Those who venture abroad questing for solitude can do no better than a private island getaway. While celebrities, business magnates and others of the ilk are known for trips to far-flung isles, crowned by flashy all-inclusive resorts or colossal villas staffed by the dozen, Pine Cay in Turks and Caicos offers something very different. This exclusive private island, a community of fewer than 50 homeowners with an intimate resort, prizes subtlety over spectacle. It’s so low profile, even the most erudite Caribbean devotees might have trouble pointing out the destination on a map. Even after a total rebrand and sleek renovation revealed last summer, Turks and Caicos’ sole Relais & Chateau property is reserving the right to fly under the radar as one of the most low-key luxury destinations in the region.
Pine Cay is one of 40 low-lying coral islands comprising Turks and Caicos, a tropical archipelago that sits on the fringes of the world’s third-largest barrier reef. From New York City, it’s a three-and-a-half-hour flight to Providenciales (known as “Provo”), the country’s capital and bustling tourism hub. For guests of Pine Cay, this is where the journey begins.
After clearing customs and verification of health documents upon arrival (be sure to fill out the online health authorization forms ahead of time) and a quick transfer to Blue Haven Marina, visitors board Pine Cay’s ferry for a scenic 20-minute cruise to the hotel’s dock. In reality, it’s just next door to Provo, but with miles of empty talc-fine sand beaches and low-density development, you feel much further away.
Until the late 1950s, Pine Cay’s only inhabitants were endemic reptiles and birds—that’s when it was “discovered” by Austrian explorer Count Ferdinand Czernin during his travels through the Caribbean. The son of the last Prime Minister of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Czernin sought out the cay after learning of its unspoiled landscape and coveted source of freshwater. Captivated by the raw tropical beauty, Czernin was determined to settle the island as an exclusive retreat for like-minded friends, and was eventually granted a conditional farming lease by the government (at that time Turks and Caicos was part of Jamaica). His wife Helen joined from New York City to take part in the endeavor.
The Count did not live to realize his vision, passing away unexpectedly in 1966. Ownership of the island changed hands soon after Czernin’s death and, in the decades that followed, a clutch of families began investing in its development, building relatively modest beach homes with careful attention to preserving the fragile ecosystem, thereby laying down the foundation for today’s Pine Cay. Thanks to a rigorous homeowner approval process and strict building codes that restrict height and square footage, there remains a palpable sense of community in this slice of heaven.
The resort on Pine Cay opened its doors as The Meridian Club, a central clubhouse for the island’s mostly seasonal residents to gather. Over time, the island’s homeowners association agreed to add a handful of guest rooms, forming a small boutique hotel just behind the beach dunes. In July 2021, after a comprehensive rebrand, the property would adopt the island’s name as its own, unveiling the first phase of a striking refurbishment conducted by interior designer and homeowner Tim Simond (phase two of which will begin in summer 2022). The 12-key property also earned Relais & Châteaux accreditation—the first and only hotel with the prestigious distinction in Turks and Caicos.
In addition to refreshing its 10 existing beachfront rooms, Pine Cay constructed a pair of large freestanding beachfront suites. (Eight of the island’s 38 homes are available to rent, too.) Inside, Simond’s pared-down mood board comes to life; embracing rustic simplicity over tropi-coastal chintz.
The breezy accommodations feature whitewashed walls, soothing blue accents and notes of natural pine and driftwood. The expansive bathrooms include double vanities, a walk-in rain shower and an outdoor waterfall shower. Each room also boasts a screened-in veranda that opens up to the beach. Also new to the property is the intimate Bali-inspired Sand Dollar Spa, a fully equipped fitness center and the thatch-roofed Tiki Beach Bar, which is steps from the shore.
It wasn’t just the renovation that helped Pine Cay nab its Relais & Châteaux distinction. Over the past year, general manager Kirk Aulin recruited a high-caliber team of chefs, spa therapists and bartenders from around the world, elevating the guest experience. “Casting a wide net for talent was very important for Pine Cay, especially when hiring staff to provide five-star, Relais & Châteaux level service,” explains Aulin. “There are many staff members from the local Turks and Caicos and Caribbean community, but also expanded our reach to include places such as the Maldives and Indonesia where we knew we could find talent who would be happy to live and work on a remote island. Our team is a big part of what makes up the Pine Cay experience and we want to support their growth and ensure they are happy working in an intimate atmosphere as well.”
As a result, everything from the globally influenced culinary offerings to the wellness treatments—even the ever-evolving cocktail menu (don’t miss the Bloody Mary made with soy sauce)—is impressive. All meals and select alcohol are included in the “island-inclusive” rates, as well as a slew of water sports like Hobie Cat sailing trips, scuba diving and bone-fishing in the nearby flats.
Being eco-minded is a priority focus for Aulin. Since joining Pine Cay, he has spearheaded sustainability initiatives such as installing a solar panel field and Dark Sky lighting, eliminating all single-use plastic and building a fleet of electric golf carts for getting around the island. Aulin also teamed up with the Caicos Pine Recovery Project, an organization that works to conserve the native Caicos pine, which is facing local extinction. Today, the endangered conifer grows only in North Caicos, Middle Caicos and Pine Cay.
“Everything we are doing here is to champion Pine Cay’s original rustic charm and barefoot ethos,” says Aulin. “From the newly redesigned rooms and the addition of a new spa to introducing a world-class culinary program and starting a range of sustainable projects, it’s the little things that add up to make a memorable experience that keeps true to the essence of Pine Cay.”
Images by Kira Turnbull