A clockwise route around the island will enable you to see most of the historical sites. A cheap way of touring the island is to take a minibus from Basseterre (Bay Road) to Dieppe Bay own, then walk to Saddlers (there might be a minibus if you are lucky) where you can get another minibus back to Basseterre along the Atlantic coast.
There are several good island tours, including excellent hiking tours to the volcano and through the rain forest with Kriss Tours (US$50 per full day, overnight camping US$90, T4654042) and Greg’s Safaris, recommended, pleasant and informative, (US$40-80, T4654121, F4650707,PO Box 1063). Periwinkle Tours offers guided walks (US$30-35, T4656314, F4657210).
Evidence of sugar cane is everywhere on the comparatively flat, fertile coastal plain. You will drive through large fields of cane and glimpse the narrow gauge railway which is now used to transport it from the fields. Disused sugar mills are also often seen. Around the island are the Great Houses: Fairview, Romney Manor (destroyed by fire in 1995), Golden Lemon, the White House, Rawlins and perhaps most famous for its colonial splendour, Ottley’s. They have nearly all been converted into hotels and have excellent restaurants.
The island is dominated by the southeast range of mountains (1,159ft) and the higher northwest range which contains Mount Verchilds (2,931 ft) and the crater of Mount Liamuiga (3,792ft). To climb Mount Liamuiga independently, get a bus to St Paul’s. Just after the village entrance sign there is a track leading through farm buildings which you follow through the canefields. After 20 minutes take a left fork, ask people working in the fields if you are unsure. At the edge of the forest, the track becomes a path, which is easy to follow and leads through wonderful trees. If you hear something crashing through the upper branches, look up quickly before the monkeys disappear. At 2,600ft is the crater into which you can climb, holding on to vines and roots; on the steady climb from the end of the road note the wild orchids in the forest. A full day is required for this climb which is really only for experienced hikers. To get beyond the crater to the summit you need a guide. You can reach the attractive, but secluded, Dos D’Ane pond near Mount Verchilds from the Wingfield estate, a guide is recommended.
The west coast particularly is historically important. It is guarded by no less than nine forts and the magnificent Brimstone Hill Fortress. Taking the road out of Basseterre, you will pass the sites of seven of them: Fort Thomas, Palmetto Point Fort, Stone Fort, Fort Charles, Charles Fort, Sandy Point Fort and Fig Tree Fort. The remaining two are to the south of Basseterre: Fort Smith and Fort Tyson. Little remains of any of them. A peaceful spot to admire some of Stone Fort’s ruins is a swing for two built by local Rastaman, Jahbalo. At Trinity Church, turn right, up the dirt path. At the well-preserved sugar mill there are some ruins to your right. Climb the small mound to find the swing with a view towards cane fields and the Caribbean (sunset recommended).
The the first point of historic interest is situated just before Old Road Town. Sir Thomas Warner landed at Old Road Bay in 1623 and was joined in 1625 by the crew of a French ship badly mauled by the Spanish. Initially befriended by the local Carib chief Tegreman, as many as 3,000 Caribs, alarmed at the rapid colonization of the island, tried to mount an attack in 1626. 2,000 of them were massacred by the combined French and English forces in the deep ravine at Bloody Point (the site of Stone Fort). An amicable settlement meant that the English held the central portion of the island roughly in line from Sandy Point to Saddlers in the north to Bloody Point across to Cayon in the south. French names can be traced in both of their areas of influence (Dieppe Bay Town in the north, the Parishes are called Capisterre and Basseterre in the south). The southeast peninsula was neutral. This rapprochement did not last many years as following the colonization of Martinique and Guadeloupe, the French wished to increase their sphere of influence. St Kitts became an obvious target and in 1664 they squeezed the English from the island. For nearly 200 years the coast was defended by troops from one nation or another.
At Old Road Town you turn right to visit Wingfield Estate. You drive through a deserted sugar mill and the edge of rain forest. Unfortunately Romney Manor was destroyed by fire in 1995 but the beautiful gardens remain with pleasant views over the coast and a giant 350-year old saman tree. The estate is home to Caribelle Batik, open Mon-Fri, 0830-1600, T4656253, F4653629. Apart from a well-stocked shop you can watch the artists producing the highly colourful and attractive material. A guide will explain the process. Also near here the remains of the island’s Amerindian civilization can be seen on large stones with drawings and petroglyphs. If you keep driving to the left of Romney Manor and Caribelle Batik, you will find one of the highest paved roads on the island. It is a tough climb so be sure to have a sturdy car or legs. Follow the road up until it ends. A large flat rock at the top is perfect to admire the spectacular view of the mountains in solitude. To the right hand side is a smaller path that leads to an incredible overview of Bat Hole Ghaut. Magnificent views of tropical rainforest in myriad greens. A very secluded spot.
At the village of Middle Island, you will see on your right and slightly up the hill, the church of St Thomas at the head of an avenue of dead or dying royal palms. Here is buried Sir Thomas Warner who died on 10 March 1648. The raised tomb under a canopy is inscribed “General of y Caribee”. There is also a bronze plaque with a copy of the inscription inside the church. Other early tombs are of Captain John Pogson (1656) and Sir Charles Payne, “Major General of Leeward Carribee Islands” who was buried in 1744. The tower, built in 1880, fell during earth tremors in 1974.
Turn right off the coastal road just before J’s Place (drink and local food, open from 1100, T4656264, watch the caged green vervet monkeys, they are very aggressive) for the Fortress of Brimstone Hill, one of the ‘Gibraltars of the West Indies’ (a title it shares with Les Saintes, off Guadeloupe). Sprawled over 38 acres on the slopes of a hill 800ft above the sea, it commands an incredible view of St Kitts and Nevis and on clear days, Anguilla (67 miles), Montserrat (40 miles), Saba (20 miles), St Eustatius (5 miles), St-Barts (40 miles) and St-Martin (45 miles) can be seen. The English mounted the first cannon on Brimstone Hill in 1690 in an attempt to force the French from Fort Charles below. It has been constructed mainly out of local volcanic stones and was designed along classic defensive lines. The five bastions overlook each other and also guard the only road as it zig zags up to the parade ground. The entrance is at the Barrier Redan where payment is made. Pass the Magazine Bastion but stop at the Orillon Bastion which contains the massive ordnance store (165ft long with walls at least 6ft thick). The hospital was located here and under the south wall is a small cemetery. You then arrive at the Prince of Wales Bastion (note the name of J Sutherland, 93rd Highlanders 24 October 1822 carved in the wall next to one of the cannons) from where there are good views over to the parade ground. Park at the parade ground, there is a small snack bar and good gift shop near the warrant officer’s quarters with barrels of pork outside it. Stop for a good video introduction at the DL Matheson Visitor Centre. A narrow and quite steep path leads to Fort George, the Citadel and the highest defensive position. Restoration is continuing and several areas have been converted to form a most interesting museum. Barrack rooms now hold well-presented and informative displays (pre-columbian, American, English, French and Garrison). Guides are on hand to give more detailed explanations of the fortifications. The fortress was eventually abandoned in 1852 but was inaugurated as a national park by the Queen in October 1985. 0930-1730 daily, entrance EC$13 or US$5 for foreigners, EC$2 for nationals, it is highly recommended both for adults and children (half price). Allow up to two hours. The local minibus to Brimstone Hill is EC$2.25, then walk up to the fortress, less than 30 minutes but extremely steep. For fit climbers only.
To continue the island tour, drive on, looking out for the Plantation Picture House at Rawlins Plantation Inn on the right, up a long drive through canefields. Here there is a lovely art gallery with stunning views, housing paintings and prints by Kate Spencer. T4657740. 1100-1700. Keep driving up the road to Rawlins Plantation. Tour the magnificent gardens full of tropical plants and flowers. Back on the main road, continue north. There is a a black sand beach at Dieppe Bay which is a good place to stop for lunch, at the upmarket and excellent Golden Lemon. Pass through Saddlers and stop at the Black Rocks. Here lava has flowed into the sea providing interesting rock formations. Continue on to Ottley’s Plantation which is also worth a visit. The grounds are not as magnificent as at Rawlins but there are easy, well-marked short walks through the rainforest. Continue on the main road through Cayon (turn right uphill to Spooners for a look at the abandoned cotton ginnery) back to Basseterre via the RL Bradshaw Airport. With advance notice, you can tour the sugar factory near the airport, very interesting and informative. Tours are only during harvest season, Feb-Aug, T4658157.
In the hills of St Peter’s, just north of Basseterre, is Nature’s Kingdom, a miniature, island-style wildlife observatory which features animals, fruit trees and plants from around the world. Meet Tom and Jerry, the friendly monkeys. T4657038. Tours are available. Bar and barbecue.
To visit the southeast peninsula, turn off the roundabout at the end of Wellington Road (opposite turning to the airport) and at the end of this new road turn left. This leads to the narrow spit of land sandwiched between North and South Frigate Bays. This area is being heavily developed, the natural lagoons providing an additional attraction. A number of establishments have been built, including the Royal St Kitts Beach Resort and Casino, with tennis courts and an 18-hole golf course. A Hyatt hotel is planned for Friars Bay, with 200 rooms and 75 villas, and the Golf View Estates development at Frigate Bay adds another 37 condominiums. Other hotels are expanding or renovating. The six-mile Dr Kennedy A Simmonds Highway runs from Frigate Bay to Major’s Bay. After Frigate Bay the peninsula is almost deserted and quite different from the rest of the island. The road climbs along the backbone of the peninsula and overlooks North and South Friars Bays where you may see green vervet monkeys before descending to White House Bay. Skirt the Great Salt Pond. Half way round turn left to reach Sandbank Bay, a lovely secluded bay (unmarked left turn down dirt road opposite Great Salt Pond). Continue on the main highway and turn left for Cockleshell Bay and Turtle Beach (good for watersports and stunning views across to Nevis). The main road leads to Major’s Bay. At the moment most of the peninsula is isolated and extremely attractive, although tourist development is planned. Despite the road the majority of beaches are difficult to reach. Try to obtain local knowledge if you want to visit them.
Taking the road south out of Charlestown, you can visit the rather unkempt Fort Charles. Fork right at the Shell station and again at the mini roundabout, keep right along the sea shore (rough track), past the wine company building and through gates at the end of the track. The fort was built before 1690 and altered many times before being completed in 1783-90. Nothing much remains apart from the circular well and a small building (possibly the magazine). The gun emplacements looking across to St Kitts are being badly eroded by the sea, eight cannon point haphazardly to sea. The Nevis Council surrendered to the French here in 1782 during the seige of Brimstone Hill on St Kitts.
Back on the main road and only about half a mile outside Charlestown lies the largely ruined Bath Hotel and Spring House. Built by the Huggins family in 1778, it is reputed to be one of the oldest hotels in the Caribbean. The Spring House lies over a fault which supplies constant hot water at 108°F. Mon-Fri 0800-1700, Sat 0800-1200, EC$5 to bathe, EC$1.50 towel rental. Most locals bathe further downstream for free. A new building has been erected here to house the Horatio Nelson Museum dedicated in 1992 to commemorate the 205th anniversary of the wedding of Admiral Nelson to Fanny Nisbet. Based on a collection donated by Mr Robert Abrahams, an American, the collection contains memorabilia including letters, china, pictures, furniture and books (request to see the excellent collection of historical documents and display of 17th century clay pipes). It is well worth a visit as it contains an interesting insight into the life of Nelson and his connection with Nevis. He was not always popular having come to the island to enforce the Navigation Acts which forbade the newly independent American states trading with British Colonies. Nelson in his ship HMS Boreas impounded four American ships and their cargoes. The Nevis merchants immediately claimed £40,000 losses against Nelson who had to remain on board his ship for eight weeks to escape being put into gaol. It was only after Prince William, captain of HMS Pegasus, arrived in Antigua that Nelson gained social acceptability and married the widow Fanny Woodward Nisbet (reputedly for her uncle’s money: this proved a disappointment as her uncle left the island and spent his wealth in London). Mon-Fri, 0900-1600, Sat 0900-1200, US$2, gift shop.
At Stoney Grove is the new Caribbean Cove amusement park, with Disneyland-style miniature golf, bumper boats, video arcade and a restaurant. T4691286, F4691354. Sun-Thur 1000-2200, Fri-Sat 1000-2400, adults EC$17.50, children EC$7.50.
More evidence of the Nelson connection is found at the St John’s Fig Tree Anglican Church about two miles on from the Bath House. Originally built in 1680, the church was rebuilt in 1838 and again in 1895. The marriage certificate of Nelson and Fanny Nisbet is displayed here. There are interesting memorials to Fanny’s father William Woodward and also to her first husband Dr Josiah Nisbet. Many died of the fever during this period and taxi drivers will delight in lifting the red carpet in the central aisles for you to see old tomb stones, many connected with the then leading family, the Herberts. The graveyard has many examples of tombstones in family groups dating from the 1780s.
Slightly off the main road to the south lies Montpelier Great House where the marriage of Nelson and Nesbit actually took place; a plaque is set in the gatepost. The plantation is now a hotel with pleasant gardens. Enormous toads live in the lily ponds formed out of old sugar pans. A very pleasant place for lunch or a drink. Beyond the house lies Saddle Hill (1,250 ft). It has the remains of a small fort and it is reputedly where Nelson would look out for illegal shipping. You can follow several goat trails on the hill, giant aloes abound, a track starts at Clay Ghaut, but most trails beyond the fort are dense and overgrown. The Hermitage (another of the Great Houses) is signposted left just after the sign for the Montpelier. Near Montpelier is the Botanical Garden, seven acres of cactus, bamboo, orchids, flowering trees and shrubs, heliconias and rose gardens, a mermaid fountain, a greenhouse with bridges, ponds, waterfall and tea house with English high tea and gift shop. Gardens open 0800-1700, EC$20, children half price, tea house 1000-1700, T4693399, F4692875.
The small parish of Gingerland is reached after about three miles. Its rich soils made it the centre of the island’s ginger root production (also cinnamon and nutmeg) but it is noteworthy for the very unusual octagon Methodist Church built in 1830. You turn right here along Hanleys Road to reach White Bay Beach. Go all the way down to the bottom and turn left at the Indian Castle experimental farm, past the race course (on Black Bay) and Red Cliff. There is a small shelter but no general shade. Beware, this is the Atlantic coast, the sea can be very rough and dangerous. On quieter days, the surf is fun and provides a welcome change from the quiet Leeward coast at Pinney’s. There is a reef further out which is good for fishing (several fishing boats in the bay, one may take you out). There are good views across to Montserrat. On the way back beware of the deep (and hidden) storm drain crossing the road near the church. At Clay Gaut, Gingerland, is the Eva Wilkin Gallery in an old windmill. Started by Howard and Marlene Paine, it has a permanent exhibition of paintings and drawings by Nevisian Eva Wilkin (whose studio it was until her death), prints of which are available, also antique maps, et cetera.
After Gingerland the land becomes more barren. Several sugar mills were built here because of the wind, notably Coconut Walk Estate, New River Estate (fairly intact) and the Eden Brown Estate, built around 1740. A duel took place between the groom and best man at the wedding of Julia Huggins. Both men were killed, Julia became a recluse and the great house was abandoned. It has the reputation of being haunted. Although government owned and open to the public, the ruins are in a poor condition and care should be taken.
The island road continues north through Butlers and Brick Kiln (known locally as Brick Lyn), past St James church (Hick’s village), Long Haul and Newcastle Bays (with the Nisbet Plantation Inn) to the small fishing community of Newcastle. You can visit the Newcastle Pottery where distinctive red clay is used to make among other things the traditional Nevis cooking pot. The Newcastle Redoubt can be seen from the road. Built in the early 17th century, it was used as a refuge from Carib attack and may have been the site of a Carib attack in 1656. The airport is situated here.
The road continues through an increasingly fertile landscape and there are fine views across the Narrows to the southeast peninsula of St Kitts, looking for all the world like the west coast of Scotland. Note Booby Island in the middle of the channel, it is mostly inhabited by pelicans (all birds are referred to as boobies by the local population). It offers good diving. The road between here and Charlestown often passes gardens which are a riot of colour. The small hill on your left is Round Hill (1,014ft). It can be reached on the road between Cades Bay and Camps Village (there is supposed to be a soufrière along this road). Turn off the road at Fountain Village by the methodist church. There are good views from the radio station at the top over Charlestown, across to St Kitts and beyond to Antigua. Do not expect to see much wildlife however. There is a small beach at Mosquito Bay and some good snorkelling can be had under the cliffs of Hurricane Hill. The Oualie Beach Hotel offers a range of watersport facilities including scuba diving and snorkelling equipment. On Sunday afternoons there is often live music and a barbecue at Mosquito Bay. Sailing trips can be negotiated with locals.
Under Round Hill lies Cottle Chapel (1824). It was the first Anglican place on Nevis where slaves could be taught and worship with their master. Ruined now, its beautiful little font can be seen in the Museum of Nevis History. Nearby, just off the island road, lies Fort Ashby. Nothing remains of the Fort (it is now a restaurant on Cades Bay although the cannons are in their original positions). It protected Jamestown, the original settlement and former capital, which was supposedly destroyed by an earthquake and tidal wave in 1690, and was originally called St James’ Fort. Drive past the Nelson springs (where the barrels from HMS Boreas were filled) and St Thomas’ Church (built in 1643, one of the oldest surviving in the Caribbean) to Pinney’s Beach. There are many tracks leading down to the beach often with a small hut or beach bar at the end of them. The Four Seasons Hotel lies in the middle of the beach. The sun loungers are reserved for guests only but the beach is public. Behind the resort is the Robert Trent Jones II golf course which straddles the island road. The manicured fairways and greens are in marked contrast with the quiet beauty of the rest of the island but the hotel’s considerable efforts at landscaping have lessened its impact.
There are many interesting walks over old sugar plantations and through the rain forest on Mount Nevis. Sunrise Tours (T4692758) arranges trips to Nevis Peak (four hours round trip, US$35 per person), Saddle Hill (1½ hours, US$30) or the Water Source (3 hours, US$40). Heb’s Nature Tours is run by Michael Herbert, Rawlins Village, Gingerland, T4692501, offering similar tours: Mount Nevis (5 hours, US$35-40), Rainforest hike (4 hours, US$25-30), Saddle Hill hike (3 hours, US$20-25), medicinal plants (2 hours, US$15) and Camp Spring (2½ hours, US$15-20), price depends on numbers. Top to Bottom is run by biologists Jim and Nikki Johnson, who are very flexible and organize walks to suit you, also a night-time, star-gazing walk, mostly 2-3 hours, US$20 per person, children half price, snacks of fruit and coconut included (T4699080). David Rollinson of Eco-Tours (T4692091, dro...@caribsurf.com) is very knowledgeable; he offers ‘eco rambles’ over the 18th century Coconut Walk and New River Estates and a ‘Sugar trail’ Mountravers hike over the old Pinney Estate (US$20 per person) as well as Sunday morning strolls round historic Charlestown (US$10 per person). All Seasons Streamline Tours, T4691138, F4691139, at Bath Estate, offer a/c mini-bus tours around the island.