It isn’t easy to get here; certainly harder than in the past. But our hosts at Nisbet Plantation know this, and they do what they can to ease our path. Still, we start with a 3:00 a.m. wake-up, followed by an early flight to Miami, then on to St. Kitts. There, after clearing immigration and customs, we were greeted by Careen, who ushers us to a taxi. A 20-minute taxi ride reveals the lush greenery of St. Kitts – and all of the new development since we passed through here in 2014. Then a water taxi ride – with free-flowing Carib — from the megayacht marina (the dock at Reggae Beach having been destroyed by Hurricane Maria) to the semi-destroyed but serviceable dock at Oualie Beach on Nevis. Finally, the last hop by Calvin’s taxi to the welcoming arms of Nisbet. There, we are met with smiling faces, moist towels to freshen up, and the signature Avenue of the Palms rum cocktail.
Many of the license plates around the island bear the words “Nevis Nice.” I choose to think that it’s not a shortening of the phrase “Nevis is Nice,” but rather the word “Nevis” elevating and qualifying the word “Nice.” “Nice” is such a half-hearted adjective by itself; but Nevis Nice is a different matter altogether. It’s a beautiful, warm, lush kind of nice.
The flight over to Nevis and her sister islands gives hints of what to expect. Each of Nevis, St. Kitts, Saba and St. Eustatius was formed much the same way: by volcanic eruption. These days, the heart of each of the islands looks like a Hershey’s kiss candy was dropped on the blue Caribbean Sea, with its tip melted or sunken in a little, and then draped with a luxuriant carpet of dense vegetation, dotted here and there with flowers, houses and beaches.
On the right is St. Kitts’ volcanic peak, Mt. Liamuiga.
I am a beach lover, and will be the first to admit that Nevis’ beaches aren’t all that; and they’ve suffered even further from 2017’s horrible hurricane season. But the beaches aren’t really the attraction here. For starters, Nisbet Plantation – where I could (almost) happily stay without moving – is a gorgeous property, its green lawns punctuated with towering palms and yellow cottages, leading down to the sea.
Nevis is known for its plantation inns, and Nisbet is the only one on the beach. The others are nestled high in the mountains, with distinct personalities. Rick and I make a point of visiting some of them on each trip.
Golden Rock Plantation is built around the ruins of a sugar mill, with some of the lodgings located within the ruins. The site is terraced, and features water gardens and other tropical foliage, highlighted with tomato-red woodwork. It’s a great place to have a lunch of grilled fish sandwiches and Carib.
Montpelier Plantation has a different vibe, even though its starting point is also a sugar mill and buildings made of coral stone. The new additions to the inn are white, cool and crisp. We like to visit when Nisbet’s bartender Kaddy is working there. (Kaddy is a delight, and also a minor celebrity: http://www.bravotv.com/top-chef/blogs/hotel-bartenders-reveal-their-craziest-on-the-job-stories. He’s been known to offer us rum tastings.). This year’s visit turned out to be a stop on Rick’s lobster sandwich tasting tour (even though I ordered it); Montpelier’s was far-and-away the best, but I’m sure butter had something to do with that!
Close to Montpelier are Nisbet’s botanical gardens. While the Three Amigos (Rick, Brett and Jeff) made the 6 Waterfalls hike partway up Nevis Peak, I took those of us who were less willing to haul ourselves up a slippery mountain using ropes on a mini-tour of the island, including a stop at the privately-owned gardens. An endless array of palms, fruit trees, orchids, and water features kept us wandering happily over the grounds. A baby goat named Bridget capped off the visit.
The Botanical Gardens offer an array of settings for botanical delights.
The Gardens’ location up in the mountains provide expansive vistas of Nevis.
I’m a sucker for baby goats. Unfortunately, Bridget wouldn’t stand still for photos.
Meanwhile, the 6 Waterfalls hike also offered stunning vistas.
Several of the 6 waterfalls.
Planting our flag on near a waterfall. The Nevis Peak hikes are not ones to be undertaken without a guide.
The residents of Nevis clearly take pride in their island. Almost every restaurant we visited, in addition to offering delicious (albeit limited) food, also provided a spectacular setting. One example of that is Bananas located up in the rain forest. Although built in recent times, it is designed to echo the gingerbread architecture of past centuries. The gardens are lovingly tended, and the interior sports interesting artwork and a riot of color.
It may have taken 5 visits, but Rick and I did finally make our way to the best beach on the island. It’s is known as “Lover’s Beach” for the seclusion it provides. There’s a spot to pull off the road, and then an unpaved road leading to it. (We drove it the first time we went there. NOT a good idea. Sorry Mr. Parry.) The beach is at west end of the airport’s runway (you can see the windsock), so you’ll get buzzed by the FedEx or DHL plane landing, but other than that, there is little sign of civilization here other than perhaps one or two other visitors. The bottom is sandy, and the surf is lively. I found myself there 3 times, including once during my island tour; even Skip went in the water, which is highly unusual.
Lover’s Beach, all to ourselves.
The volcanic origin of Nevis is without doubt.
Can we go to the beach without one of Rick’s iconic cairns?
By far, the most beautiful quality of Nevis is it’s people, from Nisbet’s friendly and warm staff, to the random people on the beach or the road, always there with a smile and a wave.
Despite wanting to keep Nevis to ourselves, word is getting out, at least among our friends. This time around, casual mentions of our vacation plans resulted in 3 sailing couples joining us: Skip and Harriet (veterans of many trips with us) (see Harriet’s blog post here: https://moondance38.wordpress.com/2017/11/21/nevis/), Jeff and Ginger (who joined us in St. John last year), and Brett and Erica (newbies to my cruise directing other than a Louis Vuitton Cup weekend in Chicago, though Brett is a veteran of a few boat deliveries with Rick). And where there are sailors, there is rum.
A visit (or two) to Sunshine’s (in)famous beach bar was obligatory. This year, I planned ahead and brought not only Calypso stickers, but an AYC burgee (which was properly secured to a rafter behind a Maryland flag – we love our flag!)
Us, with Brett and Erica, beneath our state and club flags.
There is so much to love about Sunshine’s – the seats that are more like futons which invite lazing; amazing lobster salad sandwiches; celebrity photos on the walls (doesn’t Justin Trudeau look like a real-life version of a Disney prince?); friendly staff with whom I can chat with forever; a location on a long stretch of Pinney’s beach; and laid back guests.
Look carefully at the top of the post to spot a Calypso sticker; and look carefully at a Killer Bee so that you recognize danger.
But the main draw at Sunshine’s is the Killer Bee rum punch. It’s a beautiful orange-y red color and absolutely delicious. And absolutely lethal. Besides the fruit juices and bitters is a slow-acting combination of rums that doesn’t catch up with you until you’ve ordered your second (or third). Despite our warnings, some of our crew exceeded the recommended maximum of two. And so, on our first visit, some of us found ourselves braving the rocky water’s edge to swim for an hour or so, Caribs or more Killer Bees floating precariously above the water. One the second visit, one of us was bonelessly slouched on the futon, alternatively but insistently demanding a monkey sighting and the return of the sun. The sun came out after a few showers passed, and the monkeys (real, not hallucinated) later.
Sunshine’s isn’t the only place to enjoy rum; it is merely the most dangerous. The Gin Trap’s bar features dozens of varieties of gin, but they mix a delicious rum drink called a Monkey Slap (don’t look this up on Urban Dictionary; it is NOT representative).
And at Bananas, we enjoyed a gorgeous variety of cocktails (they feature a large selection of rare and exclusive rums) mixed and muddled by hand – a Hotter Than Haiti includes Barbancourt rum, muddle citrus, and lots of ginger – zingy!
Almost too pretty to drink? Nah!
Last time we visited Nisbet Plantation, we planted a palm tree to commemorate our 25th anniversary. Since then, the maintenance of the little placards marking the trees has gone a little lax – our placard had apparently rotted away and not been replaced. Using advanced geometry and trigonometry and geo-location, examining pictures from the past visit, and estimating the growth rate of our palm, we chose one we liked. Just as we christened it with rum when we planted it, we shared shots of Mt. Gay over it this time around with our friends, toasting our friendship.
Our baby palm tree, when first planted with MT and Julie.
Our gang, with our now tween-aged tree.
Sunshine’s and our palm tree weren’t the only recipients of our rummy largesse. Although we often went our separate ways during the day, late afternoon would often find us around the pool, (mere steps away from the Seabreeze bar), with a glass of wine or a cocktail. After showers, we’d sometimes gather at each other’s rooms – Brett and Erica had bought several bottles of rum at the duty free store in San Juan airport, which Skip and Harriet were trying to use up the bottle of local CSR we’d had put in their room as a welcome gift.
From the pool deck.
The Seabreeze bar.
The no-see-ums would drive us to the Great House eventually. The British Colonial styled common areas provided a comfortable and friendly place for pre-dinner (and post-dinner) cocktails, where we achieved a nodding acquaintance with the other guests, and, for better or worse, provided occasional entertainment involving singing and dancing. Dressing up for dinner is expected, but it’s actually a nice change from sunscreen-smeared and salt-and-sand-crusted days. And the quality of the food – with a completely different menu every night – deserved it.
At the end of the week, I was just about rummed out. Which is a perfect place to be when I start my post-sailing season/post-vacation cleanse….
It’s impossible to talk about a Caribbean trip this year without acknowledging the destruction caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria. Almost every image of a flattened island reminds me of places I’ve visited in the past and people who have welcomed me there.
As someone who travels to the Caribbean once or twice a year, I’ve thought long and hard about what this means to me; I don’t pretend that my vacation dilemmas are in any way comparable to the struggles of the storm victims to secure the basic requirements of life: food, water and shelter. Nevertheless, the economies of destroyed islands are dependent on tourism to one degree or another, so travelers like me are necessary to their recovery unless they somehow discover another way to achieve economic viability. In the short run, visiting the impacted islands (assuming it’s even possible) to “help” is a non-starter, as unskilled laborers are more burden than help, and distract from the hard work of re-building.
Our trip to Nevis had been planned a long time ago, and included 3 days in Grand Case, on the French side of St. Martin, before flying on to Nevis. Sadly, Maria finished Grand Case off, destroying everything in that village. Other than Skip and Harriet, all of our crew had to re-arrange our travels, and it proved too logistically challenging for what would have been a fifth couple to join us (Pat and Emily, veterans of our Croatia sail). When and if Grand Case is back in business, we will be sure to return to do our share to contribute to the economy.
Naturally, we were not the only ones impacted, who wished to find another destination in the Caribbean (or elsewhere) to vacation.
One of the wonderful things – to me – about visiting Nevis is the puzzled responses we’ve gotten from those who ask us where we’re going.
Me: “Sister island to St. Kitts.”
Them: “St. what?”
Me: “Birthplace of Alexander Hamilton.”
Me: “Down island, in the Caribbean, only sideswiped by the hurricanes.”
Them: “Whatever. Have fun.”
Part of the attraction of Nevis is that tourism is decidedly low-impact and light-touch. I like keeping it one of my little secrets.
But many visitors who had never heard of Nevis are now finding themselves on her green shores because their cruise ship was re-routed, or they read somewhere about it. And it’s not an easy or natural fit. A cruise ship anchored off the shore (there are no appropriate harbors in Nevis) ferried in a crowd to sit on Pinney’s Beach. Not one of them seemed to move, or go swimming; and I didn’t see any of them visit one of the half-dozen beach bars or spend a penny there. A group that was deposited by minibus at the Botanical Gardens spent a few minutes there and shuffled on. And I was surprised to see young kids (well-behaved) at Nisbet Plantation, which has little to amuse them besides the pool, as the beach has eroded somewhat.
One of the keys to enjoying a vacation is to have reasonable expectations. So while Nevis is perfect for me – who likes to get away from it all and make her own fun in a beautiful natural environment – it has remained under the radar for many reasons, not the least of which is that it’s not right for everyone. I’m gratified that my friends loved Nevis and Nisbet Plantation as much as I do – we have carefully vetted them (;-)), but not everyone will feel the same way.
In the meantime, I will keep coming back to Nevis, and other islands, and do what I can to support them.