Cuffie River Nature Retreat - Review Page 1
Reviewed by Steve & Jill Wooler in January 2005
Like many travellers, I have become rather weary and sceptical of terms like ‘eco’ and ‘nature retreat’. I have visited well-meaning ‘eco’ resorts only to find them an excuse for poor standards of accommodation and catering.
I confess that this may have tainted my original thoughts about Tobago’s Cuffie River Nature Retreat & Eco-Lodge. I had been familiar with the name for some time, but never bothered to find out anything about the hotel, much less to call in and see what it was like.
In July 2004, a visitor posted a negative review of the 12-room Cuffie River in our accommodation forum. The criticism prompted an onslaught of replies in defence of the property and encouraged me to take a closer look at the establishment. Frankly, I liked what I found. To cut a long story short, and bearing in mind that we only review properties when we are confident that they are good enough to recommend (our dedication to myTobago does not extend as far as staying at crap accommodation), we ended up booking five days at the Retreat during our 2005 tour of Tobago.
And, aren’t we glad that we did...
The Cuffie River Nature Retreat is owned and managed by a very determined lady, Regina Dumas Sanchez. Her mother and father were both born and raised in villages close to the Retreat and the establishment of the lodge is the culmination of a dream she has held for much of her adult life.
Regina never knew the father she resembled so closely and from whom her name was taken. He died when she was just seven weeks old. His legacy was a cocoa plantation in the Runnemede valley. The plantation had been his dream, and his life.
After Reginald’s death, the plantation was leased to local farmers. However, the devastating hurricane of 1963 was a final blow to an ailing industry. Cultivation stopped. The land was reclaimed by the forest from which it was hewn.
Regina grew up to constant tales about her father. She has no recollection of him, but that did not hinder the tremendous bond she always felt. Completing her studies, she became involved in rural development and was the first director of the Caribbean Network for Integrated Rural Development (CNIRD). During a business trip to Belize, she spent a weekend with a Mayan family. The wholesomeness and simplicity of their natural lifestyle changed her own.
For years, and despite great family opposition to her apparently madcap ideas, she thought about and planned the creation of a nature resort deep in the forest on her father’s cocoa estate. It was only after she married Anthony Sanchez, a man with construction and engineering experience, that the dream became a reality. After four years of very hard work, the Cuffie River Nature Retreat opened its doors to guests in 1999.
The Retreat is not an establishment you will happen upon by chance. It is located three miles from the nearest village; nestled in a tranquil valley whose northern slopes mark the foothills to the Main Ridge Forest Reserve, the oldest protected rainforest in the western hemisphere.
As you meander along the twisty Northside Road of Tobago’s Caribbean coast, you could so easily miss the small wooden sign on the outskirts of the tiny village of Runnemede that marks the turn off to the hotel. Having taken the turn, you could also be excused for believing that you have taken a wrong turn. Fear not! The trail may be un-surfaced, but it is wide and in good condition. The three-mile, eight-minute, drive through secondary bush, deep into the heart of Tobago, will convince you that a treat is in store. No other accommodation is nearer the geographical centre of Tobago; a fact I later confirmed while passing over the property in a helicopter. It is no wonder that once at the hotel, the only sights and sounds are those of nature.
If your main purpose in coming to Tobago is a beach holiday, forget the Cuffie River. If you want to dine out every night, sampling different restaurants, forget Cuffie River. If, on the other hand, you want high standards of accommodation, catering and hospitality in as natural an environment as it is possible to get, then this small property should definitely be at the top of your list.
The Retreat is the best part of an hour’s drive from the airport. Scarborough, 30-minutes away, is the nearest place for supermarkets, pharmacies and other serious shopping (well, as serious as it gets on Tobago). Your own transport is mandatory if you are to get the best from your stay. The hotel offers a wide range of organised excursions and provides all necessary transport, but a self-drive rental will avoid the cost of taxis to and from the remote location and enable you to get out and explore every corner of the island.
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