St. Kitts: Caribbean’s Sweetheart
By Melanie Reffes
It takes a steady hand and artistic flair to paint cloth with hot wax, but at Caribelle Batik (www.caribellebatikstkitts.com) that is exactly what Violet Nicholls has been doing for sixteen years. With unbridled enthusiasm for this ancient art, she is one of many unofficial ambassadors of tourism on the friendly island of St. Kitts. “I do twenty demonstrations a day,” she says, showing off colorful shirts and saris. “I like people and I like to smile, so this is the perfect job for me.”
West of Antigua, St. Kitts dishes up myriad opportunities for fun in the sun, from riding a sugar train to snapping photos of cloud-capped Mt. Liamuiga at 3,792 feet above the sea. Top picks include family-friendly Cockleshell Bay, Conaree Bay for bodysurfing, Dieppe Bay for windsurfing, Friar’s Bay for swimming, Turtle Bay for sightings of vervet monkeys and Frigate Bay for the bar strip. For divers, 17th century galleons and frigates can be seen 400 feet below sea level. “Many visitors do not know that we have so many underwater wrecks,” says Ricky Skerritt, minister of tourism. “For a small island, we are extremely proud of our diversity above and below the sea.” The “Fall in Love with St. Kitts & Nevis” program (available at www.stkittstourism.kn) runs through December 18th with free night deals and reduced airfare when packages are booked via AA Vacations, Delta Vacations or US Airways Vacations.
With a look-ahead to high season, Tourist Authority CEO Rosecita Jeffers commented that a “slight increase in arrivals is anticipated, but the reality in the Caribbean is that tourism is tough. However, we remain excited about new developments on the island.” The 2010 cruise season saw a 22 percent spike in arrivals sailing past the 500,000-passenger mark for the first time, with another 10 percent jump predicted for the 2010-2011 season. “We are concentrating heavily on cruise marketing,” added Jeffers. “We have already seen the daily passenger expenditure increase to $99, which is up from last year.” Modern Port Zante (www.portzante.com) boasts shops and restaurants with new ones coming on board each month.
Rooms with a View & Delectable Dining
Starting November 1, hotel taxes will increase from 9 percent to 10 percent and a 17 percent value-added tax (VAT) will replace taxes currently charged for car rentals, telephone calls and lotteries. An additional tax will apply to alcohol and cigarettes.
The West Indian buffet is one of the big draws at the Ocean Terrace Inn (www.oceanterraceinn.com). Coming in a close second are the Belmont rum-infused fruit smoothies whipped up by bartender Stedroy Banks at the Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant. “Americans want value for their dollar,” said Jorge Guevara Dickerson, general manager of the 65-room inn. “Our $99 room rate which includes breakfast, is hard to beat,” he said. (Note to agents: Room #23 is ideal for clients who appreciate views of Basseterre Harbor and Wi-fi).
The 11-room Rawlins Plantation Inn (www.rawlinsplantation.com) is courting romance with a honeymoon suite built into the old windmill. “We do one or two weddings a month even in a slow economy,” says Karen Bennett, marketing manager. Dalia Leader has been the bartender for more than two decades and says although she is often asked; the ingredients in her Plantation Punch are a secret. “I shake fruit juices with dark rum, but the rest of the recipe will remain with me,” she smiles. Purchased by the owners of Rawlins, 18-room Golden Lemon (www.goldenlemon.com) will add a dive shop and spa in December.
The largest hotel is also the only American chain. Adjacent to the Royal St. Kitts Golf Course, the 315-room St. Kitts Marriott Resort (www.stkittsmarriott.com) is brand-reliable with three pools, cigar and rum lounge, casino and spa.
Development at the Christophe Harbour (www.christopheharbour.com) is in full swing with a Tom Fazio golf course, marina, shops, restaurants and hotels opening in 2012. Other projects include the Caribbean’s first Park Hyatt on Cockleshell Bay and Silver Reef Resort in Frigate Bay.
New on the scene, Spice Mill (www.spicemillrestaurant.com) sits on picturesque Cockleshell Beach next to the future site of the Park Hyatt. An eclectic menu from gourmet pizza to grilled fish is impressing foodies, while a canoe-turned-bar and free beach chairs if you hang around long enough to work up an appetite brings in the crowds.
At the corner of Fort and Central Streets, OJ dishes patties and macaroni pie from his truck painted in Rasta colors. Lager and lobster reign supreme at the Shiggedy Shack on the Frigate Bay strip where bonfires on the sand keep this tumble-down bar lively till the wee hours. Visit www.mrxshiggidyshack.com. Opening later this year, Carambola Beach Club will stock more than 4,000 bottles of fine wine from 175 labels.
Come Visit & Mark your Calendar
American Airlines flies non-stop from Miami and New York (JFK), US Airways from Charlotte and Delta from Atlanta. LIAT flies intra-island with service to St. Maarten and Antigua. The St. Kitts Carnival - December to mid-January - includes a New Year’s Parade, “J’ouvert” dancing and the crowning of the King and Queen. The Music Festival in June showcases a musical mix from soca and calypso to jazz and gospel. Visit www.stkittstourism.kn. Celebrating the 1834 emancipation from slavery, Culturama is a spirited summer festival with music, parades and a street fair. Visit nevisculturama.net
Call 866-55-NEVIS or visit www.nevisisland.com
Wild Blue Yonder
Opening in October with a gift shop and snack bar, Wingfield Estate is an archaeological treasure chest dating back to 1625. A garden amidst the sugar mill ruins with homes originally owned by William Jefferson, great-great-grandfather of President Thomas Jefferson, the estate is next to Romney Manor, home to Caribelle Batik.
Although currently open, finishing touches to the Beaumont Race Track (www.beaumontpark.kn) will be complete by December. Future developments include a butterfly farm, bird aviary and shopping village. The Royal St. Kitts Golf Club challenges with twelve lakes and a stretch of 6,900 yards when played from the back tees.
An imposing stone fortress built by slaves during the 18th century, Brimstone Hill is a UNESCO World Heritage site with a museum and views of the north coast. On a clear day, the spray from the waves below the Black Rocks create awesome rainbows.
A bylaw prohibiting buildings to stand taller than a palm tree is the charm of Basseterre, a four-century-old city brimming with shops and perfect perches for people-watching. In the center is the Circus, a traffic circle with a four-faced clock tower, the ideal spot to find a cab driver. Take five in Independence Square where slave auctions were once held, learn about sugar plantation history in the National Museum or pick up a duty-free Cuban Habano but puff away on island as Americans are not allowed to bring them back to the US. Souvenirs you can bring home include jewelry crafted by Halva Carr at his stand near the clock tower. “It is my hope tourists will appreciate the pieces I make from seeds and pods.”
It Takes a Village
Old Road Town is the road less traveled apart from Sprat Net, a beachside eatery as down home as the town itself. With a friendly vibe as Kittians play dominoes, chickens cross the road and tourists stop under the Bottle Tree, this hamlet is a must-see. Up the road to Stone Fort and you’ll find Murial Seaton-Paul who handcrafts baskets and strings necklaces from horse-eye beans.
Nevis: Queen of the Caribees
Easily accessible by ferry and fitting together like a hand in glove, St. Kitts and Nevis are separated by a two-mile wide channel. Seven miles long and five miles wide, the tiny island is serene, green and eco-astute from the top of 3,232-foot Nevis Peak and the clear waters offshore to the eight new windmills standing proud on the north coast.
Nevis was the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton, where Lord Horatio Nelson and Fanny Nesbit tied the knot and with a centuries-old Jewish cemetery and ruins of what may be the oldest synagogue in the Eastern Caribbean, the island is coveted by history buffs. So far unspoiled by mass tourism, fine beaches circle the shoreline with Pinney’s the top choice for calm waters and Oualie Beach for diving.
A 450-room theatre will open next year for fine arts performances and conferences. Ask the newly appointed CEO of the Nevis Tourism Authority about what excites him these days, and you’ll get an earful about the re-opening of the Four Seasons Resort. Enjoying a leisurely lunch at the Hermitage Plantation, John Hanley told JAX FAX the December 15th re-opening of the ritzy resort is big news on the small island. “This will not only impact the tourism sector but the overall economy, as it was the island’s largest employer.” Following a 26-month closure resulting from damage after Hurricane Omar, the 196-room resort will re-open with a golf course, spa and fine dining. “We will get a multiply-effect because resort guests will also visit other hotels, take tours, hire taxis, buy our products and eat in our restaurants,” Hanley adds. Visit www.fourseasons.com/nevis
One thousand feet above the sea, Golden Rock Inn (www.golden-rock.com) is an 18th century estate bordered by bougainvillea and serenaded by tree frogs. With fourteen cottages and a gourmet restaurant, the Inn was named for the curious golden glow on the left side of the mountain visible before the sunset. No AC, TV’s, clocks or radios, but Wi-Fi is available. Oozing four-star luxury, Hermitage Plantation (www.hermitagenevis.com) sits on the edge of the rain forest with fifteen cottages surrounding the Great House built in 1660. The restaurant delights with local fare and homemade chutney that is tropical perfection. Biddy Weekes has been a tour guide for twenty years and knows every Nevisian nook and cranny. “Visitors love to shop,” he smiles, “I suggest they buy our honey or the animal mahogany carvings by artist Kennedy Tyrell in Zion Village.”
Home to the Killer Bee rum punch and the Full Moon Bash, Sunshine’s is action-central on Pinney’s Beach. At Rodney’s Cuisine, steamed fish with johnnycakes are the real deal and at the bar at Oualie Beach hotel, Jazzique heats up the room with Marley covers and old-school favorites. Ask the bartender to whip up a Monkey Passion cocktail with vodka, banana liqueur, passion fruit juice and coconut cream. Visit www.ouliebeach.com