destinations-caribbean-sun_sea_sand-largeYou have shovelled snow from more than enough driveways. Your parka feels like a straightjacket. The only ice you want to see is in a glass of rum punch. And you have had enough of wind chill minus a million. Celsius.

Little do you know that your recipe for happiness needs very few ingredients, that with a cornucopia of island paradises and a brisk cruise thrown in for good measure, you too can increase your happiness quotient.

All you need is sun, sea and sand. And sometimes sails.

Islands of the Blessed

Stretch out on alabaster sand at Princess Elizabeth Beach in Bequia on the island chain of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Scan a storybook anchorage where boats bob gently side-by-side. Look up toward the mountains, emerald in the foreground, mist-shrouded at their peaks.

Sip some Hairoun beer, beaded with condensation, then plunge beneath the cooling waves that lap the shore like friendly puppies.

They got it right when they came up with a name for this beer. It comes from the Caribe word for this island chain scattered across the southern Caribbean from just south St. Lucia nearly to Grenada. УHairounФ, translated, means УIslands of the Blessed.Ф

Perfect name for this heavenly archipelago, boasting private beach island resorts featuring over-the-top luxury where gourmet fare is a given – Young Island, Palm Island, Petit St. Vincent.

But this horn of plenty isn't just for the elite. The rest of us can share the blessing – as long as we don't mind puddle-jumping flights or exhilarating sails. Snorkel with sea turtles at Tobago Cays, do a beach barbecue on a postcard island with only three hundred fifty residents, hike a rainforest.

And count your blessings in St. Vincent and the Grenadines – the Islands of the Blessed.

A Holy Trinity

One of the first things you notice when you travel to Charlotte Amalie in the U.S. Virgin Islands is the uniqueness of this archipelago.

The U.S. Virgin Islands, chiefly composed of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix, are a chain every bit as blessed at the Grenadines – a veritable Holy Trinity.

During World War II the United States government, fearing the depredations of German U-boats, purchased the islands from Denmark. The result is a mélange of colonial architecture – and Danish influence. Street names are deliciously Scandinavian. With a bevy of beaches thrown in for good measure.

Magens Bay on St. Thomas is reputedly one of Bill Clinton's favourite sun spots. If you don't like crowds – and you're sufficiently intrepid to go for the all-over tan – check out nearby Little Magens Bay.

Go snorkeling at Secret Harbour in the East End. On St. John, the second player in this trilogy, you can sunbathe at Trunk Bay, on a beach that Travel and Leisure rates as one of the world's top ten.

Or consider the more idyllic St. Croix to the south – a regular Robinson Crusoe island.

All you'll need is a man Friday – and maybe just one more rum punch.

Supernatural Sand

It's early in the morning on Grenada's Grand Anse beach. A couple jogs north, a gentle curtain of mist from the mountains softening their silhouettes like an Impressionist painting. Steep mountain slopes, dramatic as the sunbeams that spotlight this couple, are swathed in green.

From your perspective on a beach populated by big luxury hotels and intimate boutique inns, you can only draw one conclusion: Grenada is more than a natural wonder. It's downright supernatural.

The most popular beaches grace the west like an amber necklace. Soak up sun on Grand Anse or Morne Rouge. Venture to the flesh-coloured sand of Pink Gin beach.

Stay at the Rex Grenadian on Magazine Beach and do dinner at the Aquarium Restaurant, a gorgeous establishment built right into the cliffs, mere steps from water's edge.

Head for the southeast expanses of this island and discover a secret beach, a brown sugar sand oasis bisected by a gentle stream that flows lazily toward aquamarine waters in a bay protected by lush green promontories.

Or try Carriacou – boasting a tiny island composed of only sand and palms, a Robinson Crusoe of an island where you're really catch on to this whole supernatural vibe.

For in Grenada you feel like you've died and gone to heaven.

The A-List Island

УIf I tell who's been here,Ф says a man nicknamed 'Gorgeous', standing at the bar of a tiny УbeachФ island where they serve up chicken and lobster – УI might have to kill you.Ф

I figure he's kidding. Then I notice a tarmac helipad. We've come over by boat, but we are plebeians.

We're doing lunch on Scilly Cay, just off an undulating island where beaches, multimillion dollar villas and equally luxuriously resort hotels are the defining features.

They call this island Anguilla, which is Spanish for Eel. It is a misnomer. It should be called the УA-List Island.Ф

Regulars include Robert DeNiro, Uma Thurman and Robin Williams. Baste on one of Anguilla's thirty-plus beaches and you might be frying beside your favourite movie star.

That's partly because locals are so laid back. It's partly the wealth of great restaurants. And it's partly the variety of properties – from 10,000 dollar-a-night rooms to the more economical but equally elegant Paradise Cove, just off Rendezvous Beach West, a crescent of alabaster sand with million-dollar views of cerulean waters and the blue-green mountains of nearby St. Martin.

An A-list hotel on an A-list beach on an A-list island.

The A-List Island: Part B

But don't assume there's only one A-list island in the West Indies.

Barbados is a bastion of British colonialism, from Trafalgar Square to the Victorian splendor of Sunbury Plantation.

Welcome to the Уcivilized Caribbean.Ф

Dining here is second to none – from The Cliff, high above the lee shore resorts to David's Place in St. Lawrence Gap. Think haute cuisine with seaside tables.

But it's still all about the beaches.

Sip rum where they invented rum, on a white sand beach sheltered from the east winds, nuzzled by waters warm as a bathtub and gentle as a morning breeze. Snorkel a coral reef in an Underwater Preserve mere metres from a historic church. Learn how to windsurf on the south shore where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean just off St. Lawrence Gap. Bake at Crane Beach, in the lee of an upscale resort built around a period plantation house, on another beach that's made the world's top ten list. Or simply marvel at the omnipresent and omnipotent squadron of waves assaulting the rugged east coast at Bathsheba, watching them swirl about towering wind-and-wave-carved stone statues.

When it comes to beaches – or anything else you'd expect from an island paradise – Barbados gets an УAФ.

Sea, Sun, Sand (and History)

УHere in Antigua the beaches are just the beginning,Ф says Antigua and Barbuda Tourism's Erica Henry-Jackman, in describing another Blessed Trinity of sun-drenched isles.

She has a point. Antigua is home to historic quays, to art galleries reclining in the shadow of Edwardian windmills, to a dockyard near the ruins of a Royal Army garrison where they hold a weekly rum party.

But the beaches are a pretty good starting point.

I often do a deep relaxation exercise, visualizing the perfect beach. For the sake of variety I see in my mind's eye twenty different beaches spread across the Caribbean. Ten are here.

There's Turner's Beach, where a covered restaurant mere steps from aquamarine waters offers wicker tables and chairs, white linen and silver. And seafood to die for.

Hawksbill reclines at the base of a cliff, sheltered by rust-coloured bluffs with vistas of five little islands that look like desert meeting paradise. You can find a beach where you can parasail, jet ski, windsurf, sail, or just baste in the sun sipping cocktails.

Sail to Green Island and hold hands with your lover promising another beach tomorrow – a year of tomorrows.

For Antigua is a Уbeach a dayФ island.

A Thousand Virgins

Seeking to impress Ferdinand and Isabella, Christopher Columbus took one look at Virgin Gorda, glanced around this chain of something like forty islands, and named it for Saint Ursula and the thousand virgins.

Whether due to bad math or simply a predisposition for hyperbole, Columbus made the name stick – and uncovered an archipelago with so many beaches that look like they were made in heaven that you could never choose just one.

One finalist is the Baths. From an elegant bar high atop the hills of Virgin Gorda, you can see forever – the mountains of Tortola, the peaks of Norman and Peter Island.

Negotiate the steep path and come out onto a small but beautiful beach where massive granite boulders form both sculptures and sun-dappled cathedrals.

Consider the perfect sunset beach of White Bay on Jost Van Dyke. Re-hydrate with a Painkiller, served from a beach bar called the Soggy Dollar.

The north side of Tortola boasts Smugglers' Cove and Brewer's Bay, Cane Garden Bay with its congregation of bars and haute cuisine restaurants and a surf-friendly beach called Josiah's Bay.

Soak in the sun on a stretch of sand, watching a majestic procession of yachts.

For here is another draw. BVI is the bareboat sailing capital of the Caribbean.

And Sails

When Charlie and Ginny Cary made landfall in the British Virgin Islands they opened up a charter business. The rest is history.

Moorings, their brainchild, set the standard for bareboat charters.

From the protected waters of Drake Passage to idyllic anchorages, from perfect trade winds to beaches only accessible by boat, the BVI's were a natural.

But this is only one gem in a king's ransom.

For sailing and Caribbean paradises go hand in hand.

If you're looking for high performance boats consider Sunsail. While they do offer skippered cruises, their ideal client looks for velocity made good, although if you're nervous in unfamiliar cruising grounds you can sign up for a flotilla.

The Moorings fleets tend to bigger boats – primarily Beneteaus – with a higher percentage of Catamarans. Go for the all-inclusive package with both skipper and hostess/chef. Or bareboat on a vessel with all the bells and whistles, from generators to air conditioning.

Festiva Sailing Vacations caters to those who want some pampering, where the decision-making process is no more complicated than whether to do grouper on the grill or dine ashore.

They specialize in all-inclusive charters on a fleet of Lagoon 440 catamarans, plying the waters and pampering guests in the BVIs, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Abacos and Sint Maarten.

Go sailing and you really get the island groove. Nothing like lowering the sails and dropping the hook off a beach that you dream about at night.

For then it hits you. Your recipe for happiness – your antidote to winter – needs but four ingredients.

Sun, sea, sand and sails.


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