Where to stay, what to eat and what to do as the Caribbean island opens up to vaccinated UK visitors
I had been staring at what looked a lot like a crate of beer, hanging over the Caribbean Sea on the end of a pole stuck in a pile of rocks for a good 20 minutes.
From my table at the Sea Breeze Beach Bar at the Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, I couldn’t tell if this was a mirage or a turn of light.
With no landmarks in sight – just a strip of sand bordered by palm trees and long seagrass – and the sun reflecting off the sea, making it pool-blue, it was hard to tell.
Catching my gaze, the bartender said, “Oh, the post? Yes, we cover it with grease and hang a case of beer or ham on the end. You get it without falling, it’s up to you.
We watched through wooden shutters a pelican that looked too heavy to float, let alone soar, soar and hover over the hanging crate.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he added.
Unfortunately, there was no contender for the grand prize while I was having lunch; a rum punch and a generous lobster sandwich.
The ‘Fat Pole Challenge’ is one of the strangest attractions on the smaller of the two Caribbean islands that make up St. Kitts and Nevis, although Nevis feels more laid back than its neighbor.
“We are a sleepy and quiet island. No fuss, no fuss, no traffic lights, no sirens, ”said Andrew“ Hollywood ”Nisbett, taxi driver and Nevis Calypso King, as he picked me up at the airport. Why Hollywood? “In elementary school, I always did a show.
As you roam the religious island you are never far from one of the 67 churches that serve a population of just 11,000, the oldest, St Thomas dating from 1643. Before Hurricane Hugo in 1989, most houses on the island were made of wood. Many remain, though others are left by the side of the road, engulfed in tropical foliage. Ancient plantations, vestiges of a brutal history, are also evident. Some are sprawling ruins that span the slopes of Peak Nevis, the island’s cloud-covered volcano. Others, like Golden Rock, which is packed with striking pieces by artist-owners, Helen and Brice Marden, have been converted into luxury resorts.
Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, where I was booked for a full week of relaxation, is unique among them. The estate is where Horatio Nelson, then-incumbent Royal Navy commander with a taste for harassment of American ships in the Caribbean, met his future wife, Fanny Nisbet.
Spanning 30 acres, the property now has 36 rooms housed in airy shuttered cottages, scattered under a grand avenue of palm trees. There are no nearby resorts, a sort of oddity on the island, and Nisbet is the only historic Caribbean plantation hotel located directly on a beach.
The big house is still standing, now housing a large restaurant; think of mahogany and wicker furniture and white tablecloths. Ceiling fans aside, the room wouldn’t have looked out of place in a National Trust house. Gourmet three-course dinners – fresh pan-caught snapper is a favorite – are served nightly by candlelight on the veranda to the sound of a frog song, under portraits of the estate’s former owners.
I would get up early to watch the sunrise or take part in a yoga session on the croquet lawn, where if you’re lucky you’ll spot monkeys making their morning rounds.
The island is only one of four in the Caribbean with a population of wild monkeys. An invasive species, African green leafy vegetables from Nevis are said to have arrived around 300 years ago as exotic pets.
Although the red-bearded bandits are undeniably lovable, they outnumber the human population twice as much and are considered pests by farmers.
You might even see them on the menu. The ‘arboreal sheep’ sells for EC $ 5 (£ 1.34) per pound (500g) by the Department of Agriculture for dog food, but is also believed to be fit for human consumption.
Nevis Events Calendar
Enter the trail
St James’ Raceway, a drag racing track beside the Caribbean Sea, could be the motorsport site with the best views in the world. Regular meetings attract runners and spectators from all over the islands. The raceway is currently closed due to Covid, so see nevispages.com/category/sports/drag-racing for updates.
Visit early July for the annual Nevis Mango & Food Festival (nevismangofest.com), in which chefs compete for the best dish in which tropical fruit is the key ingredient. The mango season runs from June to August, with over 40 varieties growing across the island’s 36 square miles.
Climb Nevis Peak, the 3,232-foot mountain planted squarely in the middle of the island, or join the annual Nevis to St Kitts Cross Channel Swim (nevistostkittscrosschannelswim.com) at the end of March to conquer the 2.5-mile strait between the sister islands.
Nevis Culturama (culturamanevis.com) takes place each year at the end of July. A unique celebration of the island’s slave emancipation in the 1830s, the twelve-day holiday showcases all aspects of Nevisian arts and culture. There is a swimsuit contest, street party, parade, and kaiso music contest. While this year things have gone virtual, the 50e edition must be celebrated in full in 2022.
On a mission to pack a full Nevisian fauna (on camera, not on my plate), I had my eyes peeled for wild pigs, white-tailed deer and mongooses, but I only managed to spot the numerous island wild donkeys.
Twice a week, the hotel organizes morning walks with Hollywood, to the villages that occupy the slopes above the hotel. He also hopes to resume a rum bar crawl soon, on which driver Calvin takes guests to small village bars that would be hard to find otherwise.
On the west coast, I visited the capital of Charlestown and the humble two-story Georgian stone building where Alexander Hamilton was born. The muse of musical theater and one of America’s founding fathers, the former home of Hamilton is today the Museum of Nevis History, which features a permanent exhibit on the ardent advocate of emancipation.
On the outskirts of town, Sunshine’s on Pinney’s Beach serves a famous rum punch. It was only noon but I wanted to try the secret recipe, which includes passion fruit, nutmeg and Angostura bitters. I asked for the opening hours of the bar. “Now until the last person leaves,” was the welcome response.
A little further north is the Nevis Equestrian Center, where owner Erika and I headed out to sea, while I wrestled with Princess, who was only interested in eating grass.
As we trotted down the road, an African green crept in at just the right time, right next to a “Monkey X-ing” traffic sign. A hand, a foot and two small eyes protruded from the bushy fur of her belly.
On the beach it was just the two of us and an amazing view of St Kitts. “See, look how intact it is,” Erika said, as we trudged along the beach, deserted except for the old fishing boat. “That’s what makes Nevis so special.”
Tropic Breeze offers packages to hotels accredited by the government of the island, tropicbreeze.fr.
Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, nisbetplantation.com.
Saint Kitts and Nevis is on the orange list. The islands are open to fully vaccinated travelers from the UK, accompanying those under the age of 18 who are exempt. Visitors must complete a travel authorization form (travelform.gov.kn) and present a negative PCR test (72 hours). Accommodation must be pre-booked (nevisisland.com).