On his voyage in 1493, Christopher Columbus imagined the clouds above Nevis Peak to be snow, thus naming the island, Nostra Señora da las Nieves (Our Lady of the Snows). Over the years it was shortened to Nevis.
In the late 1700s, British Navy captain Horatio Nelson visited Nisbet Plantation and met Frances (Fanny) Nisbet. She was the niece of the president of Nevis and widow of Dr Nisbet, who owned the plantation. Nelson and Fanny quickly fell in love and married in March 1787.
I’m staying with my ten-year-old daughter Scarlett, her brother Fin, aged seven, and their dad Steve at Nisbet Plantation, a hotel that dispels any myth that the Caribbean lacks history and culture.
This living history is an eye-opener for kids. Just staying on a former plantation where sugar, then coconuts were grown, is a revelation. Like many Caribbean islands, derelict or renovated sugar mills are dotted across the landscape.
Dragging the kids away from this paradise is tricky. But we do manage an island tour. It begins with a drive past the wind turbines that produce one-fifth of the island’s energy, one of three renewables here; geothermal and solar power being the others. This is when we also began to notice the great number of goats around the island. We stop by Golden Rock, a wonderfully arty hotel tucked away in the rainforest, and then on to V&J (Pond Hill) Pre School where the pupils treat us to a local masquerading dance display.
Next up is Montpelier Plantation, recognised as one of the best hotels in the Caribbean set next to Fig Tree Church where Lord Nelson wed Fanny Nisbet. We all sit at the hotel’s snazzy bar for a refreshing fruit smoothie before heading to Nevis’s spectacular Botanical Gardens, which are full of glorious plants such as wild almonds and fox-tree palms. On our way back we stop at Chrishi Beach, a laid-back lunch spot by the beach, for a delicious pizza. The kids love the rope swing and easy beach access.
Part of the Leeward Islands, Nevis has a moody yet dormant volcano at its centre, which affords incredible vistas at every turn. There can be dramatic, heavy cloud shrouding its rain-forested peak while the sun beats down by the beach. The next time you look, its majestic peak will be visible in all its splendour.
One day we find ourselves across the road from Nisbet Plantation in Newcastle Pottery. You’d easily miss this grey building from the roadside, but it’s a mini eco miracle. Almena, whose grandmother worked here, shows us the clay that is brought straight out of the ground and gets soaked, sieved and mixed in a sausage-like machine. She shows Scarlett and me how to mould little shallow pots with two birds sitting either side of the rim.
'Pull up de slack!’ instructs Jackie Wallace, groundsman at the Nisbet Plantation Beach Club and a dab hand at basket weaving. ‘You like craftin’?’ he asks my daughter Scarlett, who’s enjoying her half-term holiday. ‘It keep your brain tickin’.’ Unexpectedly, this eight- by six-mile island is turning out to be rather arty.
Nisbet Plantation, an upstanding, and some would say, rather traditional Caribbean hotel, has taken a low-key approach to entertaining young holiday-makers. There’s no kids’ club, but there’s a coterie offabulous staff to take up the mantle when parents flag. Nisbett has always embraced the idea that travel is about experience.
In between cleaning up the beach and pruning the tropical vegetation, Jackie takes an hour or two to sit patiently with my child and teach her his basket weaving skills. He lets Scarlett push the strong fronds of coconut and screw pine (soaked in water to make more supple) through and, like any great teacher, is complimentary and encouraging. ‘Comin’ on! Very good.’ He tells Scarlett she has the patience to be a doctor, which I’m thrilled about, because I’ve always wanted a doctor in the family. ‘When you come out of college with your doctor’s degree, this basket will still be waiting for you,’ he says.
If you’re a history lover, the Horatio Nelson Museum at Belle Vue exhibits the largest collection of his memorabilia in the ‘New World’. While in Charlestown, the Alexander Hamilton House museum is a must. But because Fin has been learning all about the rainforest at school, we are all keen to do a trip to the real rainforest on Nevis. We opt for a gentle trek, although you can climb right up to Nevis Peak with legendary guide Lynnell Liburd.
Not far off the main island road, we’re soon in the damp rainforest where we see ancient banyan trees with compartment-like roots so big, the kids can hide in them. There’s giant bamboo, prehistoric-looking hermit crabs climbing up tree trunks and vast termite nests to behold. There are plenty of sturdy Tarzan-worthy vines to swing from, too.
Scarlett and Fin’s granddad is Scottish and used to play golf, so I’ve always wanted them to have a go, and what better place than the Four Seasons Nevis, which is home to a prestigious 18-hole Robert Trent Jones Junior Golf Course? We book a lesson (£35 for 30 minutes or £59 for an hour) on the pristine driving range. Bruce teaches Scarlett and Fin how to hold the club, position their feet and shoulders and soon they are sending balls flying down the driving range.
We are staying in a cute wooden yellow home at Nisbet Plantation that is actually two spacious inter-connecting suites – White Hall and Seahaven – both with a lounge, double bedroom, bathroom and walk-in closet. Together it makes a very private house for us.
There are two remarkable things about this hotel. One is the incredible lawns that sweep down from the Great House to the beach, with an avenue of palms and the villas dotted either side. The other great thing about this hotel is its staff.
Every morning we stroll across the great lawn, take a quick dip in the turquoise sea, and amble along the beach to a typical Caribbean-style wooden house by the pool, to be greeted by a broad smile from Violet Gumbs and her superb team, who serve us a breakfast of freshly baked bread and a cornucopia of fruit. Fin tries all the exotic smoothies while Scarlett becomes addicted to the iced milk, which she has since perfected back home.
Evening meals are taken either up at the Great House, after a game of chess in the lounge, or down at Coconuts by the beach where, on special barbecue nights Rohan Claxton’s live steel pan band plays as a fiery orange sun sets over neighbouring St Kitts.
One evening we headed to the Four Seasons’ swanky Mango Grill to eat, all chic white wicker chairs and tables under an awning right on the waterfront. As the stars come out we feast on lobster fritters with mango dip and mahi fillets.
It’s a long journey for little ones, but worth the effort. A flight from London to Antigua takes around 8 hours and 40 minutes, then up to an hour on the ground once you're there, and then a 20-minute hop to St Kitts. Once off the plane, it’s a 20-minute drive across the island and then a 10-minute ferry ride to Nevis. British Airways flies so kids enjoy movies and excitement.
Seven nights half-board at Nisbet Plantation Beach Club costs from £2,250 per adult and £905 per child for a family of four sharing two Deluxe Garden Suite rooms, including British Airways flights and transfers, with Western & Oriental.
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