ALONE TIME: Pigeon Point beach in Tobago is regarded as one of the island’s most beautiful spots
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I’VE NEVER wanted to be that person who enters a restaurant and requests a “table for one”.
I’ve never wanted to feel that sharp pang of embarrassment as the waiter noisily clears up the place setting opposite me, as if to tell the entire restaurant, “this lonely spinster has nobody to take her to dinner. What a loser!”
Nor have I ever wanted to see the pity in the eyes of paired up diners, many of whom momentarily stop chugging away on a bottle of house red with their companion, to gawp at me and the empty seat opposite.
SOLO SOJOURN: Tobago was the destination of choice
But something happened when I turned 30. It was like my own bra-burning moment. I felt liberated.
And what better way to celebrate my newfound independence than to plan a solo trip half way across the world?
I decided to travel to the beautiful Caribbean island of Tobago – the lesser talked about twin of the more popular Trinidad.
I had visited Tobago in 2009 as part of a group press trip. We had only spent one night on the island, but I knew I’d be back. Sure, I’d hoped it would be with a male companion – did someone say husband? – but I wasn’t going to let a small detail like that stop me.
I felt the fear and did it anyway. I had started 2015 off with that mantra and I was finally ready to put it into action.
Arriving on the island to grey skies and rain didn’t do much for my new bright outlook, but just like my attitude, I knew things were destined to change.
And as my taxi pulled into the Bacolet Beach Club, a four-star boutique hotel 20 minutes from the airport, any reservations I had about my solo stay seemingly dispersed into a now cloudless sky.
Developed by former fashion model Gloria Jones-Knapp and the 45-room establishment that enjoys a direct access to a private beach and exudes its proprietor’s taste for high fashion, from its marble flooring to chic chandeliers and cutting-edge fabrics, which she handpicked herself.
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ROOM WITH A VIEW: Rooms at the Bacolet Beach Club come with a views of the private beach
So when the friendly receptionist opened the door to my superior room, it was a bittersweet moment.
Its king-sized bed, panoramic views of the secluded beach and cascading Caribbean sea – all visible from my first-floor balcony – coupled with the delicate double glass sinks in the bathroom and shower big enough for a family-of-five were beautiful and breathtaking on one hand but only served to highlight that I was experiencing this moment all alone.
DOUBLE TROUBLE: The sinks had been covered in petals ahead of my arrival
But, on the bright side, I was experiencing this moment.
A shower and change of clothes later, I spent the first night on my balcony watching the sun go down over the sea with a bottle of white wine leftover from my 10-hour flight.
I had planned to visit the hotel’s Café Havana restaurant, also owned by Jones-Knapp, and fill up on Tobagoan cuisine later that evening, but jet lag – and that glass of wine – got the better of me and day two rolled around a lot faster than planned.
Jones-Knapp was born in Tobago but travelled to America to start medical school, but at 5ft 9in a visit to Europe changed the trajectory of her life. She was snapped up by a model scout, which subsequently led to an international modeling career that took her around the world.
“I went to America and medical school and then I went to Europe and someone picked me up on the street to become a model,” Knapp-Jones explains when we catch up the following day.
The former model and hotel proprietor – who splits her time between her home in Austria, which she shares with her husband, and Tobago -always had dreams of building a house on the plot where she later built Bacolet Beach Club.
“[When we were younger], we used to try and go down to the sea, but the rocks were so big, you would have to climb over.
“So when you see from this perspective, [to build on that plot] was untenable you shouldn’t even do it because it’s like building a bridge between two entities that has a gorge and a river running through the property.”
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BUSINESS MODEL: Bacolet Beach Club proprietor Gloria Jones-Knapp holds up a recent award
Initially, the hotelier built boutique hotel Half Moon Blue Hotel “when Obama came into power” in 2011.
The former 150-year-old Donkey Cart House, across the road from her desired location, took three years to build during which time she kept her eye on her dream plot.
Now, Half Moon Blue Hotel currently houses her holiday home, a second restaurant – fried shrimp with a side of chips was my favourite here – and office space where she runs operations for both properties.
Fast forward to December 2014 and her dream was finally realised when she built the 45-room Bacolet Beach Club.
The property boats a private beach and Café Havana restaurant, which is open to the public and also services the food needs of all-inclusive guests.
“All the restaurants are open, nothing is closed,” she confirms pointing in the direction of the highly rated Café Havana.
I spent every morning feasting on a selection of saltfish, bakes, seasoned potatoes and eggs in this beautiful open-air space, which was a two-minute walk from my hotel room. Result!
It also provided the backdrop for a few of my evenings too, as I sat with fellow holidaymakers – a few also on a solo sojourn like me – over various cocktails and shorts.
“I feel numb when I look at both properties,” Jones-Knapp continues. “When I think of the struggle and all that came with getting them ready.
DREAM LOCATION: Bacolet Beach Club is set atop of a cascading hillside, which leads down to a secluded beach
“It was important for me to fuse my heritage and my background in fashion when deciding how to decorate the properties. It’s like the east meets the Caribbean. The lobby of Bacolet Beach Club is a catwalk, so when you walk in, the catwalk takes you all the way to the pool. That’s why we can have weddings on the catwalk and build everything up around that.”
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After I explained I wouldn’t be utilising the wedding service any time soon, Jones-Knapp drives me to the Dwight Yorke Stadium to watch the former Manchester United star lead a posse of former footballers in the inaugural British Airways Legends Tournament.
CATWALK CHECK IN: Jones-Knapp says the lobby at Bacolet Beah Club was designed like a catwalk
The following day, I spent the afternoon feasting on the much-hyped menu at Jemma’s Seaview Kitchen, which, I was told, was a “great place to taste the local cuisine”.
Tobagoans from far and wide visit the restaurant to sample the famous lobster and cassava pie against a breathtaking backdrop framed by the sea.
The restaurant doesn’t have an alcohol license, so I was forced – I use that term lightly – to catch some drinks with my new crew of international solo holidaymakers back at the Bacolet Beach Club’s Café Havana.
Much of the week followed in the same vein of sightseeing and touring the island, which is approximately 26 miles long, by eight miles wide, meeting locals and basking in the Caribbean sun.
A day that stands out from my holiday on the Caribbean island was the visit to Pigeon Point Beach, which is considered to be one of Tobago’s most beautiful spots boasting a white sand and clear, blue waters; a far cry from The Thames in London. This, among many other things during my trip, was a moment best spent alone.
However, I ended my holiday doing the unthinkable. Dressing up in the finest attire my suitcase could hold, taking a trip to one of the premier restaurants on the island, The Seahorse Inn, and requesting a “table for one”.
TABLE FOR ONE: Diners enjoy breathtaking views at the Seahorse Inn
Granted, I still felt the pangs of embarrassment watching local couples – and a few honeymooners – canoodle and look lovingly into each other’s eyes while the waiter nosily cleared up the place setting for my would-be date, but it wasn’t half as bad as I thought.
Plus, I still had my phone to help pretend my imaginary loved one was en route.
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