Laurence S. Rockefeller's eco-luxury legacy lives on in these six one-of-a-kind resorts.
In 1952, while sailing his yacht in the Caribbean, Laurance S. Rockefeller anchored off the coast of Caneel Bay Plantation in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Moved by the serene stretch of sandy beaches and frangipani-filled coves, Rockefeller—an avid outdoorsman and environmentalist—soon purchased the land and set aside 5,000 acres as a national park. His vision for the property also included a low-key luxury hotel where the post–World War II wealthy could frolic among the unspoiled and the uncomplicated. Four years later, along one of the park’s pristine coves, Rockefeller opened Caneel Bay as the Caribbean’s first upscale eco-resort.
Then as now, to be a Rockefeller was to be terrifically rich. Laurance was, by most accounts, a virtuoso in matters of business. But the third son of John D. Rockefeller Jr. aspired to a more lasting legacy, pouring dozens of years and millions of dollars into protecting undeveloped land and incubating the yet-to-be-defined concept of ecotourism. With Caneel Bay as a blueprint, Rockefeller’s version of do-gooder capitalism focused on low-density, architecturally significant hotels that were sensitive to, and in tune with, their surroundings. The model proved more than a passing fancy, and by 1965 his RockResorts hospitality group presided over an elite collection of properties that included the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on Hawaii’s Big Island and Little Dix Bay in the British Virgin Islands.
Rockefeller divested himself of RockResorts in the late 1980s, and the majority of his properties were subsequently sold to independent owners. But the eco-entrepreneur’s vision has proved sustainable: His pockets of paradise—many of which are celebrating landmark anniversaries with multimillion-dollar renovations—have remained true to his mission and today stand as authentic outposts in a world where ecotourism has become a catchphrase. Robb Report recently checked in to Caneel Bay and a handful of other retreats where Rockefeller’s legacy lives on.
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