We are taking off from Antigua and are tightly belted into our twin-engine, seven-seater Britten-Norman Islander – operated by Fly Monserrat and captained by John, formerly pilot to the Toronto Blue Jays. Minutes later, we catch site of our tiny destination. To the south lures Montserrat and to the north, St. Kitts, Nevis’ big sister, from where one can fly or take a ferry to the land of stillness.
In traditional Caribbean style, we are greeted by a delightful welcome cocktail, this time of mango juice, rum and cassis and then swept off to our suites overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, a view of which I will never ever tire.
Unpacked, a quick wardrobe change and now ready to explore, I plonk down in the “time to have a nap” lounge on my terrace and was overwhelmed by the stillness. It was somewhat unsettling and I feared the worst…but not for long. The island of Nevis quickly enveloped us into its flora and fauna. My desire to borrow Dorothy’s ruby slippers had all but faded away…forever. (It reminded very much of the time we travelled by houseboat up the Rideau Canal. The unfamiliar was somewhat daunting at first; three days later, we were craving for more.)
The best way to get a taste of Nevis is to circumnavigate the island by driving around the base of Nevis Peak. The island is only 93 sq. km. so it doesn’t take that long. The more ambitious can rent a bike from Wheel World Cycle Shop but that would take a good, full day. Of course, you can also choose to hike to the top of Nevis Peak – the 3,500-foot-high crater rim of Mount Nevis’ dormant volcano, but this four-mile, four-hour climb is not for the faint of heart. The trail starts at the Zetland Plantation, which is a bit tricky to find. Although the views from the top are jaw-dropping spectacular from every direction, rarely is there a day when the clouds are absent. (A local guide is highly recommended, if not mandatory.)
We took the lazy way out and rented a Polaris 4X4 from Funky Monkey (along with a guide) to explore coastal paths and off-the-beaten-track roads, with stop-offs at abandoned sugar plantations and parish churches. Some stretches of the drive reminded me of the Behemoth rollercoaster at Canada Wonderland!
Nevis is located about 17 degrees north of the equator. Day temperatures average about 29° C, with very little humidity, cool sea breezes, and sunshine almost every day. At night, it drops down to 23° C…perfect for a good night’s sleep.
The island is divided into five parishes. Each parish is shaped like a hefty slice of pie, reaching from the highest point of Nevis Peak down to the coastline. Here, the parishes have double names. The first part of the name is that of the patron saint of the parish church; the second part is the traditional common name of the parish. Clockwise (from the top) are: Saint James, Windward; Saint George, Gingerland; Saint John, Figtree; Saint Paul, Charlestown and Saint Thomas, Lowland.
Our tour started at Oualie Beach (pronounced ooh-wah-lee) and the former name of the island in the parish of “Lowland”. Located on the north end of the island, this welcoming beach boasts pale-yellow, sugar-like sand, lined by tall, willowy palms and a spectacular view of St. Kitts. In fact, visitors from St. Kitts can land here by water taxi.
Nevis and St. Kitts are divided by a small 3.2 km. channel wide called The Narrows. As the destination becomes more and more popular, the number of boaters using the channel has significantly increased. That and a recent report of a nasty collision between a boat and a rock prompted a donation by Barry Wilson – a boater who lives on Nevis – which was used to install navigational lighting on the Cow and Calf rocks hazard. (It’s a first in marine history for Nevis and St. Kitts.)
Just south of the Oualie, we visited the site of the Tamarind Cove Marina and Village Development which (when completed) will feature up to 100 boat slips for yachts of all sizes, a high-end, full service marina including a small boutique hotel and spa, shops, a yacht club with a lounge, restaurant and members-only casino.
Continuing along the Caribbean shore, we arrive in Charleston, the island’s capital that can be easily appreciated during a one-hour walk. Sadly, a series of earthquakes during the 18th century severely damaged most of the colonial-era “gingerbread” stone buildings of Charlestown. The Georgian stone buildings seen today had to be partially rebuilt after the quakes, and most consist of a wooden upper floor built over a stone ground floor, effectively minimizing any future damage.
If you’re a history buff, a stop at the Museum of Nevis History, housed in the Alexander Hamilton (portrayed on the $10 US bill) House is a must. For the nautical bent we all share, visit the Horatio Nelson Museum, dedicated to British admiral Horatio Nelson, who although based in Antigua visited Nevis frequently and ultimately married native Fanny Nisbet. Many maps and 18th- century model ships are displayed there.
Now heading east, the Botanical Gardens shows off one of the finest collections of tropical plants, including 100 species of palm trees. Set in the Montpelier Estates overlooking Mount Nevis, a leisurely stroll allows you to explore the orchid terraces, lily ponds, bamboo groves, and a cactus garden. A large conservatory was built to house tropical rainforest plants and parrots, where a large reproduction pre-Columbian Olmec head forms a dramatic waterfall together with Olmec and Mayan-motif steles.
The Galleria gift shop, housed on the first floor of the Nevisian Great House, offered us our first retail fix. The shop was filled with a selection of gifts and handicrafts from around the world – selected by our passionate host and owner, Christi Douglas. With so much stylish jewellery, handbags, clothing, candles and local art, it was hard to leave temptation (especially of local Nevisian artist Eva Wilkin’s prints) while being lured upstairs to the Thai Oasis restaurant by one of its specialty cocktails. The Purple Rain – made with leaves of the Butterfly Pea Flower, freshly squeezed lime juice, sugar syrup and vodka – is known for its cholestral-reducer and strong anti-oxidant attributes.
This small island offers many divine culinary delights for the foodie in you…from beachside and roadside shacks to five-star dining, all offering up fresh, local produce and fish.
My favourite lunch spot by far was Paradise Drive-Thru Snackette & Bar, just outside Charleston. I can still remember the frosty malt beverage served with grilled “just caught that morning” fish and Johnny Cakes. Sadly, there was no room for the chocolate chip bread pudding.
Just before hopping off our 4X4 for the day, we were invited to join Llewelyn Caines (fondly known as Sunshine) for a Killer Bee – yet another rum-based Caribbean concoction also touted to be the #1 award-winning drink in the Caribbean. The Sunshine Beach Bar on Pinney’s Beach is a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike, offering great music, fantastic food and amazing sunsets. In fact, photos on the wall prove that this rustic spot has attracted the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
For more upscale dining, there are also many choices and I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favourite among those I had the pleasure of trying.
On our first evening, we ate at the Mount Nevis Hotel’s al fresco restaurant offering a delicious Mediterranean-themed Caribbean menu. As with most restaurants on the island, ingredients come from local farmers and the hotel’s own organic garden.
On Day 2, we ate at our hotel, the Nisbet Plantation Beach Club where we were joined by the charming General Manager, Alistair Forrest for an absolutely sumptuous meal on the Great House porch overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. If you don’t have a chance to dine here, make sure to pop by for afternoon tea.
The 36 cottage-style suites at Nisbet are luscious, yet not pretentious. Vaulted ceilings, gorgeous linens, granite and porcelain accents along with fresh petite local flower bouquets daily make each room a personal oasis. Each cottage is surrounded by a quarter acre of land offering privacy and inviting views of the sea.
Bananas Bistro was the site of our farewell dinner. Escorted to the terraced setting overlooking the Caribbean via torchlit walkways, the wafting aromas coming from the kitchen tempted all senses. Our evening started with Banana’s signature Mojito – a favourite cocktail of mine bringing back fond memories of Italy – followed by The Taste of Nevis Meze Platter, an assortment of salt fish and Johnny cakes, tannia fritters with Nevis hot dipping sauce, crispy plantain chips with black bean dip, creamy conch gratin and of course, local Goat Water (Caribbean stew). Again, no room for the coconut cake, a house specialty.
There is no doubt you could burn off the calories enjoyed at the many diverse and divine selections of eating establishments here through the numerous activities Nevis has to offer from hiking and biking to windsurfing and kayaking, to deep sea fishing and horseback riding.
But I’d prefer to do nothing and simply take in the peace and tranquility this little jewel of an island has to offer. If I am looking for an escape where doing nothing is my key objective, I will be heading back to the land of stillness.
- Bananas Bistro: bananasrestaurantnevis.com
- Botanical Gardens: botanicalgardennevis.com
- Funky Monkey: funkymonkeytours.com
- Horatio Nelson Museum: nevisisland.com
- Mount Nevis Hotel: mountnevishotel.com
- Museum of Nevis History: nevisisland.com
- Nisbet Plantation Beach Club: nisbetplantation.com
- Paradise Drive-Thru Snackette & Bar: nevisisland.com
- Sunshine Beach Bar: sunshinesnevis.com
- Tamarind Cove Marina and Village Development: tamarindcovenevis.com
- Wheel World Cycle Shop: bikenevis.com