Laid-back Ne­vis

This Caribbean get­away is so chill, there’s not a sin­gle stop­light on the is­land

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - TRAVEL - By Patti Nick­ell

NE­VIS, West Indies — Those who have seen the play or lis­tened to the sound­track of “Hamil­ton” may re­mem­ber the open­ing song whose lyrics ask — in a less del­i­cate way that will be para­phrased here — how does a kid dropped in the mid­dle of a for­got­ten spot in the Caribbean grow up to be ... well, Alexan­der Hamil­ton?

I don’t know. How­ever, I do know that the for­got­ten spot in the Caribbean is Ne­vis, lo­cated in the north­ern part of the Caribbean’s Lesser An­tilles ar­chi­pel­ago, just south­east of Puerto Rico and west of An­tigua.

It was here that the boy with the in­aus­pi­cious begin­ning who grew up to be one of the Found­ing Fathers of the United States, and the cen­tral fig­ure of a block­buster mu­si­cal, was born and lived for most of his child­hood.

Still, don’t go to Ne­vis ex­pect­ing to stock up on tacky sou­venirs of its most fa­mous son. There is a no­tice­able scarcity of any­thing re­motely de­signed to cash in on the phe­nom­e­non. Iron­i­cally, even the mu­seum chron­i­cling the life of the man on the Amer­i­can $10 bill only charges $5 for ad­mis­sion.

This lack of pre­ten­sion is uniquely Ne­visian, and what you might ex­pect from a 36-square-mile dot in the ocean noted not for what it has as much as for what it doesn’t have — cruise ships cram­ming the port, duty-free shop­ping malls, sprawl­ing all-in­clu­sive re­sorts or even stop­lights (not a sin­gle one on the is­land). Ne­vis has a pop­u­la­tion of just 12,000, and free roam­ing goats and green vervet mon­keys out­num­ber tourists. Un­like on Aruba, Bar­ba­dos and St. Thomas, a nightlife tour here likely means ac­com­pa­ny­ing a flash­light-wield­ing nat­u­ral­ist into the rain­for­est while he/she points out noc­tur­nal bats, frogs and bugs.

If Ne­vis had a na­tional motto, it would be “Go ahead and rush ... but please do it slowly.” Sit­u­ated 2 miles from the neigh­bor­ing is­land of St. Kitts with which it shares na­tion sta­tus, Ne­vis lays claim to be­ing the most laid-back spot in the Caribbean. Just ask any of the hap­pily buzzed pa­trons oc­cu­py­ing stools at Sun­shine’s, a beach bar at the end of a rut­ted road whose pot­holes could be clas­si­fied as craters. The buzz comes from the sig­na­ture drink — the Killer Bee. Its pedi­gree is a mys­tery as the bar’s owner re­fuses to give up the recipe, but suf­fice to say, it might be con­sid­ered a rum punch on steroids.

True, part of a post-Killer Bee lethargy might stem from a hang­over, but more than likely it is just the leisurely pace of life here.

That life starts with the beaches. While they lack the sugar-white sand of An­guilla and the Turks and Caicos, Ne­vis’ beaches each pos­sess their own char­ac­ter and charm. The most cel­e­brated, Pin­ney’s Beach, a seem­ingly end­less stretch, is com­posed of fine gray vol­canic sand. Co­conut palms border the sea, giv­ing it the feel of a paradise lost, dis­con­nected from the rest of the world by the di­men­sions of space and time.

But Pin­ney’s isn’t the is­land’s only glorious beach. There’s Oualie, an ex­cel­lent spot for snor­kel­ing; New­cas­tle, sur­rounded by a typ­i­cal Ne­visian fish­ing vil­lage; Wind­ward, an­other spot where fish­er­men moor their boats; and the beach of Nis­bet Plan­ta­tion, with its co­ral reef just off­shore.

The beach here is linked to Nis­bet’s former Great House (circa 1778), now a four-star ho­tel, by a splen­did av­enue of shel­tered palms. Nis­bet is but one of the is­land’s ac­com­mo­da­tions that have been fash­ioned from former sugar plan­ta­tions. The in­dus­try thrived in the 18th and 19th cen­turies, and some 100 plan­ta­tions made Ne­vis one of Great Bri­tain’s rich­est colonies.

A taste of this early colo­nial life­style can be had by visit­ing Nis­bet or its sis­ter plan­ta­tion great houses (also ho­tels) Mont­pe­lier and the Her­mitage. The lat­ter two — lo­cated not on the beach but against the green back­drop of the moun­tains — are es­pe­cially pic­turesque.

While the temp­ta­tion on Ne­vis is to do a whole lot of noth­ing (those beaches are bless­edly un­crowded), if you do want some­thing more stren­u­ous than turn­ing over every 30 min­utes to en­sure an even tan, there is a world-class hike to the top of Ne­vis Peak, a dor­mant vol­cano.

At 3,232 feet, its diminu­tive stature is de­cep­tive. Get­ting to the top takes sev­eral hours of shin­ny­ing up rugged cliffs and me­an­der­ing through dense fo­liage. (If you want to cheat, there’s a guide rope to help you along.) Once at the top, your re­ward is a panoramic 360-de­gree view of the is­lands of St. Kitts and Montser­rat. Just hope for a clear day, as fluffy white clouds of­ten de­scend on the moun­tain­top, ob­scur­ing the view.

It was, in fact, these clouds that gave the is­land its name. On one of his voy­ages, Christo­pher Colum­bus saw the clouds and, mis­tak­ing them for snow, named it Nues­tra Senora de las Nievas — Our Lady of the Snow.

Back on level ground, a visit to the tiny cap­i­tal, Charlestow­n, is in or­der. In the early 17th cen­tury, af­ter the Bri­tish wrested con­trol from the Span­ish (who be­fore them had wrested it from the orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants, the Si­bonay, Arawak and Carib Indians), they set about build­ing the town that today re­sem­bles a minia­ture gin­ger­bread vil­lage. Pas­tel-hued cot­tages house shops that dis­play a sur­pris­ing ar­ray of qual­ity lo­cal crafts.

Charlestow­n also boasts mu­se­ums with con­nec­tions to two gi­ants on the world stage. The gray stone build­ing on the wa­ter­front is now a mu­seum ded­i­cated to the afore­men­tioned Alexan­der Hamil­ton.

Lesser known — per­haps be­cause they have yet to do a mu­si­cal about him — is the fact that Bri­tish Adm. Ho­ra­tio Nel­son, vic­tor over Napoleon at the Bat­tle of Trafal­gar, also had a his­tory on the is­land. He lived here in wed­ded bliss with Ne­visian beauty Fanny Nis­bet be­fore his scan­dalous li­ai­son with Lady Emma Hamil­ton (no re­la­tion to Alexan­der).

You can visit the Fig Tree Angli­can Church and see Nel­son’s and Fanny’s mar­riage cer­tifi­cate, and then head to the Nel­son Mu­seum, which has a col­lec­tion of mem­o­ra­bilia on the ad­mi­ral. In­ter­est­ing his­tor­i­cal note: Nel­son was first dis­patched to Ne­vis to pre­vent Eng­land’s cur­rent colony — Ne­vis — from trad­ing with its former colony — Amer­ica.

De­spite its mi­nus­cule size, there’s plenty to see and do on Ne­vis. Just re­mem­ber one thing — “Go ahead and rush ... but do it slowly.”

GOLDEN ROCK INN

The re­mains of Golden Rock, a former sugar plan­ta­tion, have been in­cor­po­rated into a quaint four-star inn. At one time, Ne­vis had more than 100 sugar plan­ta­tions.

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