Palm Heights: the boutique hotel that puts Grand Cayman on the map

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waking up with bright eyes and a bushy tail at 5 a.m. would usually not be welcome. But on this occasion jet lag is my friend. I sit on my balcony, reading while waiting for the sun to rise. Slowly slowly, the sky is turning the softest, palest pink and I can finally take a look at my surroundings. It’s impossibly lush with towering palms and tropical greenery lining three adjacent pools, including one that stretches languidly toward the beach.

Pops of buttercup yellow spring across the umbrellas and there are flashes of burnt orange and cerulean blue. We descend to the beach, made of the softest coral sands, fascinated by the gentle lapping of the sea.

We had arrived in Grand Cayman the night before and, slow from the long flight from London, decided to leave the big reveal until morning. The opening of the island’s first and newest boutique hotel, Palm Heights, is well worth the wait.

heights of palm trees

Nestled in one of Seven Mile Beach’s most coveted spots, the hotel harkens back to the glory days of the Caribbean — with the resulting feeling of a family-friendly beachfront estate that boasts a playful mansion vibe from the 1920s. 70. Every inch of its spaces, including its 50 ocean-facing suites and soulful living room, is dotted with collectible pieces from designers like Ettore Sottass, Mario Bellini, and Ingo Maurer. They have been lovingly chosen from auctions and markets around the world by the hotel’s founder and creative director, Gabriella Khalil, alongside her interior designers.

heights of palm trees

It’s like you’ve been invited into the world of Slim Aarons; a relaxed, sunny vibe that’s part of Palm Springs, the French Riviera. But it’s Khalil’s spectacular attention to detail that sets the hotel apart. Silk eye masks and slides are left in your room alongside woven beach baskets and a collection of vintage coffee table books and magazines, suitable for each guest.

A magnetic personality, she has drawn a wonderful team of people into her orbit on Grand Cayman, including chef Jake Tyler Brodsky, previously at the famed 11 Madison in New York. Grand Cayman, the largest of the Cayman Islands, may have been the preserve of the money brigade until now, but Palm Heights is already attracting a younger, progressive crowd of beautiful young things to the island. One hour flight from Miami and only three from New York, it is easy to understand why.

The days at the hotel pass at a delightful pace. Jet-lagged birds catch the worm, the worm being the seaside tables at Tillies. Fresh coffee and avocado on toast with dried salmon, toes in the sand, as we watched the morning walk of Seven Mile Beach unfold.

Then we popped over to the beach loungers, covered in Palm Heights’ signature yellow and white striped towels, settling in for a morning of swimming and sunbathing, until we could order a margarita so respectable – always the house specialty with mezcal and chilli – and a bowl of snapper ceviche at our beds.

heights of palm trees

Afternoons were spent doing the same – perhaps swapping the beach for the photogenic pool and swim-up bar – or diverted to a massage or reflexology session.

If you must leave the hotel, the best way to explore Grand Cayman is by boat. Charter the Catch Me Cat catamaran for half a day, stop to snorkel in the bays and cuddle the stingrays (you’ll have to trust me on this one) on the reef. Add a barbecue at the back of the boat and lots of prosecco, and you’ll have a great day.

Our only deadline was to always be back for happy hour at the Coconut Club, taking a front row seat for the sunset show, before heading to our suite. All suites have been designed to feel like very stylish beach houses, where sandy yellows and earthy tones mingle with unique artwork and artifacts. After an Aesop-powered bath or shower and a glass of natural wine, we would descend for dinner.

heights of palm trees

One of the wonderful things about Palm Heights is the fact that you can order anything, anywhere, anytime; add to the fact that all of their spots are open to the public, and the result is a seemingly endless list of lively places to eat and drink.

The ironic Paradise Pizza is for casual suppers – and the odd karaoke night – while pretty Tillies is a showcase of Caribbean cuisine, with Chef Jake at the helm. Think Milanese snapper, conch fritters and yellowfin tuna enjoyed alfresco under moonlight and festoon lighting. They also host regular Sunday brunches and cultural supper clubs and there’s plenty more in the works, including a bakery, Japanese joint, and late-night bar.

The hotel’s wellness concept is also set to expand this spring, with an expansive indoor/outdoor spa designed by FOOD-New York architects, who have completed projects for Virgil Abloh and the MoMA. Inspired by the ancient world and its social approach to rituals, and designed with maze-like greenery and dotted with hot and cold plunge pools. Customers will be able to enjoy, among other things, an outdoor hammam, an infra-red sauna, a boxing area and an athletics track.

heights of palm trees

In short, design lovers have found their gourmet destination and sunny well-being in the Caribbean.

Suites in Palm Heights start from £650 per night including taxes and charges; palmheights.com; Catch Me Cat can be chartered through Cayman Yacht Charters

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