Natural Beauties . . .
Still unspoiled by mass-market tourism, the twin islands of St. Kitts & Nevis pride themselves on being the ‘real Caribbean’. Though they may have all the attributes associated with the region – glorious beaches, great water sports and guaranteed sunshine – it’s their natural beauty that sets them apart from other islands . . .
Dramatic volcanic peaks – Mount Liamluiga and Nevis Peak – covered in lush green rain forest dominate the landscape, attracting nature lovers. Tiny Nevis is a prime bird watching spot too – there are 126 species, from the cheeky banana quits to impressive hawks.
The island’s rich history adds another dimension to any visit. Christopher Columbus first spotted St. Kitts in 1493 and was so enamoured he named it after himself and his patron saint – St. Christopher.
Strategically located in the north-eastern Caribbean this was a base for settling other neighbouring islands and the French and English battled for supremacy until the British finally triumphed, reigning for 200 years before independence in 1983.
There are over 200 heritage sites on St. Kitts alone and the sleepy capitals of Charlestown on Nevis and Basseterre on St. Kitts have some of the best remaining example of Georgian style architecture. Remnants of the sugar trade which flourished from the 18th century can be seen in plantation house ruins and a handful have been converted into idyllic intimate hotels – Ottley’s and Rawlins Plantation Inn on St. Kitts; Nisbet and Montpelier Plantation on Nevis are among the best know. Staying here gives an insight into eras long past and there’s an ambience of genteel information and old-world elegance – the atmosphere of an English country house with a dash of West Indian ease.
The relaxed vibe continues across the islands. Overall, development has remained low-key, but St. Kitts is the busier, more cosmopolitan of the two, with Nevis its sleepy, laid back side-kick only a 20-minute ferry ride away (from US$4, one way ticket). Visitors often choose twin centres, enjoying the best of the both.
Naturally the sea is another major draw, Silver-grey volcanic beaches are predominant in the north of St. Kitts, turning the water a luminous green and there are plenty of swathes of golden powdery sand to choose from. There’s diving to suit all levels, with dozens of wrecks to explore. Black Coral Rock is a key site off St. Kitts, dropping to 100ft, while on Nevis great sites often lay just metres off the shore. [Try Scuba Safaris, tel: +869 469 9518]. Marine biologist Barbara Whitman gives lessons on life under the sea and guides snorkelling trips too – www. undertheseanevis.com.
Another British tradition – cricket – is alive and well on the islands. At Grove Park in Charlestone locals – both men and women – play on a Thursday night Horse racing with a carnival like atmosphere, takes place each month at The Indian Castle Race Track on Nevis. There are two world class golf courses too, choose from the Royal St. Kitts Golf Course at Frigate bay and the Robert Trent Jones course at the Four Seasons Resort in Nevis. The island loves to party too; Carnival kicks in over Christmas and New Year while the St. Kitts Music Festival held in June is fast gaining a reputation as one of the best in the Caribbean with four nights of reggae, R&B, gospel and rap keeping the island dancing.
The island’s complex history means there’s plenty to tempt holidaymakers away from the beach and the views are fantastic wherever you go. Hiring a car is a good way to explore, driving is on the left, or take a taxi; drivers tend to double as guides. For something a little different join a sugar train tour around the island with St. Kitts Scenic railway;
www. stkittsscenicrailway.com. Original tracks lead from the plantation, to factory, to harbour.
No trip to St. Kitts would be complete without a visit to Brimstone Hill fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built over 110 years from 1690 by African slaves. The scale of the building with its five bastions and citadel is daunting and the views from the top spectacular – visitors of all nationalities pose for photos on the disused cannons.
Not far round the coast to the south you’ll pass Bloody Point, where the French massacred hundreds of Carib Indians in 1625, now the site of Challengers Village, Romney Manor, once owned by the Jeffersons, whose grandson later became the president of the United States, is another must see with fantastic gardens and the Caribelle Batik factory.
In the island’s pretty capital Basseterre check out The Circus (St. Kitts’ equivalent to Piccadilly, the locals will tell you) and the colonial architecture and visit Independence Square, where slaves once were bought and sold.
History lovers should head to the Horatio Nelson Museum in Nevis too, which tells the story of how the admiral fell in love with pretty local widow Fanny Nisbet. The observation point at Saddle Hill was originally a lookout for Lord Nelson and today visitors can scan the horizon with a telescope.
Venture into the interior of either island and you’ll find rain forest holding charms of its own, with dense foliage filled with bird song, monkeys screeching from tree tops and exotic plants of all kinds. For the energetic St. Kitt’s towering Mt. Liamuiga can be climbed on a day hike, but more leisurely rain forest walks, or jeep and horseback safaris might suit the less energetic. Greg Safaris, tel: +869 465 4121, is one of the best-known specialists,
Across on Nevis biologists Jim and Nikki Johnson offer educational hikes, tel: +869 469 9080, while Michael Herbert, known as the ‘bush doctor’ shares his knowledge on local bush remedies on rain forest walks, tel: + 869 469 3512.
Wine & Dine
From formal plantation house dining to roadside barbecues, there’s a huge choice of dining outlets on the islands. The cuisine features plenty of fresh and spicy seafood, especially lobster, crab and local mahi mahi. Conch, a type of shellfish, is a speciality, served as fritters, in chowder or marinated. Typical Caribbean goat stew is another favourite, with vegetables from yams to squash and exotic fruits plentiful. On St. Kitts, sample seafood at the renowned Fisherman’s Wharf, tel: + 869 465 2754, at Ocean Terrace Inn right on the water’s edge at Basseterre. Generous portions of lobster, fresh fish and steaks are cooked on an open grill.
Rawlins Plantation Inn, tel: 869 465 6221, a former sugar plantation, serves a Caribbean buffet lunch in a beautiful setting and four course evening meals in idyllic surrounds.
The Golden Lemon, tel: +869 465 7260, serves gourmet food in a beautiful chandeliered dining room and the menu changes daily.
At Oualie Beach Resort on Nevis +869 469 9755, award winning chef Jason Bishop cooks up a feast – the Caribbean buffet night Saturday is a sell–out and the view is amazing.
For a real splurge try the Four-Season Resort Nevis – the best and most expensive restaurant on the island. Dine on fusion cuisine in an elaborately decorated room, with massive bouquets of flowers, hurricane lamps with candles and striking paintings on the wall.
Or for value and ambience, head next door to Sunshine’s Beach Bar on Pinney’s beach for fresh lobster, chicken and fish and the lethal ‘Killer Bee’ cocktails. To dine like a local, sniff out a ‘cookout’, held in villages on Friday and Saturday nights – biggest on Nevis starts at 5pm on Friday on Pump Road, near Charlestown. Soak up the scene with an ice-cold beer, freshly cooked chicken and ribs and jump up to the music.
For daytime dining why not just pack your own picnic? Bambooshay snackette, just east of Nevis airport, is a great place to stop; Aulene bakes breakfast fruit breads daily.
Where to Stay
For something a little different the plantation inns mentioned above offer laid back luxury in historic surrounds, but for more traditional five-star accommodation try the:
Four Seasons Resort Nevis, tel: + 869 489 1111. It has a fantastic setting on Pinney’s Beach with accommodation in two storey stone cottages scattered among 350 acres of tropical location. There are three restaurants, 10 tennis courts with lessons from international pros, one of the most scenic golf courses in the Caribbean, an expansive spa and plenty of children’s activities for families. Rooms from US$325 per night, sleeping up to three adults.
The Banyan Tree, tel: +800 639 6109; in Nevis is a lovely bed and breakfast built around a 300-year-old banyan tree. Owned by artist/architect Jonathan Rose and his wife Anne, it’s a magical setting with bamboo groves and ‘ginger garden’ with two houses for rent: the Bamboo House with living/sleeping room and kitchenette and the Main House which has two guest rooms.
Prices from US$125 per room per night with breakfast.
Bird Rock Beach, tel: +1-869 465 8914; on St. Kitts, is a good choice in this price bracket. A picturesque family owned hotel with pretty tropical gardens, accommodation in one, two and three-bedroom suites. Rooms have cable television, air-conditioning, private bathroom and patio or balcony.
Prices from US$85 per room.
Angelus St. Kitts, is also worth a look, with studio rooms from US$89.
There are plenty of guest houses for those on a limited budget.
The Culture House, tel: +869 466 1940: Situated less than five minutes drive from the airport on St. Kitts and just 250 metres from the beach, is a newly constructed complex providing reasonably priced accommodation. The six rooms are spacious, with high ceilings, en-suite bathrooms and private balconies overlooking the ocean and coconut grove.
Prices from US$40.
Ocean View Guest House in Nevis is a newly built property in St. James Paris, with great views and comfortable accommodation.
Prices from US$45 per person per night, with breakfast.
Currency: Eastern Caribbean dollar.
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