Dining & Public Areas
I was always aware that Regina and the Cuffie River Nature Retreat had an excellentreputation for the quality of their catering and this has been more than confirmed on each of our visits. Every meal was a perfect and enjoyable example of Caribbean cooking at its very best. I use the word 'Caribbean' food advisedly. To compare Regina's offerings to that of normal 'local' restaurants would be an insult.
The home-made fresh fruit juices and soups are particularly exceptional. Despite being brought up in the region and having eaten West Indian food for most of my childhood, I confess that I have no real appetite for some of the local fruit and most of the local vegetables. However, under Regina's expert eye and hand, local dishes that I would previously refuse suddenly became not just edible, but hugely enjoyable. We were not alone in our opinion. Every other guest commented on the excellence of the catering. I would go so far as to say that the Cuffie River Nature Retreat is the only hotel on Tobago where I truly look forward to meal times.
Regina is very hands-on and you will regularly see her in the kitchen, tending the stove and preparing dishes. She has clearly trained her assistants well. You will also often see her tending her market garden. Most of the herbs used in her cooking, and a large proportion of the vegetables, are grown on the compound.
One reason for the consistent excellence of her catering is that she does not over-tax herself. She does not, for example, offer à la carte dining. Except where special arrangements have been pre-arranged for guests with special dietary requirements, the table d'hôte menu offers but a single choice and is served at a single sitting, normally at a communal table.
To enhance your meal, Regina offers a small range of reasonably-priced wines, available by the bottle and house wines by the glass. Like the rest of the hotel, the dining room is non-smoking.
The Cuffie River Nature Retreat offers a choice of catering plans, from Bed and Breakfast to All-Inclusive. The restaurant is also open to non-residents (reservation essential).
Adjacent to the dining room, is a very comfortable and relaxed lounge area with lovely views to both the front and rear of the property. There is a small terrace just outside the lounge and we found this a particularly pleasant place to relax and lime, with a glass of Cuffie River's gorgeous fruit juice or a cold beer. Finally, there is a quiet lounge area and 'library' on the first floor, adjacent to an open terrace with stunning views of the hills and rainforest to the rear of the property. You are almost spoiled for choice with so many spots to sit and relax.
Pool & Beaches
The swimming pool is located on the upper deck of a small building adjacent to the hotel. The pool measures 6 x 9.7 metres, with depths ranging from just over 1 metre to nearly 3 metres. In keeping with the ecological policies of the Cuffie River, the pool is sanitised by salt, rather than chlorine.
The surrounding pool deck is furnished with sun loungers, tables, chairs and sun umbrellas. Whilst a lovely spot to sunbathe or relax, it is also something of a sun trap and liberal doses of high-factor sunblock are essential. Where else can you float around a swimming pool, or relax on a sun lounger and enjoy the sight and sound of flocks of parrots flying overhead?
The nearest beach is King Peter's Bay, near Moriah. The three-mile track down to the beach is very narrow and highly eroded. I wouldn't risk it even in a 4x4 SUV. Worse still, there are serious security concerns associated with the beach and trail down to it. The last time we visited the black-sand beach, the area was very badly littered. We would therefore strongly advise against visiting King Peter's Bay.
The fact that the road to the retreat has been paved has made a huge difference to the resort's accessibility. Jill is a beach babe and craves her daily swims in the sea. The golden sands of Castara were a simple and picturesque 20-minute drive from Cuffie River.
Grounds & Nature Walks
The Cuffie River Nature Retreat was built on land recovered from secondary bush. The old cocoa estate was abandoned after Hurricane Flora wreaked her devastation in 1963. Growth is rapid in the tropics. After thirty-five years it must have been a nightmare to survey the land, much less clear it and decide how best to utilise it for the retreat.
The hotel is surrounded by wild heliconias, bamboo groves and ancient cypress and pine trees. The immortelle trees planted to provide shade to the more delicate cocoa plants have survived, reproducing themselves continuously. They normally flower between December and February, but sadly we missed the spectacle this year. There is nothing more beautiful than the setting sun casting her spell over the flame vermillion blossom of the immortelle. The terraced slopes of the ridge upon which the lodge stands have been planted with every manner of tropical plant and bush, in total sympathy with the natural environment. This is no place for formal gardens. You are surrounded by nature, to the very foundations of the buildings. Even inside, potted exotic plants continue the theme.
Bird feeders have been placed at strategic points around the hotel and are clearly visible from all common areas of the retreat and most bedrooms. Although the birds appear largely unconcerned by human presence, guests invariably talk in hushed tones, so as not to disturb them. Breakfast and lunch tend to be long drawn out affairs – it is hard to drag yourself away from the simple pleasure of watching myriad species of birds arguing over the fruit provided for their enjoyment and sustenance. I've never seen as many white-necked Jacobins anywhere on Tobago and their territorial disputes continue all day long.
There are several trails in the Runnemede valley, but the dangers of getting lost and the often impenetrable bush make it unwise for guests to go wandering along trails on their own. However, walks up the three-mile driveway are relatively easy-going, despite the heat, and can be very rewarding.
The hotel has an excellent resident guide, Desmond, who takes small parties on general, nature or bird-watching tours. We have had the pleasure of three-hour 'general' nature walks with Desmond on previous visits. He is knowledgeable, articulate and amusing and always pitched the tour at just the right level.
The nature walks are open to non-residents of the hotel. I can highly recommend visitors (staying anywhere on the island) to book a tour with Desmond, followed by lunch at the hotel.