Everyone has their own version of paradise. For some it can be located at the first tee on a crisp April morning. For others, it’s the easy swirl of the ice cubes in that pre-dinner glass of gin and tonic. Now, I won’t try to dictate a monolithic ideal of bliss, but when the time comes, should I pass through the pearly gates and find myself sipping a rum punch at the bar of Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, the scent of the seafood grill in my nostrils, the music of the steel drum band on the air, the Atlantic Ocean filling the purple horizon as twilight cools into dusk – should I find myself confronting such a prospect for the remainder of eternity, then Big Guy, you can bring it on.
But then paradise for a Londoner is simply ‘Thursday’ for an inhabitant of the tiny Caribbean island of Nevis. Situated across the bay from the larger Saint Kitts, Nevis is the type of place where everybody knows everybody, from locals to expats. There’s a mere 12,000 people who inhabit the island; visit with a party of 12 and you will increase the population by 0.1%.
One of the best people to know in Nevis is Tim Thuell, general manager of the aforementioned Nisbet Plantation Beach Club. Tim came to Nisbet in the 1990s, left for a decade and then returned for a second crack. On my arrival at the Beach Club, Tim pressed a rum punch into my hand and insisted I join him and his wife Tina for seafood. He jokes with his staff, knows the name of every guest, and generally makes his job look like the easiest in the world. It isn’t, of course, but it may be one of the most idyllic.
At the Beach Club, I was introduced to another Tim, Tim Roberts, owner of local restaurant The Gin Trap. He promptly invited me to dine there. (Nevis is that kind of place.) It’s a stunning roadside spot, the ocean just beyond the window, and when sunlight fills the periwinkle interior of the bar it bears an unmistakable resemblance to a bottle of Bombay Sapphire. If you visit – and you should – be sure to order the conch chowder to start, followed by the BBQ spare ribs. Not archetypal Caribbean cuisine, but probably the best food I enjoyed on the island.
There is stiff competition. For any lover of seafood, the Caribbean is a culinary paradise. Lunch on grilled lobster at Sunshine’s Beach Bar & Grill, a rainbow-coloured restaurant that has been visited by many celebrities and sportsmen. (Photos adorn the interior.) While there, try the famous Killer Bee cocktail – deadly strong, deadly good.
I also recommend the food and ambience at both Montpelier Plantation Inn and Chrishi Beach Club. Situated on a lushly vegetated hillside, Montpelier’s white patios and blue mosaic swimming pool wouldn’t look out of place in LA; Princess Diana is one of its many celebrated former guests. If Chrishi Beach Club was any nearer the sea, it would be underwater; basically a circular white hut, it looks as though somebody has deposited a giant wedding cake on the sand. Two more idyllic places to dine are hard to imagine.
If Hamilton is one great historical presence of Nevis, the other is Britain’s own Horatio Nelson
Despite its diminutive size, Nevis carries surprising historical heft. It’s the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton: statesman, founding father, and subject of an indecently successful Broadway musical, a ticket for which is no harder to procure than the Philosopher’s Stone. Although the original Hamilton House was destroyed by an earthquake, a replica was constructed in 1983 and now holds the Museum of Nevis History, a small room where you can wander around and read about how Hamilton fought for independence, crafted the Constitution, helped abolish slavery in New York, revolutionised the American economy, etc, etc, as your sense of inadequacy slowly grows.
Frankly, the real wonder isn’t Hamilton’s many achievements (nobody likes a show-off, Alex), but the fact he managed to leave Nevis in the first place. “Establish the biggest democracy in the western world? Love to, but I’m going fishing in half an hour, and then it’s golf this afternoon. Good luck with it all, though. Go easy with the guns.”
If Hamilton is one great historical presence of Nevis, the other is Britain’s own Horatio Nelson, who achieved immortality – while dying – at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, 15 months after Hamilton was killed in a duel. (Both perished at 47.) Nelson’s wife, Frances Nisbet, was raised in Nevis; and yes, the Nisbet Beach Plantation was once her home. The couple even got married on the Montpelier Estate. One hesitates to ascribe life highlights to a man who literally has his own column, but wedding a noted beauty on her family estate in the Caribbean must have been a pretty good day. Prince William Henry – later King William IV – gave away the bride.
(Nelson left Frances for actress Emma Hamilton, another reputed babe. No relation to Alexander, alas. History isn’t that neat.)
Anyway, when you need to walk off lunch, follow in the great man’s footsteps and hike up Saddle Hill. (Guess what it’s shaped like.) There you can see the remains of Saddle Hill Fort and take in the view from Nelson’s Lookout, the vantage point from which Horatio kept tabs on the surrounding ocean. As well as a beautiful Caribbean panorama, you also catch a glimpse of history: not much has changed over 200 years. It’s a heady experience.
If you’re a music fan, try to coincide your stay with the Nevis Blues Festival. For two nights in April a collection of international blues, soul, and funk musicians perform for locals and visitors on Oualie Beach. The festival only started three years ago, and is already making its mark on the calendar – performers in 2017 included the renowned guitarist Ian Siegal. Of course, Nevis being Nevis, it will never evolve into a Glastonbury, or even a Monterey; intimacy is part of its charm.
“Loving it,” is the verdict of Tim Roberts. “You get a great mix of expats, you get a great mix of local people, tourists, the whole deal.”
Amen to that. Taking in the scene on Saturday night – punch in hand, barbeque on the breeze, a crowd of happy people watching guitarist AJ Ghent slam out the chorus of ‘Purple Rain’ – I almost suppressed a giggle at how much of a wonderful cliché it all was. Life at its simplest, and most wonderful. If you’re looking for paradise, you’ve come to the right place.