St. Kitts & Nevis
These two tiny islands, both dominated by spectacular dormant volcanoes, have much to offer the discerning traveler, including a Four Seasons resort with a top-notch Robert Trent Jones, Jr. golf course.
Centuries ago, St. Kitts (originally named St. Columbus, for its discoverer) and Nevis were the jewels of the British Caribbean, known throughout Europe. Nevis' sugar fields generated enormous wealth and there was a vibrant social life among the great plantations. To guard these rich islands, St. Kitts had the "Gibraltar of the West Indies," the seemingly impregnable fortress of Brimstone Hill.
But sugar fortunes waned, the plantations were deserted and the islands returned in large part to their natural, tropical state. The two-island nation became insignificant specks in the Caribbean between St. Croix and Antigua.
Four Seasons literally put Nevis back on the map in 1991 with Four Seasons Nevis. The five-star resort on beautiful Pinney's Beach became a magnet for the cognoscenti, especially golfers who relished the challenge of the resort's Robert Trent Jones, Jr. course. Conde Nast Traveler readers continue to name it one of their favorite resorts worldwide.
The increase in tourist traffic has been good for St. Kitts, too. Nevis visitors fly into St. Kitts and sometimes spend enough time there to realize how charming it is. In Basseterre, the small capital city, French and English structures reflect the islands' past, when the country was split between the two nations. France and England fought each other and the Carib Indians for possession of the islands. The natives finally got the worst of it. West of town is Bloody Point, where 2,000 Indians were massacred.
The Kittitians (as St. Kitts residents are called) are cautious about overdevelopment, so there are many restored inns and plantation houses but few large resorts. The soft opening of the new 680-room Marriott in February 2003 was a momentous occasion. The resort and its golf course will be fully open later in 2003.
The Royal St. Kitts Golf Course occupies a peninsula near Frigate Bay, with views of the Atlantic on one side, the Caribbean on the other, and a dormant volcano inland . Designed by five-time British Open winner Peter Thompson, the route is well spiced with water hazards and swept by sea winds from all directions. The course has been recently renovated.
Four Seasons guests relax in a comfortable dockside lounge on St. Kitts before boarding a sleek private launch, rum punches in hand, for the ride to Nevis. From that moment on, the service is unflagging.
Large, well-appointed rooms overlook a vista of golden beach to the west, and to the east is the island centerpiece, Mt. Nevis, a 3,200-foot volcano clothed in rain forest and crowned with clouds. Columbus must have been into the grog when he named this tropical island "Nuestra Senora de las Nieves" - Our Lady of the Snows - though the billowy clouds make the volcano look as if it could be capped with snow - sort of.
In deference to Columbus' vision, what looks suspiciously like a ski slope snakes down the mountain's side. It is, of course, the fairway of the fifteenth hole, a downhill, 663-yard (gold tees) par-5 that is the signature of the resort's Robert Trent Jones II golf course. Like a black diamond ski run, the hole's whimsical black tee (the only black tee on the course) attracts experts and fools. From the tee, perched 450 feet above sea level, a densely jungled chasm stretches 240 yards to the fairway. Played from the closer tees, the long dogleg plays shorter than its yardage due to its downhill fairway and favoring wind. The cart ride through the gorge from tee to fairway is great fun.
Fifteen is just one of the natural highs on the Four Season's par-71 layout, which offers four tee selections between 6,766 and 5,153 yards. The course has views rivaling any in the Caribbean. Almost every hole has a backdrop of Mt. Nevis or a view of blue ocean and emerald islands as the course dips and twists through the foothills. Palm trees and flowers line the fairways. Families of multi-colored goats browse among the bunkers, and wild moneys kibitz from mango trees.
The course is swept by sea winds, but the price you pay for this natural air-conditioning is tricky club selection, varying two to three clubs on some holes. Factor in constant changes in elevation and you have a real test of tactics. Let's see, add two for the wind, subtract one for downhill ....
The fifteenth hole tops the card in intimidation, but is second fiddle in difficulty to the eighth, a 511-yard par-5. From tee to green the fairway climbs relentlessly, with one cluster of bunkers placed on the right side of the landing area, another on the left to spoil your second shot. It culminates in a stingy, elevated green that sheds balls with impunity.
The course fits the island setting rather than violating it, as does the resort. Seen from the deck of the catamaran which provides daily snorkeling excursions, the 196 luxurious rooms, housed in a dozen two-story "cottages," melt into tropical foliage.
Pinney's Beach is delightful, but there are too many diversions to sit still - sailing, snorkeling, windsurfing, waterskiing, scuba diving among the island's pristine reefs, or playing tennis on the resort's championship quality clay courts. Mt. Nevis has safe but relentless trails to its peak, while less energetic explorers can spend an entertaining afternoon strolling old sugar plantations and shopping for locally-made pottery and baskets.
The resort's three restaurants, all with ocean views, feature Mediterranean, Continental and West Indian cuisine.