Visitors resort to relaxation on a West Indian island that's well off the beaten path.
From the moment I arrive at Montpelier Plantation Inn,bone-weary after 14 hours of air travel and a bumpy ride up themountain, something feels different. Maybe it's the sight of one ofthe owners, Tim Hoffman, greeting me at the taxi at 9 p.m. "Youmust be Susan!" he says cheerfully. Or maybe it's his two yellowLabs, wagging their tails under the sprawling canopy of a lovelyficus tree. Or the cold cloth and tall glass of sublime rum punchthat another staff member hands me as my luggage is whiskedaway.
I discover later that Tim and his relatives set out to embracevisitors to this 17-room Relais & Chateaux inn as houseguestsrather than hotel guests. They succeed. For that matter, the entire36-square-mile West Indian island of Nevis (NEE-vis, populationroughly 11,000) welcomes visitors as though they're family. Peoplehere are just plain nice, and the setting enchants. Rain forestsurrounds the 3,200-foot, volcanic Nevis Peak, which slopes down toold sugar estates―including MontpelierPlantation―before reaching the sea. Vervet monkeys hide inthe trees, goats and sheep wander the narrow, rutted roads, andferal donkeys graze in what used to be cotton fields (and, beforethat, sugar cane fields). Charlestown provides a city center, suchas it is.
Several inns and a Four Seasons resort supply upscaleaccommodations, but this is not the place for nightlife orshopping. "It's developed, but not commercialized," says Tim's dad,Lincoln, who shares ownership of Montpelier with his son,daughter-in-law Meredith, wife Muffin, and daughter Tonya.
Not commercialized is just how Maria Russo and Alan Yood likeNevis. In fact, they're sorry the airport no longer consists of twosmall huts and a runway, as it did when they started coming here in1993. The New York City couple has made the trek to Nevis―andMontpelier―at least annually ever since. "If you had told meback then that I would be the kind of person who would go to thesame place year after year, I would have laughed," Maria says. "Butit's just so comfortable here. You really feel disconnected." Theyhave high praise for Montpelier's long-term staff. One veteran,Miller Pemberton, introduces guests to the 30-acre estate's bananaand papaya trees, coconut palms and gingerflower, as intimatefriends. He harbors no such feelings for the monkeys. "They stealmy mangoes," he explains.
With beautiful grounds to explore and airy cottage rooms thatfeature high-quality furnishings and private verandas overlookingthe Caribbean, many guests stay put at Montpelier. They lounge bythe pool, play tennis, or swing in a hammock. Others take the dailyshuttle down to the inn's private beach, where they can enjoyseaside massages, relax under covered cabanas, or have drinks atthe bar. One drawback: Getting there requires a jolting ride down amuddy, deeply furrowed road.
Visitors who explore beyond Montpelier's boundaries find plentyto do. Winston Crooke, owner of Windsurf 'N' Mountain Bike Nevis,takes me on a cycling tour of the island. We meander from thelovely circa-1824 Cottle Church ruins to the beach, through acoconut grove and up a hill or two. Some customers like to "thrashabout" on the jungle trails, while others prefer a leisurely roadtour, Winston says. Likewise, native Nevisian Lynnell Liburd ofSunrise Tours leads unhurried walks by the ocean or challengingclimbs to the top of Nevis Peak. Other options: Marine biologistBarbara Whitman of Under the Sea gives entertaining lessons aboutsea creatures, then leads snorkeling trips to see them. SteveVarrow of Nevis Yacht Charters offers his 41-foot sloop, Feisty, for a sunset sail or day cruise around Nevis and itssister island, St. Kitts.
Dining on Nevis ranges from casual beachsideeateries―Double Deuce is my favorite―to fine dining atMontpelier's The Mill or The Terrace restaurants. Guests of theFour Seasons often make the trek up to Montpelier to sample suchdishes as snapper with mango and cilantro sauce.
Before and after dinner, the Hoffmans and their guests gathernightly in the Great Room. One evening, an American visitor singsthe blues while others chat about their day. Calypso, one of theLabs, brings his tennis ball to the doorway, tosses it into theroom, and waits hopefully. Meanwhile, the singer's husband, a NewYork attorney, stands up and imitates fruits and vegetables.Newfound friends guess, "Pineapple!" "No, celery!" I decide that,yes, at Montpelier, I do feel like a houseguest. And that thiscalls for some more rum punch.
Getting to Know Nevis
No direct flights serve Nevis, some 250 miles east of PuertoRico. You'll likely catch a connecting flight in St. Maarten or SanJuan. Once a British colony, Nevis and neighboring St. Kitts nowform an independent federation. Currency is the Eastern Caribbeandollar, though the U.S. dollar is widely accepted. Take cash: Somebusinesses don't accept credit cards. You'll need $20.50 per personfor departure taxes and fees (set aside this amount unless you wantCaribbean dollars in change). Rates at MontpelierPlantation Inn range from $280 to $747, plus 20 percentfor taxes and a service charge. Rates include a full Englishbreakfast and afternoon tea. Children 8 or older are welcome;869/469-3462 or montpeliernevis.com.Windsurf 'N' Mountain Bike Nevis; 869/469-9682 or windsurfingnevis.com.Sunrise Tours; 869/469-2758 or nevisnaturetours.com.Nevis Yacht Charters Ltd; 869/665-8453 or sailnevis.com. Under the Sea;869/469-1291 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Double Deucerestaurant and bar; 869/469-2222 or doubledeucebar.com.