|These two intimately situated isles, having recently shed British rule, are an independent federation with a strong pride in their sumptuous colonial history. Once wrested from the Caribs by the British and French (in a rare moment of amity), St. Kitts and Nevis were promptly tamed into flourishing cane and cotton producers, enclaves of expatriate opulence. By the 18th-Century, Nevis (pronounced NEE-vis) was heralded as "Queen of the Caribees," and St. Kitts boasted a massive lava-walled fort, Brimstone Hill, from which the possessive Brits kept watch over their tropical wealth. |
Today, the Greathouses of the gentry have been astutely transformed into some of the Caribbean's most unabashedly romantic inns, where deep verandas survey palm-shaded jewel-bright lawns, candlelit gourmet meals are served on ancestral china, and travelers doze beneath the timbered roofs of antique sugar mills. It is for this special experience a wistful immersion in bygone colonial grandeur - that these islands are most deservedly famous, though they are not immune to the vagaries and benefits of sleek Mai-Tai tourism (Frigate Bay and Pinney's Beach are, respectively, the Kittitian and Nevisian resort strips, where gambling, golf and watersports are amply available).
Independent though they may be, these islands remain conspicuously British in every arena except - fortunately - the kitchen (where West Indies fare achieves Cordon Bleu status). This is a land of cricket, croquet, and lawn tennis played on actual lawns. Driving is on the left, and post colonial society decks itself out with high-tea cachet: informal yet subtly grand.
Some say Nevis is the more sophisticated island - indeed, it jumped on the tourist bandwagon first - and that its secluded beaches are prettier, but St. Kitts has its share of clubby elegant inns, and its sands range from rich gold to the volcanic black of dramatic Dieppe Bay. Nevis's capital, Charlestown, dating to 1660, is the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton and a former haunt of Horatio Nelson, but St. Kitts (65 square miles to Nevis's 35) boasts the larger interior rainforest, cloaking its own volcano and filled with velvety orchids, chattering monkeys, and haunted colonial ruins. Panoramic Brimstone Hill commands a heartstopping view of six surrounding islands, and the Kittitian capital, Basseterre, is an entertaining patchwork of imperial monuments and capricious gingerbread cottages. St. Kitts, with the only direct flights from New York, is also a bit more accessible, but for clients craving a taste of manorial privilege, either of these impeccably hospitable retreats should prove delightful.