Five Days in Paradise

Eric Herman Headshot
photo of tiled hot tub by Jade Mountain
Photo courtesy of Jade Mountain.

I recently answered the awkward question of the ugliest pool I’ve ever seen. This time around I’d like to tackle the opposite query, which I’ve also been asked many times: What’s the most beautiful installation I’ve covered in print? 

That’s actually a much tougher question because over the years I’ve seen literally scores of projects that quality as truly beautiful works of art. Given that “beauty,” per se, is pretty darn hard to narrow down, I’ll focus things a bit and share what I believe to be the most beautiful aquatic environment in a resort installation. (We’ll talk about residential settings another time.) Yet, even with the “resort” qualifier in place, that’s not an easy question simply because there are so many fantastic projects out there. 

I do, however, have one in particular that does stand out among the rest, at least so far as my own experience goes. 

You’ve likely seen it before; the place is called Jade Mountain, a resort property located on St. Lucia, an island nation located in the Lesser Antilles archipelago in the Eastern Caribbean.  Jade Mountain is essentially a resort within a resort, part of a 600-acre highly luxurious destination known as Anse Chastanet, the brainchild of owner/architect Nick Troubetzkoy. 

I visited Jade Mountain way back in June of 2007, shortly after it opened its doors, but was still under finish construction. The building, which itself is a masterwork of organic contemporary architecture, features 24 open-air “sanctuaries,” each with a different layout and each with its own differently-configured vanishing edge pool.  

It was a project I had known about for years prior in that some of my closest friends in the industry worked on it, including Skip Phillips and Brian Van Bower, who worked on the pools’ designs, and David Knox of Lightstreams Glass Tile, who designed and produced 24 different custom tile colors, one for each pool. 

At the time I was editor of WaterShapes magazine. We decided to devote an entire issue to the project, which was unprecedented for the publication. I contacted the folks at Jade Mountain to let them know about our plans and they generously suggested that I stay there for a few days to do some proper research, including an in-person tour and interview with Troubetzkoy. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance, booked a flight and made arrangements for a four-night stay. 

As luck would have it, my very dear friend, David Knox and his companion Suzanne Krieger were also there on business during my stay. David’s a true visionary in his own way and being at Jade Mountain, observing David’s work in place was itself a vast story in the telling. 

There’s so much to say about that experience, it’s hard to know where to start. When I booked my room, the property manager, Karyn Allard, asked me if I was bringing my wife or girlfriend. I was romantically unattached at the time and said; no it’s just me. She asked, “Are you sure? This place is really romantic and you might want to reconsider.” I replied that I was there strictly on business and I’d be fine by myself. 

That was something of a major mistake. When I checked into my sanctuary, I quickly realized what Karyn was saying. If nothing else, Jade Mountain is, without question, the most romantic setting I’ve ever experienced. The rooms are obviously configured for couples. With the private pool, open-air bathroom, custom appointments and sensuous architecture, I could immediately see that this would be the ultimate honeymoon destination. 

In fact, when I interviewed Troubetzkoy, one of the nicer people one could ever hope to meet, he confirmed that the whole concept of the place was based on providing an intimate experience where the design and nature blend to transport guests to another world. Put in the most tasteful of terms, Jade Mountain is a place devoted to personal intimacy, yet without any of the cheesy trappings of places you might find in, say, Las Vegas. Jade Mountain is both sensual, and yet tasteful, all at once.

That intent was backed up by the fact that there were no phones, no cell service, no TVs and no clocks.  Indeed, the entire resort was designed for visitors to escape the rigors of daily life and spend time being pampered in one of the most beautiful settings ever created by human hands on the planet. It’s nothing less than a communion with nature and your own spiritual and visceral desires. 

The primary catalyst in all of that is water. The pools — with their unique undulating shapes, vanishing edges, indoor/outdoor footprints and spectacular prismatic glass tile — linked the distant oceanic views with the interior spaces in a way I’d never seen before and may never see again. All at once, you were nestled in a comfortable and highly artistic, sophisticated, interior space that is at the same time open to the windward air and verdant views. At Jade Mountain, you are both inside your own dream-like reality and still connected with the thrilling expanse of nature. 

Now, six years later, most of the images of Jade Mountain feature views of the distant Pitons, two iconic peaks draped in lush forest and, appropriately, appear as mountains covered in jade.  The building itself rises from a mountainside forest and appears to be very much a modern Hanging Gardens of Babylon. There are no corridors, but private bridges, all of which are connected by meandering gardens and architectural ponds. Simply walking to your sanctuary was a feast for the senses. 

Once through hardwood doors, the room furnishings are all made of fruitwoods carefully harvested from the island. The structure has very few right angles; undulating lines and organic forms define the spaces. Even the building devoted to the pool equipment is rendered in a multi-level architectural statement with cascades of moving water, itself a word of majestic organic architecture.  

As mentioned above, Jade Mountain is a resort within a resort. It’s all part of the now legendary Anse Chastanet property, a vast environment the features French Colonial bungalows, also designed by Troubetskoy, dating back to the mid 1970s. As legend has it, Robert Plant, the lead singer of Led Zepplin, spends weeks there each year and is well-known to the staff and regular guests. 

And speaking of the staff, the native St. Lucian workers appear at every turn and are there to tend to your every creature comfort. They are instructed to spend time talking to you to create human bonds with guests. I have never experienced service on that level, and certainly not with the personal charm and elegance I found there.  Each staff member approached his work with artisan care and skill. (In my short stay I became known as “Mr. Eric” to the staff – pure personal magic that made me feel like a king.) 

As for the pools, I can’t say enough. I was given the opportunity tour most of the sanctuaries and as a pool and spa media professional, I was blown away at every turn. The colors are vivid, the shapes unique and the views from the water always magical. 

During my time there, I snorkeled, fished, hiked, rode a mountain bike, dined and shared time with other guests who were similarly taken with the transcendent experience. Each and every moment was an unfolding of beauty and fascination. 

All that said, I could write a book about the details, the epiphanies grand and small and the sheer joy of what life in paradise really does feel like. But, alas, all things come to an end, and when I left Jade Mountain, I could only hope that someday I’ll return. (And next time, it will be with my beautiful wife, Diane.)

In the years since my all-too-brief time there, Jade Mountain has been celebrated in print in all manner of travel magazines and media — it’s widely hailed as one of the planet’s most attractive destinations. 

Now, when I see images of Jade Mountain, I’m transported back to an unequaled experience of luxury and beauty. I’m ingratiated by the courtesy of the people that work there and remain in awe of this magnificent creative achievement where water, architecture and the astounding tropic setting conspire to create an experience of unparalleled lyrical power and grace.  

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