Columbus first spotted Nevis (pronounced nee-vis) in 1493. The clouds that almost always cover the peak of the dormant volcano Mount Nevis, at the center of the conical-shaped island, resembled snow and led to the name Nevis, coming from the Spanish word for snow, nieves. During the 1600s, it was a top sugar-producing island in the Caribbean.
Many people have never heard of the island of Nevis. Its sister island St. Kitts, sure. But what was once the jewel of the British Empire in the Caribbean is mostly unheralded by contemporary island travelers. Its rustic charm and old-world West Indies feel go vastly unnoticed (fortunately, for those in the know). This unspoiled, authentic gem of the Caribbean is not part of the over-the-top, all-inclusive, commercialized, resort getaway circuit. Instead, she stands apart as a destination to come to for the more classic, understated side of luxury; privacy and quiet are front and center, and you can enjoy feeling like the island and all her exotic, plush amenities are all yours.
Travelers usually choose Caribbean vacations for the quality of relaxation and the do-nothing atmosphere. Although Nevis delivers first class results on both accounts, it’s not a stuck-at-the-hotel destination, which means the active and adventurous will be equally rewarded. If you could stand dragging yourself away from the beach and pool, you will discover the Island’s rich history, unparalleled natural bounty and relics of early exploration era. The friendly locals will help you. Hire a tour guide, rent a car or do a portion of the island every day by bike. The road circling the island is about 36 miles long, with plenty of noteworthy stops along the way including historical plantations, as well as hidden and not-so-hidden ruins of old sugar mills. A three-hour guided tour will get you to most of the must-see things, but a full day with your own rental car will afford you the chance to discover tucked away historical treasures. The Museum of Nevis History in Charlestown, the capital, is a good place to start. Located in the house where Alexander Hamilton was born, it is home to a vast array of artwork, artifacts and historical documents, with prominent collections of Hamilton and Horatio Nelson, the British hero of the Battle of Trafalgar. A history lover can get lost here—as can those with imaginations tilting towards pirate lore and seafaring days. If it’s old-world West Indies charm you’re looking for, the Hermitage Plantation, built in around 1700, the oldest standing wooden house in the Caribbean, is brimming with antiques.
End any excursion, whether physically challenging or not, with a quick dip in the island’s famous hot spring baths. The Bath Hotel, built in 1778, is considered the Caribbean’s first hotel and in a sense, the first tropical island vacation spot in the Western Hemisphere. It was built next to natural hot springs. Vacationers of yesteryear, typically wealthy Brits, would sail to the island, check in to take advantage of the luxurious accommodations and enjoy spa treatments in the healing hot bath—not all that different than our modern island getaways.
The Botanical Gardens of Nevis are a flower-lover’s paradise. Vast arrays of palms, orchids and other rainforest plants grow on a natural hillside with stunning views of the ocean. For the adventurous, a hike up Mount Nevis through the rainforest is a unique trek, but is not to be taken lightly. A full hike to the peak (over 3,200 feet high) can take up to five hours for experienced hikers. Some sections of the trail are virtually vertical and require climbing unstable footholds and pulling yourself up by roots. Not quite swinging and climbing from the vines sort of stuff, but close. You really have to know what you’re doing to hike to the peak: If you get injured, the only way down is by helicopter. Most opt for a hike to the “source,” where much of the island gets its water. The gradual-to-steep incline is still an uphill hike and takes about an hour, but it’s much easier than the vertical climb to the peak. You may come across a few goats or monkeys, and some hidden ruins along the way.
A stiff drink at Sunshine’s Beach Bar, the local favorite, is exactly the antidote for loosening weary limbs afterwards. Especially the signature rum based Killer Bee when drunk in tune with the gentle reggae music lulling in the background.
For a best of both worlds escape, this writer spent two days at the Four Seasons followed by two days at Montpelier Plantation Inn.
Four Seasons Resort
The Four Seasons needs no introduction, but for the masterful way this first class international chain exercises chameleon like behavior to adopt the personae of a property’s host locale and beautifully blend into the native vibe to provide guests an authentic experience. The Nevis location is no different. Every amenity is available and while Nevis is an island that calls for you to wander, you could spend your entire vacation on the Four Seasons Resort and not have any regrets. It’s upscale and family friendly.
The resort is dominated by its 18-hole, Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed golf course. It’s golfing with a view: Mount Nevis in one direction and the Caribbean Sea in the other. Private villas, which can be rented or purchased (if you have $1.5 million), are tucked along the course, as are groves of mango trees that attract monkeys who live off (sometimes on) the course.
Activities galore are available here. Aside from the golf, the Four Seasons includes ten tennis courts and an exercise facility with a full line of equipment as well as aerobics classes and personal trainers. Water sports like snorkeling and kayaking can be arranged at the concierge’s desk. As can sailing lessons through their Laser Sailing School. Guests of any age can take a short sailing class followed by a hands-on sailing lesson that ends in handling the boat solo. After all that activity and newfound seafaring prowess, a massage seems just rewards. The Spa at Four Seasons is a full-service haven of relaxation with a vast menu of treatments and massages provided by well-trained and skilled therapists.
Four Seasons sports four restaurants and two bars, all living up to the resort’s reputation. Mango, with its waterside deck and panoramic views of the Caribbean, is thee place to see the sunset over the water and enjoy a fresh seafood dinner. Coral Grill is an upscale restaurant and the place to get a steak when you need one—they have prime beef shipped in. Neve offers relaxed Italian dining by night and a breakfast buffet by day. The pool and beachside Cabana offers lighter fare and a good place for a drink after a swim. The Library Bar is your spot for an elegant nightcap.
Montpelier Plantation Inn
The Montpelier Plantation Inn is authentic and charming. Family-owned and operated, it provides the perfect mix of relaxation and adventure with a personal touch. Famous for being the site of Horatio Nelson’s wedding in 1787, the plantation was purchased almost ten years ago by the Hoffman family who renovated it with a concentration on conserving the natural setting. Children under 7 are not allowed, just one of the reasons this is a perfect romantic getaway or honeymoon spot. The property encompasses 30 acres, with cottages tucked along the hillside amongst ornamental gardens brimming with indigenous plants. The accommodations are spacious, simple and chic. There’s no TV in the room, but you won’t miss it. The view of the sea and gardens from the room’s private veranda is enough. You may even see a monkey run by.
Sipping rum cocktails and lounging by the pool is always in high order for an island vacation, but made all the sweeter with the addition of the ruins of an old sugar mill in view. Montpelier guests also have access to a private beach that is a short ride away. Closed off to the public, the beach is secluded with rock jetties on both sides—the perfect place for a clandestine afternoon listening to the waves meeting the shore?
The staff is ultra-friendly, most of them will know you by first name within a day, and they are happy to assist in setting up any activities you’re game for. Whether you want to play tennis, have a spa treatment, go to the beach, rent a mountain bike, call a cab or book a hiking guide up Mount Nevis, they will set it up for you and all you have to do is concentrate on relaxing.
Breakfast and lunch by the pool or veranda are nice, but dinner at Montpelier is an enchanting experience. It starts with a personal touch: The Hoffman family meets and greets guests at a cocktail hour where everyone mingles. Diners then move to the candlelit tables of The Mill, cozy dining nestled within old stone walls adjacent to the sugar mill, or Restaurant 750 (formerly called The Terrace), veranda seating overlooking lit gardens and the lights of Charlestown and St. Kitts. Both are visually stunning places to experience the fine dining. The changing menu consists of four courses of the freshest local ingredients including fish from area fishermen.
As more people learn or are reminded of Nevis’ unspoiled charm, the former sugar-producing hub for the British Empire may one day regain its noteworthy status—this time as a naturally-exotic destination for discerning and adventurous tourists.
Direct flights: JFK to/from St. Kitts are on Wednesday and Sundays only. A ferry or water taxi will bring your from St. Kitts across the 2-mile-wide channel to Nevis. From there, The Montpelier water taxi takes about 5 minutes, followed by a quick cab to the plantation. The ferry to Four Seasons takes about 25 minutes and drops you right at the pier of the Resort. It’s easier than it sounds and is a very relaxing and visually pleasing journey.