Nevis

The Queen Of The Caribees

11th June 2010

Everyone – everywhere – claims to have the most hospitable town, village, city or island… but when she touched down on the tiny island of Nevis, Rowena Carr-Allinson suspected that, for once, the old adage might be true…

We took off in a tiny 12-seat Winair plane, packed to the rafters with jolly locals. In high spirits, there was a lot of chatting and giggling, mostly because the tanned, blond pilot has nonchalantly asked “So where are we going, St Barts?” Most of us saw the funny side… We were off to Nevis and the plane was already a little delayed. The twin propellers rumbled away and we were off. Half an hour later we approached the hilly green coasts. As the hum quietened down, a lady in the front row turned around and said, in a clear voice, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to my island’ – and I have no doubt that she meant it.

Far from the troubles of the rest of the world, this woman was the real thing – welcoming to her home both the dozen or so Caribbean folk on board, and of course, our two pasty white faces. It felt good. A breath of fresh air. The cosy warmth is one thing, but that aroma of plants and flowers is better still. In Nevis, nature’s charms hit you immediately.

Out of the two islands of St. Kitts and Nevis (or, to give them their full title, The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis), Nevis is the shy sister of the pair. Quieter, more discreet, this tiny 36-square-mile island tucked away in the Leeward Islands has just 12,000 citizens, few visitors and is as beautiful as it is low key. Also nicknamed the ‘Queen of the Caribees’, due to its rich 18th century British-run sugar plantations, it went down in history as one of the places where Horatio Nelson was stationed as a young captain, and where he met and married Frances Nisbet, the young local widow of a plantation owner.

We checked into her former home, now a hideaway resort on a former coconut plantation: Nesbit Plantation. Like Nevis, it’s simple yet stunning. The definition of low key luxury.

At Nisbet, things have been ticking away just nicely for years. In fact, most of the staff have been there for decades. Ask Steve, the manager, and he says he’s “only” been there nine years. To us that sounds like forever, but to him, compared to other employees, he’s a newbie. One retired recently after 40 years of service. When the staff, like Roselyn, Patterson and Shantelle, introduce themselves, and ask about you in their charming, almost naive and very sincere way, you feel instantly at home.

Just a glimpse at the guest book and it’s clear that they’re doing something right. On the latest page at least four entries are from returning guests (apparently Nisbet has 40% return customers, which is almost unheard of), while another page has as many promising to come back.

Unlike the bigger, chain resorts that run a tight ship on perfection, Nisbet is all about the charm. And, of course, it has an incredible beach, perfect pool and ever-so-cute pastel lemon chalets decorated in Caribbean style with all the trimmings: king size bed, marble bathrooms and zesty Caribbean colour scheme. It’s also nice that there is no TV to be found in the room, so if you do want to watch, you have to get social in the Great House.

And then there’s the food. Steve quips “We feed you a lot here – you gotta watch out!”

Breakfast is served at the Pavilion by the bright blue pool, with its grey wooden louvres and view over the breakers. It’s blissful to hear the sea’s swooshing, while being spoiled with fresh coffee and anything from pancakes to omelette, oatmeal, fruit, French toast or all of the above! The day starts as it means to go on…

Next up, after a lazy morning exploring the grounds? Lunchtime at the Coconuts restaurant, a beachside shack with just the right amount of authenticity. Its minty green colouring and white wrought iron chairs, each an ode to the pineapple, fit perfectly with the paradise-like setting.

The staff, like Violet and Janice, are ever cheerful, buzzing around in their floral shirts, whizzing cocktails and small bites to the tables on the sand. The spicy deep-fried chicken wings with lemon aïoli were to die for, and the chicken quesadillas delicious.

And then, it’s only a couple of hours before you can take afternoon tea in the garden. A cup of Earl Grey, a slice of banana bread, a couple of scones, coconut cookies and a few little tuna or cheese sandwiches… just so that you’re set until dinner time. With a couple of raggedy cats for company, it’s so relaxing time seems to literally slow down. Which is really what it’s all about.

Deborah, from Michigan, confesses that she has been coming here over a decade with her husband Jim. Despite trying out the luxury resorts on almost every other Caribbean island she keeps coming back for more “because it’s just so relaxing”.

Perhaps the fancy cuisine at dinner time has something to do with it too? Over a few days we sampled everything from lamb cutlets with ratatouille and Tiger shrimps in gazpacho to wild boar ravioli and grilled Mahi Mahi. It’s terribly civilised. Dinner time is a smart affair: in contrast to the relaxed attitude when the sun shines, at night Nisbet smartens up.

The great house combines effortless colonial chic and relaxed vibe. Antique furnishings blend in well with cotton striped couches, mahogany woods and those omnipresent louvred shutters.

After dinner you can prop up the bar socialising, entertain yourself with one of the board games, pinch a book from the lending library or simply retire to your cottage where you can fall asleep to the sound of the waves. It’s just natural air conditioning here, the silent blades of the ceiling fan whirring overhead, and the mosquito netting allowing the breeze through.

Daytimes are spent lounging in hammocks, playing tennis or indulging in the tiny Palms Spa which makes up for its petite size with its potent, delicious candy-like tropical fragrances. You can’t fail to be hooked on the pineapple shower gel and tropical fruit shampoo...

If the beach isn’t enough to keep you busy, venture out of the plantation to discover the island. Feeling brave? Try the two hour trek up the island’s heart, the volcanic peak of Mount Nevis. You can hire bikes, go horseback riding or take a tour of Nevis’s must see sights: the bath house, where spring water was used in an old-fashioned spa for its curative powers many moons ago; Charlestown and its few souvenir shops, and little else. Our tour guide Devon admits the sleepy streets are “as busy as it gets”!

Plant lovers should stop by the botanical gardens. Started by an eccentric English gentleman, it’s now an impressive collection of exotic plants from the world over – orchids from Brazil, palms from Thailand, and so much more; even a fragrant peppermint tree. Stop for lunch at 1789, the garden’s restaurant, on the first floor of an elegant plantation style home. To go local, opt for conch fritters.

Pushing on around the island there’s an eerily neat area. In fact, it’s the road that runs through the Four Seasons resort estate. Although closed at the moment it is, nevertheless, still pristine, and for a few minutes the experience is a little like going through a parallel universe…

On the other end of the scale, island favourite Sunshine’s is a legendary beachside shack best known for its colourful owner – who named the place after himself – and for its ‘Killer Bee’ cocktail. A pleasant surprise, this didn’t taste as strong as it smelled, and the rum cocktail with a sprinkling of nutmeg (not to be mistaken for sand) was really rather easy to quaff…

The bar is frequented by all who pass through Nevis – from locals to yacht-owning millionaires, and visiting celebrities… Oprah, Mel Gibson, Britney, Beyoncé and even the ultimate sophisticate, Sarah Jessica Parker. The low-key shack is adorned with flags from all over, and number plates too – nailed to the wall trophy style. It’s the real thing, with just a few easy chairs and a wooden bar, and little else but the fine sand...

After just three days at Nisbet you really do start to feel like part of the family. Being greeted by your first name at breakfast is one thing, being teased for being a sleepy head is another! But it works. By making you feel so at home, the staff make you want to come back, again and again. There’s a certain complicity that settles in between guest and staff, a wink and a knowing smile here and there, and in just a matter of hours friendships are built. No wonder these guys stay on forever.

What was it the Californian governor says? I’ll be back?

I sure hope so.

getting there
BA offer 7 nights at the 4* Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, Nevis, from £1306 per person based on June 2010 departures.
Includes return BA flights from Gatwick to St Kitts (via Antigua), boat transfers and accommodation on a half board basis.  
Based on two travelling, subject to availability and inclusive of all UK taxes.
For reservations visit ba.com/stkitts or call 0844 493 0758.

For more information, see www.nevisisland.com or www.caribbean.co.uk or call Nevis tourist office, on 0808 234 2064.

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