Caribbean Hideaways

Caribbean Hideaways: Discovering Enchanting Rooms and Private Villas
Meg Nolan Van Reesema (Author), Jessica Antola (Photographer)


Yemenjá’s enormous palapa, a Mexican thatched roof-pavilion designed by Manolo Mestre, announces the Mustique villa’s prominence with steadfast confidence – even defiant confidence. Climbing up the palm-fringed driveway, winding past the tennis court (whose sweeping ocean views claim frequent double faults) and the stone guest cottage, Bahia, with its own sleek, infinity lap pool, is truly breathtaking, in that you must remind yourself to exhale. Equal parts aw-inspiring and intimidating, the sprawling hilltop property was constructed to house the owner’s large extended family, including over twenty grandchildren. To call Yemanjá a compound would denigrate its elegant pedigree while labeling it a villa seems an awkward underestimation. Rather, Yemanjá’s sophisticated décor, exemplary craftsmanship, and customized details recall those of a refined superyacht. With three separate buildings, multiple pools, including a shallow wading pool for toddlers, and at least five dining areas in the main house, Yemanjá is perhaps the most exquisitely designed multi-generational villa in the Caribbean. Of course, the sharp eye and elegant style of the owner, a former proprietor of a Brazilian fine linen and children’s clothing line, are largely accountable. Immaculately conceived, every corner of every room, particularly the guest rooms, demonstrates a distinct and thoughtful design aesthetic. Unlike properties in which rooms are disproportionally decorated according to size, or worse, their view, at Yemanjá every single tabletop, upholstered furnshing and window treatment showcases interior design prowess. Whether it’s the exotic, handcrafted furnishings imported from the far reaches of South America and Africa, or the delicate embroidered bed linens from the owner’s native Brazil, or even the shell strung shower curtains, Yemanjá’s superlative décor is impressively consistent.

Befitting its glamorous proportions, the entrance to Yemanjá’s main building begins with a regal, curved staircase leading up the driveway. The stonewalled foyer, however, is graciously modest with a subtle, pebbled floor design, an antique wood table, and a back wall open to frame the initial view of Yemanjá’s lush interior gardens. Hanging above the table is a gold-toned painting of the ethereal Yemanjá, the Brazilian goddess of the sea, who is said to protect all those who enter. A cutstone path leads out from the entryway into the grass yard and then breaks off into tentacles toward the various wings and outdoor spaces of the main house. At the path’s heart is a custom-made pebble mosaic featuring a ring of five waves meant to represent the owner’s five daughters. The design is in the property’s insignia and can be found monogrammed on the towels, robes, and toiletries throughout the house, making the comparison to a yacht even more appropriate. Given Yemanjá’s high-quality interior design, the property risks being overwhelmingly perfect. Fortunately, the Latin-style architecture and flowing indoor-outdoor layout counter that impression with soothing curved edges, whimsical stone paths through the water, and several lounge spots, such as the mesmerizing tree sofa in the palapa, which is to soak in the expansive views. Decorated with the honed patience of a true designer, the one-of-a-kind furnishings at Yemanjá will delight any collector and include the canoe-shaped dining table behind the palapa made from railroad ties from South Africa and the mahogany coffee table found in France. Fellow enthusiasts will note showpieces from designers such Baker Furniture (platers chairs in the palapa), Oggetti in Miami (tub chairs in palapa), and accessories from Palacek and The Phillips Collection. However, it’s the handcrafted coconut and bamboo cabinets in the media room done by Industrias Exporenso in Bogotá and coconut shell trim on the floor-length curtains that showcase the considerable attention paid to every detail.

What makes Yemanjá even more spectacular is its ability to be both a casual, family retreat during the day and a sophisticated backdrop for cocktail hour and lavish dinner parties as the light fades. Guests can go from draping themselves across the Hermés-blanketed daybed under the palapa, to claiming one of the barstools, swirling a crystal-encased rum concoction from Pairson, whose eleven years of Brazilian and Italian guests have given him a generous hand. Despite the relaxation and seclusion afforded on property, I would still recommend packing  your better outfits – not only is it Mustique, but Yemanjá’s fine fabrics (Lee Jofa, China Seas, Brunschwig and Fils, Quadrille and trimmings from M and J) will certainly expose lesser-made frock.

Truly, no desire or request is out of reach or over-the-top when you’re a guest at Yemanjá, though, admirably, the atmosphere does little to suggest prima-donna-type behavior. If anything, the laid-back nature of the staff and the absence of today’s super-luxe amenities (private screening room, private gym) keep the property rooted in its purpose of indulging its guests with space, views and sophisticated interiors. With a staff of sixteen, including three gardeners, Yemanjá is constantly being polished and nurtured, and thus, so are the guests. Meals are served with printed menus at dinner (the owner’s decree) are there is a binder for guests to view past menus to use as guides when designing their own. The fluffy cheese soufflé at lunch with home-brewed iced tea followed by a lobster salad was perhaps the most delicious lunch I had in the Caribbean. One of the daily pastimes at Yemanjá is deciding where to dine. With five separate eating alcoves, the decision can feel almost weighty. I recommend switching it up every day to try all the spots until, that is, you’ve decided your favorite for each time of day. I do, also, highly suggest hosting a dinner party while in residence at Yemanjá. The oval dining room table, seating twenty-two and located on a level below the pool, offers a fabulous opportunity to showcase Yemanjá’s impressive collection of china and tableware while simultaneously allowing for a lively evening tucked into the hill. The chef’s tangy curries with fresh coconut shavings are the ideal complement to the festivities, or for something more casual, take advantage of the barbecue and pizza oven and request a variety of fresh flatbreads. Surrounded by such refined luxury, it would be a downright shame to waste it with faux prudence. Instead, host an elegant dinner party and relish being the temporary hostess of one of the most cultivated properties in the Caribbean.


Split into three separate structures, the guests rooms at Yemanjá are designed to afford privacy, appease children, and envelop guests in sophisticated, comfortable décor. Boasting eight bedrooms in total, not including the children’s cottages (one for girls, the other for boys), Yemanjá has plenty of space for the multi-generational family reunion or a shared family vacation. The main house features five bedrooms. My favorite, aside from the elegant, whitewashed master bedroom, is Acarajé. The pale blue design on the coverlet on the four-poster mahogany bed had me at first glance. The thick raffia rug, bamboo desk from Minas Gerais in Brazil, and antique trunk imported from a shop in Connecticut all fall into place, belying the tremendous effort and sourcing that brought them together. The master bedroom is towards the back of the main house and done all in pale creams, beiges, and whites, with exotic prints of African dancers inspired by Carybé. The four-poster bamboo bed with palm fringe copper tops is particularly alluring with rows of plump-pressed pillows and a tufted headboard. I imagine mornings spent lounging with coffee and a book breaking only to gaze out the French doors to the glistening sea. The children’s bunk-houses, located alongside the main house, are a Neverland-fantasy realized with murals on the walls and play areas between each bunkroom. There’s even a trampoline in the adjacent yard and extra space for nannies. Bahia, the guest cottage, has three bedrooms and is ideal for those needing a bit of distance from the main house and its neighboring children’s quarters. Self-sufficient, the cottage has its own mini palapa, (palapita), lap pool, living room, and kitchen. The upstairs bedroom, Jangada (all the rooms are named after Brazilian fruits and delicacies), is my favorite, with its four-poster bamboo bed made by Paul Briger in San Miguel de Allende, shell-trimmed bed curtains and cheerful butter-yellow palette. All the guest rooms of Yemanjá feature delicate embroidered bed linens, ironed to perfection, that add a level of refinement rarely found in the Caribbean. The cottage’s back bedroom has twin beds, making it ideal for single guests or kids who’ve outgrown the bunk beds of the children’s cottages. The bottom bedroom, or suite as they all appear to be, opens out to the long grassy lawn and inviting infinity pool. Its blue-and-white fabrics with polka-dot patterns make it an instant crowd-pleaser while the spacious window seat mitigates rainy days with coziness.

Whichever guest room you claim, you can rest assured the linens will be exquisite, the furnishings distinctly paired, and the experience wonderfully privileged.


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