Soleil - Review Page 1

Review by Steve & Jill Wooler in March 2010

Hawksbill House, Tobago

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the original Latin word villa as “a large country house, having an estate and consisting of buildings arranged around a courtyard.” Readers will be more familiar with the more modern OED definition: “a rented holiday home abroad”.

Soleil fits both definitions: The American owners built the house as both a family and rental holiday home. It is unarguably a large house and most definitely “in the country”. A degree of poetic licence is needed with “having an estate”, but the fact that it is located on a former sugar and cocoa estate is surely near enough. The really interesting part of the definition, however, is “arranged around a courtyard”.

Yes, it is built around a courtyard. To find out more, please read on….

The Location

Soleil is located on a former sugar cane and cocoa plantation at Arnos Vale, just outside Plymouth. With a population of less than 10,000 and facilities to match, it is better to think of Plymouth as a large village, rather than Tobago’s second largest town.

The imposing facadeMost signs of the former sugar plantation are long gone. However, Arnos Vale boasts one of the finest bird life habitats on Tobago. As if not enough, Arnos Vale Bay offers some of the best snorkelling on the island.

Soleil is located at the end of a short private access road leading off the Mot Mot Trail, adjacent to the Arnos Vale Hotel. The Mot Mot Trail was originally a mule trail and used to transport sugar between Arnos Vale and Culloden. Although un-surfaced, the section of trail leading to Soleil is totally accessible and there is no need for a 4x4/SUV-type vehicle.

Arnos Vale is a 30-minute drive from the airport. It lies just outside the Crown Point-Plymouth-Scarborough triangle, the most densely populated part of Tobago. As such, it is further from the main shopping and restaurant areas, but in the heart of one of the most beautiful areas of Tobago. You are truly at one with nature. This is where Tobago really starts!

Visitors staying at Soleil will be met at the airport by a member of the friendly management team and transported back to the house. There are no facilities, other than those of the Arnos Vale Hotel, within walking distance of the villa, so a rental car or jeep is essential if you are to get the best out of the property. Local shopping facilities in Plymouth are limited. Taxis are available, but given the distance (20-25 minutes) from the main shopping/restaurant areas, this is likely to prove a more expensive and less convenient option than hiring a vehicle.

Architecture

Viewed from an adjacent hilltopSoleil was designed by one of the best-known architects in Trinidad. He has produced some of the most stunning villas on Tobago, with designs that exhibit huge creative talent. Soleil must be one of his crowning glories.

It is difficult to categorise the architectural style of Soleil because the design is so unique. The photos say it all! It is a truly extraordinary contemporary blend of Caribbean style with oriental overtones. One of the villa’s most unusual features is the fact that it has been built around two roofless courtyards. It is quite astonishing to sit in the larger of the two and look up to see the sky with the upper floor gallery framing the picture. Extraordinary!

The house is built on a steep hillside and consists of three floors. The main accommodation is on the two upper floors. A self-contained one-bedroom apartment is located on the lower ground floor. This can be included in the rental when additional ‘fifth bedroom’ sleeping capacity is needed.

Externally, Soleil looks hugely imposing – even intimidating. Locals refer to it as “the house of a Showing the open courtyardsthousand windows”. Anyone who has had to walk around the house opening or closing the many shutters will agree with the description. Finished in green and white, they look stunning against the deep burnt orange of the external render. Whichever way you look at it, this is an imposing and exceptional property.

Because of the hillside location, the property would not suit visitors with restricted mobility, or who are confined to a wheelchair. For similar reasons, parents will need to keep a very close eye on youngsters.

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