By Victor Block
The islands are two miles and a 45-minute ferry boat ride apart. From the air, one resembles a ball and the other a chubby baseball bat. They share their history and a common government. Yet Nevis (pronounced Nee-vis) and St. Kitts each has its own distinct personality.
Let’s explore Nevis, the smaller, ball-shaped island, where what it does not have is a part of the appeal. Next month, we’ll visit St. Kitts.
Because they lack the glitz and glitter of some Caribbean destinations, both islands have had a low profile. That was changed for Nevis by an event which took place in New York City.
Until the summer of 2015, many people were unaware that Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis. Then the Broadway musical opened that tells the story of the man who became a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and the first secretary of the treasury for the fledgling United States. As a result, the tiny island has become a “must-see” destination for many vacationers.
Those seeking places associated with the famous native son soon find them, along with a list of other inviting to-sees and to-dos. They also enjoy a serene setting that residents wish to maintain.
A good place to acquire a Hamilton fix is the Museum of Nevis History in Charlestown.
In addition to chronicling Alexander’s accomplishments and the lasting impact he had on the history of the United States, exhibits describe the island’s past and delve into its culture.
The two-story stone building stands on the site where Hamilton was born in either
1755 or 1757 – the exact date remains unknown – and lived for several years. It overlooks the Charlestown harbor, where ships once unloaded their cargo of slaves, who were sold in the market one block away.
Another place associated with Hamilton is the plantation once owned by members of his family. Like a number of other sugar estates on Nevis, it was abandoned and ignored after the industry lost much of its importance in the early 18th century. Around the island, the ruins of these once-proud estates rise out of the encroaching forest vegetation. At the Hamilton plantation, hints of the past include the foundations of the Great House, as plantation owners’ homes were called, and remnants of a stone windmill tower, boiling house and steam engine.
A more complete introduction to the life of wealthy plantation owners, and the somewhat casual grandeur of their surroundings, is presented at manor houses that have been converted to guest inns. Each incorporates original sugar-era structures into their setting, yet also offer its own unique story and personality.
Montpelier comprises a magnificently landscaped property sprinkled with equipment from when it operated as a sugar mill factory. Original lithographs which adorn the walls depict its appearance then.
Nisbet sprawls over 30 palm tree-covered acres and is the only plantation inn fronted by a beach. The individual guest cottages bear the colorful names of local villages including Morning Star, New River and Cane Garden.
The more rustic, informal Hermitage became my personal favorite. Its hilltop location provides scenic views, and the Great House, which traces its lineage back to 1640, is said to be the oldest wooden home in the Caribbean. Some guests stay in abandoned houses that were moved to the property and lovingly restored.
In ways the sites of the plantations echo the setting of Nevis. The island rises gently from the sea to the dominating peak of Mount Nevis, which is blanketed by dense forest. A multi-hued carpet of tropical plants, lush foliage and bright flowers which decorate the scene render redundant any “Scenic Overlook” road sign.
Opportunities for exploring are enticing and engaging. The three-hour Funky Monkey
Tour in an All-Terrain Vehicle takes in a pair of sugar plantations; the Thomas Cottle
Church, named for a plantation owner who believed that he and his slaves should worship together; and an inviting isolated beach.
Other tours go up and over Mount Nevis, lead to a series of mini-waterfalls, and allow guests to get close up and personal with the monkeys, wild donkeys and goats, pelicans and other wildlife that make the island their home.
Another kind of life is encountered during the aptly named Pub Crawl, a visit to several “rum shops” of the kind that are scatted about both Nevis and St. Kitts. These tiny shacks are frequented by locals who gather to socialize, relax and sip beverages from plastic cups. The island residents are invariably welcoming and polite to vacationers who descend upon their haunts.
That demonstrates another appeal of both Nevis and St. Kitts. Whether giving a visitor the right-of-way when two cars meet on a one-lane road, providing directions or simply smiling as they pass on a sidewalk, both Nevisians and Kittitians, as they’re known, are among other reasons to experience what those sister islands have to offer.
For more information about Nevis, visit nevisisland.com.