So much for getting away from it all…..On a week’s holiday in the Caribbean – a world-renowned paradise – I’m starting to wonder whether I’ve made a wrong turn, as I wade through an eerie, fastly-flooding rainforest.
As it turns out, this was to be a trip full of surprises.
I am in Nevis, a small, volcanic yet idyllic island. Human population, 11,000; vervet monkey population, 44,000! Nevis Peak may have stood dormant for a long time, but is a dominant presence nonetheless.
In the muggy wilderness of the forest, streams of revitalising rain water gushing beneath my feet, I realise that I’m probably not going to finish the three new books I’ve brought along in my suitcase.
While the Caribbean may be known for sun, sand and strong rum punches, I’m quickly realising that there’s far more to the islands than the perfect picture postcard scenes I’d imagined.
Being caught in a monumental downpour certainly wasn’t something I’d expected, but the forest tour is fascinating, and a mini adventure.
Our group guide, Lynnell, is a lifelong Nevis personality, full of stories. He’s an expert on every plant we encounter, and happily regales us with tales of boyish bravado from his childhood, too; scaling the towering coconut trees; collecting rare mangoes, passion fruits and avocados that had been spared by the monkeys, and even goading tarantulas from their holes.
As we take shelter in a cave, beautiful zebra butterflies glide by, seemingly unfazed by the torrential tropical thunder.
One of the great things about the Caribbean though, is that the rain showers don’t last for long. Plus, I might be soaked, but knowing I’m returning to the four-star luxury of my hotel certainly takes the edge off.
Montpelier Plantation & Beach is one of just seven accommodation options on Nevis, and stands out as the most endearing.
The considered approach of American owner Tim Hoffman and his young family is clear from the moment I arrive, as is the charming, family feel they have so successfully cultured.
The plantation, as you’d expect, is steeped in history. But Montpelier has rights to the biggest boast of all, as it was under its most-celebrated tree that Horatio Nelson himself married then-owner Fanny Nisbit in 1871.
Many more have since chosen to replicate this, and glowing honeymooners are notable in their presence among the hotel’s tranquil acres.
With its mountain setting, 19 generous chalet-style rooms, spread over a dreamy stretch of verdant land, complete with the most welcome of breezes, this gem of a hotel is a real treat. The food doesn’t disappoint, either.
Restaurant 750 serves up five-course taster menus, featuring a selection of delicious, locally-sourced delights, including fresh fish and an impressive array of meats. The second course ‘cauliflower cappuccino’ is the most deliciously-textured, creamy broth imaginable, and the desserts are divine.
During my stay, I’m introduced to yoga on the lawn, enjoy a kayaking expedition across the Caribbean Sea to Montpelier’s beach, where a cool cocktail awaits as reward, and spend many a relaxed hour lounging by the pool.
Island-hopping is also on the agenda, as this holiday is split between two – after a few days on Nevis, I head to Antigua.
Here, I’m staying at the all-inclusive five-star Curtain Bluff, named after the unique and beautiful wave formations on its room-side beach. It’s an entirely different kettle of (tropical) fish to Montpelier, but equally as breathtaking.
Guests are spoiled by a sun-drenched selection of facilities including four palm tree-skirted tennis courts, a luxury spa, gym, pool, two beaches, cinema room, not to mention the 25,000 bottle-strong wine cellar (hic).
The spacious rooms here feel almost palatial and, stepping out onto my balcony, I see that the perfect, picture postcard image of the Caribbean does exist – and it’s right here in front of my eyes! Heaven.
However, I still decide not to crack on with reading my books, and instead book a tennis lesson.
After a good work-out, the hour-long ‘ultimate de-stresser massage’ at the spa is just the ticket. After my tensions have all been kneaded away, I retreat to the ocean-hanging hot tub on the spa’s roof terrace, where I sip fruit tea and take in the view.
Later, I switch to a hammock. Here, basking in the late afternoon sun, I watch a hermit crab dig a hole in the sand, and realise that it doesn’t get much closer to heaven than this.
Both the food and evening entertainment at Curtain Bluff are predictably enchanting and seem effortless, largely thanks to delightful staff and the warmth of American MD Rob Sherman. And that wine cellar, of course…
While Nevis shows me the majesty and adventure of the Caribbean, Antigua shows me the bliss.
Island-hopping was perfect for illuminating quaint differences between the two islands, but there are still certain things they have in common: hospitality, sensational food and drink, adventure, and yes, even relaxation.
Between them, Nevis and Antigua offer not just a slice but an entire banquet of paradise.
KEY FACTS – NEVIS AND ANTIGUA
:: BEST FOR: Diversity. Challenge or chill – it’s your call.
:: TIME TO GO: November to April is best for escaping British weather for guaranteed sunshine.
:: DON’T MISS: The chance to island-hop for a more varied view of the Caribbean.
:: NEED TO KNOW: Coconuts are bigger killers than sharks, so careful where you lie!
:: DON’T FORGET: Sunscreen, swimming costume and an appetite for adventure.
Jake Richards was a guest of British Airways Holidays which offers seven nights’ all-inclusive at the five star Curtain Bluff Resort, Antigua, from £2,679, with BA flights ex-Gatwick. Price valid for travel November 12 – December 12.
Price ex-Manchester and Glasgow, from £2,769.
Seven nights’ B&B at the four star Montpelier Plantation & Beach, St Kitts and Nevis, starts at £999, incl return BA flights ex-Gatwick for travel until October 31, if booked by September 30. Price ex-Manchester and Glasgow from £1,099.
For BA Holidays reservations call 0844 493 0758 or visit ba.com/antigua.
(Both hotels close shortly, but Montpelier Plantation & Beach reopens on October 8, and Curtain Bluff reopens on October 29)
Written by: Jake Richards
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