St. John – Learn to Pastel – Fall Travel 2009




I’ve always enjoyed the image of myself as an artist: It’s an ethereal, bohemian me, with paint-splattered clothes and a rotating gallery of my work on the walls. The real me bears no resemblance to this imaginary one – sundry sketchbooks and art supplies my parents provided into my teens never produced art worth hanging. But in the tropical paradise of St. John’s, under the patient tutelage of artist-in-residence Livy Hitchcock, I sit en plein air with the Caribbean as inspiration and rainbows of chalk as my medium. Hitchcock instructs the sketching and helps choose my palette. (The ocean is eight different blues; distant islands of St. Thomas and Tortolla, layers of green, a shadowy lavender and mauve.) In the end, I am no more boho or paint-splattered than when I arrived … just happier. My picture hangs on my wall. Caneel Bay Resort, 340-776-3111,

Two artists teach courses at Caneel Bay Resort in St. John for those inspired by the sublime setting. (Who isn’t?) Pastels and watercolor courses run $85 a lesson – fees well worth the instruction you get from Gail van de Bogurt and Livy Hitchock. (Both artists also own galleries in nearby Mongoose Junction.) After a single three-hour session, you’ll have artwork as a memento, newfound skills, and an instructor’s list with tips and supplies to remember back home. Caneel Bay Resort, 340-776-3111,

Caneel Bay Resort is a graceful 166-room resort planted on a pristine swath of the Virgin Islands National Park. The peaceful 53-year-old luxury resort is surprisingly natural – organic, even: Airy rooms have screened windows and wide porches, but no TVs or phones. No fewer than seven private beaches encircle the place; the air smells (really!) of exotic blooms that dot the landscape; and deer, donkeys and iguanas wander between the clusters of villas where guests bed down. Rooms – which change rates seasonally – range between $395 and $1,750 a night. Caneel Bay Resort, 340-776-3111,

Through Caneel’s activities desk, arrange to take a guided hike ($26) in the lush national park. You can use any of the resort’s free kayaks on your own, but you’ll also want to book a laid-back snorkeling outing ($85 per person) in the azure waters. Another must: a massage in the open beach cabanas ($90 to $240).

Even the casual breakfast and lunch buffets in Caneel’s open-air Beach Terrace dining room are affairs, with options from a wood-burning oven and a rotisserie. The real gem, though, is the Equator, set atop the sugar-mill ruins that overlook the whole place. Or make the short trip to Cruz Bay, where upscale Paradiso sits amid a cluster of shops and art galleries, all soft lighting and hardwoods … and a lovely seared tuna. Paradiso, Mongoose Junction, 340-693-8899.

Such glorious seclusion takes a bit of effort: You’ll fly into St. Thomas-no passport necessary-which means a layover (though we’ve still seen total flight time under six hours, starting at just under $500, round-trip). At the St. Thomas airport, Caneel guests use a voucher you buy upon booking to take the resort’s bus 15 minutes to the ferry, which goes to Caneel Bay (35 minutes).

No need to bring your art supplies-Caneel has everything. You will, however, want to remember your wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, more than one bathing suit and cover-up, and loads of sunscreen for all your time at the resort. Pack a few dressier duds as well: No jeans, shorts, swimwear or tennis shoes are allowed in public spots after sunset. Also, if you don’t like OFF bug repellent, which the resort provides, be sure to bring something of your own-the semi-tropical climate means lots of biting.

Back in Philly: Drawing classes include pastel instruction at the Fairmount Art Center (2501 Olive Street, 215-765-ARTS,, so you can work on both skills in six-week sessions that run about $145.