Since this time of the year is considered as the “off-season” in the Caribbean, the island is pretty much empty. I went to swim the other day and literally, there was nobody but me at the beach. I know it sounds nice to swim in the beautiful waters of the Caribbean Sea all by yourself, but in reality, it is a little creepy. It felt like I am on a desert island all by myself.
I love to swim. Growing up in Turkey, our understanding of vacation was going to a coastal town and spending our time at the beach, playing games, swimming in the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea and eating delicious food.
I learned to swim at a very young age. I remember spending hours in the water until I was shivering because I was cold and tired. My poor mother would try to get me out of the water, but most of the time, was not successful.
This was not the case for my husband, Dwight. At a very young age he lost a friend to an accident that happened in the ocean and never interested in learning to swim.
As you can imagine, not knowing how to swim when living on a tropical island is a problem. Especially when you have a wife, like me, who loves to swim.
Since we moved here, a year and a half ago, he has been talking about taking classes to learn to swim, but to be honest I never thought he would.
At least, until this past weekend…
It was a big surprise to me when he told me that he decided to take classes from Chandra, who is the “go to” person in the island for swimming classes.
Originally a New Yorker, Chandra is one of the locals of Virgin Gorda. She fell in love with the island when she first came here with her family when she was a young girl. When she became an adult she decided to move and spend majority of her time here. She has been living in Virgin Gorda for more than 30 years. When you meet her, you can tell how much she likes to live here and be a part of this community.
She told us that she wants to do the lesson in the pool of her friend’s house. Since most houses here have pools we did not think anything of it.
Little did we know…
Steve, Chandra’s friend, is the owner of a property called Toad Hall. Toad Hall is by The Baths with a private access to The Baths.
If you have never heard of The Baths, let me explain. “The Baths” is the number one tourist attraction in Virgin Gorda. It is located in the southern tip of the island and is made up of huge piles of granite boulders lying on the beach. It is an unusual geologic formation that beautifully displays the volcanic roots of the island.
I have been there a couple of times. Although it is very impressive, I do not think of it as a place to visit more than once mainly because most of the time it is very crowded with tourists.
Toad Hall, on the other hand, is a property with 3 bedroom pavilions, a fully equipped kitchen, a beautiful swimming pool and a private access to the beach through treetop walkways built within the boulders. Guests can rent this property by the week as a complete villa. This is the kind of place (in my imaginary world) that celebrities stay when they do not want to be seen. Totally private…
Dwight and I did not even know that this place existed. That is why, we were very happy when Chandra offered us a tour of the place.
First, she showed us the bedrooms (or as they call it, pavilions). Each room has a different theme. Chandra told us that, Steve, the owner and the builder, was inspired from all of his travels around the world when decorating these rooms. As you enter each room, you witness a simple and comfortable yet elegant atmosphere. The walls are covered with books to read and windows to allow guests to see the beauty of the nature outside.
Next, Chandra took us through a beautiful treetop walkway down to the beach. We walked through a wooden walkway with lots of stairs, built within the boulders.
It is truly beautiful. Imagine walking through these huge rocks surrounded with beautiful trees, tropical plants and the Caribbean Sea in the background.
Along the walkway there is a lounging deck with a magnificent view, overlooking The Baths. Chandra told us that most people use this deck not only to watch the sunset but also do yoga and meditate.
As we walked down to the beach I wanted to take pictures of everything around me but since I forgot my memory card at home, I could not.
Such a bummer…
While Dwight and Chandra were practicing swimming in the pool, I had a chance to talk to Steve in the main living room area. Steve has never owned a television in his life, by choice…
He loves to read and listen to NPR (National Public Radio). He is the vision behind this beautiful property.
A man with a lot of wisdom…
The living room we were in consists of an antique wooden dining room table, a couple of chairs to lounge, an old armoire, and a large hammock. There is a chess table, if you are a chess player. There is an open kitchen where guests can cook and serve. Steve told me that if guests want, a private chef could be arranged.
Since I wanted to take pictures and Dwight wanted to continue to learn to swim, we went there again, on Sunday. This time I made some Almond Butter Cookies to share and photograph in the beautiful gardens of Toad Hall.
These gluten-free Almond Butter Cookies are super easy and quick to make. Not to mention that they are much healthier than cookies made with butter and granulated sugar.
Almond butter, with the help of gluten free flour, forms the base of the cookies. Maple syrup sweetens them. As the main sweetener is maple syrup, I highly recommend using high quality real maple syrup.
But the secret gem of this recipe is Maldon Salt you sprinkle on top of each cookie because it really brings out the complex flavors of the other ingredients.
Everyone loved the cookies. They ate it all as I was taking pictures of everything around me.
These cookies are special just like Chandra, Steve and the Toad Hall. I would say both the Almond Butter Cookies and Toad Hall should be experienced at least once in a lifetime.
- 1 ½ cups gluten free flour
- ¾ teaspoon xanthan gum (if it is not already in the flour)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup natural (unsweetened) almond butter
- 1 cup real maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon Maldon sea salt (or any coarse, fine salt you like)
- Preheat the oven to 350 °F.
- Whisk the dry ingredients; flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the wet ingredients; almond butter, maple syrup and vanilla.
- Using a spatula, mix the flour mixture with the almond butter mixture, in two batches.
- Using your clean hands, make small balls about the amount of 1-½ tablespoons. Place each cookie in a parchment-lined baking sheet pan. Cookies should be 2 inches apart from each other.
- Wet your fingertips and press down on top of each cookie to make it like a small disk.
- Sprinkle each cookie with Maldon sea salt.
- Bake them for 10-11 minutes. Let them cool on a rack before serving.
- Note: I baked them in two batches but if you trust your oven, bake two sheets at the same time.
Adapted from Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Turshen’s cookbook “It is All Good”.
To get more information about Toad Hall, please visit their website.