Just Back from…Nevis
Call me slow, but it took me a few days to really “get” Nevis. Yes, the island is Caribbean-style beautiful with its lazy golden beaches and jaw-dropping Nevis Peak, all 3,200 feet of it plopped smack in the middle, but where was the jetset crowd? My problem was that I was biased: I’ve been going to St. Barth’s for years, so subconsciously I found myself comparing the two islands which couldn’t be more different. The St.-Tropez of the Antilles, St. Barth’s is more European than Caribbean, while Nevis is about as authentically Caribbean as you can get.
Nevis is packed with history dating back 2,000 years when Central American Indians inhabited the island. Fast forward to 1493 when sailor Christopher Columbus eyed the signature cloud-covered mountain and thought it resembled “Nuestra Senora de las Nieves” (Our Lady of the Snows) and thus, Nevis was born. The British settled on Nevis in 1628 and by 1660, the fertile island was the most profitable colony per capita thanks to its sugar cane production. Besides the island’s natural, lush dramatic beauty, Nevis has a fantastic, friendly, relaxed vibe. This is a place for chilling out while sipping rum punches and listening to reggae bands, not for people-watching and shopping. I tried reading my book on the beach but invariably got distracted by the pelicans nose diving for dinner. The only traffic jam I saw (outside of the capital Charlestown) was caused by a herd of goats crossing the street, piously heading for what I learned was the first Anglican Church in the Caribbean built in 1643 (Nevis also boasts the first golf course outside of Scotland).
Staying at the Four Seasons where top quality service is a given, I was initially dismissive of the constant Hellos with a smile by every passing employee. But then when my beau, David, and I ventured off the hotel’s pristine grounds, we realized that the island locals are just plain old friendly. One day, we biked around the island and while David stopped at a grocery store to buy some water, I stayed with the bikes. Every single person who passed me, including an octogenarian with a cane, said Hello. As Nevis is only about 36 square miles large, with a population of 12,000, so seemingly everyone knows everyone. Our driver, Clayton, showed us around the island one afternoon. We drove to White Bay where the Aman Nevis is slated to open in early 2013. The site spans 350 acres of grassy fields on the breezy coast, populated only by some grazing cattle and chickens. The sea is rougher on this side of the island, not as calm and glass-like as where the Four Seasons sits. We passed a construction worker digging up pipes on the stunning property, with views of Montserrat in one direction and Mount Nevis in the other. Clayton leaned out of his window to pass the worker a bottle of water. “Do you know him,” I asked? “Oh yeah,” he laughed, “Everyone knows everyone here.” And so they do. Former Shakespearean actor now tri-athlete Winston is the one to contact for hiring bikes; Sunrise does the best hiking tours up Mount Nevis; and Nicki is the yoga lady. Clayton, who works two jobs, and has an appealing, soft-spoken demeanor is already on speed dial for my return visit.
What Nevis lacks in size, it makes up for in character and charm. For example, the island boasts one of the largest orchid collections in the Caribbean. Don’t miss the magnificent Benjamin Weeping Willow Fig tree, in front of the Montpellier Plantation, which looks like it’s been around since Columbus’s voyage but was actually planted forty-three years ago. And I cannot stress enough the kindness of the locals. When my New York artist friend Robert Harms had a splinter in his foot, the staff at the Hermitage asked him why he was “walking like he was drunk.” Next thing he knew, they were treating him with tweezers. (Harms first came to the island two years ago for a wedding and has been back three times to create watercolors of the island’s flowers.) Patterson, the long-time manager at Nisbet Plantation Inn and Beach Club, the only Plantation Inn on the beach, tells me that he plants a tree every time someone gets married at Nisbet. And he’s collected thousands of ties, another Nisbet tradition: departing visitors give Patterson a tie when they leave and he wears it when they come back. Call me slow, but by day three I was getting Nevis—and loving it.
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