PHOTO: Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, St. Kitts & Nevis. (Photo by Brian Major)
Describing Nevis can always begin with what it isn’t.
It isn't commercial: The smaller half of the dual-island Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis has no chain stores or restaurants, no casinos and no crowds. It isn't busy: Beyond a rooster’s occasional peal, there aren’t even any loud noises, as Nevis is home to 11,000 residents and encompasses a slight 36 square miles.
So, what is Nevis?
It’s everything that’s made the Caribbean a beloved visitor draw for generations. Sun-filled skies greet virtually every day, and temperatures are routinely warm. Nevis’ waters and skies share beautiful shades of blue, and the island’s lush hills culminate in 3,232-foot Mount Nevis, a dormant volcano that feeds local hot springs.
Nevis’ magnificent natural landscape and small scale make it a throwback Caribbean destination, characterized by long, splendid stretches of near-empty beach and lush hills dotted with wistful ruins of colonial plantations.
Nevis also offers significant historic sites, led by Alexander Hamilton’s birthplace in Charlestown, the colonial-era capital. Charlestown also features the 18th century Bath Hotel and Spring House, a former playground for the rich and famous that once hosted Lord Horatio Nelson and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
The island’s intimate, almost exclusive character extends to its hotel and resorts, the largest of which offers only 196 rooms. Nevis’ most popular properties accommodate anywhere from 15 to 35 guests and include contemporary beachside properties, intimate hillside resorts and several upscale cottage-style properties located on historic plantation grounds.
Nevis also features a surprising array of restaurants ranging from upscale farm-to-table dining at the water’s edge to casual beach bars famous for their potent rum cocktails.
Nevis’ southern and western shorelines feature reefs that are popular scuba diving sites, and there are secluded, sheltered swimming beaches in Oualie Bay and Cades Bay on the island’s northern end. Visitors can also arrange sailing, catamaran, horseback-riding and off-road excursions.
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Nevis also hosts a handful of annual events, including an April Blues Festival and a November triathlon. These and other events may be the only times Nevis visitors will ever encounter a crowd, a particular highlight of this under-the-radar Caribbean destination.
Arriving in Nevis
I arrived via a flight from New York’s JFK International Airport to St. Kitts’ Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport that included a connection in Miami International Airport. There is a Saturday direct departure direct from JFK to St. Kitts on Saturdays.
Once in St. Kitts, a 15-minute taxi ride took us to a small dock from where we traveled to Nevis aboard a private water taxi, which can be arranged through the Nevis Tourism Authority. For $20 per person, the taxi transported us to Oualie Beach on Nevis’ north side. Private boats and public ferries are also available from St. Kitts to Charlestown, Nevis’ capital, and another ferry travels between St. Kitts and Cades Bay.
I spent the week at the Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, a 30-acre former sugar and coconut plantation described as the Caribbean’s only historic plantation inn located on a beach. The resort grounds are the one-time home of Fanny Nisbet, the young widow of a plantation owner who married British naval hero Lord Horatio Nelson in Nevis in 1787.
The property is one of several upscale Nevis resorts based on the grounds of a former plantation, and its charming cottage-style accommodations create a peacefully elegant, secluded atmosphere that’s ideal for relaxation. Each of the 38 lemon-colored cottages is surrounded by a quarter-acre of land which creates a distinct sense of tranquility and privacy.
A long, lush lawn framed by palm trees extends from the cottages to Nisbet beach, an untouched spot that extends for miles between Newcastle Bay and Long Haul Bay. Two restaurants serving breakfast and lunch are located along the beach’s edge. The Great House restaurant offers gourmet dining al fresco by candlelight on the verandah or indoors in one of Nevis’ few air-conditioned restaurants.
There is a spa located on the property and the picturesque “avenue of the trees” hosted a wedding during my stay. Thursday nights feature popular beachside barbecues and a local steel band.
Other top Nevis hotel options include the GoldenRock Inn, Hermitage Plantation Inn, Montpelier Plantation Inn, Mount Nevis Hotel & Beach Club, Nelson Spring Resort, Nevis Four Seasons, Oualie Beach Resort, Paradise Beach Resort, Pinney’s Beach Hotel and The Hamilton Beach Villas & Spa.
I found the very popular Funky Monkey Tour inadequately named to some degree because it’s much more than a local nature tour. Instead, it’s unquestionably the best way to explore Nevis’ amazing natural environment.
Travelers can opt to drive their own off-road ATV or join a guide aboard the lead vehicle for a breezy tour of the entire island, traveling through the lush hills and across long stretched of secluded beachfront. Participants encounter numerous historic sites and ruins throughout the tour.
My visit included a stop at the ruins of the Hamilton Estate, a sugar plantation located in the hills just outside of Charlestown. Owned until the 1950's by the Hamilton family, the site also features excellent views of Charlestown and St. Kitts. We also toured the New River and Coconut Walk Estates, whose steam-powered sugar-processing plant was the island’s last to close, remaining in operation until 1958.
A walk through Nevis’ tiny capital won’t take very long but is worth the effort. In addition to several colonial-era structures, visitors will find the two-story Georgian style building that was Alexander Hamilton’s birthplace in 1757. Hamilton’s pop culture prominence in the wake if the blockbuster 2015 hip hop Broadway musical only adds to his significance of a key figure in the American fight for independence.
The museum maintains few personal artifacts beyond Hamilton’s many fascinating letters, but does a thorough job of detailing his life and times, and highlights outspoken advocacy for an end to the Colonial slave system. Known locally as Hamilton House, the building also houses the Musem of Nevis History. Charlestown also features a small Jewish cemetery whose earliest tombstone date to 1769 The small cemetery was established by Jews who emigrated to Nevis to work in its sugar industry.
The ruins of Cottle Church offer another historic site in the hills just beyond Charlestown. Cottle was a Nevis planter who built the Anglican church in 1824 as a place for his family and his slaves to worship together. Anglicans refused to consecrate the church as it was illegal for slaves to worship, particularly with slave owners. Cottle’s actions are regarded as a precursor to Britain’s 1833 abolition of slavery. The church remains a signature Nevis attraction and is often used as a background for weddings.