I’m drinking coffee outside a Dutch cafe, watching couples pedal past on Dutch bicycles. It would feel very European if it wasn’t for the Caribbean Sea before me.
These are the grounds of the new Sandals Royal Curacao, the couples-only brand’s first resort in the Dutch Caribbean.
It’s tucked along the southern coast, facing mainland South America – on a clear day you can see Venezuela from the infinity pool.
The all-inclusive retreat lies on the strip of land where the Spanish first settled in the 1400s, more than a century before the island was captured by the Dutch. A European and Caribbean medley, the island is peppered with historic coral stone buildings and ringed by coral reefs.
With mainly Dutch and US travellers frequenting its quiet beaches and orchid-laced national park, Curacao is often overlooked in favour of its neighbour Aruba. Sandals is poised to change that.
Ailbhe MacMahon checks into Sandals Royal Curacao, the couples-only brand’s first resort in the Dutch Caribbean
The all-inclusive retreat lies on the strip of land where the Spanish first settled in the 1400s, more than a century before the island was captured by the Dutch
On the transfer from the airport to the resort we pass Willemstad, the Unesco-listed capital where the waterfront buildings are a technicolour confection of sugary pinks and butter yellows.
Clifford, my taxi driver, tells me that legend has it that a 19th Century governor said the white facades gave him a headache, and so ruled that all properties be painted in bright hues. It later transpired that he owned the local paint factory…
When I arrive at Sandals, my Sunchi Luxury Beachfront room, designed to echo the blues of the sea, is enveloped in teal tones and pale oak. The balcony overlooks the gardens and beach beyond. Each suite is given a name in Papiamentu – the local language – though Dutch and English are widely spoken too.
Cycling around the grounds, I pass an older couple cutting a wedding cake under a discreet white canopy. Vow renewals are popular here, with couples celebrating in elegant outdoor ceremonies.
Ailbhe stays in a Sunchi Luxury Beachfront room (pictured), which is ‘enveloped in teal tones and pale oak’
The resort has eight restaurants, including one named after Sandals founder Butch Stewart, who passed away in 2021
Guests of the top-tier suites are offered the use of Mini Coopers, so they can explore at their own speed, Ailbhe reveals
It’s easy to get caught up in the romance. I see couples on the way to spa treatments, picking up snorkels and in Kanaal Cafe sharing stroopwafels – waffles sandwiched together with a sweet filling.
There’s a sentimental tale behind this lovestruck idyll.
Sandals founder Butch Stewart took holidays on Curacao and dreamt of setting up a resort on the island. He passed away in 2021 before the resort opened last summer. Butch’s Chophouse, one of the resort’s eight restaurants, is named in his honour. Another culinary jewel is the beachside Strand, where fresh fish is served under a fluttering straw roof.
Vibrant: Curaco’s capital, Willemstad, features a waterfront with an array of brightly coloured buildings
Ailbhe explores the Punda neighbourhood, of Willemstad, ‘an open-air gallery of murals that lend more brilliant colour to this multichromatic city’
One of the island’s native rare turtles
Guests of the top-tier suites are offered the use of Mini Coopers, so they can explore at their own speed, but day trips can also be arranged.
I book on to a tour of Klein Curacao, and a boat arrives at the jetty to take me to the small, uninhabited island south-west of the mainland.
It’s known as a nesting place for endangered sea turtles, which swim through the turquoise waters that gently lap the shore.
Back on the mainland, the rest of my day is spent in the Punda neighbourhood, of Willemstad, an open-air gallery of murals that lend more brilliant colour to this multichromatic city.
The charm of Curacao is in its vibrant weave of history, nature and culture – and, for perhaps just a little bit longer, that it is still a hidden gem.
Ailbhe was a guest of Sandals Royal Curacao. A seven-night all-inclusive stay for two in a Sunchi Luxury Beachfront room costs from £3,299pp, including flights and transfers (www.sandals.co.uk/curacao).