The Caribbean island of St. Kitts was once described with an ancient Carib word, “liamuiga,” which means “fertile land.” As I stand looking out over Belle Mont Farm, a luxurious sustainable resort on the island, liamuiga doesn’t describe the half of it. There are over 400 acres of edible landscape before me ripe with bananas and ginger, peanut plants and passion fruit, aromatic herbs and exotic greens. I inquire about a sign that says, “Pick me,” and my pretty resort guide points to a mango tree — one of 100 mango varieties on the property. She explains that when guests play golf, they’re encouraged to grab-and-go on “the first edible golf course.” In a world of hyped-up, pumped-up island resorts on steroids, I realize I have entered that special world of Caribbean-unspoiled, and I grab my bit of island paradise.
Sleepy St. Kitts Awakens with Luxury
St. Kitts, formerly known as St. Christopher, lies southeast of the US Virgins Islands, in the West Indies. It’s reminiscent of Caribbean days of old when windswept beaches, lush rainforests, historic sugar mills and charming boutique inns were enough to draw visitors to the islands. St. Kitts still offers the simplicity of those draws, but at the same time there’s a new era dawning on the island. Sleepy St. Kitts is awakening with a few new luxury developments that tap the natural beauty of the island.
“Why not make the landscape work for us?” says Phill Cooper, who heads the farm at Belle Mont Farm. Cooper is showing my husband and I around acres of organic fare, some of which will show up on the dinner menu that evening. Seasonally, weather permitting, guests dine al fresco, family-style at an enormous table set amid the landscape in true farm-to-table dining.
But it’s the accommodations at Belle Mont Farm that wow me. The peaked, shingled roofs of guesthouses dot the hills, resembling a small community situated along winding roads. In fact, the guesthouses do create a community, part of the founder’s vision “to bring together community and culture, mindful conservation of natural resources…along with rewarding activities and learning opportunities.” Those statements from Val Kempadoo are humble, though in reality he’s thrown in world-class, harmonious architecture and luxury to boot.
I fling open the enormous French doors to our guesthouse that open on to a veranda with a private infinity pool and views of the ocean. Within are high vaulted ceilings, a finely carved poster bed, wine bar, technical amenities discreetly tucked within a desk, and a TV/movie screen that electronically rolls down to shade out the floor-to-ceiling windows at feature time. Adjacent is an outdoor bathroom and rain shower privatized with bamboo foliage. I’ve stayed in many luxurious places in the Caribbean, and this is among the best at retaining authentic island atmosphere in the lap of luxury.
Venturing forth, I explore hiking trails surrounding Mt. Liamuiga, the dormant rainforest volcano that serves as a backdrop to Belle Mont Farm. A congenial local, O’Neil Mulraine, guides my group through thick wooded canopies up into the clouds, relaying bush tidbits and bird calls along the way. At the base are the ruins of a sugar mill and rum distillery, part of a former plantation called Wingfield Estate that is a cornerstone of English Caribbean history — it was part of the British crown’s first land grant in the West Indies, in 1625, to Sam Jefferson, ancestor of Thomas Jefferson. The nearby gardens of Romney Manor also belonged to the working plantation but now the “work” is about batik creations made in time-honored tradition with demonstrations for guests amid lovely tropical garden surroundings.
New Destination Harbor for Super-Yachts
I detour from nature and history to see the other hot happenings in terms of luxury development on St. Kitts. A hallmark is Christophe Harbour, a new “destination harbor” with hundreds of berths for super-yachts — just 50 miles from St. Barts — and 2,500 acres of village and resort community-in-the-making. Christophe Harbour is the mastermind of the developers of Kiawah Island off South Carolina, and aside from villas for sale and rent, its offerings will soon include a 5-star Park Hyatt. But don’t expect a high-rise city-type Park Hyatt. The general manager tells me the resort will be more akin to their property in the Maldives, which is a sanctuary that has proved so successful in its secluded blissfulness that the staff doesn’t see the guests 80% of the time. Now overtaxed visitors can soon slink and disappear on St. Kitts.
There’s a quirky but pleasurable way to get the lay of the landscape on St. Kitts, and that’s the Scenic Railway, a 1920s-era railway that used to transport sugar cane but now carries visitors in double-decker parlor cars along an 18-mile stretch of island. The train winds its way beside the roaring Atlantic, with views of nearby Nevis, passing over canyons and through fields and small towns, while guests enjoy complimentary rum concoctions and pleasant a cappella interludes from a railway-choir trio.
Brimstone & Barefoot Blissfulness
One sight we pass is Brimstone Hill Fortress, a well-preserved British fortification and UNESCO World Heritage site worth a side tour. Climbing the stairs up 800-foot slopes is tortuous, but the views from atop are magnificent as is the history of the polygonal-shaped fortress known as the “Gibraltar of the West Indies.” The fort succumbed to the French at one point but ultimately remained in British hands. Oddly enough, the French and British shared St. Kitts for nearly 100 years, and their influences remain divided among former village strongholds on the island.
The capital city of Basseterre, however, is clearly colonial British with hints of Piccadilly in its town center. The cruise ships call Basseterre port as well, with plenty of surrounding shopping venues and restaurants catering to ship clientele. I opt instead for the barefoot-in-the-sand atmosphere of the beach bars along “The Strip” in Frigate Bay, a few miles out of town, and Reggae Beach Bar & Grill on Cockleshell Bay, several miles further along the southeast peninsula. The latter attracts a lively scene with its powdery beach and plethora of sun, sand and water sports.
But at the end of the day, there’s nowhere I’d rather be barefoot than at Belle Mont Farm. My husband and I “kidnap” another couple we meet walking along a stretch of windswept beach. The English pair had visited St. Kitts before, but this time decided to rent a car and explore the less trafficked side of the island. We all head toward the Great House of Belle Mont Farm for a poolside respite and lunch. There, we take in the beauty of the Kittitian hills beyond, grabbing one more bit of island paradise in a community of newfound friends.
Getting There: American has non-stop daily flights from Miami. For concierge-service arrivals check out YU Lounge, www.yulounge.com.
Where to Stay: St. Kitts lodging ranges from new 5-star luxury to manor-type accommodations.
Belle Mont Farm at Kittitian Hill: Authentic, ultra-luxury guesthouses and villas harmoniously in sync with the natural surroundings and with farm-to-table gourmet dining. Rates start at $700 per night. Tel: 855-846-3951, www.bellemontfarm.com
Park Hyatt: First resort property for Park Hyatt in the Caribbean, opening late 2016 with 5-star luxury within Christophe Harbour development on beautiful Banana Bay. Tel: 877-875-4658, stkitts.park.hyatt.com
Ocean Terrace Inn: Boutique 4-star luxury overlooking the ocean and capital of Basseterre and featuring excellent Fisherman’s Wharf dining. Rooms start at about $200. Tel: (800) 524-0512 www.oceanterraceinn.com
Ottley’s Plantation Inn: Situated on the rolling hills of a former 17th century sugar plantation. Rates start at $235 with minimum 2-4 night stays. (800) 772-3039, www.ottleys.com