inhabitants blithely go about their business as if there really isn’t. Owing to the lack of motor vehicles, travel is by foot, bicycle or electric golf cart. The delightful colonial architecture, evidenced in the scattered houses partially concealed by trees, is another beguiling throwback to yesteryear in this place that time forgot.

The cay’s north side boasts a two-mile stretch of pristine white sand as fine as talcum powder. Lapping its edge is the awe-inspiring aquamarine water that put the country on the tourist map. Pine Cay is one of the last places on earth where it’s safe to stroll the beach day or night.

These days the Meridian Club is run by affable American couple Beverly and Wally Plachta. They first took over the reins in 2000, a stint which lasted four years. The island’s magnetic appeal prompted a return in March 2007 and they have stayed put since. Bev is au fait with all her regulars’ dietary whims, pastime predilections and room preferences.