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Rethinking Paradise

In a mere 10 months, hotelier Sidney Torres managed to transform The Cove in Eleuthera from a Bahamas has-been to one of the Caribbean’s buzziest five-star resorts.

Hotelier Sidney Torres (right) and his fiancee Jennifer Savoie with their dogs Skeets and Lady on the shore of the beach at The Cove Eleuthera

The kitchen of the Savoie Village, the resort’s prime accommodation

Sidney Torres is a man who takes matters into his own hands... quite literally. Years ago, before he made a name in the world of five-star hotels, Torres was known as New Orleans’ sanitation savant—a native son lauded across the country for his innovative approach to cleaning up the city in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Videos of an energetic Torres driving his black-and-silver garbage trucks and sweeping up streets in the French Quarter himself became the stuff of local legend. A short-lived reality series even followed his efforts as the city’s “Garbage King” for a while. Torres managed to pull off a rather ambitious trifecta: He made trash cool, became a hometown hero and won a slew of civic awards in the process.

Along the way, the developer and venture capitalist never forgot his first love, that of restoring historic properties and making them relevant once again. He did it in New Orleans through his French Quarter Hotel Group, which lists the Royal, Melrose Mansion and Hotel St. Helene in its portfolio. And, shortly after selling his sanitation company in 2011 and getting back to real estate full time, he would do so again—this time far from the Creole sounds of The Big Easy.

Long before he acquired it in July of last year, Torres was well familiar with The Cove, a resort first built in 1969 that had lost its luster after years of hurricanes, tropical storms and negligent management. “I used to come for breakfast when I would visit Eleuthera and sometimes for lunch and dinner,” he says. “It was one of the only properties in the area.” When said property became available for sale, Torres didn’t hesitate. He forked over $1.8 million for the resort and its 40 acres, and set about making it his vacation home. Along the way, he changed his mind. As the story goes, Torres was swimming in the ocean when he decided the place was too special not to be shared. What followed was an intense period of renewal and rebirth.

The renovation process was an ambitious, 24/7 undertaking with Torres at the helm. Sight lines were carefully considered to ensure optimal views throughout the resort. The cutting of rock and the addition of 600 tons of sand created a second beach, separated from the original by a rock cliff. Zoysia grass was laid over 500 square feet of stones, and hundreds of palm trees were planted throughout the property. Ten months and $12 million later, what was once a massive, yet neglected, beach shack became a 60-room testament to barefoot elegance. “We worked every day of the week until 1 or 2 in the morning,” says Torres of those sweat, blood and tears days. “As crazy as those moments were, I can now look back at them and laugh.”

Today, accommodations at the new and improved Cove range from secluded, bush-view cottages popular with honeymooners to Caribbean Cove suites that face the beach head-on. The crown jewel of the property is the Savoie Village, which boasts three bedrooms, a state-of-the-art kitchen, various living areas, a private pool and 24-hour service from Kezang Dorji, a Bhutan-born private butler who once tended to Keith Richards and Donna Karan during his stint at Parrot Cay by COMO in Turks and Caicos. Guests are checked into the resort via iPad at the library, which extends into the main restaurant, Freedom, part of which is enclosed in glass and oversees The Cove’s deck. This elevated spot is marked by blond wood planks, an infinity lap pool and seemingly endless views of the catalog-blue Caribbean waters. Beyond it, at the tip of the aforementioned rock cliff, sits Bar Tony, an alfresco perch tailor-made for umbrella rum drinks and calypso music day and night.

Just as carefully conceived was the property’s interior design, much of which was overseen by Torres’ fiancee, Jennifer Savoie. In the suites, travertine marble and Brazilian walnut textures were put to good use, and the resulting uncluttered interiors are defined by clean, modern lines. Not surprisingly, some New Orleans influences worked their way into the decor, most notably in The Sanctuary, a British Colonial-style building (housing The Cove’s smallest guest rooms) with wraparound porches reminiscent of old Louisiana plantations. “The natural backdrop of Eleuthera was our inspiration,” says Torres. “It was important for us to ensure that the resort was organically a product of the island.”

Organic is indeed a good word to describe The Cove. When I visit the property in late spring, I learn this firsthand. Soon after arriving, I am sitting down to a lazy lunch in the Freedom dining room where I’m given the lay of the land. The next few days are to be as low-key and undisciplined as I want them to be. Many conch fritters and stone crab claws later, I encounter our host, clad in his signature black linen and espadrilles, on one of his many daily walks, and it doesn’t take him long to reveal that hands-on approach to business he’s so well known for. “We just got four stars on TripAdvisor,” he says leaning down to pick up a speckle of errant paper off the grass. “It means a lot that people are getting that this place is special.”

For the next few hours, I’m left alone to discover the small details that have the jet set taking notice of just how special The Cove is. The spectacular view of the beach and the sound of the waves crashing just steps away from my suite immediately put a smile on my face; that zoysia grass is indeed cashmere-soft under my bare feet, and the lace-adorned hammocks hung between palm trees are a clue to just how lazy afternoons can get here. I’m in vacation mode in 30 minutes flat and it feels good.

Hours later, after sunset cocktails at Bar Tony, I’m at dinner with a small group by the pool of Villa Savoie. The culinary prowess of Rainer Wohrle, the resort’s German chef, is evident as soon as the family-style meal commences. Over generous servings of fragrant lamb, seared tuna, conch salad and local vegetables, we’re treated to yet more stories of The Cove’s renaissance. Torres tells us that although the bulk of the construction is done, the place is still a work in progress. An additional 60 coves, suites and cottages are forthcoming in a section of the island the owner recently discovered is part of his 40-acre footprint, and plans are underway for a hotel boutique and a full-service spa, which should be in operation by mid-2014.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess. Torres is not one to sit still for too long. “My goal is to be the best at everything I approach,” he says. “Sometimes that means going against the norm. As I like to say: Difficult yes; impossible, never.”

It seems those are words to live by in this slice of the Caribbean.

Information: Rates at The Cove, Eleuthera range from $229 to $4,500 through August; $199 to $3,000 from September through October; and $429 to $10,000 from December through April. American Airlines offers daily flights to North Eleuthera Airport connecting through Miami International Airport from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Private aviation can be arranged through the resort. thecoveeleuthera.com