Columbus sailed here in 1493 and mistook the clouds shrouding Nevis Peak as snow. He renamed the island “nuestra señora de las nieves,” our lady of the snows. There is no snow here … just sunshine, history, and lots of low-key luxury.
By Michael M. Clements
It’s neither the chicest nor most buzzed about Caribbean island destination; it’s not the most expensive … nor the cheapest either; it’s simply Nevis – a sombrero-shaped single peak volcanic isle near the top of the Lesser Antilles archipelago whose charm creeps into your soul like the rum in beachside restaurant Sunshine’s (www.sunshinenevis.com) famous Killer Bee cocktails.
With its yellow, red and green reggae colors, and relaxed open-air space, Sunshine’s is as Caribbean cliché as it gets here. It’s a local favorite – the Wahoo fish filet is almost double the size and half the price of the island’s more posh eateries, notably those belonging to the Four Seasons Resort Nevis (www.fourseasons.com/nevis) located north on Pinney’s Beach about 10-minutes away.
However, The Four Seasons is where you hang your hat if you are looking for a complete resort experience: spacious sea-view suites, championship golf, a tranquil spa oasis, attentive 24/7 care, and the island’s best kids program. Located on prime leeward beachside real estate, the resort strikes a harmonious balance between international quality amenities and unassuming and relaxed West Indies charm.
Days on Nevis are as active, leisurely, luxe or low maintenance as you wish. You won’t find crowded all-inclusive resorts or towering cruise ships unloading sun-factor-80-plastered tourists into downtown straw markets. At the Four Seasons, you’ll split time with honeymooners and the occasional corporate incentive group while basking in the lap of serene resort living.
Christopher Columbus landed in Nevis in 1493, followed a century and a half later by the British and French, who established an agricultural economy that does much to explain the island’s characteristic plantation stylings. Today, these centuries-old vestiges of Nevis’ agrarian past have, with varying degrees of success, been converted into charming upscale accommodations. The most notable being The Hermitage, Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, Montpelier Plantation Inn, Golden Rock Plantation Inn, and the Old Manor Nevis.
The Hermitage (www.hermitagenevis.com), nestled into the leeward hillside of Mount Nevis, is a quaint and romantic boutique resort centered around a charming 17th-century former plantation home. The 15 individual cottage units are family-owned and operated and attract a loyal following of return visitors as well as celebrity clientele.
Hermitage owner Richard Lupinacci came to St. Kitts in the ’70s as an employee of Bank of America and never looked back. When a local friend showed him the house, one of the oldest wooden structures in the Caribbean, it had been abandoned for generations and was in ruins: no roof, no floor – just a frame. Richie Lupinacci, Richard’s son who now manages the property, explains, “My father wanted to knock it down and start from scratch but the seller kept telling him he couldn’t. My dad persisted. The man said ‘No, the frame is too strong, you literally can’t knock it down.’ ”
Built by shipwrights, the 2,000-square foot main house had been constructed using one of the world’s most durable woods – the hardwood Lignum Vitae. This fire and water-resistant and self-lubricating wood is so strong it was used as the shaft bearings on World War II submarines. The trees are long gone but the structure of The Hermitage’s main house remains intact.
Another U.S. transplant, Bob Bartolomei manages The Botanical Garden of Nevis (www. botanicalgardennevis.com). He traded New York City financial jungles for lush tropical rainforests. His Garden of Eden etched into the monkey-filled hillsides overlooking the capital Charlestown is a must for nature lovers. The seven-acre garden features thousands of tropical plants and palms, a Rainforest Conservatory, and beautiful Orchid terraces. After your tour, grab lunch at the property’s gourmet restaurant, 1787 Bistro. Its breezy verandahs and sweeping sea vistas are ideal for a lazy lunch or starry dinner.
1787 Bistro is named after the founding date of nearby Montpelier Plantation Inn (www.montpeliernevis.com). Like most colonial era dwellings on Nevis, the bricks of this 18th- century sugar plantation were hand-cut from the island’s trademark ash-colored lava rock. The volcano isn’t active anymore, like on neighboring Montserrat, but from lava rock buildings to geothermal springs, the island is heavily influenced by its volcanic past.
The Carib people, who arrived on Nevis in the 14th century, named the island “Oualie” meaning “land of beautiful waters” after its geothermal springs. Today, government offices fill the former Bath Hotel, which was completed in 1778 as the Caribbean’s first luxury hotel. It catered to the rich and famous who came to soak in the therapeutic springs. The same geothermal activity holds new promise as an alternative energy source for the island’s 11,000 inhabitants – a governmental delegation recently visited Iceland with the goal of duplicating that nation’s geothermal energy independence by 2010.
The quaint and eclectic hillside Bananas Bistro (+1-869-469-1891) is powered by creative energy. The pink wooden dining spot opened in 2006 as the brainchild of English owner Gillian Smith and has quickly become a trendy must try. I loved the 1950’s leather ice skating boots hung on the post of an antique wire-framed bed. The food is just as artistic. The locally-sourced vegetables came crisp and flavorful, the Mahimahi had been selected that morning, and the Basmati rice with asparagus and light Béarnaise sauce were cooked to perfection.
The next morning, I found myself horseback riding on trials near Bananas Bistro with The Hermitage’s equestrian guide. Owners Richard and Maureen Lupinacci are self-described “horse people” and take pride in knowing that the majority of their 19 horses were rescued from racetracks in Puerto Rico.
The views of the windward coast are outstanding and a light breeze is keeping the tropical sunshine from becoming over-bearing – temperatures stay between 75 and 85 degrees year round in the hills. My horse, however, can’t stop eating mangos. The sweet fruit is a national obsession here. There are, depending on whom you speak to, anywhere from 10 to 13 different varieties of it on the island. The Julie was described by one local enthusiast as “the Cadillac of mangos.”
Mango (869-469-1111), the aptly named Four Seasons Resort restaurant, provides one of the island’s best culinary treats. Located on Pinney’s Beach a few minutes south of the resort, the establishment is known for its West Indian cuisine and cozy seaside charm. At night, stars and the lights of sister island St. Kitts fill the void left by the dark Caribbean sea while the rhythmic sounds of waves mix with Bob Marley. If you can’t relax here, you can’t relax anywhere. The congenial wait staff recommends the freshly caught whole red snapper. I’m feeling like spiny lobster tail. I solve my dilemma by ordering the lobster tail salad appetizer and whole red snapper main course. Both are fresh and divine.
Another way to experience Nevian seafood is via the Four Seasons Resort “Dive and Dine” experience. Organized in cooperation with the island’s top charter captain, Ellis Chaderton from Scuba Safaris Ltd. (email@example.com) and hosted by Four Seasons Executive Chef Bruno Correa along with Sous Chef Denis Bruemmel, the program lets guests dive and capture their dinner.
“Seafood always tastes better when you know you’ve caught it. Plus, the guests love walking down the dock past the other guests with these huge lobsters in hand,” says Bruemmel, a German national, who was a catalyst for the experience. The package includes breakfast, a dive orientation, two tank dives, and a private beach dinner. It costs US$1,950 for the first pair or couple and $500 for each addition person thereafter with a max of six persons.
For other dives, ask Chaderton and the Scuba Safaris team to take you to the island’s favorite spots, including: Monkey Shoals, the eerie “Christine” wreck, and Booby High Shoals.
Weather it’s diving with turtles or watching their eggs hatch on Lover’s Beach, the island has become a Mecca for turtle enthusiasts. The Four Seasons has even created a Sea Turtle Education Program for kids three to nine. Developed in cooperation with the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), the program allows kids to adopt a satellite transmitter-tagged sea turtle and follow its movements online. It’s a positive example of tourism supporting sustainable and eco-friendly activities.
With a law that states no building can be taller than the island’s tallest palm tree, be assured Nevis won’t be spoiled by sea-lined condo blight. The island relies on tourist dollars, however, so development is inevitable. So far the island has been able to remain natural and safe while maintaining its historic charm and consistently offering unique high-end luxury experiences … just watch out for those Killer Bee cocktails.