Travel By Fingertip...St Eustatius, Saba

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St. Eustatius & Saba Profile

Tiny, rugged, welcoming, and quiet, these two Dutch islands take the hackneyed word getaway to new and truer heights. Five and eight square miles respectively, Saba and St. Eustatius jut boldly from the sea and extinguished volcanos now teem in a tropical green landscape.

On Saba (SAY-ba), the largest hotel boasts 14 rooms, and despite the gentle climate, you may sometimes wonder if you've stumbled on the Scottish Highlands by mistake (indeed, Saba's first settlers came from the Shetland Islands). Travelers do not come for the beaches because, quite simply, there are none. The shoreline is a daunting, austere fortress of cliffs once surmounted only by way of rock-hewn stairs at Ladder Bay. Swimming, therefore, takes place mainly at hotel swimming pools (often with breathtaking views) - but diving's another matter. Those foreboding cliffs drop down to an underwater vision worthy of Jules Verne, a network of plunging ravines, spine-tingling caves, and fantastical lava formations, in waters where visibility reaches 200 feet. Quite a different landscape from the gentle pretty reefs elsewhere, this spectacle attracts both seasoned divers and intrepid beginners, since scuba facilities are one amenity at which Saba excels. Romance earns four stars as well; 3,000-foot Mount Scenery, crowned with its own personal raincloud, is riddled with glorious rainforest hiking trails, and Saba's lone road -The Road -is a rollercoaster, with thrills and vistas aplenty. Small gingerbread villages are the height of civilization (with weekend dances the only nightlife), and in the mountainside inns, soft clouds may seep hauntingly right through the rooms.

The flavor of "Statia" is similar: The Quill, at 2,000 feet, presides majestically over a few rustic enclaves and the now-modest streets of Oranjestad, fallen - if gracefully - from its 18th-Century status as an elegant, prosperous trading hub. Unlike Saba, Statia does have a beach or two: on the warm, inviting Caribbean, strips of volcanic gray sand; on the rough Atlantic side, broader golden sands more pleasant for sun lounging. The diving is less impressive, but there are underwater ruins to peruse, amenable also to snorkeling. Here, too, inns are cozy and nightlife is intimate - that is, yours to create.

On both islands, just about everyone speaks English. Food is unpretentious, with the occasional gourmet flourish, and sports are scarce (each island boasts one tennis court; find a lawn, and you might scare up a round of croquet).

Mention these two remote gems - reached via St. Maarten - to divers, old-fashioned honeymooners, and clients who yearn to step off the well-trodden path and savor a paradise of privacy.