We’re in the reception. The glow of five Ingo Maurer Uchiwa wall lights illuminate the desk. The room key is barely in my hands before Bambi, a tall glass of everything in a Jackie-O headscarf and zebra print co-ord, is already, of course, the love of my life.
Falling for the people who work at Palm Heights was not like falling for Palm Heights itself. That was something I had done gradually, from afar, the way all good millennials do: via Instagram. Since 2018 the hotel had, led by founder-aesthete Gabriella Khalil and her co-designers, Sarita Posada and Courtney Applebaum, soft-launched a sea of visual references to its feed. Somewhere between the mid-century Le Corbusier and Helmut Newton’s early colour photography, the part of me who so desperately wanted to be someone who could recognise 4,000-pound-a-pop Ingo Maurer Uchiwa wall lights became quietly obsessed with this Caribbean outlier, years before the pandemic would let me anywhere near it.
But now I’m obsessed with Bambi. After I’ve taken, on average, 5,039 photos of my suite, Bambi whisks me straight to Palm Heights’ indoor-outdoor pizza restaurant, Paradise Pizza, for Mambo Italiano night, where we drink orange wine and eat spaghetti swirled straight from the giant parmesan wheel and descend into a perfect karaoke slop-fest.
I while away hours chatting with print designers from New York, DJs from Miami and photographers from London. Around us, large groups of impeccably dressed women line long tables like the Last Supper if the Last Supper had been styled by the Row. Despite my 12-hour flight, it was like jet lag couldn’t quite get a hold of me, so immediately had I been woven into the fabric of Palm Heights.
Our aforementioned friends, it turned out, were not just here for a tan (although huge kudos to anyone visiting Palm Heights exclusively to sunbathe on its private patch of Seven Mile Beach – yours enviously, the piece of uncooked bacon two sun loungers down). This supremely chic rabble were in fact part of the hotel’s artist residence programme – a cultural pillar of Khalil’s vision to create a space that ‘nurtures artists, writers and athletes with direct or indirect links or interests in the Caribbean’. And while they may have been actively creating – see furniture designer, Eny Lee Parker, sat barefooted, making lights from stretched plaster cloth, or ballet dancer Patricia Zhou presenting new choreography beneath the moon – they were also recharging, topping up their creative batteries as if they’d suddenly gone solar-powered.
It was at the Coconut Club – Palm Heights’ beachside bar; all yolky yellows and pear-drop pink cushions – that Bambi schooled me in the art of ‘stepping up’. As we wolfed fish-o-fillet burgers (‘You get this sandwich is a reference to McDonalds, right? Like the Americana of the Fifties? Everything here is a reference to something’), I began to understand that this post-modernist patchwork of a hotel was so dreamy, in fact, that it could operate just like one: an intermediary space to glow-up and play while the rest of the world froze. It was a place to dial up my ‘vibrational frequency’ (Bambi talk) and leave on a ‘higher level’ (Bambi talk) than the one I’d arrived on. In my suite, yoga mats willed me to use them while a ‘Wellness Schedule’ spoke of sound healing, guided meditation, and psychic readings.
The next day, I’m curled up in the bed of a suite that isn’t my own. Janine Martins, the hotel’s in-house energy healer, yogi and psychic, is sat at its foot, singing about rivers and brothers, pinging sound waves out of sound baths. I lean into it. My skin tingles. Afterward, Janine asks me if I was hot or cold. Cold, I say. Unlike heat, this meant I was letting energy into my body rather than letting it go. I asked what energy she thought I’d let in: ‘the body takes what it needs’. Next up, a massage from a woman with magic hands, who gave me a choice of scents and soundtracks, and finally a steaming mint tea to drink while I sat and skipped through Marks and Monograms of the Modern Movement 1875-1930.
Not that my supple sorceress was to know, but this writer can be no more be healed by a massage than she can by a book. Palm Heights gave me, in this respect, nothing short of a medicinal high. It starts in the suites, all of them ocean-facing and plied with (bespoke – you’ll get asked for your preferences) reading material. One swift side-eye to my camera and suddenly my lounge is switched in with Jean-Daniel Lorieux photography tomes.
There’s a joyfully air-conditioned reading room at the heart of the operation, where guests can kick back with a vintage Vogue on a Charles Rennie Mackintosh or Mario Bellini Bambole (thanks to Khalil’s collector-curator background, every chair you sit on and every light you read by heralds some great and iconic designer). And finally, there’s the small, appointment-only magazine boutique, Library Fetish, home to purchase-able first editions.
On my final morning, I’m sipping iced coffee by the pool. The tiles are squared, white. They scream of Alain Capeillères 70’s modernism. The depth markers are painted on in an Art Deco typeface. I gobble tostones and sushi under the gaze of Grecian busts at Tillies, the hotel’s palm-protected restaurant. I remember the David Ligare paintings I’d seen on Palm Heights’ own Instagram, the photo-realist depictions of Homeric surrealism in Greek temples by the sea. Inside the lounge, a backgammon board could have fallen straight out of one of Slim Aarons’ Palm Springs portraits. Everything here is a reference to something.
Even the new cocktail bar (coming later this year, alongside the launch of an on-site retail concept and the hotel’s fully realised Garden Club spa and athletics space) is a call-back to something special. After all, they’re calling it Bambi’s.
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All photography by the author