It didn't take long for me to fall in love with Caneel Bay. I escaped to the warm, tropical paradise in the midst of a frigid Manhattan winter, so my adoration for the Caribbean resort wasn't exactly surprising. Still, Caneel Bay isn't just any Caribbean resort—it's an island rich with history, tradition, and an abundance of nature, which was a promise made to its founder, billionaire philanthropist Laurance Rockefeller, who first discovered it in the early 1950s.
Rockefeller and his wife Mary were on a sailing excursion of the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1952 when they happened upon the pristine island of St. John. He was so taken by its natural beauty that he decided to purchase the undeveloped land and build a resort—Caneel Bay—in an effort to share St. John's magic with future generations. (He later donated the land to the Virgin Islands National Park under the condition that he would still be able to run Caneel Bay.)
An aerial view of the property taken in the late 1960s
In December 1956, his dream resort became reality. Rockefeller opened the doors to the hotel (then called Caneel Bay Plantation), which was nestled along the crystal blue water of the Caribbean Sea and surrounded by seven postcard-perfect beaches. The property boasted a lush landscape with modern architecture and design, and bungalow-style rooms sprinkled along the coastline. Without realizing it, Rockefeller had become a pioneer of eco-tourism, a concept that was beyond the grasp of many at the time.
Rockefeller (left) taking the members of the Virgin Islands Legislature on a tour of the beginning restoration stages of Caneel Bay in 1955.
There's something special about the primitive charm of the estate. It's only accessible by ferry or boat, and as you step onto the dock, you suddenly feel like you're traveling back in time—just as guests like Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones did many years before.
Laurence S. Rockefeller poses with Caneel Bay in the backdrop in 1957.
Today, Caneel Bay sits on 170 acres of national park land and stays true to the integrity of Rockefeller's original vision for the resort. Whether it's your first time experiencing Caneel or your 20th, you can't help but think about the meticulous execution required to develop a resort that blended in with the Virgin Islands National Park.
My visit at Caneel Bay Resort
Even after a number of renovations, the totality of the design upholds Rockefeller's original philosophy 60 years later. And while there are modern amenities aplenty—like a yoga and pilates studio, and high-end bath products—you still won't find phones or televisions. At Caneel Bay, guests seem to relish the opportunity to unplug.
The original architecture still intact today
Although a new generation of vacationers
The iconic dock
For more about Laurance Rockefeller's Caneel Bay, read the book that
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.