Set Your Out-of-Office Reply and Head to the West Indies for Laid-Back Luxury
Fashion stylist and blogger Nneya Richards gives us the rundown on where to sleep, eat, and drink on Nevis, the laid-back little sister island to flashy St. Kitts.
There are few places better suited to "getting away from it all" than Nevis. You'll find the natural beauty of the West Indies, some of the nicest luxury hotels and restaurants in the Caribbean, and absolute discretion — it served as a refuge for one of the most notable members of the British royal family (but more on that later).
LAY OF THE LAND
Nevis and nearby island St. Kitts — a major cruise ship destination — make up the island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis. With only two miles separating them, St. Kitts is the flashier big sister with a university, casinos, and big box resorts; Nevis neither wants nor needs the attention.
Nevis is 36 square miles and has a population just over twelve thousand — you'll find more monkeys than people on its sandy shores. The island is extremely lush with greens to rival the blues of the Caribbean Sea. Instead of high-rise resorts, the buildings tend to be shorter than the palm trees.
While discussing the harbor renovations and its future capacities to take on bigger passenger ships, an insider joked to me that one of those mega-liners that frequent St. Kitts would "sink [their] island!" I was told that locals are happy to have people visit just for the day. A new harbor will be able to host more yachts and smaller vessels, though you would be mistaken in thinking that it's similar to St. Barts. Fans of Nevis are loyal and return to the island for its special brand of discrete, low-key, natural luxury.
Nevis has a great deal of British tourists (and locals of British descent with family homes on the island that have been passed down for generations), which is no surprise given the island's major production of sugar and the wealth it created for the British Empire in the 1700s and 1800s. This is where founding father Alexander Hamilton was born, so it has a tie to American history as well. Today, the economy is driven primarily by tourism and offshore accounting.
WHERE TO STAY
Visitors to Nevis have about 400 guest rooms and a handful of rental villas to choose from. All of these places exude luxury. In fact, Caribbean luxury hotels originated on the island. Bath House, a high-end hotel and spa built in 1778 in Charlestown, was the very first hotel in the Caribbean; it even had a natural hot spring on site. Today, hotels on the island are intimate and unique. Many got their start as sugar mills and plantations.
I stayed at the Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, a former sugar and coconut plantation and home to famed Nevisian Fanny Nisbet, wife of British admiral Lord Horatio Nelson (it's a big point of pride for them). The property's landscape is stunning, with verdant hills, palm trees, and a beautiful beach with a gorgeous main house that dates back to 1778. Nisbet Plantation Beach Club has an advantage over the other hotels because of its beachfront access. The others, higher in the hills, shuttle their guests to and from the beach. The guesthouses are cute little bungalows and a bit reminiscent of staying at your grandparent's place in Palm Springs: homey, airy, and replete with wicker chairs and beachy floral prints. Each has a front porch with a lawn chair. I spent a few nights out there gazing at the stars and chatting with my bungalow neighbors.
In a complete change of pace, another favorite hotel on the island is high in foothills of Nevis Peak, 750 ft above sea level. Montpelier Plantation & Beach is the perfect combination of old world charm and contemporary high design. From the awe-inspiring fig tree next to the old stone house at the entrance — it's breathtaking when lit up at night — to the chic black and white mosaic and contemporary art throughout the property, Montpelier is an example of a true high-end accommodation. There are only 19 rooms, so the staff can really get to know you and it feels more like you're in a Nevisian friend's home. (Well, I guess a chic-as-**** friend.) Speaking of, among Montpelier's famed guests is the late Princess Diana. This property is where the Princess, with the young princes in tow, found respite from the media during her divorce announcement from Prince Charles in 1992. See? Totally discreet.
Another spectacular, intimate hotel is Golden Rock Inn Nevis in Gingerland hills. With eleven colonial-style cottages on 100 acres of lush tropical gardens, seclusion and romance are the words that come to mind. High up, the views from the cottages are unparalleled: you can see Redonda, Montserrat, and even Antigua on a clear day. Now owned by artists from New York, the former sugar estate has been remarkably restored. The serene gardens overflow with tropical fauna, making the hotel one of the most peaceful places on the island.
If you're looking for more of a resort feel with a golf course (that's open to the public), multiple restaurants, and absolutely everything you could need right at your fingertips, your best bet is the Four Seasons Resort Nevis.
WHERE TO EAT
While Nevisians are a bit self-conscious about the international recognition of their cuisine, there are a variety of mouth-watering restaurants on the island and many hotels do encourage guests to dine at restaurants on other properties.
Being West Indian American, I might be partial to the local cuisine options, but the best meal I had was definitely at Bananas. The restaurant is hidden up in the hills of the Hamilton estate. When arriving for dinner, torches illuminate the tropical gardens. I'd recommend going early for cocktails and enjoying the sunset on the terrace, one of the best views on the island. But let's get to the food. Here's what you should try: the saltfish and johnnycakes, Nevisian goat water, and whatever is on the "something local" section of the menu.
Another spot on the island favored by locals and tourists is Sunshines Beach Bar & Grill. A stone's throw from the Four Seasons on Pinney's Beach, the atmosphere is that of a cool Caribbean beach BBQ. Try their famous Killer Bee Rum Punch, often voted best in the Caribbean (celebs from Jay-Z to Beyonce to Kevin Bacon have indulged).
The Mount Nevis is a relaxing spot for poolside dinner with views of the lights on neighboring St. Kitts.
While I was in Nevis, I happened to run into New York-based photographer Kacey Jeffers, who was visiting his hometown. He recommended the fifty-year-old, family-run Nevis Bakery (Happy Hill Dr., Charlestown; +1-869-469-5219) as a place to go for an authentic local breakfast. The delicious fresh rotis, cinnamon breads, and grilled sandwiches did not disappoint.
If you can, check out the local market on Tuesdays in Charlestown for a sampling of the island's fruits and vegetables.
WHAT TO DO
I'm tempted to say nothing, because that's the real reason to go to Nevis. Do as the locals say and "lime." Just chill out. But if sitting on the beach all day isn't your idea of vacation, I totally get it. I often like a bit more activity — cultural exploration, water sports, or basically anything that gets me up and moving. Nevis has that stuff too.
There are plenty of easy hiking trails around the island, but for a more strenuous outing, try Nevis Peak. At 3,232 ft, it sits at the center of the formerly volcanic island. The four-and-a-half hour challenging hike with rope climbing requires a guide. You can book one through local companies like Sunrise Tours.
Rent a mountain bike from Bike, Kayak 'N' Windsurf Nevis and explore the island. Religion is big on Nevis and there are an abundance of churches, over 50 to be exact. As most restaurants and shops are closed on Sundays, take a ride on the 21-mile main road and watch the parade of people heading to morning services at their local Anglican, Baptist, or Methodist church. Go off-roading on the smaller back roads to discover old plantation ruins, lush rainforests, and green monkeys. Or rent a 4x4.
The Amerindian name for Nevis was Oualie, meaning land of beautiful waters, and the clear waters are among Nevis' many natural beauties. Several local companies offer dives that allow you to explore caves and reefs. Oualie Beach Resort will even let you dive with a chef and catch your own lobster for lunch. Take a beautiful sailing trip on a Leeward Island Charters catamaran for spectacular views of the island from the sea.
Speaking of the water, the mineral springs of Nevis are thought to have medicinal value. While you're visiting the historic site of the Bath House on the southern end of Charlestown, check out the Spring House (currently out of commission due to weather damage) and Bath Stream (open to the public and free of charge). There are four thermal bath pools with temperatures ranging from 97-108 degrees Fahrenheit.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
How to Get There
Vance W. Amory International Airport (NEV) is not large, but it meets the air traffic needs of the island. I flew into San Juan, Puerto Rico and caught a Seabourne Airlines flight to the island.
Another option is flying directly from the US or Europe into St. Kitts where you can connect to Nevis via the ferry. The ferry from Charlestown departs almost hourly to and from St. Kitts Monday through Saturday, 6 a.m. – 6 p.m., and as late as 9 p.m. on Saturday. The ferry does run on Sundays, but not as frequently.
The island has a public bus system and taxis, but I would recommend a rental car as it's an easy to navigate and will give you more freedom to explore. There are several car rental places on the island in Charlestown, including Hertz. Depending on where you go, a bus will probably cost you about $1.50 USD. And remember, cars drive on the left side of the road. Taxis are readily available at the hotels, airports, and in Charlestown.
When to Go
Hurricane season is from July to November, and considering the immense damage that neighboring island Dominica faced during the past hurricane season, I would avoid vacationing there during this time. High season (and high season rates) start around mid-December and go through mid-April, so an ideal time to go is the tail end of November when temperatures average about 81°F, or between May and June. If you visit in June, check out St. Kitt's four-day music festival for a fun opportunity to see some of the top acts in the Caribbean.
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