AS A MID-MARCH SNOWSTORM pummeled my northeastern U.S. hometown with eight inches of snow, I stuck my toes into the cool waters of several Caribbean islands. I wasn’t sorry to miss the fluffy white snow, instead preferring the white sand I strolled along as the waves clipped at my heels. A leisure vacation feels even more satisfying when you know you’ve left the unpleasant weather at home.
My Caribbean itinerary included island-hopping mostly in the Lesser Antilles/Leeward Islands: I began in Sint Maarten, and made my way to St. Kitts & Nevis, Antigua, Anguilla, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Barbados. Each was a new island to me, and I took the chance to both kick back and also actively discover a bit of what each island offers.
While my time in Sint Maarten was limited to its Dutch side, travelers to the island, half-Dutch and half-French, enjoy the best of both worlds, relishing in the cultures of both countries as well as the unique blended culture the island affords. Sint Maarten-Saint Marten is, in fact, the smallest land mass in the world shared by two nations, and the most-visited of the Leeward Islands.
From the United States, I arrived in Philipsburg, the capital, and a busy port city bustling with not only people but duty-free shopping, resorts, villas, activities and, of course, beaches. The airport is well-served from destinations around the globe, and the island is a huge draw for yachting, one of the biggest in the Caribbean.
I would be sailing between the various islands on my agenda, and as I made my way from the airport hub to the port, I spotted areas of the island still affected from 2017’s Hurricane Irma; however, it was clear from the airport and the port, both crowded with visitors, the island is largely back in the business of welcoming leisure-seekers.
I really dug my toes into the sand during my time in St. Kitts, enjoy- ing a beach barbecue on Carambola Beach in Basseterre. As I enjoyed Champagne served in the surf and freshly grilled lobster, then read a book under an umbrella while sipping from a drink boasting one, I finally had that ah-ha moment of release that a week-long Caribbean vacation in March (or any month, really) requires and demands. This was island living at its finest, or “limin,” the St. Kitts & Nevis word for hanging out.
Relaxation on a beautiful beach is all it’s cracked up to be, but St. Kitts & Nevis also boasts a rich history ripe for exploration. While debating daily activities, I considered a visit to the island’s Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a well- preserved fortress designed by the British military. I was also intrigued by a ride on the St. Kitts Scenic Railway, an approximately 18-mile-long narrow-gauge railway line along the coastline.
I’d kicked back, I’d indulged and now it was time for some retail therapy. My next stop in St. John’s, Antigua, proved a place where my credit card could join the vacation. Before a catamaran and snorkeling adventure with Wadadli Cats, I spent the morning strolling through the colorful kaleidoscope of stores nearby the port. Loaded up with Caribbean coffee, hot sauce, jellies and ornaments, it was time to go under the sea.
The well-run Wadadli Cats catamaran adventure made a snorkeling stop; I found the water a bit hazy that day, with the currents whipping up the sandy bottom, but I still spotted colorful schools of fish and coral, before deciding I’d spend the rest of our time on the catamaran’s deck with a rum punch. It’s not an afternoon on the water in the Caribbean without one of the signature cocktails, after all. The tour also included a stop on a quiet, nearly deserted beach before a return to the same candy-colored storefronts I’d perused earlier.
Unfortunately, on-and-off but torrential rainstorms left my plans in Anguilla, literally and figuratively, soaking wet. I strolled along the beachfront for just a few minutes before I felt the raindrops grace my skin, but I did manage to learn a little bit about the island favored by celebrities and other A-listers. Its long list of posh resorts boasts well-known luxury brand names like Four Seasons and Belmond. This is the place to be seen, but not actually seen, thanks to exclusive and private resorts. In November, Hilton’s LXR Hotels and Resorts brand will debut on the island with Zemi Beach House Hotel and Spa.
Before I departed for my vacation, I was most excited to explore Terre-de-Haut, in the Îles des Saintes in Guadeloupe. This little island had been on my radar, as it kept popping up in conversation and articles. With its unspoiled beaches, no chain resorts, no casinos and unique French flair, it did not disappoint. It remains my favorite.
My wallet also came out to play in Terre-de-Haut, but how could it not when the streets are lined with in- credible French boutiques? Clothes and shoes in whites and vivid blues that mimicked the ocean beckoned me inside one such boutique before I set off on a mission to find the traditional island pastry, tourment d’amour.
Locals set up trays outside their front doors to sell the homemade, fresh, pie-like pastries. Their ubiquity throughout the island piqued my interest to learn more. According to my follow-up re- search (I turned to Google and not just my taste buds), a local Terre-de-Haut girl fell in love with a sailor. He was called away, but with the promise of his return by a certain date. In anticipation, the girl prepared the aforementioned pastries. The sailor was delayed a few days and returned to find his love had taken her own life from the torment of waiting. Since, women on the island have made the dessert, known as tourment d’amour or love’s torment, for their sailors as a charm to bring them home safely. Coconut is the traditional flavor, but, today, you can also find guava, banana and anise versions.
St. Lucia is a popular choice among Caribbean-bound travelers, drawn to its lush landscape, surrounded by both the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. It’s perhaps best known for its twin coastal peaks, the Pitons, but I took, instead, to the rainforest. Rainforest Adventures St. Lucia takes visitors via open-air aerial tram on an eco-tour through the rainforest, with a knowledgeable local guide pointing out the flora, fauna and wildlife.
Another island for which I had big expectations was Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. As soon as you set foot on the soil of the island, you can feel the energy of the islanders and the culture of the place. On a tour to familiarize myself with the land, the guides, all local women, sang us songs of the island legends and shared lore from centuries long ago.
Orton “Brother” King is another personality of the island; he owns and runs Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary. A native skin-diving fisherman concerned with the depleting ocean resources, he’s now dedicated his life to saving the hawksbill turtle. A visit to the sanctuary is another way in which the life, beauty and culture of this island comes alive for travelers.
Barbados, my final stop, held additional meaning as it was where my parents honeymooned 41 years earlier; I’d be able to experience for myself a place from where they’d shared memories and stories with me over the years. I departed from this island, so I opted for a half-day tour of the highlights of Barbados, which, of course, included our guide pointing out Rihanna’s childhood home, as well as the home she now owns. A study in contrasts for sure.
Also a study in contrasts: the clothes I wore at the moment and those in my bag, the cold-weather accessories I’d pull on before boarding the flight. So, I lingered just a few moments longer on the shores, savoring those final moments of paradise, knowing those memories would last longer than the winter weather.
AU BON VIVRE
Taste the French influence at Terre- de-Haut’s Au Bon Vivre, serving both local island food and French imports in a Creole building built more than 150 years ago.
30, 97137 Rue Jean Calot, Terre-de-Haut, Guadeloupe
THE COVE RESTAURANT
Perched upon a cliff- top at Blue Waters Resort & Spa in Antigua, diners at The Cove Restaurant can take in the stunning Caribbean Sea views along with Caribbean dishes.
St. John’s, Antigua $$$$
STRAW HAT RESTAURANT
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are available at Anguilla’s popular Straw Hat Restaurant at Frangipani Beach Resort on Meads Bay. The theme is tastefully on display throughout.
Frangipani Beach Resort, Anguilla $$$$
BELMOND LA SAMANNA
Be dazzled at this luxury property on St. Martin, and enjoy luxury guestrooms with a nautical touch alongside the crystal-blue waters of the resort’s private beach.
Baie Longue, Terres Basses, Saint Martin $$$$$
Breathtaking all around, from its surrounding scenery to its stunning architecture, Jade Mountain offers a serene luxury escape on the island of Saint Lucia.
Saint Lucia $$$$$
For a bit of everything with a touch of luxury in Barbados, look no further than Sandy Lane, boasting guestrooms and suites, sports facilities, golf and a spa.
Holetown, Barbados $$$$$
INFO TO GO
Direct flights from the U.S. East Coast are available to/from Sint Maarten (SXM), St. Kitts and Nevis (SKB), Antigua (ANU), Saint Lucia (SLU) and Barbados (BGI), as well as other Caribbean islands.
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