I am no expert on the Caribbean. Truth to tell, this was my first visit to the islands. Friends had described their vacations to some other Caribbean islands with enthusiasm, but those things over which they so passionately enthused kinda left me thinking that I might stay home! Perhaps it’s an age thing. I wanted a holiday filled with calm and beauty, but punctuated with a reggae opportunity at a distance from my bedroom window, and perhaps just a hint of adventure – enough to give a thrill but not enough to increase the cost of the holiday insurance policy. I found St Kitts.
St Kitts isn’t over-developed by tourism. It retains many original features, to use estate agent ‘speak’. It’s a lush island made up of three groups of volcanic peaks, rainforest and a peninsula where sits the popular Marriott Hotel and its associated fine beach. It offers vacationers a high standard of both accommodation and food just yards from that sun-kissed strand. It’s on the Atlantic coast but any self-respecting tourist will want to also boast that they have toasted their toes on a beach that is lapped by more gentle Caribbean waves, and that other water mass is just a short walk away.
This island has a long and colourful history which began with the second voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1493. He spotted the island but sailed on past. The island is thought to be named after either that navigator or the patron saint of travellers, St. Christopher – Kitt is a diminutive of the name Christopher. Englishman Thomas Warner arrived with fourteen other settlers in 1624 to found the first English colony in the Caribbean. The island was already inhabited by Arawaks and Caribs.
A couple of years after the establishment of the English settlement, Pierre Belain d’Esnambue landed with a small group of French settlers. He had the support of Cardinal Richelieu to establish French colonies in the Caribbean, and the cardinal became a shareholder in the Compagnie de Saint-Christophe. The new arrivals evidently changed the dynamic between colonists and the indigenous population: a massacre ensued which wiped out the original inhabitants.
The Europeans had the island to themselves but continued, in true Anglo-French fashion, to war against each other. St. Kitts has a UN World Heritage Site designation for Brimstone Hill Fortress & National Park, for those who are interested in battles. The Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 ceded the entire island of St Kitts to Great Britain and in 1727 Basseterre became the island’s capital.
The colonists developed initially tobacco and later sugar plantations and brought African slaves to work the land. St Kitts soon became a leader in sugar production in the Caribbean. In 2005, due to falling profits, the Government closed both the cane fields and the sugar factory. The commercial industry has ceased but sugar cane can still be found growing in untended fields.
Wingfield Estate offers visitors a chance to take just a glimpse back in time to see how a plantation worked. It was populated by owners and slaves but those workers not only cut the cane but had skills in the blacksmiths shop as well as the rum distillery. The first owner was Sam Jefferson and that name might sound somewhat familiar. He was the grandfather several times removed of Thomas Jefferson, who was the third president of the U.S.A. By 1775 the American Revolution was being fought and there were 68 sugar plantations on St. Kitts, which equates to one for every square mile.
The Wingfield estate followed the trends of the day and first grew tobacco and indigo which gave the blue dye for clothes. The present owner says that tobacco still grows whenever the ground is disturbed. Sugar and rum were the next to be produced and that continued here till 1924. The aqueduct and buildings can still be seen, although the estate now boasts the lighter industry of batik printing. The great plantation houses of Golden Lemon and Rawlins might open in years to come but Ottley’s is now a luxury hotel which caters for discerning independent guests.
St Kitts has more than a quarter of its land devoted to a National Park with a rainforest that is increasing in size. One can walk in the cool quiet of lush vegetation with just the sound of a stream to add to the sense of uninterrupted tranquillity. Vervet monkeys will likely be your only companions. For those with a yen for that aforementioned hint of adventure then there is zip lining. For the untutored, that’s a few minutes of sliding down a cable with, mercifully, a harness between you and the forest canopy. I would counsel taking a couple of rides as you will likely have your eyes closed for the first one. It’s an exhilarating and fun experience that I can highly recommend and the nearest thing to flying possible without baggage restrictions or need for lipstick in a clear plastic bag. The in-flight movie is in HD and 3D.
This small but marvellously appointed island is, as yet, relatively unspoilt. It presents the visitor with calm and quiet. It has those vibrant reggae bars but they are not obtrusive. The beaches are stunning and the rainforest should not be missed. One can find good food everywhere, and a rum punch will never be far away. It’s an island that still retains visible history and charm in a beautiful setting. St Kitts offers something for everyone so take your dancing shoes, hiking boots and flippers, and enjoy some refined adventure.
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018