The Caribbean continues to hold an extraordinary allure. Admittedly it’s hard to reach, elitist status has been somewhat eroded by mass tourism and cruise ship itineraries, yet the authentic charm can still be found. You just need to know where to look. So, l’m going to let you into a secret – the destination you seek is Nevis.
The island of is the partner to Saint Kitts, in the two-island independent Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis. Flights arrive at the low-key Robert L. Bradshaw Airport terminal. Within moments of arriving, you are embraced by island time.
The airport is so easy to navigate and soon enough I was through immigration, customs and in a taxi, taking me to the port, arriving just as the water taxi, serving Nevis, was pulling up along the quayside. As I took my seat for the short, speed boat ride across to Nevis, I was offered a chilled bottle of locally brewed Carib Lager. This is the welcoming island lifestyle.
From the water, you can see how the island is dominated by Nevis Peak, the dormant volcano that is verdant with rain and cloud forest. The clouds that typically cover the peak like snow inspired the island’s name when 16th-century Spanish explorers christened it Nuestra Señora de las Nieves. The mountain remains home to a wealth of flora and fauna left untouched despite the centuries of economic exploitation of the island by the French and British, that used enslaved people from Africa to farm more than 30 sugar cane estates.
Golden Rock Inn
On the slopes of this majestic mountain one finds the Golden Rock Inn. This is an intimate destination, with just 11 guest rooms set within cottages and bungalows secluded within lush jungle-like gardens, as well as a spacious suite in the original mill tower. The hillside location affords privileged views of the Caribbean Sea and the island silhouettes of nearby Antigua and Monserrat.
Thanks to its privileged, sheltered location, it has escaped hurricane damage over the decades. Head gardener Keith who has been nurturing the lush grounds for 30 years told me that thanks to its position, trees and palms have been able to mature into spectacular splendour. In fact the gardens are home to more than 60 species of palms, including the rare Talipot Palm (Corypha umbracullifera), Yaray Palm (Copernicia fallaensis) and Guano Palm (Coccothrinax borhidiana). You can also find the Pagoda flower (Clerodendrum paniculatum, native to tropical Asia). You’ll also find an impressive collection of cycads, seed plants bearing a resemblance to palms and ferns that date back approximately 280 million years.
Golden Rock Inn is an extraordinary place, redolent of the island’s history, as well as having a creative, artsy vibe. Understandable when I learn it is owned by the celebrated US abstract artist Brice Marden and his artist and photographer wife Helen. The couple has created a bespoke guest experience, transforming the estate into a living canvas of colours, textures and flavours that are evocative of the West Indies. Inside the communal area in the main building, you’ll find colourful modern art, vibrant throws and contemporary furniture as well as souvenirs from Helen and Brice’s globetrotting scattered around.
Upon arrival I was welcomed by General Manager Ivo Richli who proffered a glass of chilled rum punch, one of many I would indulge in over the coming days. This refreshing cocktail, made with rum and fruit juice, with a dash of bitters and grated nutmeg on top, is synonymous with the West Indies, and disarmingly easy to drink.
It’s the perfect accompaniment to the meditative, natural soundtrack of the estate’s wildlife, a harmony of croaking frogs, cooing doves, and songbird melodies.
The magnificence of the gardens and the simplicity of the inn indulges the slow traveller, encouraging you to forget the outside world (don’t expect a phone, TV or air-conditioning in your cottage). Guest rooms are simply furnished and decorated with bold Caribbean colours and homespun touches like a bougainvillea bloom set upon a basket of fruit, beside a generous jar of cookies.
The style is homey. When I first entered my room, it was a surprise not to be confronted by the usual boutique amenities, like a gourmet coffee machine, or Bluetooth speaker. Instead, this is old-school luxury that’s all about the charm, the tranquillity, and the privileged location. The King bed was great, and the bathroom had everything one could need. The ceiling and standing fan helped keep the room temperature manageable, although I would have preferred better blackout options to keep the sun out of the room.
The former Sugar Mill y tower is home to the hotel’s honeymoon suite, with two bedrooms, one double and one with two single beds as well as living space. There is a courtyard and garden which overlooks the mountain and the ocean. There is one room with one king-size bed and another with two twin beds making it perfect for families. There’s also a sitting area and a terrace where you can enjoy the views of Windward Beach whilst enjoying a Caribbean rum on ice. Design accents include bright red shutters which strike harmoniously against the antique stone walls. King-sized beds can be found in the romantic Paradise Cottage, designed in the typical Caribbean style with a large terrace that invites the outside in.
Paradise Cottage is surrounded by wonderful fig trees and the terrace offers views through the garden to the sea beyond. Inside a gorgeous hardwood floor runs throughout. The bedroom has a king-size bed and a living area with a chaise lounge and desk. The bathroom has a shower and a bath and Le Labo bath amenities.
Additionally, there are eight hillside rooms commanding stunning views of the ocean, mountain, garden, or pool. These include three duplex cottages: Scarborough, Mt Pleasant, and Morningstar and two freestanding properties called Coco Walk Cottage and Winward Cottage. They all feature a king bed or two single beds. These rooms feature a private terrace adjoined to the adjacent room making it perfect for families. All the cottages offer great privacy, each with its own porch overlooking the ocean and the islands of Montserrat and Antigua. The Garden Room is a stunning West Indies-style cottage with a queen-sized bed and bathroom as well as a porch. All of these rooms are decorated in amazing colours and textiles. Each one reflecting the liveliness of Caribbean heritage and original plantation structure yet adding Helen’s own artistic style. You can feel the exuberance of each room, yet it is also minimalist. The colours popping against the stone and hardwood elements and the juxtaposition of these styles creates a boho chic aesthetic that is wonderful.
Golden Rock Inn has become renowned for its relaxed, outdoor restaurant, The Rocks, which welcomes the public throughout the day. Visitors to the island seem to enjoy restaurant- and bar-hopping, eating their way across the island, and the food of Chef James Eaton has become a favourite.
Breakfast at the inn means a leisurely start to the day, usually shared with inquisitive birds that attempt to steal a morsel of the hearty dishes like Golden Rock Benedict of poached eggs with local smoked wahoo fish, or Lobster Hash with local seafood over poached egg potatoes, onions, and peppers.
Then after a day idling by the swimming pool, reward yourself for taking it slow, with dinner under the stars, starting with a chunky conch chowder, or coconut-crusted shrimp before a tempting plate of local Caribbean spiny lobster tail, or Moroccan chicken, a dish inspired by the well-travelled owners.
Nevis is a delight to explore. The friendly family-style team at Golden Rock Inn are on hand to make arrangements for a memorable stay. I particularly enjoyed an off-road island tour with the crew at Funky Monkey Tours, in one of their fabulously rugged and versatile buggies. You can self-drive or join a tour aboard one of these 4×4 buggies from local adventure specialists Funky Monkey Tours – either way you will be given access to the wilder side of the island from its unspoilt beaches, lush interior, where you can spot wild donkeys (the population dates back to the era of slavery when the animals were ‘beasts of burden’) to the fascinating ruins of the old sugar cane estates.
Another wonderful part of Nevis culture is of course the cuisine. But suffice to say it is really worth eating at different bars and restaurants across the island, from indulging in rum punch cocktails at Sunshine’s to eating authentic conch fritters at the Heritage Café.
It’s easy to create your own island food tour with the help of a guide, or one of the knowledgeable local taxi drivers, who will be happy to take you around the island, while they honk their car horns at passers-by as if they know almost all the island’s 11,000 residents.