I’ve never been to Aruba, St. Martins, St. Thomas or Nevis (St. Kitts’ smaller, sister island), which are some of the area’s better-known vacation draws, so can’t tell you how St. Kitts compares. What I do know is that if you’re a history buff or botanist, a connoisseur of unusual foods (provided your point of reference are U.S. supermarkets and farmers markets), love sailing on a brisk catamaran at sunset under usually-clear skies, browsing among affordable quaint shops with batik attire and colorful coconut shell jewelry, dancing to calypso music at late night local clubs, or prefer the graciousness of a sprawling resort with the largest casino on the island, a championship ocean-side golf course, and an amazing spa—then plan a trip to St. Kitts.
There’s a lot to love about this historic island that was fought over bitterly by both the French and the British. Their united effort to erase the native population was fought in 1782 at the Brimstone Hill Fortress, now a national park inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. Rent a car (but be prepared to first get a $25 permit) or hire a local driver. Frankly, you’d be safer with a local. The road twists up a very steep curving road with little room for error. The panoramic view extends over the ocean, the 100 villages that comprise the nine parishes, and nearby islands. The mountaintop terrain is scattered with battle-scarred ruins and cannons poised silently as if they could still defend the soldiers who manned them. Although UNESCO is slowly refurbishing the site and adding modern amenities, much of the original stone floors built by slaves are resolutely intact. A short film and a museum depicting the daily challenges met by the soldiers stationed there is worth examination.
I was also fascinated by Romney Manor, site of Wingfield Estate, the first working plantation in the Caribbean. Romney Manor also includes Caribelle Batik, an industry of batik fashions begun by owner and batik artist Maurice Widdowson. Caribelle’s brightly colored buildings, some restored to their original splendor, are surrounded by flourishing vegetation and neon-bright flowers like hanging lobster claws and ginger in multi-hued tints. Freshly waxed, dyed and wet batik cloths in rainbow colors flap dry on old-fashioned clothes lines next to the main shop.
Thirty-six years ago, Widdowson was attracted to the crumbling estate by its history and by a 400-year-old saman tree, whose long-limbed crooked branches sweep majestically as if it has outsmarted hurricane-force winds. In 2010, when digging up a portion of Wingfield Estate to create an orientation room for group functions, he and an archeological team uncovered Samuel Jefferson’s original rum distillery underneath layers of dirt. When work on the estate is finally completed, the orientation room will join a tasting room for three types of onsite-made rum: Kill Devil (the name of the original rum produced there because it contained mercury which eventually killed its frequent imbibers), Wingfield Estate and Romney.If exploring the island’s rich history sounds too much like taking an educational course and less like an escape into paradise, here are some fun facts you should know.
There are plenty of places to stay, but the St. Kitts Marriott is the largest, with 393 rooms. It has multiple pools and restaurants, the largest casino, an award-winning 18-hole ocean golf course, and the highly-rated Emerald Mist Spa. Like most high-end spas, this one includes robes, slippers, munchees and herb teas. There are several distinctive aspects. Treatment rooms are larger and there are little details that please, such as having an exotic flower poised delicately on the edge of a soft, turned down sheet. The couples massage room contains a bathtub for two that they fill with flower petals, a shower, and side-by-side therapy beds.Try the signature bamboo stick massage. My massage therapist was Avan Lapsley, who was quick to inform me before he gently beat washcloth-bound small bamboo sticks against my shoulders that he’s called All State, as in “You’re in good hands with All State.” The sticks were heated to a sultry 165-degrees inside an electric blanket. Apricot oil was smoothed over my skin and the longest of the sticks was gently but firmly rolled across my back. Smaller bamboo sticks, with a flat edge on one side, were likewise smoothed over arms and legs. Think hot stone massage but with a deeper impact. The bamboo sticks were alternated with hot compresses across legs, arms, neck and around my face. Choose a 50 or 80-minute massage.
The resort’s lobby offers breathtaking views straight out to the ocean. The towering atrium is actually an oversized breezeway that allows for wind to filter through from the front door, past the bronze-cast woman kneeling on a jetty of rocks and water, and on out to the pools, sun-ray themed tiled promenade, pools and new beach bar. The resort is overall very airy. No closed in hallways. Instead, wide tiled expanses with stuffed chairs and couches provide an indoor-outdoor feel as the partially open-air roof allows for light to filter in.
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If you want to make friends fast with the resort’s “associates,” learn the handshake of respect. Clasp hands in traditional manner, but quickly let them slide down so that your fingers bend and clasp the other person’s by the tips. Then you bump fists and touch your heart, as in, “I give you lots of love.”
Just outside the resort’s perimeter is The Strip, a collection of about 10 small nightclubs. The island signature drinks are rum punch and the grapefruit soda-based Ting with a Sting, which is mixed with rum unless you specify vodka.
The city’s capital is Basseterre, where cruise ships offload for downtown shopping and the farmers’ market vendors have fruits and vegetables I’ve never heard of, let alone seen. There was a long spiny cucumber called kowalei. A bread fruit resembling a green-husked cantaloupe is actually pared, sliced and cooked like a potato. Sprigs of thyme are bound like a rubber band around scallions. Papayas are usually grown in people’s backyards, so they’re rarely seen in the brightly-hued market buildings.
Don’t leave without trying guava cheese, which isn’t really cheese. It’s a guava puree mixed with sugar into a jellied candy, which we devoured in great quantity during a two-hour sunset catamaran cruise around St. Kitts aboard Leeward Island Charters. We drank, we munched, and we danced to reggae tunes as the sun sank slowly into the horizon. Special bonus for the night: we saw the green flash that occurs on clear nights when the last bits of the sun are swallowed by the blue ocean.
Monkeys run wild on the island. You might see them running across the road or staring at you from the golf course. You don’t bother them and they’ll leave you alone.Soccer, calypso and reggae music, and patriotism fortheir country are their passions.
The recently-opened 128-seat hacienda-styled Carambola Beach Club is an upscale dining experience that infuses Caribbean and European styles. Glass walls open to the beach. The tone is trendy and understated elegance. Spice Mill on Cockleshell Beach offers open-air beachside seating. Flip flops and beach attire are a comfy fit. While chowing down on amazing conch fritters, gaze across the water to near Nevis, St. Kitts’ smaller sister island and lovingly referred to as the Queen City. For the freshest fish on the island caught daily by the owners, go to Sprat Net. What they catch is what you eat. When it’s gone… well, it’s gone.
Mt. Liamuiga at 3792 feet is the tallest mountain. The dormant volcano was originally the name of the island before it became Saint Christopher and then shortened to St. Kitts.
Kittians are quickly learning what it means to live in a tourism-driven society. Construction on newer and bigger houses for recent residents is rampant. Cars line the roads, but traffic isn’t dense enough to install the first stop light. The 68-mile island isn’t yet overburdened with tourists, but if you want to see the diamond before it’s been polished, do it soon.
Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries. She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ISES and MPI, for which she is on the Membership Advisory Council and the Industry Advisory Council. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ThePsychicLady.com