It may be small, but size doesn't matter when it comes to St Kitts. This isle is full of eastern Caribbean promise, as Jo Cooke discovers.
Christopher Columbus was the first European to sight St Kitts back in 1493, but he didn’t stick around. The Brits weren’t so foolish, turning this lush island paradise into a highly successful British colony.
Since the island gained independence in 1983, it’s been American tourists that have had St Kitts pretty much to themselves, but this is all about to change.
“The US has been one of our bigger markets traditionally, but we’re seeing a huge potential for growth from the UK market since the commencement of the British Airways service, now running twice-weekly from London Gatwick,’ says Rosecita Jeffers, CEO of the St. Kitts Tourism Authority.
Tour operators concur that the island is bagging an increasing number of the region’s visitors. “St Kitts is a relatively small destination for us, but for 2012 we are already seeing an increase on 2011 bookings, with the increase in BA flights helping general awareness,” says Joanne Ellis, Product Executive for St Kitts for Caribtours.
In 2012 the tourism authority is going all out to further ramp up those figures with operator and agent FAM trips and training days planned. In the meantime, I headed out courtesy of the ST Kitts TA and BA to give you a sneak preview.
St Kitts has a moderate tropical climate with no distinct rainy season and low humidity. Temperatures typically hover between a pleasant 23-28C year round. Nestling in the heart of that treasure trove of islands that make up the Lesser Antilles, St Kitts is in good company.
Antigua is its near neighbour to the east, due north is Anguilla, with the BVI to the west and St Lucia to the south. BA flights head here via Antigua. You don’t have to change planes, but there is a bit of a wait on the tarmac each way while the plane is serviced.
Once you reach the island, transfer times to hotels are short. St Kitts is a neat little 68-mile square oval of land with a peninsula stretching out from its south-eastern edge like a fish tail. The Atlantic coast has some mesmerising rough and rugged beaches where rollers beat the cliffs with a jungle-like rhythm.
Those close to the peninsula, and on the Caribbean coast, meanwhile, are typically dressed in white sand and greeted by shallow waters. At the island’s centre is a rich green mass of rainforest and cane fields that rise and fall around Mount Liamuiga, St Kitts peak. At nearly 4000ft it’s the highest point on the island.
By far and away the most jaw-dropping attraction on the island is Brimstone Hill Fortress. This 17th century British stronghold stands 800 feet above the ocean. A major renovation project restored its ramparts and garrison buildings. As you wander around, you get the feeling you are back in the days when it fended off French attacks and was the hub of British operations in the Caribbean. Now a Unesco World Heritage Site, there’s a great museum giving a potted history.
A short drive took me on to Romney Manor, an impressive 17th century Great House shrouded by botanic gardens and edged by the ruins of a rum distillery. The big draw here is Caribelle Batik. A gaggle of charming ladies demonstrate how the cloth is patterned with wax drawings before being dyed. The gift shop is awash with a rainbow of their work, purses, bags, dresses, throws and sarongs.
Exploring makes you hungry and heading for the Nirvana Restaurant at the newly restored Fairview Great House gives you a colonial gem hat trick. A mix of classic Caribbean, Asian and Mediterranean dishes are served on the terrace, which has sea views. The food is excellent here, just as I found it to be island wide.
The great outdoors
St Kitts' unspoilt countryside offers hiking, birding, cycling, horse-riding, quad biking and zip wiring opportunities aplenty. The island is also a good place to learn to scuba dive. Reefs and wrecks around the island are easily accessible. You can even start a dive from the beach at Bird Rock Beach Hotel which is home to Dive St Kitts. They offer taster sessions and PADI certification course with all dive packages booked by agents commissionable at 20 per cent.
One of the things I loved most about St Kitts was the laid-back nightlife. Make for the Strip at Frigate Bay, where a string of bars edge the sand, and you’re in for a barefoot knees-up. The rum punches flow, music plays and if you go on a Thursday, Mr X’s Shiggidy Shack put on a bonfire party complete with fire eaters.
If your clients are romantics, direct them instead to Cockleshell Bay. It’s ‘the’ spot for a smooch and a sun downer, and with Nevis as a backdrop, they’ll feel like they’re in a Hollywood movie.
I stayed at the 392-room St. Kitts Marriott Resort. It doesn’t ooze character, but in terms of facilities, it has it all, a championship golf course, 24-hour casino, three outdoor pools, a kids’ club, 10 restaurants and bars, a gym and spa, and all on a swathe of white-sand beach.
My second accommodation, Ottley’s Plantation Inn, was almost the opposite. Set in lush gardens on a hillside lookout with views of the Atlantic it offers a collection of beautifully furnished rooms and cottages decorated in British colonial style with just a pool, tennis court and croquet lawn to distract you from doing nothing.
These are two of the top properties on the island. Both are four-star. There are no five star properties on St Kitts. While there’s talk of building two in the near future, these are not in the planning stage as yet.
The Travel Weekly verdict
St Kitts is ideal for those seeking a mid-priced Caribbean escape that offers more than a fly and flop. It would suit those who appreciate an unspoilt, largely uncommercialised destination and who like to explore, sample ethnic food and engage with the locals.
Fast fact: When Columbus discovered the island he’s said to have named it St. Christopher after his patron saint. This was later shortened to St. Kitts by the Brits.
Caribtours offers seven nights’ room-only at Ottley’s Plantation Inn from £1,129 in January, including flights, use of a private lounge at Gatwick and private transfers.
020 3131 0171
Gold Medal offers seven nights’ room-only at the St Kitts Marriott Resort from £1189 in January, including flights from Gatwick and transfers.
0800 014 7777
Virgin Holidays offers seven nights’ bed and breakfast at Rawlins Plantation Inn from £1,139 in January, including Virgin Atlantic flights from Gatwick via Barbados and transfers.
0844 557 4011
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