Most likely you’ve never heard of Saba—a petite, high-rising volcanic island in the Caribbean Sea, 28 miles southwest of St. Maarten, that has somehow managed to evade the attention of travel know-it-alls and tourist hordes — so let me introduce you to a small island that makes a big impression.
Though a mere 12-minute flight from St. Maarten’s Princess Julianna International Airport, Saba stands an ocean apart from its casino-strewn, commercialized neighbor. Rising dramatically 2,900 feet above sea level, Saba’s five square miles are a vision of mist-shrouded mountains, lush rainforest, and precipices that redefine the term “off the beaten track.”
Below the water surface, Saba’s tropical waters provide a playground for extreme scuba wanderlust, brimming with exceptional marine diversity and jaw-dropping natural pinnacles.
St. Maarten’s spring break madness is the last thing you’ll encounter on this beautiful Dutch island of less than 2,000 residents; instead you’ll discover myriad hiking trails, no less than 26 spectacular dive sights, a lively “downtown” with a dozen or so restaurants, and charms typical of a small country town.
One main road zigzags through the island, appropriately dubbed “The Road,” passing through villages uniform in design — a sort of Caribbean Nantucket, but with white-and red-painted homes. Signs point to the island’s hiking trails, such as “TheLadder,” where a massive rock-hewn staircase scales the mountainside, recalling Machu Picchu, and ends at the crystalline waters of the island’s western reaches.
Surprisingly, luxury has also made its way to this delightfully uncomplicated island. Saba’s most coveted address is the Haiku House, also known as the Queen’s Villa of the greater Queen’s Gardens Resort. Perched high up in the mountains, the secluded three-bedroom and design-savvy Haiku House towers imposingly over the island’s natural scenery. Holland’s top interior designer, Jan des Bouvrie, meticulously decorated this all-wood, Japanese-inspired ocean home, appointing understated interiors that fuse seamlessly with the floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors and structural wood-on-wood juxtapositions. Haute details are the norm here. For example, the ceiling’s wood trusses are perfectly grooved throughout to provide optimal acoustics for your iPod’s playlist.
Enjoy dramatic island views from the sun terrace at Haiku House
The villa’s 360-degree wrap-around balcony gurantees stunning views at all times while a multi-tiered cliffside deck ensures many a memorable evening with sundowner cocktails. A private pool and Jacuzzi complete the scene, placing the Haiku House on par with some of the Caribbean’s most esteemed villas.
Further down the mountain, the principal enclave of the Queen’s Gardens Resort offers more traditional Caribbean accommodations delivered with upscale creature comforts such as private plunge pools, exemplary hospitality, and sensational gastronomy. At each meal, the resort’s cuisine falls nothing short of experiential. Though ingredients come but weekly by boat, everything is homemade at the house restaurant from bread to falafel and ice creams. Be sure to reserve dinner one night in the resort’s Birds Nest, a funky tree house serving a large slice of romance with your day-caught lobster.
For underwater enthusiasts, The Queen’s Gardens Resort has teamed up with dive outfitter Saba Deep for extended exploits into submarine splendor. While Saba’s sole beach, the black-sanded Well’s Bay, comes and goes with the seasons, its dive sites provide underwater rapture year-round just a few minutes offshore.
Like the land above, Saba’s waters foster an induced state of complete escapism. And that’s what this tiny island is all about—escaping the ordinary. Indeed, this contemporary Eden handsomely rewards those taking the road less traveled, but it’s not for everyone.