Nevis, the little sister to St Kitts, is home to more monkeys than people …which leaves it wild, family-friendly, and wonderfully off the beaten track
Plus more family holidays in the Caribbean
As I watched my usually cautious 10-year-old daughter, Nancy, haul herself up a waterfall using just a rope and her own strength, I knew this would be a trip to remember. I had assumed that our rainforest hike would be a gentle meander through the trees, but our guide had other plans.
Of course, if I had taken a moment to research Reginald Douglas before signing up to the trip, I would have had a better sense of what we were in for. Reggie is the superman of Nevis – twice the island’s sportsman of the year, five times national triathlon champion, all-round Rastafarian powerhouse. He also has a deep spiritual connection to this beautiful island. As we walked behind him through the forest, he tended to the plants, pointing proudly at a thriving cocoa bean he had protected behind netting earlier in the season. He passed on knowledge from his grandma, about the medicinal properties of the various plants, the soursop leaf that will give you a deep sleep. “Everything you need to live is here,” he told us.
Regrettably, we’d just missed “turn-over-the-pot” season, when mangos are so plentiful the islanders needn’t cook for weeks.
Nancy was enchanted by Reggie and his fellow guide, Kenneth. She made it to the top of four waterfalls on the slopes of 3,232-ft Nevis Peak, while we followed, puffing and sweating in the 30C heat (plus humidity).
“The mountain”, as locals call it, is actually a volcano – linked to the one on Montserrat that erupted in 1997 – and is the source of the island’s name. To the Spanish settlers, the cloud that covers its peak looked like snow (nieve) and climbing it is an integral part of island life: the cricket-mad taxi driver, known as Champ, who took us to the rainforest, used to climb it every week as a boy.
Just outside the capital, Charlestown, volcanic springs emerge from the earth at 41C. On another island, these might have been turned into a commercial spa, with hefty fees and chi-chi treatments. But on Nevis, the waters are free for all to enjoy – in a sizzling, faintly sulphurous, tiled pool beneath a simple wooden roof. It’s small – hardly more than a plunge pool – but if it’s full you can sit in a nearby rocky channel that’s almost as hot.
It’s a sign that, compared with other Caribbean islands, Nevis is incredibly unspoilt. Its vivid green rainforests and empty beaches are undeveloped, and mainstream resorts are few. Wildlife on the island is exotic and plentiful. Every evening we stumbled across giant frogs and moths the size of smartphones. In the daytime, (smaller) hummingbirds would flit past our table, while caterpillars built themselves up for vast moth-dom by stripping the frangipani trees of their leaves. Vervet monkeys lolloped across the lawn, babies clutching their mothers’ stomachs. Nancy adored the monkeys – as do most tourists – but locals are less enamoured of them: brought over in the 17th century from west Africa, there are now more than 20,000 of them on an island of just 12,000 people, and they can clear a tomato or papaya crop overnight.
The island is dotted with wooden houses in candy colours; Charlestown is really just one street, which humans share with goats, sheep and the occasional hen. There’s just one major resort, the Four Seasons, tucked away discreetly below sea level which attracts wealthy visitors who mostly stay in their own exclusive bubble. Most tourists stay in low-key plantation houses.
Our hotel, Montpelier Plantation & Beach, once a thriving plantation with a well-preserved sugar mill, is a landmark in its own right. Here, in 1785, Horatio Nelson – then an ambitious naval captain – wooed Fanny Nisbet and later married her under a cottonwood tree that still stands just down the lane from the hotel’s front door, along with a stone plaque marking the occasion. (Not so long afterwards, alas, Fanny was publicly jilted for Emma Hamilton.) Some years later, Princess Diana and sons checked in, no doubt attracted by the island’s remoteness and lack of paparazzi.
We were made to feel just as important as these illustrious former guests. Owner Muffin Hoffman bought the hotel with her late husband and son Tim in 2002, creating a wonderful home from home. Every night at 7pm, guests, staff and family gather for cocktails in the Great Room, with Muffin holding court. The staff couldn’t have been kinder. The hotel manager, Nikolas, arranged for coconuts to be brought to the pool, so Nancy could try her first taste of fresh coconut jelly. A film night for the children – including Tim’s – was laid on with pizzas by the swimming pool.
The Montpelier, like most of the hotels in Nevis, is set high up in the hills and doesn’t have direct access to the sea. Every day, a private shuttle bus takes guests down to its private beach, a stretch of golden sand with individual cabanas. The hotel will pack guests a picnic lunch to take with them, or you can walk along the sand to a restaurant nearby. Once a week there’s a relaxed beach barbecue, hosted by Muffin, and prizes for the winner at a game of beach cricket (Venetta, one of Nancy’s favourite waitresses, is a mean bowler).
Because Nevis is volcanic, the sand is not the cliched Caribbean white: it’s browner and coarser. This might put some people off, but it has almost certainly protected the island from overdevelopment. So has the effort required to get here: flying from Gatwick takes about eight-and-a-half hours to Antigua, followed by a 15-minute hop to neighbouring St Kitts, then a speed boat or ferry to Nevis.
Not surprisingly, for a 36 square-mile speck more densely populated with monkeys than with people, there’s not much in the way of nightlife. On Wednesday nights the place to be is the Hermitage (hermitagenevis.com), a historic plantation house, one of the oldest in the Caribbean, built around 1670. Stuffed with antiques, it gives a palpable sense of 18th-century colonial living, of a time when the island was made fantastically wealthy by the sugar industry. Midweek, the jovial owner, Richie Lupinacci, puts on a feast of West Indian food: roast suckling pig, candied sweet potato, stuffed pumpkin and plantain chips. The rest of the time, it’s all about two brightly painted shacks on the main beach – Sunshines (sunshinesnevis.com) and Lime (macocaribbean.com) – where tourists and locals alike gorge on spicy chicken wings, reggae, and lethal rum punches.
And because it’s a small island, with few inhabitants, you quickly start running into people you’ve met before. As we were preparing to make the final boat trip home, we unloaded our bags onto the quay. The beach was crowded with a sizeable portion of the population, there to watch a big annual fishing contest. The Hoffmans joined them, to send us off. And then we spotted our driver, Champ, another friendly face waving us goodbye.
• The trip was provided by ITC Classics (01244 355 527, itcclassics.co.uk). Seven nights at Montpelier Plantation & Beach (montpeliernevis.com) costs from £1,389pp, including daily breakfast, afternoon tea, return flights from London with BA and return ferry transfers booked through ITC Classics. Reggie, who offers walking and cycling tours, is an independent guide and can be booked at nevisadventuretours.com
MORE FAMILY HOLIDAYS IN THE CARIBBEAN
The Villas at Stonehaven are a collection of five-star, three-bedroom hillside properties overlooking the west-coast beaches of Tobago. Each one has a balcony, and there is a large sundeck around the infinity pool. It is a good spot for animal-loving little ones: there is a bird sanctuary next door and, in March and April, giant leatherback turtles lay their eggs on Stonehaven beach. Inland, take a tour of the oldest legally protected forest in the word: the Tobago Forest Reserve has been a conservation area since 1776, and is home to species including a rare hummingbird and gecko. One child under 12 can stay at Stonehaven free, as well as all children under three.
• Seven nights from £1,159, including flights from Gatwick, 0844 811 4444, dialaflight.com
Windjammer Landing, on the north-west coast of St Lucia, has sea-view rooms and hillside villas of varying degrees of extravagance – some have their own full-size swimming pool and private chef. Children can take lessons in patois and reggae and listen to local storytellers, while teens might prefer the shopping trips and karaoke nights. There are also lots of free watersports for all guests (not just those on an all-inclusive basis): windsurfing, sailing, banana rides, kayaking, snorkelling … Make time to visit Soufrière, the island’s oldest settlement; the Sulphur Springs; and the Diamond Botanical Gardens.
• Seven nights room only from £899pp, including flights from Gatwick, 0800 231 4262, destinology.co.uk
Now Larimar is a luxury beachfront hotel in Punta Cana, on the east coast of the Dominican Republic. It is an all-inclusive resort, with nine restaurants and 10 bars (some swim-up); kids’ club activities include an ocean trampoline, big-screen movies on the beach, and camp-outs; there are discos and beach bonfires for teens. Beautiful Islas Saona and Catalina are boat hops away, Altos de Chavón is a slightly odd recreation of a medieval European village, and capital Santo Domingo is where colonial rule over the Americas began.
• Seven nights all-inclusive from £845pp, including flights from Gatwick, 01293 735330, hayesandjarvis.co.uk.
Sunset at the Palms is an eco-friendly resort set in 10 acres of tropical gardens, next to the Royal Palm wetlands reserve in Negril, west Jamaica. The rooms and suites are in wooden cabins on stilts, making them great fun for kids to sleep in – but from next year the resort will become adults only, so now is their last chance. A long, white-sand beach is just over the road, nearby cliffs, further west, are popular with daring cliff-jumpers, and the clear water below is good for snorkelling and diving.
• Seven nights all-inclusive from £999pp, including flights from Gatwick, 020 7666 1214, wandotravel.com
Additional round-up by Rachel Dixon
Link to article: feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663875/s/33bc5d1b/sc/10/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Ctravel0C20A130Cnov0C150Cnevis0Ecaribbean0Efamily0Eholiday/story01.htm