A taste of Kittitian charm
The Huffington Post included St Kitts in a list of Top 15 Emerging Travel Hotspots for 2015. The New York Times listed the island among 52 suggested places in the world to visit in 2015.
I recently joined seven Caribbean journalists invited by the St Kitts Tourist Board to explore the 67-square-mile island and its sister island Nevis for a weekend to discover why.
Early a Friday morning radio personality Carol Roberts and I boarded LIAT Flight 362 at the Grantley Adams International Airport. In one hour and 25 minutes we were in Antigua, intransit for about 80 minutes, before taking off again to St Kitts.
Passage through the RL Bradshaw International Airport was smooth and our hosts Dele Adams from the St Kitts Tourism Authority and Averil Byer, owner of the promotional agency Aplomb 360 and consultant to Ocean Terrace Inn, were waiting with broad smiles to greet the group comprising Kadeem Joseph from Antigua, Linda Straker from Grenada, Andrew Bishop from
St Maarten, Ernie Seon from St Lucia, Elizabeth Blanc from Puerto Rico and the two Barbadians.
The four-star boutique hotel Ocean Terrace Inn (OTI) sits on a terraced hillside, just outside the capital city of Basseterre, affording spectacular views across the Basseterre Cruise Port to the mountainous
St Kitts landscape in the distance and a clear view of an outline of Nevis.
It was our host hotel, where veteran Barbadian hotelier Richard Williams, a former manager of the Sandy Lane Hotel, is at the helm. His stamp of expertise on the charming property is clear, evidenced by the professionalism with which his team handled the arriving journalists and seeing how they interacted with in-house guests and the locals who obviously favoured the hotel for dining and special celebrations.
A quick lunch and then we set off in a Land Rover for a Greg Safari Tours adventure through the intriguing mountainous interior of the volcanic island. Bouncing and bumping, the vehicle meandered up the steep terrain, past small villages with spectacular views. Almost everywhere ripe mangoes were dangling from trees overhanging rooftops.
Our path was dotted with mangoes fallen from towering trees that formed part of the dense overhead canopy intermittently pierced by the sun’s rays.
A vista of pineapple plants and other produce unfolded before us, outstripping the occasional patch of sugar cane growing wildly as we began our descent from the mountain. These represent some of the other crops that have taken over St Kitts’ cane fields since 2005 when the island once nicknamed “Caribbean Sugar City”, ditched sugar as the mainstay of its economy. Kittitians have ingeniously converted parts of their former sugar plant into hotel accommodation, restaurants and refurbished sites to tap into the tourism market.
We made it back to OTI eagerly anticipating dinner at the hotel’s Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant on the sea. But with hopes dashed by rain we switched to the hotel’s premier restaurant, The Verandah. The menu of breadfruit spring rolls, minced conch with Asian herbs wrapped in puff pastry; marinated pan-seared snapper with cilantro lemongrass and beetroot sauce, and pumpkin ginger cheesecake topped with ice cream compensated for any disappointment. What an epicurean delight.
OTI food and beverage manager Lynn Williams has been part of winning Kittitian culinary teams competing at the Taste of the Caribbean competition in Miami.
St Kitts has done a commendable job preserving its heritage sites for the benefit of tourism. Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site is the best known. There is also St Thomas Anglican Church; The Circus in the centre of Basseterre and landmarks sites such as “Bloody Point” where the story of the 1625 French massacre of the native Caribs of St Kitts is recorded.
The government’s Citizen-by-Investment programme is driving the transition to a tourism-based economy. In exchange for buying government-approved real estate costing at least US $400 000, anyone can apply to become a resident and holder of a St Kitts and Nevis passport. There is also the option of making a donation of US $250 000 to the island’s Sugar Industry Diversification Fund.
Such inducements have resulted in multi-million-dollar home developments and a growing hotel plant attracting some of the world’s top five-star brands.
Kittitian Hill, a unique sustainable resort with luxury villas, cottages and suites where food is grown and grassy lawns are restricted to the golf course, is an example of one such investment. Residents can pick a pineapple sticking out atop a plant growing from among a lush bed of peanuts beneath, or feast on a ripe papaw right at their front door.
Chief executive officer of
St Kitts Tourism Authority, Raquel Brown was upbeat about the island’s tourism prospects when she hosted the media group to dinner at Spice Mill restaurant. Nevis is the little sister in the federation made up with the two islands.
We took an exhilarating water taxi trip across to the tiny island that remains unspoilt, with dormant volcano Mount Nevis towering in the centre, while young men frolic in the tepid stream flowing out at the foot and elsewhere. Below, wild donkeys can be seen roaming the bushy areas.
We made brief stops at Qualie Beach Resort, its Caribbean-styled cottages scattered along the beach; at Nisbett Plantation Beach Club with cottages nestled among topless coconut trees ravaged by a disease decimating the island’s coconut tree stock; and at Paradise Beach Resort.
Our guide, Nevis Tourism Authority’s Caribbean sales manager Angelique France entertained us to Sunday relaxation Nevis style at the rustic beachfront Sunshine Beach Bar and Grill, a popular weekend haunt for Nevisians, visitors and the majority of foreign students attending the several off-shore US universities located in St Kitts and Nevis. Meeting the affable owner Sunshine, you are left with no doubt about the reason behind the restaurant’s popularity.
We returned to St Kitts late afternoon, in time for a superb dinner at Marshall’s, a highly-rated restaurant in the upscale Frigate Bay residential area, owned by Jamaican chef Verral Marshall.
Early Monday morning, Carol Roberts and I each reluctantly left the comfort of our OTI suite behind, for another sumptuous breakfast in The Verandah before saying goodbye to Williams, our host, and his very friendly hotel staff.
At the airport, we were ushered into the Yu Lounge, the state-of-the-art private luxury lounge where staff facilitated our passage from airport to aircraft, putting the seal on a wonderful St Kitts and Nevis experience.