Nevis, a small Caribbean island that's not yet fully developed, is slowly building, expanding

October 04, 1992|By Bob Payne | Bob Payne,Contributing Writer

Until a year ago, the attraction of the green, cloud-topped island of Nevis most often cited was that it didn't have the kind of tourist amenities found on so many other Caribbean islands.

Its one golf course had only one hole. And its nine small inns -- eight, after Hurricane Hugo just about blew Zetland Plantation off the side of Mount Nevis -- were run by innkeepers who liked to brag that Nevis was not the place to come for people who expected cable television or air conditioning or 24-hour room service.

But during the past year, the opening of the 196-room Four

Seasons Resort, which nearly doubled the number of hotel rooms on the island, has brought just about every amenity

(except a casino) one would expect when paying a room rate that starts at $400 per night.

Inevitably, the availability of such amenities has taken some of the uniqueness out of a visit to Nevis. There are no high-rises yet; the Four Seasons is a collection of two-story buildings scattered among the palms. But the one-hole golf course has been eclipsed by the requisite championship 18-hole golf course. (Admittedly, it's a championship 18-hole golf course where it is sometimes necessary to wait for a family of donkeys to cross the fairway.) HBO now competes with sunsets for the video portion of the evening's entertainment. And a hardware store is no longer the island's largest private employer.

Yet these changes have done little so far to alter the essential character of this smaller and less-developed island of the two-island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis. "Nevis was a quiet place before the Four Seasons came, and it's still a quiet place," said locally based charter pilot Eric Lamb, who, passengers may or may not wish to know, is a former travel writer.

In fact, Nevis has not always been quiet. Its 82 sugar plantations, the ruins of which are evident everywhere, once kept the majority of its inhabitants very busy and a few of them very wealthy. Its hot sulfur springs were once frequented for their supposed restorative powers by the aristocrats of Europe, who were perhaps unaware that locals parboiled turtles in the springs as the first step toward converting them to soup.

Nor is Nevis without historical celebrities. The cap of white clouds that is almost never absent from Mount Nevis inspired Christopher Columbus to give the island the name that, in Spanish, means "snows." But Columbus never landed on Nevis, so the two historical names most associated with it are those of an Englishman and an American.

The Englishman is Horatio Nelson, Britain's most famous naval hero. He was married on the island, in 1787, to Fanny Nisbet, the orphaned and widowed niece of a prominent resident. An offshoot of the silkwood tree whose branches they were married beneath still stands. And pieces of the Royal Worcester china that came from England for the ceremony are still on display at the Nelson Museum, rather casually, some visitors might think, as they have the opportunity to turn a plate over in their hands.

The American is Alexander Hamilton, first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, who was born on Nevis in 1755. Although he left at the age of 8, he remains a popular figure on the island -- and not, according to a woman on duty at the Alexander Hamilton House and Museum, just because his face is on the U.S. $10 bill.

Despite Nevis' past, the attractions there today are mostly physical. Chief among them is Mount Nevis, the 3,232-foot-high top of a dormant volcano that ends in a perfectly formed cone. Except when rains make the path too slippery, the mountain can be climbed by those with stout lungs and a willingness to accept that they will come down looking as if they found time to squeeze in a bit of mud wrestling.

Because the trails are not well marked, a guide is recommended. Guide Linnell Liburd offers two hikes on the mountain. The most popular and most grueling is the climb to the peak. The round trip usually requires about five hours, but competitive types should know that it is difficult to find any young man on the island who claims that he has taken more than 45 minutes to make it to the top.

The second hike is along a slippery up-and-down trail among trees and ferns to a spring, from which flows the island's water supply. The hike requires about three hours and is an excellent alternative to the peak for less fit visitors, although there will be times when the narrowness of the path and the drop-off at its edge may make them unwilling to take their eyes off their shoes.

Other popular activities include horseback riding through groves coconut palms and on the beach, swimming on the calmer Caribbean side of the island, and snorkeling on the rougher Atlantic side. The best snorkeling is on the reef near the Nisbet Plantation Inn. The best swimming is at Pinney's Beach, a four-mile stretch of sand broken only by the Four Seasons.

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