No wonder taxi drivers in Nevis are so cheery: there are no traffic lights to contend with. Hubert, the wonderfully named cabbie whisking me from Oualie Beach – found a five-minute speedboat ride away from the Caribbean island’s bigger sibling, Saint Kitts – to Montpelier Plantation Inn, is undoubtedly one of the happiest drivers- nay, people, I’ve ever met. “Welcome to your favourite place in the whole world,” he starts.
When I ask him what to expect as we approach the garlanded Relais & Châteaux resort, he eyes me in his rear-view mirror, a grin curling his lips. “If it is good enough for Princess Di, I think it will probably be good enough for you,” he replies, playfully.
Fair enough, I think. After all, hilltop hideaway Montpelier Plantation Inn – set adjacent to the majestic and perpetually mist-cloaked Nevis Peak – was where Diana chose to escape to in January 1993, with princes William and Harry, having announced her separation from Charles.
Certainly it doesn’t take long to unwind in the sprawling, colonial-style grounds, which are punctuated by grazing wild donkeys and goats. Some 16 rooms and three suites are scattered in ample-sized bungalows, beneath palm trees, across the expansive estate.
Further, the former sugar plantation is engulfed in lush vegetation (the country’s Botanical Gardens are a mere flip-flop stroll down the road away), making even the journey up to its big, iron gates a magical experience. Any mood is immediately uplifted upon turning into the cobblestone entrance, where a ginormous weeping fig tree sways, sheltering the great house. And a rum punch upon arrival helps guests to slip in to a more relaxed gear.
Indeed, if Saint Kitts and Nevis were compared to British royals, the former would be akin to William, more serious but not lacking a sense of fun, whereas the latter has something of Harry about its vibe: rather more carefree … and up for a party.
“Two islands, one paradise” reads the billboard for sun-seeking arrivals at Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport (serviced from Gatwick by British Airways twice weekly), towards the northeast of Saint Kitts’ capital, Basseterre. The fusion of flavours makes it a ‘no-brainer’ decision to experience both; and, given the option, who would want to stick with one Caribbean island when you can easily twist two in to a holiday?
After an enriching week in Saint Kitts, residing at one of the most exiting, and game-changing resorts in the Caribbean, Kittitian Hill – more of which below – Nevis proved the perfect foil. Or should that be perfect tonic? For, in Nevis, the emphasis seems to be on kicking back and enjoying life. Like Hubert, almost everyone you meet appears uber-chilled and jolly, and it’s infectious.
At Montpelier Plantation Inn – where, incidentally, British Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson married Fanny Nisbet back in 1787 – the head bartender is Kaddy, whose reputation as the best rum-punch maker in the land precedes my visit. After a couple of hours (or was it more?) in his enlightening company, this reporter can vouch for the validity of such a lofty claim; his concoctions are dangerously tasty.
Working one’s way through the extensive cocktail menu is an education, and will no doubt fire up new friendships, with staff and fellow guests alike. (I wondered, mischievously, whether ‘Looking for Passion’ was a drink Diana had sipped, in ironic fashion, 23 years ago.) The bars at the pool edge, in the great house, and even down at the beach hut (found 30-minutes away by a free hotel shuttle bus) are doused in conviviality.
Thankfully French head chef Stephane Caumont’s creations are hearty, and the al fresco breakfast alone can easily be stretched to a good hour in length. There is the fresh fruit, pastries, yoghurts and various juices to sample before considering which item from the menu to plump for. Most of the time I chose ‘spiny’ lobster, combined with wilted spinach and cheese-flecked scrambled eggs. Occasionally, when feeling particularly decedent, I began the day with lobster omelette; how pleasingly luxe.
When it comes to dinner, there are three options, each restaurant armed with its own charm. The great house dining room is formal, but not too formal – guests are encouraged to make the most of a pre-meal cocktail or glass of bubbles, before being called, en masse, to their tables on the terrace – while the pool-side eatery is more hair-down in attitude (yet still has plenty of lobster on the menu, alongside cruder options such as sticky chicken wings).
The jewel in the crown is ‘Mill Privée’, supposedly the only eatery of its kind on the planet, where locals and tourists (some even coming over from Saint Kitts especially) revel in a candlelit, six-course tasting menu in a charming, dilapidated sugar mill.
The best sign of an agreeable holiday venue is surely whether guests can be tempted back, and during my stay almost half of the folk I spoke to were returning customers (one American couple, both surgeons, were on their 14th visit since marrying in 2007, at Montpelier Plantation, of course). It felt almost cultish, but the kind of cult which is pleasing to be part of (ie no smugness and mutual suicide).
Away from the resort there is some culture to chew on – though at just six miles wide, and eight long, an island tour, with most of the trimmings (including beautifully dilapidated plantation ruins, a dunk into rejuvenating hot springs, and stunning churches which date back to the 19th Century), takes just half a day. The key is to make sure such a trip concludes at Pinney’s Beach, and specifically a famous seaside bar called Sunshine’s, home to a beguiling and wicked cocktail which has attracted A-list celebrities.
Pictures of Hollywood luminaries and musical giants – Beyonce, Jay-Z, Michael Douglas … et cetera – in the bearlike grip of ‘Sunny’, the owner and a dreadlocked walrus of a man, adorn the walls of the colourful beach shack. Most are sozzled and sipping the fabled ‘Killer Bee’, a rum-rich punch; it’s a veritable who’s who of who got stung. (I, myself, have a smiley snap with Sunny, sandwiched between him and ‘Champ’, my cheery cabbie for the day. “This photo will look like an Oreo,” Sunny teases. He’s used that one before, I think.)
After glugging down a trio of delicious Killer Bees while feasting on an ample seafood platter, I begin to feel its syrupy sting. My wife, Clare, advises me to call it quits at three, wisely. Before leaving with a bearhug, I speak with Sunny and playfully ask him what the recipe is for his mangling, moreish cocktail. “It’s a secret,” comes the inevitable reply, with a wink. “It was me grandma’s recipe.” Momentarily, and for the first time in our lengthy, light chat, the broad smile disappears. “She was an alky.”
Not allowing the poignant comment to dwell, Sunny then tells me that the record number of Killer Bees drunk in one sitting is 15, a simply staggering amount of intoxication. It didn’t come without it’s consequences, of course. The English captain – who had three days to kill, with his clients’ mega yacht moored nearby – was handling the liquor well, apparently, until he was a dozen in. Shortly afterwards, following three more Killer Bees, he excused himself from his table to freshen up with a beach stroll, or so he thought. A few stumbled steps on the sand later, he was over, passed out, in the middle of the afternoon, and in full view of a packed Sunshine’s, unfortunately. It served as an amusing cautionary tale, and suddenly I didn’t feel like having that fourth Killer Bee my wife had warned me against taking, after all.
Before zipping over to Nevis, across The Narrows – a channel only four-kilometres long – a stay at the pioneering Belle Mont Farm, was thrilling, particularly from a gourmand’s perspective. The farm-to-table fare is igniting a food revolution in the Caribbean, forcing top-ranking resorts in the area to up their game in the kitchen. “You’re busting my balls with this,” the panicked general manager of the Marriott Resort & The Royal Beach Casino in Frigate Bay, on the south coast of the island, allegedly said to his opposite man at Kittitian Hill.
Belle Mont Farm, part of Kittitian Hill – a high-end, ultra eco-conscious resort set in 400 verdant and fertile acres – started welcoming visitors in late 2014, and the 84 guest houses which are due to be completed by next season (thanks to the first $100 million of investment money, with another $500 million to go) will all have sea views and, better, private outdoor free-standing baths, individual plunge pools and showers, with only bamboo for privacy.
There are grand plans – including erecting four epic-sized farm houses (accommodating clusters of families), and even an artists’ village, at the foot of the hill – but the vision is only part-way through being realised. It’s already exciting, though, and there’s plenty to get your teeth stuck in to. For instance, and new for this season, there is the world’s first edible 18-hole golf course (designed by Welsh legend Ian Woosnam).
Food, as you have worked out, is the big draw, with ample amounts of fruit and vegetables grown within Kittitian Hill’s grounds, along the fairways and fringing the greens, too. The farm boasts 25 (and counting) different varieties of avocado, 125 types of mango, and 65 different variations of banana. Menus, changed daily and according to what’s ripe, are determined by Christophe Letard, a veteran of Relais & Châteaux properties, and his sous chef Xavier Castella, formerly of elBulli. You can even forage, and have the chefs concoct a delightful treat using the captured ingredients for dinner, served under moon light and fire lanterns at the farm’s restaurant.
They take food so seriously at Belle Mont Farm that before long, I’m told, all items growing there will be tagged with Quick Response Codes, meaning the more inquisitive guests will have the necessary information at their fingertips. Each Sunday there is a lengthy, champagne-fuelled brunch (also attended by well-dressed locals, pleasingly) where you can tuck in to as much of the locally sourced creations you can stomach.
The combination of Nevis and Saint Kitts, and contrast between Montpelier Plantation and Belle Mont Farm, is fascinating, and – once sampled – irresistible. To visit one island and not the other is like opting for just a main course at a favourite restaurant but declining dessert – a waste. With it so easy and stress free to hop between Nevis and Saint Kitts, there should be no red light stop you from experiencing both. Just ask Hubert.
Montpelier Plantation and Beach, Nevis (T. +1 869-469-3462 / www.montpeliernevis.com) has Premier Rooms available from US$225 (plus 24% taxes) per night based on two people sharing a room on a b&b basis. For more information, visit www.montpeliernevis.com.
A seven-night ITC trip costs from £4,755 per person on a full-board stay for two people sharing a guesthouse at Belle Mont Farm (www.bellemontfarm.com) including return economy class flight with British Airways to St Kitts from London Gatwick and the Signature Experience (use of St. Kitts’ new YU Lounge private jet terminal, return airport transfers, unlimited golf at Irie Fields for two with caddie service and a spa treatment daily credit of $200 per couple). Valid for travel completed between 5 Jan – 30 Apr 2016. For more information, visit www.itcluxurytravel.co.uk.
For more information about St. Kitts, visit the tourist board website at www.stkittstourism.kn or follow St. Kitts on Facebook, Twitter and/or YouTube. British Airways flies direct to St. Kitts from London Gatwick, on Saturday and Wednesday. Visit ba.com/St-kitts.