LOVE & STAY
Written by Claire Williams / Photography by Nicol Canegata / Photography with interior design/creative direction from Michael Thomas & Co.
Unable to resist the allure of a good origin story, I admit to being very intrigued by the competing name origins of Lovango island, between St. Thomas and St. John in the USVI. While I've yet to uncover a sea shanty attesting to the legend, the predominate theory is an interesting yarn nonetheless. The island, inhabited since the mid-1700s, is said to have been home to the only brothel in the area, and the pirates' shortened the name of their "Love and Go Island" to Lovango. However, documents from the St. John Historical Society contend that there's a less spicy reason behind the name: an affiliation with a 17th-century trading post in the Congo, sometimes written Lu'ongo or Loango. Nantucket-based hoteliers Mark and Gwenn Snider, owners of Little Gem Resorts, purchased 42 acres of Lovango island in 2019 and immediately set about building the first new resort in the USVI in three decades. Designed as an off-the-grid-getaway a stone's throw from the hustle and bustle of St. Thomas, Lovango Resort & Beach Club offers laid-back luxury that doesn't sacrifice creature comforts.
Easily accessible via a short ferry ride from the American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook on St.Thomas, the tranquil 15-minute journey across Pillsbury Sound immediately puts the mind in a more relaxed vacation state of mind.
As the resort master plans call for it to be fully built out over several years, during our visit, a reception and breakfast area for overnight guests was under construction atop a hill overlooking the beach club. There are 17 glamping tents and treehouses on the island's "backside," staggered on the steep hillside amidst a dense tropical landscape. The accommodations face an uninhabited island designated as a bird sanctuary, lending the feeling you are a million miles from civilization. In addition to providing a unique guest experience, the tents serve a practical purpose as they can be disassembled during hurricane season when the resort is closed.
We split our stay between a glamping tent and a treehouse. While both were stylishly outfitted and boasted a large cantilevered deck, the additional elbow room in the treehouse and an outdoor shower made it my favorite. MALIN & GOETZ toiletries and Matouk towels are among the elevated in-room amenities. Screens in the louvered doors and windows allow the trade winds in and keep the bugs out. The drapery and netting of the canopy bed conceal a clever air conditioning system that regulates the temperature within the sleeping area and kept a hot sleeper like me comfortably cool. While there isn't a gym on the property yet, making the 500- foot vertical trek from the beach club to our room several times a day was all the workout we needed (golf cart transport is also available on call). There are also several hiking trails, including one that leads down to rocky and remote Crescent Beach (guests are given snorkeling equipment at check-in). A yoga mat and blocks are provided in each room.
Owning seasonal resorts on different schedules is a boon for the Sniders, who allow the staff at their properties to cycle between Nantucket and the USVI. Having seasoned staff from day one allows the newly opened resort to operate on a level similar to one that's been up and running for years. The Sniders are hands-on owners, and it's not unusual to find the couple going from table to table at dinner, chatting up guests and soliciting feedback. When I asked him why he and his wife wanted to take on such an ambitious project on a tropical island, Marc responded, "I like being in the business of making people happy."
Our first-night feast was a global culinary whirlwind, with Caribbean lobster schnitzel, sea urchin gnocchi, green papaya and tea leaf salad, and Thai-inspired Caribbean seafood stew. Ferry service is available for non-overnight guests who want to come to Lovango's waterfront restaurant for lunch or dinner to enjoy chef Stephen Belie's award-winning cuisine.
The buzzy Beach Club is the heart of the resort. Offering day passes, a rotating lineup of events including a quite competitive water balloon toss, 'sand pit' games, an infinity pool, private cabanas, and excellent food and beverage service encompassing both healthy and "vacation calories don't count fare," it's the ideal anecdote for Type A folks needing a respite from their in-room relaxation. In short order, the Sand & Stars party at the Beach Club on Friday nights has quickly become a must-attend event.
For a special souvenir, pick up a bottle of Little Gem Spirits’ Sweet Tamarind Rum, Caribbean Spice Whiskey, or Sorrel Lime Vodka from the cute boutiques lining the sandy boulevard near the beach club. The Sniders worked with St. Croix chef Todd Manley— credited with creating Mutiny Island Vodka distilled from the Breadfruit tree—to create spirits infused with flavors of the island. While they make an exciting addition to craft cocktails, I found they are perfect summer sips on their own.
Overnight guests are offered off-island excursions, including a water taxi across Caneel Bay to Honeymoon Beach on St. John's for two hours of snorkeling and relaxing. Regular ferry service between St. John and St. Thomas and private day charters are also available. Treasuring the tranquility afforded on the island, we honestly didn't feel a strong pull to "love and go" from Lovango during our three- night stay, as the diversity of offerings kept us amply occupied. sl