Friday, November 27, 2015

Nevis: The little Caribbean island that could

Sugar was once the primary source of revenue for Nevis -- Today it's tourism, but you can still relive the past  (Taylor)
NEVIS Nevis just may be the Rip Van Winkle of the Caribbean. The sleepy little island nestled just across the channel from its big sister St. Kitts is in a quiet corner of the world all its own.

Nevis is a perfect synonym for serenity where the biggest event of the day is usually the sunrise with its promise of perpetual solitude in paradise.

Avenue of the Palms at Nisbet Plantation  (Taylor)
Nobody really knows how Nevis got its name which is derived from the Spanish Nuestra Senora de las Nieves meaning “Our Lady of the Snows.” The reference comes from a rare snowfall on the Esquiline Hill in 4th century Rome. Many believe the theory is based upon the clouds that usually surround the summit of Nevis Peak which apparently reminded someone of the miracle snow in Italy centuries ago.

Nevis is also known as the “Queen of the Caribees” thanks to its once thriving sugar industry in the 18th century. Today tourism is the primary source of revenue, but the island has wisely incorporated its past to sweeten the transition.

Looking across the "Narrows" toward St Kitts (Taylor)
Situated a little more than 200 miles east-southeast of Puerto Rico, Nevis and St Kitts gained their independence from the United Kingdom in 1983. They are separated by a shallow two mile channel known as “The Narrows.”

Most visitors arrive in Nevis by water taxis that take approximately 10 minutes from St. Kitts, but the island does have an airport which can accommodate small planes.

For a tiny place, Nevis has a rich history which it ingeniously uses to promote modern day tourism. When Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, the French Canadian founder of Louisiana decided to drive the English out of Nevis in 1706, many plantation owners burned their property rather than allowing the French to take control.

Ironically, it was primarily the African plantation slaves who took up arms to defend their families against the French invaders.
Golden Rock Plantation is famous for its lush gardens  (Taylor)
Two important consequences resulted; the sugar industry ultimately collapsed and small plots of land from the plantations were offered to the previously enslaved families. Today, Nevis has a population of roughly 12,000 inhabitants who are mostly of African decent.

When slavery was abolished in 1834, the first Monday in August was set aside as Emancipation Day as part of the island’s annual Nevis Culturama Festival.

Typical cottage at Nisbet Plantation  (Taylor)
But given its laid back personality, there are other historical aspects to Nevis which are fascinating.  British naval hero Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson was married to the 22-year old daughter of a plantation owner there in 1787. Frances (Fanny) Nisbet lived at Nisbet Plantation, one of four sugar plantations that have been renovated into upscale resorts.

The first United States secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, was born on Nevis and spent the first years of his life there.

Other natives include Rupert Crosse, the first African American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and actress Cicely Tyson who has won multiple Emmys and was nominated for an Oscar in 1972.
Remnants of its sugar history at Nisbet Plantation Resort, once the home of Fannie Nisbet wife of Lord Nelson (Taylor)
Even lesser known, but no less important, is the story of Captain John Smith who visited Nevis while sailing to Virginia in 1607. It was during Smith’s voyage that the first permanent English settlement of Jamestown was founded in the New World.

Yet, with such a rich history, time still passes slowly on the island of Nevis and the residents wouldn’t have it any other way.
Bath Hotel and Spa was the first hotel in the Caribbean -- It is now an office building but the hot springs remain (Taylor)
Electricity wasn’t introduced until 1954, but it was not available throughout the island until 1971. Despite that, Nevis was home to the first hotel in the Caribbean, the luxurious Bath Hotel and Spa built by John Huggins in 1778. Huggins created his property to take advantage of the small but soothing medicinal waters of the nearby hot spring fed by the thermal activity of Nevis Peak.

The thermal baths of Nevis fed by Nevis Peak  (Taylor)
Though the hotel is now an office building, the hot springs remain active for visitors to enjoy “taking the waters.”

Each of the former sugar plantations that has been converted into resorts features its own charm and character. The deluxe Four Seasons Hotel is the only chain hotel on Nevis as well as the only Four Seasons hotel in the Caribbean.

Life on Nevis centers around the water. Pinney’s Beach, on the western coast, is the most developed beach on the island.
Five star luxury of the Four Season Hotel on the tiny five star island of Nevis  (Taylor)
Though tourism thrives, the island is too small to accommodate large cruise ships. With 400 hotel rooms, half of which belong to the Four Seasons, Nevis’ goal is not to add more hotels but to fill the rooms they already have.
Montpelier Resort is near the site of the wedding between Admiral Lord Nelson and Fannie Nisbet  (Taylor)
Nevis is a place where a chorus of invisible tree frogs will serenade you to sleep. A place where soft breezes caress the palm trees to sound like a gentle rain. A place where time gets lost within its own timelessness.