WHY WE LOVE IT
- Sister islands blessed with lush vegetation, tropical flowers, dormant volcanoes, white-sand beaches, and colonial architecture.
- An abundance of romantic retreats; many 18th-century plantations have been converted into small hotels.
- Not just for beach bums: adrenaline junkies can windsurf the two miles between the islands, bike the old sugar roads, and explore the islands on horseback.
- See the St. Kitts Music Festival in June; Alexander Hamilton's birthplace on Nevis.
- Good buys: bowls from Newcastle Pottery, Nevis; Caribelle batik and John Warden clothes from St. Kitts; hot sauce and honey; commemorative issues from the Nevis Philatelic Bureau.
WHEN TO GO
High season is December to March; seek bargains any other time—summer heat is tempered by steady northeasterly winds; May to November rains are not severe, and hurricanes come with warnings.
St. John-Figtree Parish, Gingerland
The setting alone inspires poetry—they claim this is the oldest wooden house in the West Indies—but the top-notch quality of the restaurant's ingredients and cooking are the real draws. Using only house-raised pork, lamb, produce, and local fish, American expat Maureen Lupinacci runs a kitchen that would make Alice Waters proud.
St. James Parish
This old-fashioned (air conditioner notwithstanding), Victorian-inspired dining room delivers a silver-service, dress-up, big-ticket night out. Prime dining spots on the veranda offer picturesque views of the estate. After dinner, get a head start on the evening striptease by asking your husband to give his tie to the maitre'd, who collects them.
This sublimely simple wooden cottage of a restaurant serves the freshest seafood around, thanks to the owners' deep-sea fishing charter. Grilled wahoo or mahimahi and lobster quiche are some of the menu's standout dishes. Start with a cocktail at the cute beach bar that resembles a bandstand.
When visitors have had their fill of fancy hotel food, they head to this down 'n dirty BBQ shack. The Killer Bee rum punches and hearty grilled ribs will have you licking your plates before the night's end.
Old Manor Inn, Gingerland, Charlestown
Another late-18th-century plantation that's now a hotel, the Cooperage is distinctive for its wood and cut-stone buildings. The dining room is formal, but the warm service takes the starch out of the experience. Palatable seafood, but the real standout is the steak.
Rawlins' lunch buffet is legendary; imagine tables laden with West Indian dishes, all made using local meat, fish, and produce overlooking the gorgeous 12-acre grounds. Evenings are formal four-course dinner affairs.
Ocean Terrace Inn, Fortlands Basseterre
A Kittitian institution and none the worse for it, this casual spot with its wooden booths is a nice place to take in the lights of the capital glittering in the bay. If you tire of that vista, you can set your sights on your mahimahi, spiny lobster, or strip loin gently charring on the open grill.
Pinney's Beach, Charlestown
You sure know you&r're at a Four Seasons, though you may forget which island you're on. Still, for service fiends and amenities hounds, this remains the only place to stay—no other property on these tiny isles comes close to these posh 196 rooms on 350 perfectly manicured acres. Impressive facilities include a Robert Trent Jones II golf course, ten tennis courts, a 12,000-square-foot spa, Evian-spritzing beach lounger, and so on… We think you get the idea.
MONTPELIER PLANTATION INN
The grand plantation house where Admiral Nelson was married in 1787 is now a family-owned gem of a boutique hotel. Panoramic views from the 750-foot elevation more than justify the six-mile shuttle ride to the private beach. The dining, service, and colonial-minimal decor are all spot-on. Room rates from $280–$696.
These spacious, Eastern-influenced villas designed by Adam Tihany come staffed with a private chef and butler, and the impressive grounds include private gardens and a beach shared only with fellow villa-dwellers. Aquatic types will delight in the bathroom's deluxe waterfall tubs, not to be confused with the private pool. Entertain yourselves by bedroom-hopping; you get four to play with. Room rates from $5,600 to $14,000 per week.
MOUNT NEVIS HOTEL
Shaws Rd., Newcastle
This homey, family-run hotel's 32 rooms are spread out among a quartet of newly built plantation house-style pavilions, all with the most spectacular views of the Caribbean (located a mile below). Tops for friendliness, quiet country charm, and good food, but for beach bunnies, it's a lost cause. The average room rate is $288.
GOLDEN LEMON INN & VILLAS
The funky-style quotient is high at this 17th-century manor house: 26 color-saturated rooms come outfitted with a quirky mix of antiques and fresh flowers (but alas, no A/C or TV). The villas all feature soaring ceilings and private plunge pools. The vibe is chilled, friendly, and sophisticated, plus no under-18s allowed. Room rates are $208 to $720.
PO Box 340
You'll be living the high life all night: This picturesque ten-room inn is situated 350 feet up Mt. Liamuiga. Surrounded by gardens and sugar fields, the Rawlins Plantation remains faithful to its 18th-century heritage. For such romance, you trade beaches: there's a small, black one nearby, better ones are a 20-minute drive. Why not stay in character with a croquet match or a game of tennis played on the grass court? Day trips can also be arranged. Room rates are $250 to $470.
The island is just littered with once-grand estate houses in various states of picturesque decay. The three most notable are: Hamilton Estate, on Government Road, with a volcanic-stone windmill tower and a steam engine; New River Estate, with a great house, chimney, machinery, and sugar-boiling wall, it's the most complete; Eden Brown Great House, built in the late 1700s, with views of Antigua and Montserrat from the Gallery on a clear day.
ALEXANDER HAMILTON HOUSE
Low St., Charlestown Nevis
The old stone mansion where the father of the U.S. National Bank was born is now, weirdly enough, the Nevis Museum of Natural History, with small but interesting exhibits and a charming gift shop.
Nevis Equestrian Centre
The islands' wonderfully scenic landscape is best explored on horseback. The Californian proprietors of the Nevis stables used to raise Arabian show horses and now lead thrilling trail rides.
The same northeasterly trade winds that powered all those sugar mills now make Nevis one of the windsurfing meccas of the entire world—thanks also to Winston Crooke, the British-born Kittitian/Nevisian who first put the sport on the map. The more experienced prefer to ride the two miles between the two islands; beginners can just take lessons at Crooke's Oualie Beach operation.
For an easy afternoon hike, we recommend the eccentric eight-acre gardens complete with Mayan waterfalls and stone monkeys, as well as the more traditional orchid, rose, cactus, and vine gardens. Drop in at Martha's Tea House for an English Ploughman's Lunch or a cream tea. Sadly, the place closes at around 4:30 p.m., so no sunsets here.
ST. KITTS MUSIC FESTIVAL
Normally held over the last full weekend of June, the 2006 St. Kitts Festival has been moved to make way for an all-important international cricket match. Current and past headliners at what's becoming one of the top Caribbean music events include Wyclef Jean, Hugh Masakela, Chaka Khan, Boyz II Men, Ashanti, Dionne Warwick, and Shaggy.
THE SUGAR EXPRESS
You have time to burn, right? So board the anything-but-express for a scenic, four-hour chug in a double-decker train, which travels via the sugarcane delivery tracks that encircle the island. Villages, rain forests, mountains, ruins, schoolyards—you pass it all; rum punch and a visit by local gospel singers enliven the journey. Schedules are based on cruise-ship passenger bookings; call ahead.