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Travel & Leisure
updated 12/14/2011 3:15:34 PM ET 2011-12-14T20:15:34

La Banane, St. Bart’s

It comes as no surprise that this French West Indies island, with its white-sand beaches, over-the-top villas, and celebrity devotees, should be home to one of the Caribbean’s most stylishly revamped hotels. Once owned by the late cabaret impresario Jean-Marie Rivière, La Banane was long known for its campy vibe (showgirls and drag queens provided nightly entertainment). Then, two years ago, dynamic new French owner Jean-Marc Israel and manager Benjamin Fabbri set about creating a Midcentury Modern–inspired hideaway. A two-tiered pool gives way to nine white bungalows with pastel-colored walls, custom-designed geometric tiles, and furniture made by Swiss-born architect Pierre Jeanneret for his cousin Le Corbusier. As if the design weren’t enough reason to stay, La Banane’s ace in the hole is the lively Chandi’ Bar, where crowds gather on Thursday evenings to dance to live flamenco music. Doubles from $595.

T+L Tip: For sunset cocktails and ceviche, head to the recently opened Le Bonito restaurant. Rue Lubin Brin; 590-590/279-696; dinner for two $150.

After hitting the beach in low-key French St. Martin, you watch the sun set over Cul de Sac Bay from the terrace of your rustic-chic studio—one of only six at Karibuni Lodge.

Fans of large luxurious hotels and resorts know there's no better destination than the Caribbean, complete with its celebrity-chef restaurants and world-class spas. But there is another, less well known Caribbean of small and increasingly stylish properties like Karibuni Lodge, where luxury is as much about peace and quiet as it is about the last word in amenities.

My initial encounter with this intimate side of the Caribbean was back in the mid-1990s, when one of my first assignments for Travel + Leisure was to report on a handful of new small hotels. Given my happy memories of that mission, when I was offered a chance to again dip into the Caribbean's small-hotel scene, it didn't take much persuading. And this time, not only were there many more properties to check out, but many of these new tropical gems exhibited bolder and more exciting design than their 1990s counterparts.

Take the Midcentury Modern sleek of St. Bart's stunningly reimagined La Banane. A two-tiered pool now gives way to nine white bungalows with pastel-colored walls and custom-designed tiles. Hotel Chocolat, a newcomer to St. Lucia, takes a more natural approach, blending the design of its 14 villas almost seamlessly with its surrounding lush cacao plantation. Its small scale means guests get special treatment, like learning to make their own chocolate bars with an expert chef.

In addition to breaking new ground on the style and amenities fronts, some of these hotels opened up new geographic frontiers as well. The most notable example is Rosalie Bay Resort—the first luxury resort on the wild, pristine, and still virtually unknown island of Dominica. The pioneering resort is setting a sustainable example for those to come; it relies on solar panels and has its own wind turbine, organic gardens, and spring-fed onyx-colored swimming pool.

So, for winter sun-seekers who prefer the laid-back charms of staying small, here is a look at 10 stylish, intimate finds on six Caribbean islands for the season.

Copyright © 2012 Amex

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