Where to stay
Belle Mont Farm Set in the foothills of Mount Liamuiga, this place is both chic and earthy. The cottages, clad with wooden shingles, have individual features including plunge pools and outdoor bathrooms with a roll-top bath or rainwater shower. Big on sustainability, even bigger on good service. Doubles from £375. Kittitian Hill, 00 1 855 846 3951, bellemontfarm.com
Ottley’s Plantation Inn A stately period house in immaculate condition, set in manicured gardens with hiking trails snaking up the hillside. Many of the 23 rooms have plunge pools, and there is a beautiful spa. Doubles from £190. Ottley’s Village, 00 1 869 465 7234, ottleys.com
Rock Haven This charming Kittitian house has a great location in Frigate Bay and just two guestrooms. With the laid-back ambience of a Caribbean home, it has the best breakfast in town and spectacular views across the garden to the ocean. Doubles from £118. Frigate Bay, 00 1 869 465 5503
Timothy Beach Resort One of the best-value options on the island, with a good pool and small beach, and near a strip of buzzy bars. The rooms are large, with a kitchenette and balcony. Doubles from £85. Frigate Bay, 00 1 869 465 8597, timothybeach.com
St Kitts is the larger of the two islands that make up the West Indies nation of St Kitts and Nevis. Time is five hours behind the UK, and the currency is the East Caribbean dollar (US dollar widely accepted).
December sees average highs of 27C and lows of 22C.
British Airways flies from London Gatwick to St Kitts twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, via Antigua. ba.com
LIAT flies to St Kitts from many Caribbean islands. liat.com
St. Kitts Tourism Authority The official tourist board website has plenty of information and ideas for your trip. stkittstourism.kn
If you want to offset carbon emmissions for return flights from London, then visit climatecare.org – your donation for this trip of £13.83 will go towards supporting environmental projects around the world.
Where to eat
Prices are for three courses, excluding wine, unless otherwise stated.
El Fredo’s The place to go to for authentic and delicious local food: soup with provisions and dumplings, roti, curried conch, chicken and beef, grilled lobster, oxtail and salt fish. Dessert is simple: either sugar cake or carrot cake. £20. Newtown Bay Road, 00 1 869 466 8871
Ital Creations Set on Fari Organic Farm, this place is famous for its organic vegetarian food and juices made from produce grown on the property. Try brown rice with hemp seeds, moringa and carrots; lentils in green sauce, or baked veggie strips with roasted breadfruit hummus. £5. By Pass Road, 00 1 869 664 0994
Marshall’s Situated right on the ocean and perfect for sunset, this is as close as St Kitts gets to fine dining. Try the wild mushrooms cooked in cream and wine, lobster thermidor or ‘surf and surf’: fillet of baked grouper with sautéed shrimp and a saffron beurre blanc. £35. Fort Tyson, Frigate Bay, 00 1 869 466 8245, marshallsdining.com
Mr X’s Shiggidy Shack All-singing, all-dancing fun beach restaurant and bar that serves buffalo wings, sugar cane shrimp, house chowder, curried conch, grilled lobster, ribs, jerk chicken and burgers. £10. Frigate Bay, 00 1 869 465 0673
Salt Plage This hip bar is a great place to watch the sun go down. The stylish furniture and comfy booths would be equally at home in St Tropez. Fish tacos with breadfruit, seafood ceviche and delicate lamb chops are just a few of the dishes to go for. £10. Christophe Harbour, 00 1 869 466 7221, christopheharbour.com
The Kitchen, Belle Mont Farm Industrial design with quirky accessories such as a stack of travelling trunks and reclaimed factory lights. Dishes include a delicious lemongrass-poached lobster with dasheen risotto, and cinnamon-braised goat loin. Four-course menu £55. Kittitian Hill, 00 1 855 846 3951, bellemontfarm.com
The Royal Palm, Ottley’s Plantation Inn The menu here changes daily and includes plenty of punchy Caribbean flavours: salt cod fritters, Kittitian beef patties, fish with mango sauce, coconut shrimp coated in shredded coconut and grilled swordfish. £50. Ottley’s Village, 00 1 869 465 7234, ottleys.com
- A large, round fruit that looks like a green cannonball, with a bumpy, thick skin.
- One of the indigenous staple root vegetables of the Caribbean.
- Cinnamon leaves
- A subtle aroma of cloves and cinnamon. Used the same way as bay leaf.
- An edible, starchy, tuberous root of the taro.
- Dollar bread
- It now cost over two dollars and is left over from the French- a little like a baguette but softer.
- Fit weed
- The Kittian name for chadon beni. A pungent wild herb, similar in flavour to coriander.
- Rastafarian vegetarian cuisine, which concentrates on using natural ingredients, which avoid too much cooking, salt and seasoning.
- It has been dubbed the 'miracle tree'- full of goodness, you can eat the leaves, the seeds and the pods. It has seven times more vitamin C than an orange.
- Soft drink originally made from the Smilax regalii plant. It is similar to root beer.
- Also known as rosella, the Caribbean sorrel has nothing to do with the British herb of the same name. A flower whose fleshy deep red sepal is used to make drinks, jams and sauces.
- Pear-shaped fruit growing up to about 20cm high. Te flesh is used for drinks and makes great ice cream.
- Tree goat
- The local name given to the green Vervet monkeys, which taste like mutton when traditionally cooked in stew and served at a party.
Food and Travel Review
Four thirty. Friday afternoon. The streets of ramshackle wooden houses and uneven pavements nuzzling Bay Road in downtown Basseterre are buzzing. High-decibel reggae provides a thumping backing track, and every corner hosts a smoking barbecue, with charcoal and meat aromas heavy in the thick, tropical air. Ribs, pork, chicken and lobster, lamb shawarma and gyros spit angrily as molten fat meets white-hot coal – a sign of the early start to the weekend after a hard week of work.
The whole area is a warren of hot, eclectic activity. Down a side street, post office worker Stanley has had his grill up since 11am, ready for when his colleagues clock off. Back on Bay Road at the Lion of Judah, Sheldon is doing a brisk trade in the vegan food that’s surprisingly popular for a nation of meat-lovers. He specialises in ‘Ital’, a natural diet observed by many Rastafarians. Nearby, the bars alongside the Nevis Ferry Terminal are full of thirsty locals. Not just businessmen, labourers and guys with flowing dreadlocks and baggy trousers, but fashionable young women and comely aunties, all gathering to gossip and quench their thirst on beer and rum.
Food, convivial drinks and chat always went together on St Kitts. The island – the larger of St Kitts and Nevis – was called ‘Liamuiga’ (fertile land) by the Amerindians and ‘St Christopher’ by its colonisers. For centuries it was fought over by the British and French, with the Spanish occasionally making their presence known. Basseterre, the capital, retains the flavour of both countries with Georgian buildings surrounding the elegant architecture of Independence Square. By 1783, the British defeated their old adversary and set about cultivating the ‘Caribbean Gold’, sugar.
Slavery wasn’t abolished until 1834, and during that period St Kitts consisted of sugar plantations with grand houses and large workforces. It was the first Caribbean island to be colonised by the British in 1623, and was dubbed the Mother Colony. It was also known as the ‘Cradle of the Caribbean’, with its valuable sugar the backbone of the economy. Following emancipation, many Indians and further Africans were brought in as indentured workers, and were joined by immigrants from Portugal and the UK. These included carpenters, blacksmiths, tailors and farmers.
The ties that bind endured over the centuries. It wasn’t until 1983 that St Kitts gained independence, although like many other English-speaking Caribbean islands, it remains a member of the Commonwealth. Declining profits from sugar, influenced strongly by European production, meant the final harvest took place in 2005. The plantations closed and the government has instead turned its focus to tourism as a primary income stream.
Now its reputation as an agricultural backwater of the Caribbean is slowly but inexorably changing. Developments like Kittitian Hill, with its farm-to-fork ethos, are helping St Kitts to emerge from the shelter of its sugar-cane existence and the shadow of its more sophisticated sister, Nevis. The island naturally divides itself into three sections: the mountainous north with its black volcanic shores; the busier centre enlivened by beach-based tourism; and the Southeastern Peninsula, whose sweeping bays and swathes of pale sand are a developer’s dream. Arguably, the most impressive project is Christophe Harbour, which includes the Park Hyatt hotel, private homes and a superyacht marina. The Pavilion Beach Club and hip Salt Plage bar are its laid-back dining and drinking spots.
However, you need to travel north to get a sense of the rich history of St Kitts. Abandoned sugar plantations, ruined windmills and tall brick chimneys dot the landscape; many acres are under mixed cultivation by smallholders. While there is much talk and planning, no serious, structured agriculture has yet emerged. Some vestiges of the past are being turned into tourist attractions. For instance, St Christopher National Trust has taken over the Belmont Estate and plans to transform it into a museum that delves into the history of sugar.
More impressive still is the Wingfield Estate, established in 1625 and the first land grant from King Charles I in the entire British West Indies. Owner Maurice Widdowson has opened it to the public.
‘They’re invited to join in the dig when we have our archaeologists on site,’ he explains. ‘Rum has been produced here since 1683 and I intend to recreate the rum experience.’ He then happily paraphrases lyrics from the region’s most famous musician. ‘Bob Marley said “Our future is in our past” and I agree. Our Caribbean history over the last 400 years is remarkable. There are so many untold stories. St Kitts is like a crown full of such jewels. We just need to pluck them out and polish them.’
On a clear, blue sky day, head to the magnificent Brimstone Hill, a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the largest and best preserved fortresses in the Eastern Caribbean. From here, among the cannons and ramparts you can gaze across the shimmering ocean to glimpse neighbouring islands and outcrops. There are few better places to feel part of the Caribbean archipelago.
Picking out the authentic dishes of St Kitts is more of a challenge. The country’s cuisine has a magpie quality to it, borrowed here and there: fiery jerk from Jamaica, conch chowder from the Bahamas, and curries containing lobster, shrimp, chicken, beef and vegetables inspired by culinary creations from islands like Trinidad and Tobago. But all that is just on the surface.
You have to look to home to find the real deal. At weekends, households cook spicy blood pudding, forged from rice and blood, seasoned with herbs – chives, thyme and cloves – and then boiled before being eaten with bread. Another family favourite is the Saturday Soup, made from salted meats like pig’s tails, beef or pork, and soaked in water overnight to remove the excess salt. It’s really a one-pot meal because the meat is cooked with carrots, pumpkin and cassava, together with sweet potato, tannia, green banana, peppers and pulses, before being finished off with dumplings. It’s a highly recommended way to recover from the excesses of that high-octane Friday night.
The national dish is salt fish stewed with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and thyme, served with boiled green banana and dumplings. One of the best places to taste it and other local favourites is Basseterre‘s El Fredo’s restaurant. Run by husband and wife team, Jasmine and Ken Francis, it relies on fresh ingredients sourced each morning at the market, but there’s always a big soup, curries and stewed chicken and beef, along with grilled lobster, oxtail and salt fish.
The couple, both originally from St Kitts, met in Cardiff – Jasmine worked at City Hall, even cooking for the Queen. Returning to St Kitts to launch their own business was a good move. El Fredo’s has garnered huge local loyalty. ‘Whenever local people have extra money,’ says Jasmine with a smile, ‘they spend it with us.’
Saturday morning is market day in Basseterre. Friday night’s barbecues are replaced by vendors and trucks selling produce from all over the country. Fish stalls line the waterfront, selling the morning’s catch: garfish with strange quill-like beaks, mahi mahi and snapper, glistening alongside parrotfish, lobster and conch. Be forewarned: conch, taken out of its shell and put in plastic bags inside a bucket, really isn’t that appealing.
Inside Basseterre’s covered market, the stalls provide a good selection of seasonal produce. Many vendors are farmers with smallholdings, while others grow just a few items in their backyard. It may be a few bunches of bananas or a half-dozen pawpaws or mangoes. Scotch Bonnet hot peppers are dispayed beside shiny aubergines, carrots and firm young okra. Ground provisions include yam, sweet potato, dasheen and tannia. Some people come to sell random recycled bottles filled with honey, hot pepper sauce and sarsaparilla.
You may get to try some mauby, a relaxant that aids sleep. It is made from mauby bark, whose slightly fermented taste is offset by sugar, cinnamon and bay leaves, along with clove and kakanga root. Locals love their bush tea – guava leaves, lemongrass or fit weed infused with water. Indeed, there appears to be a tea for everything. Soursop leaves make a brew for babies who are fussing, and guava helps to cure upset stomachs.
‘Green seasoning’ is ubiquitous across the island. Pick up bunches of thyme, parsley and spring onion to blend with chillies and a little water as a preparation for meat, poultry or fish.
The market is certainly a friendly and social place, with vendors chatting and gossiping at their stalls. Most will be only too willing to tell you the name of an unfamiliar fruit or vegetable. Arabella Nisbett, a farmer and member of St Kitts Farmers’ Co-operative, explains how she makes ends meet.
‘I need to add value to what I grow at the farm by making other items,’ she says. ‘I sell hand-cut sweet potato chips to the supermarkets, and also make cassava products such as meal, bread and dumplings, or pancakes and puddings. I sell my produce at Ross University each Wednesday where I teach the students how to use them and provide recipes.’
An agricultural island, people here are used to living off the land. Fari Organic Farm is a real education in simple, healthy eating. Judah Fari and his wife Yayah run Ital Creations, a vegetarian restaurant that features moringa in many smoothies and dishes.
‘I inherited a two-acre organic farm from my grandfather who had controlled it since the Sixties,’ Judah tells me. ‘He used to plant sweet potatoes, peanuts and pumpkins – using no chemicals – and we’re proud to continue his work. Today we have managed to create a forest farm with fruit trees, greens and vegetables, alongside medicinal and seasoning plants.’
And then there’s Belle Mont Farm, part of sustainable-living community Kittitian Hill. The ground-breaking, highly publicised farm and resort offers fresh, organic produce to rival any in the world. Set among 162ha in the foothills of Mount Liamuiga in the north of the island, it’s unlike any other property I’ve come across. It’s the brainchild of Val Kempadoo, renaissance man, developer, designer, visionary, ecologist and ex-politician.
‘My vision is to create a blueprint of sustainable tourism,’ he says. ‘I believe it will be a changing agent in our society. We needed a new model that can address a number of the issues in the industry. It will take time and it requires commercial success to make it work, so it’s a delicate balance.’
He has gathered a team of experts around him to help, including Bill Bensley, international architect extraordinaire. ‘My brief to Bill was brief,’ he says. ‘Take the architecture and the materials of St Kitts and build a five-star resort. He embraced that. As well as designing a beautiful resort, he happens to be a leader in tropical landscaping. The plants are as important as the buildings.’
The farm grows most of the organic vegetables and fruit they use in their restaurants, sourcing other ingredients from local producers, foragers, farmers and fishermen. Chef Christophe Letard is excited about creating new and healthy dishes with island ingredients. He works closely with ‘nursery man’ Winston Lake, Cornelius the farm manager and Yahson Tafari, a teacher and forager.
Christophe creates his menu according to what’s available that day. When the catch comes in, as well as buying the usual snapper, mahi mahi and lobster, he purchases ‘pot fish’ – the small fry caught up in the net. They’re normally eaten by villagers not tourists, but Christophe turns the tiddlers into rillettes, part of a luxurious dish, alongside ravioli with dasheen and goat’s cheese; and sorrel flowers stuffed with local pork. He’s equally excited about training his staff, many of whom have never been in a restaurant before.
Val has appointed Isabelle Legeron, a natural wine expert and France’s first female Master of Wine, to curate his cellar. Legeron is perhaps best known in London for her work at two-starred London restaurant Hibiscus. To date, about half the wine list is made up of natural labels and she plans to create new and exciting liqueurs and cocktails from the fruits growing on the farm.
‘Natural wine, strictly speaking, is nothing added and nothing removed,’ she explains. ‘It’s a wine that has been farmed organically, but it goes way beyond that. The idea of natural wine is to preserve the life you have in your vineyard, the microbiology and all that diversity achieved by farming organically. The wines are more expressive with a broad range of flavours. They really reflect the conditions of the climate and soil.’
Leaving behind the peace and quiet of the northern hills, just south of Basseterre is Frigate Bay, one of the most popular evening destinations on St Kitts thanks to its cluster of bars and restaurants. During the day, this sandy, shell-strewn beach is packed with people enjoying the waves and rays. As the sun sets and it gets too dark to play volleyball on the sand, the various venues along the shoreline come to life, the warm sea breeze infused with the scent of grilled fish, steak, ribs and lobster. On Thursday nights, one of the hotspots, Mr X’s Shiggidy Shack, has a bonfire and dancers. I can happily report its lobster is also first-class and its cocktails potent. Just around the corner on the main street, at the back of the bars, you will find an old container that has been converted into a chicken wing haven called Bobsy’s Super Wings. It makes ten varieties of chicken wings and for less than £5 you get six pieces.
Just ten years after the cessation of the sugar industry, these are changing times for St Kitts, making it an exciting time to visit. Many of its rural values are still intact, and it’s home to a kind and generous people. Travelling through the northern countryside, I stop at Pump Bay where a group of fishermen have just pulled in the catch and are sorting and gutting their fish. I spot my favourite, ‘old wife’ or ‘bastard’ fish: an ugly beast with tough, almost leathery skin but with the most sublime flesh that’s a little like sole.
Leroy, one of the fishermen, beckons me over. ‘I see how excited the ole wife fish make you,’ he smiles, handing over a fine specimen. ‘Take one.’ That’s typical. It may still be a fledgling tourist destination but it has long known how to show off its bounty.
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