A relaxing week being pampered at a plantation hotel in the centre of St Kitts. (Or St Christopher to give it its full name.) Ottleys is a family-owned, former sugar plantation, magnificently situated at the foot of majestic Mount Liamuiga. It is surrounded by stunning vistas, mountain ranges and rolling hills and it has heaps of atmosphere.
The building is a restored eighteenth century mansion house with beautifully decorated in- keeping-with-period rooms and views across the manicured gardens. There are swaying palms to the ocean. This accommodation is not cheap. But the really affluent get ' intimate' stone cottages with private plunge pools. There's a gorgeous main pool next to the breakfast café and gourmet (but expensive) restaurant for the also rans.
There's also a great (but expensive) spa, which overlooks a rainforest ravine, a well, a donkey and other delights, to be discovered in the extensive grounds.
The service is excellent and there are much worse ways to spend a week.
Saint Kitts was subject to more than the usual colonial intervention. It was first claimed by Christopher Columbus in 1493, but it became the site of the first British and French colonies in the Caribbean, in the mid-1620s. This gave it the perhaps unenviable title of "The Mother Colony of the West Indies". Its position meant that it was easily reached on the currents and it soon became the first port of call for transatlantic expeditions. The English took up the middle with the French at the top and the bottom. The Spanish took over in 1629, but left again a year later.
The island alternated repeatedly between English (then British) and French control during the seventeenth and eighteenth, until 1783, when the British finally seized control. They already had control of Nevis, which had become a huge centre for the import and export of slaves. They were both part of the British West Indies (to begin with, just in union with Anguilla) until gaining independence on 19 September 1983 as a federation. Today, St Kitts and Nevis is the smallest sovereign state in the Western Hemisphere, in both area and population, as well as the world's smallest sovereign federation. The country is a Commonwealth realm, with the British monarch as head of state.
There's considerable confusion over names. It was thought that Columbus named the island, St Kitts, St Christopher (Cristobal in Spanish). 'after his patron saint'. But it transpires that he actually named it St James and the nearby island of Sabah, was supposed to be St Christopher. Similarly, Nevis was supposed to be St Martin. but the Dutch/French Caribbean island was mistakenly called that instead. So, Nevis was named after the cloud around its mountain - Nieves - Our Lady of the Snows in Spanish.
An island tour doesn't take long. The tiny capital, Basseterre, is mainly colourful concrete houses as the French and British architecture was damaged in a fire in 1867. The town is built around Independence Square, originally used for slave auctions in the 18th century. There's an imposing stone church behind. There's also a typically colonial green clock tower built in Glasgow.
The old fortress at Brimstone Hill, dating back to the French/British conflict, is somewhat ambitiously nicknamed the Gibraltar of the West Indies, but this is still a large fortress, It is UNESCO listed and replete with guns. More fantastic views are the main reward for struggling up the hill and many stairs.
A ferry across the channel known as The Narrows, to sister island Nevis, where I wander round colonial Charlestown. For a small place, it's stuffed with Georgian architecture and has a very atmospheric high street, ideal for sauntering along the cobbles. There's a church from the 1900s, founded by freed slaves, the historic Bath Hotel (the first ever constructed in the Caribbean) and an atmospheric Jewish cemetery, with graves as old as the 1600s.
After that a stroll (one and half miles) along the coast to Pinney's Beach. There's a long expanse of powdery white sand and a beach bar....The whole is framed by the (usually) cloud shrouded mountain rising grandly behind.
I've had a great time, a very relaxing holiday.
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