Press & Media
11th February 2012
Eco-tripping in Tobago: Lead article by Edmund de Waal
Beaches, bats, bamboo and bananaquits – discover the best combination for an eco-minded family in Tobago.
Overlooking Castara Bay, the lodges of Castara Retreats combine simplicity with luxurious touches such as iPod docks and coffee machines.
Woken by awe. ‘Awesome!’ shouts the figure in pyjamas leaning over the balcony. ‘Come and see, come and see this now!’ A bay 100ft below us with a scattering of narrow fishing boats at anchor, houses with metal roofs embedded into hills of palm and banana, the sound of waves. And magnificent frigate birds….sweeping and diving into azure. Disbelief at dawn. Fisherman dragging a seine net into the shore. There seem to be flocks of parrots. We seem to have made it.
We’ve booked 10 days in a lodge in Castara Retreats, one of six built into a hillside garden above the village. These lodges seem simple: polished floors and large open verandas and fretted wooden shutters, each one angled to make most sense of the spectacular views. Managed by a local couple, Porridge and his wife, Jeanell, warm and capable and unflappable in the face of requests. We loved it.
Castara itself offered the chance of easy days. The warmth of the sea was a shock for our children used to the cold waters off the coast off…Scotland. The joy of playing in the waves, getting knocked over in the waves, the snorkelling. They loved disappearing into the village with a fistful of dollars and returning with fudge (delicious) and a carmine sorrel drink (peculiar). Foraging in the village for supplies was an art. If you wanted fish and rice and salad, you were in heaven.
The most keenly anticipate day trip was to the Tobago rainforest. It is the oldest protected rainforest in the western hemisphere. It straddles the spine of Tobago and it is, quite simply, the glory of the place. I had a boat trip with the two boys: a fire with grilled fish and a piece of lime. Football. Fragments of coral to collect on the beach. Some swimming and some fruit punch. And this is about as good as it gets.
This is a sample selection of the article. Click here to view the full feature
Reviewed by Editors Steve & Jill Wooler, January 2012
myTobago is a highly influential website featuring a wide range of first rate information on Tobago. It is highly regarded by both visitors to the island and by local Tobagonians and is a “must visit” site if you are thinking of Tobago as a holiday destination. It features comprehensive and objective information and comment on just about every topic of relevance to travellers and includes a widely used forum for people to ask questions, exchange information and make comment.
The myTobago review of Castara Retreats totals some 5000 words and offers detailed commentary on our accommodation, the village and local services, and the beaches. To read the full review, please click here.
Below are a few excerpts taken from the full review.
What characterises Castara Retreats most, compared to most other holiday accommodations, is the total commitment exhibited by the owners and their team to quality and detail. Castara Retreats is a business project, but achieves the dream of an ecological-sound sustainable hospitality business that benefits the community as well as the owners.
As an example, visitors admiring the wonderful grounds have probably never noticed the absence of power lines. I don’t know any other owner who has made the substantial investment necessary to have electricity poles removed and mains cables brought in underground, through heavy rock. It is little things like this that have helped to create this little corner of paradise.
In a world with hotels like the Burj Al Arab in Dubai and Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, or even the Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados, it is ridiculous to refer to ‘luxury’ when talking about Castara – and I mean that with no disrespect. Castara is not, and never will be, a destination to associate with the word. However, the magic of Castara Retreats is that within a day or two of your arrival you will be re-evaluating what true luxury is; what you need in life. Castara is clearly not an option for those who want to be pampered by lackeys 24 hours a day. However, those who want to unwind and get back to the basics of life, but in the very highest of standards of comfort and hospitality possible, should look no further than Castara Retreats.
Great Winter Escapes
The Natural: Tobago
Limin', or hanging out, is an acquired skill best learned on the island that has elevated it to a true art form: Tobago. The fine beach at Pigeon Point Heritage Park is the perfect place to begin some introductory limin'.
(Start with rum punch, add sunset and dominoes.) Once you get the hang of it, head for Tobago's fabled northwest coast, passing hillside hamlets with fairytale names ‹ Harmony Hall, Providence, Whim ‹ to reach the quiet beaches of Castara, Charlotteville, and Parlatuvier, traditional places where you can still lend a hand by helping villagers tug their seine nets onto the sand in return for a share of the catch. Relaxation comes later, kicking it back at the tiny rum shops or beachfront dining shacks such as Boat House in Castara, where the local steel pan band plays Wednesday nights. Village guesthouses and small hotels are integrated into community life, like the eco-sensitive Castara Retreats, a six-cabin aerie overlooking village and sea, and backed by the island's most precious
resource: the Tobago Rainforest Reserve. "It's the oldest legally protected rainforest in the Western Hemisphere, established in 1776 to protect the sugar plantation watershed," says guide and local ornithologist David Rooks. The island's primordial bounty allows for prolific birdwatching, diving with manta rays, plunging into refreshing waterfalls, and snorkeling over the largest brain coral colony in the world. Come Sunday, attend "Sunday school" at Buccoo Beach, the island's largest nondenominational beach party: steel pan band, crab-and-dumpling stalls, and dancing into the wee hours. By now, you'll be limin' like a true Tobagonian.
The High: J'ouvert, the muddy (old clothes, please), rum-fueled, music-blasting start to the two-day Carnival celebrations (Feb. 15-16) kicks off at 4 a.m.
The Low: Expecting to find peace and relaxation during same Carnival.
Destination Weddings & Honeymoons
The Travel Magazine for Brides and Grooms
Far and Away by Jennica Peterson
Craving a honeymoon that’s remote, romantic and just a tad adventurous? These five destinations will take you far from the crowds, close to nature and even closer to your sweetheart…
Where to stay…
Castara Retreats sits in a mango-tree Eden populated by emerald hummingbirds, lime-colored lizards and pink Angel trumpet flowers. Below the hillside haven is the tiny fishing village of Castara, where an aquamarine bay and a golden beach soak up the sun along Tobago’s coast. Castara Retreats’ one and two bedroom suites were designed to make the most of the setting. Each features simple décor: canopy beds draped in mosquito netting, a large deck with sea-to-sky views and open floor plans that optimize ocean breezes. (For ultimate privacy, book the Fisherman’s Lodge, set in its own section of the one and a half acre gardens). This retreat isn’t for everyone; rooms are set on a steep hillside, so be prepared to walk, and no restaurant exists onsite, so couples must self-cater or dine out. But wandering down jungled paths lined with wild mango trees, visiting the village baker for fresh-baked coconut cakes and buying snapper from the local fishermen are all part of the Adam-and-Eve experience.
Woman & Home
Article April 2007
Go green, enjoy more!
You can pack your conscience and still have a thrilling, adventurous and luxurious holiday. Jane Hayward reveals her pick of “green” getaways.
All of us are becoming more eco-aware and when it comes to travel, the fact is, we’re not going to stop having holidays, but there are more choices available so we can do our bit. Whether you travel by train instead of by car or support a local project, it’s easy to make a difference while still having the holiday you want.
Let us know how you get on – E-mail the Editor at www.womanandhome.com. Look forward to hearing from you.
- YOUR WEEK AWAY: Friendly Tobago is the perfect place to sample a stylish, authentic eco-resort that encourages you to meet your neighbours. And a new project by The Travel Foundation to protect the island’s reefs and turtles and encourage local businesses means you’re in just the right place at the right time.
- WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOU? Backed by protected hillside rainforest, Castara Retreats is a group of six wooden lodges and apartments with stunning views and sleeping up to four people. Nearby is a sandy turtle beach while a reef for swimming is a short walk away.
- HOW YOU GIVE BACK: Castara is a small fishing village where you can eat, shop and book everything from rainforest walks to cookery lessons. Forty villagers were involved in building the resort, which is maintained locally.
- ESSENTIAL READ: Caribbean Islands (Footprint Travel Guides, £14.99).
Wanderlust travel magazine
Review in August 2006
Go fishing at Castara Retreats
Few package tourists make it as far as Castara bay, a friendly village with a handful of guesthouses and good eateries. Hang out with the Rasta fishermen over bowls of crab and dumplin’ , helping them haul in their weighty seine nets in a man- vs- marine tug o’ war.
Castara Retreats is the best place to stay - shells tinkle and hammocks sway at these six beautiful wooden stilt houses perched high on the bay. Plump for Fisherman’s Lodge, on which the rest were modelled, and you’ll enjoy ocean views from your bed. Gregarious “Porridge” and his wife Jeanell look after the guests.
Sunday Times Travel Section
Front Page feature by Stephen Bleach, 21st August 2005
How Low Can You Go
The article picks out places across the world where you can have a budget holiday but not sacrifice luxury and good quality. The context is set as follows:
“We all love a good deal, but there comes a point when saving that last pound becomes a bit of an own goal………
The trick is to find the value point, that elusive line between wasting your money and not spending enough of it. Below we take six classic trips from a quick hop to Paris to a week on a tropical beach, and show how to get the real McCoy for the best price.”
The section on the Caribbean reads as follows:
“Why the Caribbean? Plenty of destinations have sunshine, sandy beaches and swaying palm trees. But there’s something special about the Windies: the friendly smiles, the languid lifestyle, the lazy fishing villages, and the beach shacks where you laze in a hammock, sipping rum punches and watching the kids play cricket.
Sadly, most budget Caribbean holidays are nothing like this. You might, for instance, land in a concrete apartment block in a grubby corner of Barbados, or a monstrous all-inclusive in “Dom Rep”, where your fellow guests neck lagers for breakfast.
We’re going to opt for Tobago. It offers pristine coral beaches, a forested interior squawking with bird life and pastel-painted creole restaurants where rotund ladies smile proudly as they present you with fried plantains and callaloo soup. The cost of living is cheap (about £15 for dinner at a decent restaurant), crime is low and there is a weekly jump-up with steel bands and calypso.
Another good reason to be cheerful about Tobago: direct flights with BA, Virgin, and Excel, a charter . Normally the word “charter” would have us running for the hills, but Excel is as good as its name suggests, with a better seat pitch than its scheduled rivals (32in-33in, against 31 on BA and Virgin)……………….
As for hotels, you can forget about the five-stars: they’re pricey and surprisingly characterless. Instead try Seahorse Inn on…… lovely Stonehaven Bay, a restaurant with four rooms that cost £88 per night, B&B.
Better still, head up the coast to Castara, a delightful village with friendly bars and more fishing boats than sunbathers. Overlooking the white sand beach, Castara Retreats has four wooden apartments built among the mango trees that cost £65 per night. It’s self catering – buy snapper direct from the fishermen and pick your own mangoes. Less than £650 buys you a genuine slice of paradise.”
The price quoted above was per person and based on two sharing accommodation for one week with flights included.
Daily Telegraph Travel Section
Article by Jim Perrin, Saturday 4th December 2004
Maybe not everyone would agree that the rainy season is a good time to visit Tobago, but what’s a frantic and spectacular hour of warm, splashy rain every afternoon in the scheme of things, when the rest is brilliant sunshine, the towerings and layerings of Caribbean cloudscapes, temperatures in the eighties and as relaxed a milieu as you’re ever likely to find? After a week of these afternoon downpours, the stream that winds down from the rainforest into Castara Bay was in brown and frothing spate. I followed it out of the village, past waterfalls jetting into pools where children swam and women washed clothes. Beyond where all signs of habitation ceased, the path by now no more than a vague flattening of underbrush, the stream had cut deep into soft, almost clay-like sandstone of the island’s northern scarp, and its gully was lushly vegetated. All around, the coconut palms, papaya and mango trees, castor oil plants and giant spleenworts of the world’s oldest forest reserve crowded in, promising that the mile or so to the crest of the island would be an intense experience of nature.
I arrived on a gravelly knoll, spreading boughs of a mango tree stretching out towards it and the stream jetting into a pool under the falls below. Two movements caught my eye: a bird landing on a branch scarcely two feet away from me; an old black man, grey-haired and in stained singlet and shorts, emptying a catch of small, trout-like fish from a net into a creel. The bird, it seemed to me in the instant of viewing it, was one of the most extravagantly beautiful creatures I had ever seen. It was the size of a small hawk, its plumage the richest palette of carmine, turquoise, blue, black and irridescent green. Its black skull-cap was circled with a glittering, perfect, turquoise diadem, and its long tail ended in an extraordinary blue heart-shaped design. It perched confidently on its branch, darting quick glances of its bright eye between the fisherman and myself. I must have been open-mouthed, because when I glanced across at the old man again he was smiling at me: “Him mot-mot,” he told me, in explanation, “King of the Woods!”
I like to immerse myself in a landscape, to steep myself in sense of place. Tobago has places as good for doing that as anywhere in the bright world. Sometimes you arrive, and want nothing more than to stay put. Two-thirds of the visitors to this island are accommodated by its five main hotels, all of them within a brief radius of the airport - international in name, very local in character - at Crown Point, which is the southwestern most tip of the narrow, 28-mile-long island, southernmost in the Caribbean. Perhaps they’ll venture out on a day-trip along winding roads as pot-holed as those of Connemara twenty years ago, through densely-forested hills of the main north-eastern mass; certainly they’ll take a glass-bottomed boat-trip out to the visitor-feet-decimated coral reef of Buccoo, snorkel in bath-temperature, clear water, see manta and sting-rays at close quarters; will they experience much of the singular character and beauty of Tobago?
They may. But it seems to me that they would stand a better chance if they came to rest not in a fortified resort-complex where dire warnings are issued about the dangers of straying outside the guarded stockade, but instead in a Tobagonian community: Charlotteville, for example, cascading down the hillside to its two exquisite bays two hours’ distant from the island’s tourism hot-spots; absurdly pretty Parlatuvier perhaps; or best of all to my mind - heartstone in the necklace of jewelled bays along the north-west coast - Castara.
It’s a west-facing, turquoise-watered, red-cliffed, forest-backed, surf-rimmed bite of a bay, beach-cafe’d, reefed and knolled and blue-roof-churched; a dozen rakish, indigo-canopied fishing pirogues, rods on either side like the antennae of some strange tropical insect, loll at their moorings ready for the village fishermen to swim out at their leisure. In the mornings, shadows of tall palms stretch across the beach and village children race across the sand to hurl themselves into the waves. Four pelicans perched on a rock squabble and stab as another attempts to join them. Boobies plunge and come up with beaks full of wriggling fish. Frigate birds, fork-tailed and spectacular, spiral ever higher on thermals. We stay at Castara Retreats in a simple, comfortable hut on a secluded bluff above the bay. Groups of apple-green parrots with rich and raucous calls fly by. One side of our lodge is balustraded, open to the elements, facing into the sunset from among lush gardens where three-foot-long lizards sun themselves, agoutis scuttle, and every tree is an aviary, a scene of constant activity and source of ornothological surprise and delight. Want a list? There’s not the space in this article...
And anyway, the people of the village are just as busy and interesting. We watch from our terrace above the beach as the fishermen pull the seine nets into the beach, all silver flash and heave and the men throwing the small ones back into the sea, or the waves licking kindly in to reclaim them. We trip down to the village to buy limes that taste sweeter and more piquant than ever they did in Britain, or mangoes, ginger, garlic, paw-paws, dasheen (a strange root vegetable, also called bluefood); and bread baked in banana leaves in the village’s communal clay oven near the beach behind the school, that the old women take out on long wooden paddles and scrape clean of charcoaled leaf before inviting you to choose your texture and complexion.
As the day eases down towards sudden tropical twilight, boats having returned, the fishermen’s co-operative lays out its wares on the beach-stall. Can you buy any? If the catch is good, and there’s enough for the villagers and the proprietors of the beach cafes, and you wait your turn, and then point insistently and assertively enough at what you’d like, then yes - at which point it will be cleaned and filleted: whitefish, kingfish, grouper, tuna, all delicious.
Later, back at Castara Retreats, silver-filigreed moths each wing of which is the size of my hand flit in; the geckos blink and stalk staccato across the ceiling; intermittent trajectories of fireflies, like sparks from a bonfire, traverse the night; sheet lightning flickers along the horizon, and a steel band takes its snare from the susurrus of the waves, each glassy back of which in the moment before its collapse reflects the moonlight as a thin and wavering line along the shore, delicate as the balance struck in this place between beauty and its exploitation. Long may it be held...