It is the smallest sovereign state in the Americas, in both area and population. The two-island country of St Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean is already a popular tourist destination, but now also set to become a golfer’s paradise...
A degree of sisterly love is to be expected between the Caribbean Leeward Islands of St Kitts and Nevis as they are less than two miles and a 40-minute ferryboat ride apart. The Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis, as the islands are officially named, places great importance on tourism. Their different characters and the ease of inter-island travel makes a two-island holiday a very attractive option for visitors.
Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state of St Kitts and Nevis, where she is represented by a Governor General based in Basseterre, the capital of St Kitts. St Kitts (aka St Christopher) and Nevis have been joined at the hip, so to speak, since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1983. Unfortunately for the islands, the loss of long-established sugar export contracts meant they had no option but to diversify; tourism was the obvious choice.
GAINING POPULARITY. Increasingly these days, tourists are looking for a destination with a difference, wanting more from a Caribbean holiday than sun, sand and sea, and consequently St Kitts and Nevis are gaining popularity.
Although neither island can boast many white sand beaches they are, being volcanic, blessed with very scenic landscapes, lush rainforests and incredibly friendly Kittitians and Nevisians. There’s no need to worry about the volcanoes though, as there has been no volcanic activity verified in St Kitts for around 1,800 years and there have been no eruptions in Nevis since pre-history.
Rumour has it that St. Kitts is on the up in the golfing world and that its small neighbouring island, Nevis, is making plans to follow. So, to look at the two existing golf courses (one on each island) and investigate what promises to be an emerging golf dual-island destination, I’ve packed my tropical gear to check out if the rumbles in the jungle have any substance to them.
FOUR HOTELS. After a 4,000-mile flight via Antigua with British Airways, during which I wished I was wearing thermal underwear, I am delighted to step off the plane and thaw out in tropical St Kitts, a lush island measuring around 65 square miles. During my week in St Kitts and Nevis I will be staying in four different hotels.
A ten-minute transfer from Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport delivers me to St Kitts Marriott Resort & Royal Beach Casino. It’s a huge family resort with its own sandy beach and an adjacent jigsaw-shaped swimming pool set in landscaped grounds. There are 648 guest rooms and suites, eight restaurants, a casino and a championship 18-hole golf course on site – the Royal St Kitts Golf Club.
A PERFECT SETTING. An early evening arrival means I have time to wander around the grounds of the resort before dark. There are small market stalls in the hotel’s main square selling colourful souvenirs and music is playing poolside. The sandy beach is emptying its late sun worshippers, and the gardens are full of exotic flora with fragrant white frangipani, cerise bougainvillea and silver-green palms.
It’s ‘Italian Event’ night and the hotel’s main à la carte restaurant, La Cucina, is closed so I head for the pasta bar. I’m not a great lover of self-service but choosing ingredients for dinner on this occasion was a treat – mussels, king prawns, tilapia, scallops, salmon, chicken, a selection of vegetables, crushed garlic paste and three different pastas. Everything is cooked in a wok by a chef in front of me and with six active pasta stations I don’t wait long.
VIEW OF TWO OCEANS. The next day, I hit the hotel’s 18-hole golf course with the Pro. It’s a typical resort course, wide and forgiving, but although it’s pretty flat there are some particularly scenic sea views. It’s a Par 71 measuring 6,900 yards from the championship tees; there are 80 bunkers, water hazards on ten holes, and trade winds to contend with that can turn a pleasurable round into a golfing nightmare when they’re strong.
Interestingly, the front nine enjoys Caribbean Sea views while the back nine has Atlantic Ocean vistas; two of the holes run alongside the Caribbean Sea and three along the Atlantic. I really like the back nine, where the 11th is a monster par-5 at 5,591 yards. Here, take time out to enjoy the views of Nevis volcano from the elevated green and, on a clear day, the islands of St Martin, Anguilla and St Bart’s can be seen from the tees of the 15th, a picturesque par-3 surrounded by bunkers and with an ocean backdrop.
THE SUGAR TRAIN. Although Royal St Kitts is the only course on the island at present there is an Ian Woosnam course (in association with European Golf Design) being constructed at the upmarket Kittitian Hill development, plus a Tom Fazio-designed course planned for the chic Christophe Harbour development – both courses in stunning locations with spectacular views. I also discover that successful ‘Round 1’ funding has recently been announced for the proposed Paradise Haven 500-acre golf and beach resort on Nevis.
The new day brings an exciting excursion: a tour of the island on the Sugar Train, originally used to transport sugar cane across the island, but now carrying tourists through St Kitts’ lush countryside at 10mph. Book in advance; it’s really popular. In the afternoon, I explore the island by car. The roads, apart from in Basseterre, are nigh-on deserted. What bliss!
CANDLELIT DINNER. With a good choice of dining options on St Kitts, I’m tempted out of the Marriott to the casual Shiggidy Shack, a beach bar complete with fire-eater, bonfire and tables on the beach at Frigate Bay.
On another evening, I set off to the elegant Spice Mill Restaurant, which has a fabulous beachside setting at night, with twinkling lights, delectable food and beautiful views of Nevis over the water. I linger over a candlelit dinner as Nevis beckons through the darkness.
Early morning sees me on the ferry to Nevis, where I’m met at the port for a tour of the island. It isn’t a long tour – Nevis only measures 36 square miles – and afterwards I spend some time wandering through gardens at the Golden Rock Inn, where I devour the first-rate lobster sandwiches and rum punch. Nevis is unbelievably laid back, and with virtually no traffic, it’s like stepping back 20 or 30 years.
FOUR SEASONS RESORT. The first day in this little paradise is extraordinarily beautiful, the sky a rich blue and the volcano peak clear of clouds, a rarity apparently. Then I check into the chic Four Seasons Resort Nevis (196 rooms and suites, 40 residence rentals). Surely things can’t get any better.
On the hotel’s golf course, I soon discover they can. The views are absolutely breathtaking. It’s a tricky course to play, especially the back nine; up-hill and down-dell, and totally wicked in places with long carries, sloping fairways, and stunning views to distract.
There is a spectacular panoramic view of St Kitts from the 11th, a 240-yard carry from the championship tees across a yawning gully on the 15th, a gigantic rainwater ditch snakes alongside and splits the 17th fairway, and all sense of depth is totally lost on the 18th – the fairway as flat as a board, the green blessed with a turquoise-blue sea backdrop.
AT THE BEACH. Dinner in the hotel’s Coral Grill is sublime, the wine outstanding, and the company of General Manager Sven Wiedenhaupt, his wife Michelle and Tara, the resort’s Director of Public Relations, relaxingly entertaining. I threaten to move into the GM’s new house with him and his wife. They think I’m joking. I’m not.
My one-night stay at Four Seasons Resort Nevis is hectic, torture. There’s so much to do on-site that I don’t want to leave, the Spa is amazing – seventh heaven – and oh to have time to pamper myself in one of the cabana-style beach houses. I am, however, led astray by Tara to meander down the beach to sample a ‘Killer Bee’ rum punch at Sunshine’s Bar, and a ‘Green Flash’ at the adjacent Lime Beach Bar. Memory malfunction soon kicks in.
FRIENDLY ATMOSPHERE. The intimate Nisbet Plantation Beach Club is a former sugar plantation which sits idyllically next to a beautiful white sand beach. It was the family home of Fanny Nisbet who married Nelson on Nevis in 1787.
I arrive there in time for traditional afternoon tea served by smiling Roslyn who’s relatively new on the staff. There’s an incredibly friendly and relaxed ambiance, and I soon feel part of the ‘family’. As they say themselves, the historic plantation inn is “not ultra-fancy and opulent, just private, romantic and personal”.
A huge lawn with hundreds of palms leads down from the plantation house to my Junior Suite, one of just 36 cottage-style accommodations. It’s lovely, and very near the beautiful white sand beach complete with hammocks, pool and restaurants.
Meals are at set times, the dining room elegant, the food scrumptious, there is musical entertainment in the bar afterwards , staff mingle with guests, and I’m so at home I feel I’ve been here for a week… utterly relaxing.
SPA AND LUNCH. Next morning, at 7am, I’m cycling deserted roads and coastal paths with Winston Crooke, owner of The Wheel World. It’s definitely worth getting up for (the hotel can arrange bike tours, escorted or otherwise). Afterwards, I get coated in a citrus and honey tonic and wrapped in foil in a blissful beauty treatment in Nisbet’s Palm Spa, followed by lunch at Sea Breeze. This is definitely paradise.
My fleeting visit over, I return to St Kitts, this time to sophisticated Ottley’s Plantation Inn. Wow, what a way to finish my visit – in a Supreme Room in a Caribbean Cottage with a wonderful colonial feel and its own bathroom whirlpool Jacuzzi, sea view sun deck and private plunge pool.
I rise at 6am each morning of my stay, make myself a coffee and just sit on a bench on the hillside lawn, hypnotised by the surrounding tranquillity, staring at the distant turquoise sea. Ottley’s is gorgeous, with just 23 rooms and features its own little rainforest with green vervet monkeys and magnificent trees.
Charming Marty Lowell, one of the ‘Innkeepers’, shows me the rainforest – an experience I’ll treasure. Ottley’s, although in the hills, provides transport to the nearest beach, and there’s also a lovely pool beside the Royal Palm Restaurant where the food is exceptional.
THE REAL CARIBBEAN. St Kitts and Nevis, for me I realise, is the real Caribbean – laid back, friendly, unspoilt and scenic. I love both islands. The sounds of the tropics are mesmerizing, the hillside setting captivating, the views amazing, the accommodation meeting my highest expectations, the West Indian friendliness heart-warming, and the experience one I want to repeat… very soon – and as often as my bank balance will allow.
As for my views on the golf courses – when the three courses in the pipeline are added to the existing duo, I reckon St Kitts and Nevis, hand-in-hand, will be hailed as an emerging top-notch golf destination.
Good to know
St Kitts Tourism Authority, www.stkittstourism.kn
Nevis Island Tourism Authority, www.nevisisland.com
British Airways flies from London Gatwick to St Kitts twice a week, www.ba.com