Where to stay
Prices quoted are per room per night and include 20 per cent tax and service charge.
Beau Rive Owner Mark Steele wanted Beau Rive to feel like an old-fashioned hotel; much of his inspiration came from classic movies made in the 30s and 40s. That ethos extends right through from the interior design and soft dinner jazz to the home cooking, which is only available to resident guests. Doubles from £139, including breakfast. Castle Bruce, 00 767 445 8992, beaurive.com
Jungle Bay Play Robinson Crusoe in your own luxurious tree-house style cottage at this elegant and stylish eco-resort, which specialises in hiking tours and yoga retreats. Doubles from £146, including breakfast. Point Mulatre, 00 767 446 1789, junglebaydominica.com
Pagua Bay House This sleek, modern resort offers chic, banana shed-style cabanas. Doubles from £116. Marigot, 00 767 445 8888,paguabayhouse.com
Rosalie Bay Resort Opened in 2010, this expansive 22-acre eco-resort showcases Dominica’s natural beauty without scrimping on life’s little luxuries, such as an onyx-surrounded swimming pool, spa and impressively equipped gym. Doubles from £97, including breakfast. Rosalie, 00 767 446 1010, rosaliebay.com
Silks An exclusive five-room boutique hotel, which has all the sophisticated grace of a stylish French film set. Doubles from £107, including breakfast. Hatton Garden, Marigot, 00 767 445 8846, silkshotel.com
Currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (£1 = EC$4.15). Dominica is four hours behind GMT.
Dominica has a tropical climate. The average temperature is 27°C. Rainfall is very varied: 1,800mm around the coast and up to 9,000mm inland, annually. Dry season is January-April and wet season is July-October.
GETTING THERE, British Airways (0844 493 0787, britishairways.com) flies from London Gatwick to Antigua.
LIAT (liatairline.com, 00 268 480 5601) flies regularly from Antigua to Dominica.
RESOURCES Discover Dominica (0800 0121 467, discoverdominica.com) The official tourism board providing details on all tourism attractions, accommodation, restaurant and shops.
FURTHER READING, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (£8.99, Penguin Modern Classics). Inspired by Jane Eyre, this is the evocative story of the first Mrs Rochester, a white Creole heiress from Dominica, her childhood on the island, unhappy marriage and subsequent breakdown.
Black and White Sands by Elma Napier (£10.99, Papillote Press). A fascinating account of Dominica’s history between 1930 and 1970, written by a Scottish-born writer and politician (Napier was the first woman to be elected to the Dominican parliament) who spent most of her life on the island.
Where to eat
Prices quoted are for three courses per person, excluding wine, unless otherwise stated.
Ancient Capital This first-floor restaurant serves up the tastiest Asian cuisine in Roseau. It also is the only restaurant so far in Dominica to serve sushi. Glance out across the first-floor balcony to the buildings opposite – this is where scenes from Wide Sargasso Sea were shot. From £45, without dessert. Church Street, Roseau, 00 767 448 6628
Iguana Café Great local dishes, pasta and seafood are served up at this rustic café. Reservations required. From £45. Michael Douglas Bvd, Portsmouth, 00 767 227 2535
Le Bistro Recently opened first-floor cosy French-style restaurant, which showcases the French influence on Dominican cuisine. From £52.19 Castle Street, Roseau, 00 767 440 8117
Le Riverside Café Food sourced straight from the garden for its modest menu created by French chef, who is also a brilliant mosaicist. They are currently developing an innovative sous-vide menu. From around £40. Main Road, Taberi, La Plaine, 00 767 446 1234, citruscreekplantation.com
Riverstone Bar ’n’ Grill Open on Sundays only for a lively family barbecue. Take a river bath before tucking into hearty barbecue fare. From £10. Laurent River Bridge, Belles, 00 767 235 3402
Sutton Grille This airy dining room hosts roti buffets with an impressive display of curry fillings from 11.30am-2pm every Wednesday and Saturday. Get there early to avoid disappointment, as the buffets are extremely popular. From £2 a roti. 25 Old Street, Roseau, 00 767 449 8700, suttonplacehoteldominica.com
- A flour-and water fritter, often made with codfish, breadfruit, tannia or titiwi.
- A large brown-haired rodent, similar in shape to a large, longlegged guinea pig. Roasted, it is a local speciality.
- A way of cooking. All the ingredients are placed in one large pot, cooked in water and seasoned to create a broth.
- Originally from the Pacific, this large round fruit resembles a green cannonball with a distinctive pattern on the skin. Usually served as a vegetable, boiled, roasted or fried. Its flesh has a starchy, nutty flavour.
- This has become the generic name for the leaves of a variety of plants such as dasheen, tannia and amaranth (prickly callaloo). The leaves are simply cooked and served much in the same way as spinach.
- Also known as the starfruit – a golden-yellow, juicy fruit. Sweet but with a tart undertone.
- Cashew fruit
- Has a juicy pulp and fragile skin with the nut growing from the bottom of the fruit, making it unsuitable for transport.
- One of the traditional indigenous staple root vegetables of the Kalinago people. There are both bitter and sweet cassavas. It is boiled and eaten as a vegetable, grated and mixed with coconut, sugar and salt to make cassava bread. Also used to make kanki, a dessert wrapped in banana leaves.
- Chadon beni
- (Eryngium foetidum), a pungent wild herb used as a seasoning and a good substitute for coriander.
- Large chive or small spring onion-like vegetable.
- Crab back
- A very popular dish of land crabs stuffed with vegetables.
- Cocoa tea
- A hot drink made from ground roasted cocoa beans, briefly boiled with milk, water and sugar. Has an espresso-like kick.
- Large, leafy plants with edible roots.
- Cow’s skin pickled in onion, lime, garlic, parsley and hot pepper.
- A porridge-like meal made from dried and grated cassava.
- Wild mountain strawberry used to make tarts and preserves.
- Ground provisions
- Used to describe a variety of starchy root vegetables such as yams, sweet potatoes, cassava and tannia.
- Very large, green fruit with starchy flesh and a flavour that resembles banana with a squeeze of lime.
- Mammy apple
- Large round fruit, similar in appearance to a rough cricket ball. Inside it has bright orange flesh, which tastes similar to an apricot.
- Dense, slightly sweet bread baked in a wood-fired oven.
- Mountain chicken
- Also known as crapaud, a large, indigenous land frog now no longer eaten as it is threatened with extinction.
- A seasoned rice dish most often including chicken or pork.
- A flat, soft bread, which often has dal incorporated into the dough and is usually filled with curried goat, chicken, beef or vegetables.
- A vegetable and meat soup, made from coconut milk, provisions and usually codfish.
- A member of the hibiscus family. The bright red petals of the flower, the calyx, are used to make a juice. The flavour of sorrel juice can be described as tart, somewhat resembling cranberry but with a pleasant, mellower flavour.
- The pulp of this fruit is creamy and may be eaten as it is or used to make juice or ice-cream. Its flavour has been described as a combination of strawberry and pineapple with sour citrus notes.
- Pig’s feet, snout or ears boiled then pickled in a mixture of onions, peppers, lime juice, parsley and cucumbers.
- An edible root that is cooked and eaten like yams or potatoes.
- A combination of tiny, underdeveloped fish and crustaceans that have spawned in their millions and all look very similar – about 1.5cm long and transparent with large black eyes. They are only gathered at certain times of the month and are sometimes known as the ‘manna of the sea’. They are most often made into accra.
- Yampen woti
- Roasted breadfruit.
- A nut-bearing tree also known as the West Indian almond.
Food and Travel Review
It’s 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon in Roseau, Dominica’s vibrant capital, and appetising aromas are wafting around the bustling streets, whetting the appetites of passers-by for the weekend’s indulgences. Despite being Dominica’s business hub, you’ll find no high-rises and billboards here, just quaint, hand-painted advertising boards pinned among the rainbow-coloured patchwork of small wooden-framed residences called ‘Ti Kaz’ and larger stone, shingle and timber-clad buildings with fretwork and first-floor balconies. Coming here is like stepping back to the Caribbean of the 1950s.
Before the weekend festivities begin, navigate your way through Roseau’s uneven streets towards the Old Mill Cultural Centre on the outskirts of the town, and ask for Sisserou Road. Here in this unassuming residential lane is Agatha’s Delight – under a brightly painted red-and-green gazebo in her front garden, you’ll find the quiet, statuesque Agatha Robert serving her legendary rabbit water (a delicate seasoned broth), rabbit stew and succulent barbecued rabbit. Seasoned with local thyme, cive (spring onion) and scotch bonnet, she leaves the stew and the rabbit water to marinate overnight, then cooks them in her kitchen in the morning, ready for the afternoon rush. The stew is light, with a perfect balance of delicate seasoning and sweetness. The rabbit flesh is soft and succulent, cooked to perfection and served simply with boiled green bananas. Agatha and her husband Jonas raise the rabbits in a large shed in the backyard; turnover is around eight weeks. This is their business, and not for the sentimental. They run a small convenience store at the front of the house and Agatha only turns her front garden into a rabbit bistro once a week.
Friday night is barbecue night island-wide in Dominica, and wherever you go the air is awash with the enticing aroma of food cooked over coals. Roseau’s farmers’ market comes alive as truckloads of fresh produce arrive from all over the island. By early Saturday the place is transformed into a patchwork of produce: water coconuts, pineapples, mangoes, pawpaw, passion fruit, guavas, Montgomery cherries, glistening fresh herbs and piles of ground provisions.
Just like other markets in the Caribbean, this is the heartbeat of the island. It’s where people gossip over home-made food such as roasted breadfruit, sautéed saltfish with onions, peppers and tomatoes and spicy, hot boudin noir (black pudding), flavoured with local spices. There’s sweetcorn and plantain roasting on braziers, water coconuts to quench your thirst. Vendors and customers slip effortlessly between English and Creole. But this is where the similarity between Dominica and the rest of the Caribbean ends. Dominica is an island unlike any other. There’s no international airport, no five-star luxury resorts, or long, powdery white-sand beaches. What it does offer is the majestic beauty of contrasting black-sand beaches, countless waterfalls, green pitons and the highest concentration of live volcanoes anywhere on earth that produce natural thermal springs to soothe the body.
This is the ‘nature island’. In fewer than 195,000 acres, there are hot and cold water springs, 1,600 species of vascular plants, over 200 species of birds and 365 rivers (12 major river systems that deliver 400 million litres of surface water into the ocean every day). Because the forests are alive and well they form a spine-like ridge across the country, feeding both sides of the island. Geothermal energy can be tapped into commercially or used for spa health wellness. As environmental activist Atherton Martin succinctly put it: ‘Dominica is really like a microcosm of the Garden of Eden’.
The island is a haven for hikers, divers and birders, as well as whale watchers – the surrounding waters host resident sperm whales. When the Waitukubuli National Trail is completed, it will stretch 115 miles from one end of the island to the other, along trails that Maroons and Caribs (now called Kalinago) carved through the interior of the island.
Dominica has the only remaining tribe of Carib Indians living in their own territory on 3,700 acres of land. They have a chief, an elected council and a parliamentary representative at the House of Assembly. It is often said that if Christopher Columbus visited the Caribbean today, Dominica would be the only island he would recognise. Historically, it was the last island in the Caribbean to be colonised – Barbados was settled in 1627 and Martinique in 1635, but Dominica was left untouched for nearly 100 years after that.
The rugged terrain provided a safe haven for the indigenous Kalinago people and the early sugar, tobacco and coffee planters only started to encroach when the rest of the Caribbean had been settled. First came the French, and then the British – but they couldn’t get more than two miles inland because of the impenetrable landscape. The interior remained untouched well into the 20th century; it wasn’t until 1956 that the first road was cut across the island.
The cuisine is a reflection of Dominica’s Creole culture – a combination of French, West African and Kalinago cooking styles. Cassava was the main staple food for the early Kalinago and cassava bread-making is still very popular in Dominica, as can be seen at the Kalinago Barana Autê – a model Carib village. The local mastiff bread, baked in wood-fired ovens, looks a bit like a fat French baguette with pointed ends, and is dense and slightly sweet, a little like Jamaican hard-dough bread. You will see it being sold in country bread depots, and roadside stalls throughout the day and is produced in small bakeries all over the island. For one of the best, try Lennox Anthony’s bakery in the heart of Roseau. Tucked away in a little alleyway, it’s not the easiest to find, but once you do you’ll find it impossible to leave without armfuls of loaves: burger buns, pain cassé – two breads baked together – and what they call pain tête – penny bread.
A reminder of the French influence on the island is the Le Petit Paris Bakery near the botanical gardens in Roseau. Yann Mathieu together with a brilliant young baker Jeremy, produce delicious flaky, buttery croissants, pain au chocolat, brioche, French bread, savoury puff pastry friands filled with cheese, ham and chicken, as well as wood-fired pizzas. Their outdoor café – Le Petit Haitia Snack Bar – serves the patisserie and hot local Haitian stews and salads, the latter the work of Haitian cook Anaila Frédérique.
Ground provisions such as sweet potato, yam, tannia, dasheen, cassava, together with plantain and green banana, form the basis of many meals. Meat, poultry and fish are seasoned before cooking with the Caribbean answer to bouquet garni: celery, parsley, hot pepper, garlic, onion, cive, bay leaves and thyme.
Creole recipes can’t be ignored – stewed agouti, smoked chicken or fish, callaloo soup and yampen woti (roast breadfruit) are musttry dishes. The brave should taste fachine (pickled cow’s skin) and souse (pig’s and cow’s feet). Both have a chewy texture with the meaty taste overpowered by lime, salt and hot pepper.
One-pot dishes often prevail – braff (patois for broth), goat water (goat soup), chatou water (octopus soup). Many of them include dumplings and a selection of ground provisions. Another favourite is boudin noir (black pudding), which filtered through to Dominica from the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. Made with pig’s or cow’s blood and either rice or breadcrumbs, it is highly flavoured with sweet spice such as nutmeg, mace, allspice, ginger and hot pepper, as well as onion and garlic. Sancoche (a soupy stew made with coconut milk and salt fish, as well as ground provisions) and accra, crispy fritters made with salt cod, titiwi (tiny fish) or black-eyed beans. A flour and water batter is mixed up, and a little hot pepper or just salt, then the fish or beans are mixed in. Spoonfuls are dropped into hot oil and cooked until they are light golden brown and crispy.
Pelagic fish such as the large, firm-fleshed tuna, mahi mahi (also known locally as dolphin) and kingfish are plentiful in season and are grilled, stewed, fried and increasingly being served raw as ceviche. Reef fish such as parrotfish and redfish are plentiful and the rivers contain a rich supply of freshwater fish such as mullet and tilapia as well as long-limbed crayfish. Stuffed land crabs provide another Dominican delicacy called crab back. As with lobster, they are seasonal and have replaced mountain chicken (large frogs) as one of Dominica’s most favoured dishes. The crab flesh is removed from the shell, mixed with sautéed onions, garlic, hot pepper and breadcrumbs, then seasoned with a little Worcester sauce, chives, thyme and baked for around 20 minutes.
Dominica is an island of small producers – little farms growing what they can for the local population. On a thickly forested hillside on the wild eastern shores of Dominica, expat Brit Mark Steele, owner of Beau Rive, runs a plantation-style 10-bedroom hotel, that blends colonial British style with Caribbean charm. He makes his own bread, chocolate and preserves, and serves the best breakfast on the island: fresh coconut and other unusual fruit such as mammy apple and jackfruit, home-made yoghurt with lime curd, locally produced coffee – all served on a beautiful balcony with views of the sea. Such was the abundance of high-quality fruit in Dominica that even before he built the hotel, Mark knew he would have to go home-made. He grows what he can, but is just as happy to purchase fresh produce from his neighbours, and the quality here is outstanding. It must be difficult for Dominicans who have never left the island to appreciate just how fortunate they are when it comes to their fish, fruit and vegetables. At Beau Rive, guests even rave about the flavour of a simple banana, but one of Mark’s greatest innovations is cocoa. ‘I didn’t know how to make chocolate, but with all our organic cocoa to hand, I asked my staff how to prepare it to the cocoa nib stage used locally for making cocoa tea, which is rather like hot chocolate,’ says Mark. ‘Once that was done, I tried experimenting with hot syrup, a little rum or brandy and whizzed it up in the Magimix. It worked, and now we have a whole new repertoire of desserts featuring chocolate such as crepes, chocolate fudge brownies and, of course, ice cream.’ The chocolate sauce has a grainy, earthy flavour from the roasted cocoa nibs, the ice cream a wonderful, intense flavour and texture.
Four miles from the capital, up in the mountains in Roseau Valley, you’ll find the rustic wooden two-storey guesthouses, Cocoa Cottages. The owner is Iris Azoulay, a former Israeli commercial pilot. She too produces her own chocolate. ‘We have two types of cocoa here, Criollo and Trinitario,’ she explains. ‘I send it to Grenada for processing and then I temper it here in my small chocolate kitchen by hand. It’s a small operation, very homespun, and each piece of chocolate is hand-crafted. For me it is my connection to the earth. When you eat the chocolate it’s almost like eating the soil, it’s dark, bitter and brown. I don’t put it into moulds – the way I break it is freestyle. There is no mould in my life. That’s why I ended up here.’ The resulting chocolate is superb – smooth and dark.
Further inland, another couple is breaking the mould: Christine Luke (originally Polish-American) and her Rastafarian husband Matthew set up a mushroom farm, Rainforest Mushrooms Dominica in Pont Cassé, at the edge of Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a Unesco World Heritage site. The park is regarded as the jewel in the crown of Dominica. Named after the highest mountains on the island, it houses majestic waterfalls, luxuriant tropical forest and hot thermal springs including the famous ‘boiling lake’. Ferns and orchids are flecked with sunlight that just filters through the high green canopies. And then there’s the Lukes’ farm. Mushrooms aren’t something you’d usually associate with the Caribbean, but they are traditional fare for forest dwellers. Especially oyster mushrooms, which grow on the powye, a white cedar. Matthew harvested mushrooms in the forest as a small child with his father and grandfather. ‘We have a natural climate in Dominica called the wet-cool climate,’ says Christine. ‘We get over 9,000mm of rainfall a year, ideal conditions for growing mushrooms, and we take advantage of this by having our greenhouses right under the forest.’
A significant number of Dominicans live to be over 100. Fae Martin runs the seven-unit Exotica Cottages, perched 365m up on the slopes of Morne Anglais, and gives cookery demonstrations for visitors interested in the local cuisine. ‘My grandmother died one day before her 97th birthday,’ she says. ‘She only cooked and ate fresh food, drank a lot of water and walked a great deal. Most of the old folks will tell you the same. We had all sorts of fruit trees in Granny’s yard, which was in the middle of Roseau. We had a little of everything; sheep, pigs, goats, turkeys, chickens and morrocoys (red-footed tortoises). We used to eat them, but we ate more sea turtles because it wasn’t illegal then and I love turtle meat. It isn’t fishy. It has the texture of beef, actually. But you would not catch me eating it now because when it comes to conservation, the law is the law. I would not catch crapaud (the large frog also known as mountain chicken) now either. They were were regarded as the national dish of Dominica but they contracted a disease that wiped them out.’
While turtles and mountain chicken are strictly off the menu, there are plenty of other inspired dishes at Zamaan restaurant (named after the West Indian almond tree). At night the tree-frog chorus provides background music to a tasting menu that includes Caribbean callaloo soup with lobster medallions and zamaan-crusted goat’s cheese. You find callaloo soup all over the Caribbean but rarely anything like this – a delicate, lobster- flavoured base with a hint of the spinach-like callaloo, flavoured with creamy coconut milk. The goat’s cheese is a wonderful use of local ingredients. Other dishes, such as delicate cinnamon bark-smoked shrimp with passion fruit, ginger and dark rum glaze, and a refreshing coconut water granita with honey, lime zest, nutmeg and a watermelon brunoise, are just as exciting.
Canadian Jennifer Andreoli is the daughter of the owner of Zandoli Inn – a five-bedroom guesthouse built on a cliff top in Stowe, the cultural capital of Dominica. Dining at Zandoli, you get the feeling you are attending an intimate dinner party. A typical evening might involve Jennifer cooking up a passion fruit lobster ceviche, served with green plantain chips, followed by rolled kingfish marinated in green seasoning with chadon beni (a pungent, aromatic local herb) and wrapped in prosciutto (Jennifer’s one import), served with a chimichurri sauce. And for dessert, there’s ‘cacao cup’, made with the local cocoa. ‘The French influence in Dominican cuisine is very clear,’ Jennifer explains. ‘It’s always been here because we are sandwiched between the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. The people in our fishing villages have been interacting with those of Guadeloupe and Martinique for generations.’
From the beginning of time, people have been searching for the elixir of youth. Dominica may not have a potion, but it has properties for a long and healthy life. Asking Benjie, who is the great-grandson of the island’s famed Ma Pampo (who is believed to have lived to the age of 128), if he thinks he would live to be as old as his great-grandmother, he replies: ‘Well, I think I will most probably live to be 130, I certainly want to, but the man above in charge, he knows better.’ In this Caribbean Garden of Eden, anything’s possible.
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