The 85 square metre two-bedroom apartment – or 'cottage' as Rainer prefers to call it – occupies the entire first (upper) floor of the left-hand wing of the building. The café below is only open during daylight hours, so guests in the apartment need have no fear of noise or disruption from the café (which is so small and intimate that noise is never likely to be a problem).
The apartment consists of a large L-shaped living/dining room with open-plan kitchen, the two bedrooms plus a bathroom. The décor throughout is simple and practical, with white walls and attractive terracotta clay floor tiles helping to engender a cool atmosphere. A nice touch that improves the "quality" feel of the property is the fact that all furniture is in solid mahogany, matching the doors, windows and balconies.
Double doors lead from the main living area on to a substantial wooden balcony, with wonderful views over Man O' War Bay. The balcony is bound to become the preferred liming and dining spot for most residents of the apartment.
Although the single bathroom places some restrictions, the apartment is large enough to accommodate six adults, with the third couple being accommodated on a fold-up futon-couch in the main living room. The dining table offers spacious seating for six, or eight at a pinch.
The self-contained kitchen is separated from the living/dining area by a useful breakfast bar. Although spacious, the kitchen facilities are very basic – a large fridge/freezer, a simple gas stove, a toaster, kettle, several pans, cooking utensils and a small supply of cutlery and crockery. Rainer tells me that he plans to install a gas oven in the kitchen eventually.
Leading off the main living area, a short passage provides access to the bathroom and bedrooms. One bedroom has a king size double bed, the other a queen size. A cot was stored in the second room which, subject to availability, would also be available to guests in the studio apartments. The bathroom is tiled and offers the usual facilities of pedestal basin, toilet and walk-in shower.
The bedrooms are of adequate size and each was fitted with hanging "shelves" in an open wardrobe. These are not the most attractive of wardrobes, but do represent an ideal way to store clothes whilst avoiding the inherent tropical problem of providing a hiding place for mosquitoes and other insects, who love the dark corners of cupboard.
The rooms are not air-conditioned. Rainer has recently purchased two mobile air-conditioning units. Plug-in vents will be installed in each room in all the apartments so that guests have the option of ordering A/C. In truth, we think that this will be totally unnecessary under normal weather conditions. We followed Rainer's advice and closed the main windows, while keeping the louvered side windows partially open. This struck a happy balance, keeping insects out while allowing the cool night sea breeze in.
All rooms have overhead ceiling fans and these are normally highly effective. However, if we had any criticism of TopRiver Pearl, it is that the ceiling fans were corroded and this, apart from anything else, let the decorative order down. Our ceiling fan squeaked, so we did not use it. Fortunately each room is also supplied with a freestanding oscillating fan, so we were adequately covered. In practice, we did not need either of the fans and slept very comfortably each night, with just the supplied thin cotton sheet to comfort us during the coolest hours of the night.
Many visitors worry about sleeping with windows open, from the point of view of both security and mosquitoes. One can quickly assess whether a particular window poses a security threat. If it is, chances are that the owners of the property will have fitted security grills. Mosquitoes are a different problem. At certain times of the year, and particularly during the wet summer months, these pesky insects can be a problem. Rainer provides electric Bug Mat burners in each room and the refill pads can be bought at most local shops (30 mats, approx. TT$12). We have always found these to be effective. I don't know whether our Bug Mat worked or not, but can only say that we saw no evidence of mosquitoes during our stay. In fact, we slept remarkably well each night and even the best efforts of the local cockerels did not spoil our nights or early mornings.
I would mention that cockerels and cocricos can be a problem at most accommodation in Tobago and, in my opinion, are generally the only reason to consider air-conditioning – after all, you can normally hear little else above the racket of the A/C fan. Sadly closing up your room and relying on A/C means that you will also be unable to hear the many welcome sounds that Tobago offers, such as the sea or the dawn chorus of the many wonderful birds. Wherever you stay, I would recommend that light sleepers carry ear plugs and eye shades to ensure undisturbed sleep. Although cockerels were apparent, as they would be in every village, we had no problem with noisy cocricos during our stay at Top River Pearl.
Jill was concerned that she would have difficulty sleeping after dawn in view of the very thin net curtains on the windows. She is very sensitive to light and the curtains do nothing to darken the room. Maybe good dining and sea air did the trick, because for whatever reason – and despite the fact that we had just arrived and had not fully acclimatised – we slept like babes. I think the only disturbance was a noisy morning refuse collection at an hour that would put shame to our bin-men at home.
The linen and towels provided were of thin "tropical" weight, but clean and serviceable. Linen is changed twice a week. Guests must remember to bring their own beach towels. General standards of cleanliness and maintenance order were adequate.
Each of the one-bedroom studio apartments consist of a single, 23 square metre, room with a separate bathroom and a small kitchenette. The two currently-completed upper-floor studio apartments are identical in size and layout, the only difference being that one has a king size bed and the other a queen size bed.
We stayed in the studio apartment with the smaller bed. We would have been perfectly content and comfortable had we stayed there for a full two-week vacation. The beauty of Charlotteville is the casual atmosphere. You need bring so little – a backpack would be appropriate for most people (well, maybe two, but Jill is getting better at packing).
A separate bathroom with shower, pedestal basin and toilet lead off the bedroom. The kitchenette is located in the passageway leading from the apartment's door and is equipped with a small fridge (but no freezer), a small two-ring gas stove, kettle and toaster, with a very limited assortment of pots, pans, crockery and cutlery. Although tiny, the kitchenette was reasonably adequate for the morning bacon and egg fry-ups that we so thoroughly enjoyed on our balcony, but would not be ideal for more adventurous meals.
Most of my previous description of the two-bedroom apartment applies equally to the studio apartments, so I will not detail everything again here.
The upper floor between the two wings of the building offers a wonderful wooden deck with intricate wooden balustrades. Rainer told me that he had prepared 28 drawings before finally settling on the design. He certainly didn't scrimp on cost either. Like the main balconies, doors and windows, the deck is made of solid mahogany. The quality really shows.
The upper deck is furnished with a wooden table and chairs, plus two hanging chairs. They are a form of hammock, but designed to be sat in, rather than lain in. They can be surprisingly comfortable.
Beneath the deck, on the ground floor of the property, is a general utility area where guests can hang beach towels and other washing to dry. The staff of Top River Pearl, under the excellent and friendly supervision of manager Lisa, will do washing for guests at a very reasonable charge of TT$20-25 per normal washing machine load.