In Part Two of our Small Island Guidebook, Judith explores Grenada, Tortola, St. Lucia, Anguilla and Virgin Gorda. Not up to speed? See Part One here.
Aromatic Breezes: Grenada
The Island of Spice — as this dreamy vacation spot is called — is 133 square miles of sensory delight. One of the world’s prominent producers of nutmeg and mace, Grenada is also famous for its cinnamon, cloves, bay leaf, and ginger. So hypnotic and sweet-smelling are its spice-filled breezes that, combined with sunshine and sea, they just might tempt you to spend your two-week vacation in a hammock. Don’t stay there too long however, there’s a lot more to experience on this sweetest of islands.
Hurricanes, coups, mini-revolutions — Grenada has weathered them all and still emerged as one of the Caribbean’s most enchanting and noncommercial holiday hideouts. The word “pristine” still describes many of its beaches. Few, if any, high-rises break the restful views of deep green mountains and the simple line of rustic red tile-roofed houses clustered in villages that are almost Basque in appearance.
When you finally do rise from your hammock, head to Belmont Estate, a 17th century plantation where Grenada’s spices are still grown using tried and true techniques that date back a hundred years and more. At the nearby fishing village, Gouyave, you’ll find a nutmeg processing plant that offers an aromatic tour of tons of nutmeg being prepared for export. Interesting factoid: Nutmeg’s popularity in eggnog is well known, but locals also tout the spice for its reputed Viagra-like qualities! (Who knew?)
For something a bit more low key, head to Etang National Park and Forest Reserve. It’s a naturalist’s delight. In its rainforest you’ll find an explosion of hibiscus, orchids, passion fruit, star fruit, and sour sop. On your hike to its several magnificent waterfalls, you’ll be accompanied by armadillos, lizards, mockingbirds, and monkeys. See all our Grenada villas
Surf Secrets: Tortola
Elegant yachts and miles of sandy beaches beckon the tourist, but the secret this island holds is that it’s THE off-the-radar destination for surfers. And they want to keep it that way! Surf hotshots favor Cane Garden Bay, while Apple Bay is great for intermediates, and for rank beginners, Long Bay is perfect after just a few lessons at one of the island’s excellent surf schools. The surf scene still has a 1960’s flavor, including a renowned full-moon party at Bomba Shack on Capoon Bay.
For those sophisticates who aren’t so enamored with Bob Marley cover bands, fear not. Tortola is the economic driver of the BVI, so there are some charming restaurants and some gentle beaches on which to read The New York Times and doze. Open-air eateries abound at the surfer beaches, but foodies should be sure to splurge at least once at the storied Sugar Mill Restaurant where they’ll enjoy the romantic sunsets as much as the cuisine. Nature lovers will be thrilled to take on the splendid paths to the heights of Mount Sage, and history buffs must not miss the displays of indigenous people’s artifacts at the Virgin Island Folk Museum. See our Tortola villas
Grottos and Granite: Virgin Gorda
Pale yellow oleander, rosy frangipani, and startling red bougainvillea bloom along small roads on the tiny quiet island Virgin Gorda, once a stronghold of 18th-century sugar estates and 19th-century copper mining. The island, believed to have been named “Fat Virgin” by Columbus for its resemblance to a full-bodied reclining woman, offers not only hiking (or a vertiginous drive) up to Virgin Gorda Peak but also beach chilling and lazy swimming on the fine white sand of Devil’s Bay. But it’s the snorkeling at Virgin Gorda’s 7-acre Baths National Park that is jaw dropping. “The Baths” is a wild looking collection of giant granite boulders (some are 40 feet across) that seem to have tumbled from the bluest of skies into the most turquoise of seas. Climb through the boulders to pristine grottos and deep cerulean pools or, better yet, snorkel The Baths’ caves and inlets for views of blue-green Angel Fish and purple-fin Queen Triggerfish.
Just be sure to get there soon because this Caribbean secret has been blown. Travel + Leisure magazine readers recently named Virgin Gorda the Top Island across the Caribbean, Bermuda, and the Bahamas.
Lush Life: St. Lucia
“Extravagant” might be the word that pops into your head when someone mentions the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia — and indeed, there is a St. Lucia luxe, encompassing five-star hotels, luxury villas, and gourmet restaurants like the innovative and very posh La Toc. But there is much, much more to this former French and later English colony. Visitors MUST take in the island nation’s natural beauty. Start with a trip to the world’s only drive-in volcano. Explore the tropical rainforest and the twin peaks of the Piton Mountains (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Be adventurous and suit up for some scuba diving or snorkeling so you can enjoy the lush, dramatic world to be seen beneath the sea. The Anse Chastanet Reef in St. Lucia’s Marine Park is home to more than a hundred types of colorful fish as well as turtles, seahorses, sponges, and stunning coral formations. And though the tales may be apocryphal, according to locals, St. Lucia has its own version of the Loch Ness monster, nicknamed “The Thing.”
Take a break from the beach to go off-road a bit and experience the kwadril, St. Lucia’s local dance, and the island’s indigenous music, sung in Creole. Catch the music and dance at the local festivals such as Jounen Kweyo (Kreyole Day) celebrated the last weekend of October. And, of course, there’s plenty of contemporary music. St. Lucia’s prestigious 12-day Jazz Festival kicks off April 30. See our villas in Virgin Gorda
Festival Central: Anguilla
This little strip of paradise is just 16 miles long and 3 miles wide, but with its cornucopia of festivals, it packs a powerful punch for visitors. One of the most well-known island celebrations is held on the full moon right before Easter. Moonsplash Festival started as a local musicians’ jam session and has grown into a three-day international street party featuring reggae, zouk, calypso, and dancehall bands from all over North America. Food kiosks line the beach and everyone dances, so make sure to get a good rest the night before.
Boat racing is Anguilla’s national sport, so naturally there are festivals around that too. “Boatrace” — as the sport is called locally — is featured at two big festivals in May. Sailors compete using traditional schooners built by hand on the island, as they have been for a hundred years. The craft of shipbuilding has deep roots here and boats built on Anguilla have a reputation for meticulous craftsmanship.
For the brainiacs among you, there’s a yearly literary festival that brings together editors, poets, novelists, and playwrights like Salon’s David Daley, Jamaican performance poet A-dZiko Simba, and award-winning novelist Bernice L. McFadden.
To discover a most traditional Anguilla, try to be there in June for Welches Fest where you will experience what life was like here a century ago. The festival, a community gathering, celebrates the old customs, cuisine, clothing, manners, and music of the “old days.”
Festivaled out? Hit one of the three dozen powdery white sand beaches, swim in Anguilla’s aquamarine waters, or snorkel and dive from her pristine reefs and historic wrecks. In short, discover just why this island is known as the “wreck diving capital of the Caribbean.” See our villa rentals in Anguilla