Nevis: a real Caribbean gem

Not too many people go to Nevis. There are many Caribbean islands that are far better known and certainly a great deal bigger. Even its sister island of St Kitts gets plenty more visitors – perhaps understandably many of them decide the flight there is more than enough of a journey. Just across a two-mile stretch of water (about ten minutes by water taxi), however, this little gem of an island, is well worth the extra hour.

Nevis is the perfect island if your aim is slowing down, relaxing, chilling or, as they say here, limin’. Because international travellers have to come in via St Kitts (Nevis doesn’t have much of an airport to speak of), visitor numbers are low and the pace of life is slow. There’s a real sense of tranquility here.

Nowhere is this more true than the place I stayed – Montpelier, an 18th century former sugar plantation in the foothills of Nevis Peak, set in 60 acres of lush tropical gardens and with a shuttle to its own private beach. It’s a quiet secluded spot (well, except for the tree frogs who like nothing better than to serenade you in the evenings) and it’s just a short walk away to the island’s beautiful botanical gardens. On the way, you’ll see a sign marking the spot where Nelson celebrated his first ill-fated marriage.

Now, you may wonder what on earth the admiral was doing here but, in fact, 200 years ago, Nevis was one of the busiest spots in the Caribbean. This was a time when the island was effectively British colonial HQ in the region. This was in part due to the high quality of its sugar cane (far surpassing that of bigger islands such as Jamaica) and also its role as a stopping-off place for ships heading to the American mainland either as part of the slave trade or to restock with food and water. The richest of the Leeward Islands, it became known as the “Queen of the Caribees”.

The Georgians left their distinctive mark, too. The capital Charlestown itself is a small town – there are no cities on Nevis – with picturesque colonial architecture, featuring those charming wooden verandahs and balconies built to catch the Trade Winds. The earliest of these are handsome Georgian buildings, built of the local volcanic stone and punctuated with white wood and awnings, foremost of which is the Bath Hotel.

The clue is in the name. Like many other Caribbean islands, Nevis is volcanic and it has as a result hot water mineral springs. Now, the Georgians were, as is well known, very keen on taking the waters so when they discovered the springs, they decided to build themselves a spa hotel. It may not much resemble the spa hotels we know today but if you look at, say, the one built at a similar date in Buxton, there is a remarkable similarity. Upstairs in the public rooms, there are huge windows, lofty ceilings, wide verandahs and a ballroom. Down in the depths are small rooms with deep baths, the water pumped directly in from the springs.

Nowadays, Nevis is a quieter place than the one the Georgians knew. It is, after all, one of the smaller Caribbean islands – just 36 square miles of territory with a population of around 12,000. You won’t find the kind of entertainment available on bigger islands but you can take a boat trip round the coast, relax on one of the many lovely beaches, visit those beautiful Botanical Gardens (always in bloom whatever the time of year) and the museum in town to Alexander Hamilton (Nevis was his birthplace) or just watch the monkeys – they probably arrived as pets in the Georgian era and their many descendents now scamper across the island’s roads. This is not, though, a hazard as everyone drives slowly on Nevis and only honks the horn to say hello. The busiest day on the roads is Sunday when everyone is on their way to church.

The seafood is unsurprisingly delicious here and, at Montpelier, they have not only their lovely poolside restaurant but, for fine dining the world’s only restaurant to be found in a former sugar mill! There are plenty of other dining options from stylish restaurants to crab shacks. The rum is lethal. At Sunshine’s famed beach restaurant, beware of the Killer Bee. This may have a touch of honey but – and the recipe is a highly guarded secret – it’s generally believed that otherwise it’s mostly overproof rum. If that doesn’t guarantee a good night’s sleep, there’s always the song of the tree frogs.

Find out more

Our Silver Tavel Advisors on 0800 412 5678 can book holidays to Nevis and across the Caribbean.

  • Room rates in the low season (1st April – 19th December 2024) start at US$285 and for the Tamarind Villa from US$1070
  • BA flies to St Kitts twice a week from London Gatwick, prices start at £505 return. The Montpelier arranges transfers from the airport.

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Anna Selby

Travel writer & author

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