A visit to nine Caribbean Islands,
November 2009

Caribbean map
Our route by plane and ferry through the Leeward islands - Antigua, Montserrat, St Kitts, Nevis, St Maarten, St Eustatius, Anguilla, St Thomas USVI and Tortolla BVI.

Sat 14th Nov. Good flight to Antigua. Stayed at 'Carter's car hire and guest house', a nice laid-back guesthouse five minutes from the airport (we fly out at 6:30am tomorrow morning). The guesthouse restaurant/bar was a wooden veranda where we sat on wicker chairs with a couple of beers, winding down to the Caribbean pace. The chef was sitting by the bar, the menu was whatever he decided to cook and we had seafood pasta.

Sun 15th. We flew on the little WinAir 19-seat De Haviland propeller plane over to Montserrat, sitting in the front seats with our chins on the pilot's shoulder. Reuben the taxi driver met us at the airport and drove us through the winding roads to our hotel. It had been sunny in Antigua but Montserrat was partly shrouded in mist, which turned out to be fine, dusty ash blown from the volcano. The wind had changed during the night and all the washing hanging out, all the cars that were washed yesterday, everything was covered in a layer of grey ash dust. Our hotel, Olveston House, was a lovely plantation-style building surrounded by a wide veranda with comfortable chairs and set in pleasant grounds. It is owned by Sir George Martin, former manager of the Beatles, who have stayed here in the past. We took turns to sit in Sir George's favourite chair on the veranda, had a nice breakfast in the dining room and resolved to relax and do nothing all day!

In fact I did go out and have a walk up the hill to the volcano observatory, which was pretty exhausting until a nice man stopped and gave me a lift in his car the last part of the way to the top. When I got back we had lunch on the veranda, very nice Sunday roast with some wine.

Montserrat volcano

As we sat relaxing after lunch the volcano puffed out a huge cloud of ash which slowly settled back down in a black cloud, obliterating the mountain from view.
Montserrat volcano

Sheila was having an afternoon nap in what she hoped was Paul McCartney's bed so I went for a walk down to Lime Kiln Beach and when I got back we discovered that we would be on our own in the hotel for dinner - Carol and Margaret were going to a theatrical performance in the north part of the island, so because there were no restaurants open either (nothing opens on Sunday) Margaret left us two beef, ginger and spring onion stir-fries ready to microwave and a couple of glasses of wine behind the bar. A bit later some other guests arrived, Frank Savage the former Governor of Montserrat who was here when the volcano erupted, and two of his colleagues. They went to a dinner at Government House so they didn't have to microwave anything!

Mon 16th. Up early again for the WinAir flight back to Antigua then onto the Liat 44-seater Dash-8 300 flight to St Kitts. We got a taxi down to the ferry dock in Bassterre ($10 US - it's confusing because some prices are quoted in $EC - Eastern Caribbean, and some are in $US) then the ferry over to Nevis. This is our third day, fourth island and second new country! We got a taxi out to Ocean View guest house which had been recommended by Geraldine who was on the flight with us, but it was rather a long way from anywhere and there was a misunderstanding about the price (it had been quoted per person not for the room) so we went back in the taxi right to the edge of town and stayed in Pinney's Beach hotel, a nice rather dilapidated hotel where our room was right beside the sea (just a few pebbles between us and the waves) and very good value.

More or less ever since she got to Gatwick Sheila has been asking everyone she met where we could get lobster. Across the road from Pinney's Beach was the Seafood Madness restaurant where we had lobster and a creole-style Mahi Mahi (fish) with several beers for lunch - it was lovely. We went back to the room and relaxed for a while, listening to the sound of the waves breaking outside our window and I had a short walk into town and a cup of tea in a café on a balcony overlooking War Memorial Square. We had a drink in the hotel bar but we were still full after the big, late lunch so we went for an early night, falling asleep to the sound of the waves.

Tues 17th. We went and had a nice breakfast at La Café des Arts and soon Geraldine and her son, who lives opposite the Ocean View guest house, and some of their friends turned up one by one - it's a small island! They recommended a local chap for care hire and after breakfast he turned up and took me to the police station to get a local drivers' licence. Unfortunately the traffic department weren't in yet (it was about 9:30) so he gave me the car and we went back to the hotel to pick up some stuff, then parked and had a walk round Charlestown which is a picturesque little town with lots of preserved 18th-century buildings. By the time we'd finished the traffic department had arrived and he issued the licence (EC$62.50, about £14) and we set off on the tour of the plantation houses of Nevis.

Four of the old plantation houses scattered around the island have been turned into up-market hotels and restaurants, all very different but full of character. First was Montpelier plantation, very elegant, where Princess Diana and the princes stayed on their visits to Nevis.

Hermitage Nevis
Next was The Hermitage where the plantation house is believed to be the oldest wooden house in the Antilles, a lovely cosy building with lounges and dining rooms, surrounded by wooden cottages which are the guest rooms, all set in an English country-house garden, except for the palm trees and other exotic flora. This was our favourite.
Golden Rock Nevis
Then on to Golden Rock plantation for lunch of spicy seafood chowder and their wonderful lobster sandwich which had been (quite rightly) recommended by everyone we met!
Nesbit Plantation Nevis
Finally we drove round the north of the island to Nisbett plantation, another lovely wooden great house where Nelson's wife Fanny Nisbett lived, which is now elegant dining rooms, lounge and bar. A long sweeping lawn fringed by palm trees and cottages (guest rooms) leads down to the beach and a beach bar where we sheltered from a sudden tropical downpour which swept down from the hills towards us!

Having seen all the plantations we completed our circuit of the island and drove back to Pinney's Beach. 

As dusk approached we drove up the road a little way and watched the sun go down from a little thatched beach bar at the other end of Pinney's beach. Then we went to another beach bar just by the hotel for dinner, this one was more up-market with decking and tables and a food menu on a blackboard. We had very tasty chilli con carne (we thought we'd give the lobsters a chance to recover).

Weds 18th. After another nice breakfast at Café des Arts we got the ferry back to Saint Kitts and hired a car for a circuit of the island. First of all we went down to Frigate Bay but didn't fancy staying there in the posh hotels, so we came back to Basseterre and stayed in the Seaview Inn, more or less opposite the ferry terminal.
The circus Basseterre
The Circus, Basseterre, complete with Victorian clock tower.

Then we did the circuit of the rest of the island, stopping at Rawlins plantation for a nice buffet lunch sitting on the wooden veranda of another lovely old plantation house .....

Brimstone Hill fort
..... then up to Brimstone Hill fort, a well-preserved Unesco world heritage fortification on top of a hill .....
Brimstone Hill fort
..... with cannons etc. and impressive views.

Back in town we had yet another lobster for dinner at Circus Grill in the pleasant breeze on the first-floor balcony.

Thurs 19th. We had an early morning drive out to look at the huge Marriott resort and the nearby beach bars (not awake yet) then back for a wonderful breakfast on the balcony restaurant at the Seaview Inn. Then we flew to St Maarten and managed to transfer onto an earlier WinAir flight to Statia (St Eustatius), although the flight was delayed for a couple of hours so it wasn't much earlier than the one we were originally booked on.

On Statia we stayed at King's Well, a fascinating place run by Win and Laura, in a large comfortable room with a balcony overlooking the sea. We went and had a beer in the clifftop terrace bar at the hotel, surrounded by Laura's dogs (two huge black and white Great Danes) and parrots, big, noisy, colourful parrots that fly wild but come and take a biscuit from your hand if you offer it. There were also two delightful ginger cats (large kittens really) that came and sat on our laps but soon got bored and went off to stalk the chickens.

Sheila was lounging by the pool so I walked into Upper Town, a sweet little town with a small fort and an assortment of old wooden and stone houses, then down the steep cobbled 'slave road' to Lower Town at the bottom of the cliff, and along the sea-side road and back up to King's Well. We had dinner at the hotel where Laura cooked an excellent Cornish pasty and Sheila had Win's favourite corned beef which he graciously gave up!

Parrott at Kings Well
Lunchtime for parrotts at King's Well hotel, St Eustatius.
Kings Well bar
A busy day in the bar at King's Well.
Upper Town Statia
The busy main street in Upper Town, Statia.

Fri 20th. A nice lazy day in Statia. We had a walk round Upper Town after breakfast then went back to King's Well for lunch of salad and peach melba. We whiled away the afternoon by the swimming pool then I had a walk through Lower Town to the port but there's not much to see there. In the evening we walked down to the Old Gin House, a hotel and restaurant in a lovely old restored 18th-century house and had another wonderful lobster (Sheila) and steak with brandy pepper sauce (me).

Sat 21st. We had another relaxing day sunbathing and playing with the kittens at King's Well then caught the evening flight back to St Maarten. We had our own private plane for the 18-minute flight, because we were the only passengers! We sat at the front with the two pilots, who did the 'safety briefing' by turning round and chatting to us! Our first couple of hotel choices were full so we stayed at Midtown Motel II in Philipsburg, and went looking for somewhere to eat. Our first choice restaurant was just closing because 'it's a slow day' (it was 9pm) but our next choice, Antoine's, was great and Sheila had 'the best lobster ever' there.

Sun 22nd. We walked down Front Street where all the shops were closed on a quiet Sunday morning but the sun was already roasting hot.

Court house Philipsburg
The old Court House in Wathey Square, Philipsburg, St Maarten.

We looked in a few hotels including the old colonial Pasanggrahan hotel, the former Governor's house, but they were quite expensive so we decided to stay where we are. We walked back along the seaside boardwalk and stopped for breakfast at Barefoot café on Wathey Square. We spent the rest of the day sunning ourselves on the beach and relaxing in cafés .....
St Maarten airport
.... then in the evening we went by bus to Sunset Beach, to a bar right at the end of the airport runway where the blast from the jets as they rev for takeoff sweeps billows of sand from the beach, and sweeps people off their feet as they dare to hang onto the wire fence. Apparently Air France pilots have the worst reputation for over-revving and blowing down the fence!

Then by bus back to Antoine's for another fabulous lobster thermidor and a nice chat with the owner, a charming Frenchman 'the new Antoine' (the real one retired many years ago).

Mon 23rd. We packed our bags, walked over to the main road and caught the bus to Marigot in the French half of the island. We had a bit of a walk round looking at the shops but Sheila wasn't impressed, so we went for lunch at L'Oizeau Rare. We sat on the balcony overlooking the port and the square and had some drinks to start - kir vin blanc for Sheila and Beaujolais nouveau for me - to get in the mood, then a lovely lunch of kangaroo steak in black pepper-cream sauce (!) and steak tartare, in a very relaxed French-Caribbean atmosphere of fine dining, followed by crème brulée and a strong French coffee, it doesn't get any better than this!

We walked across the road and got the ferry for the 20-minute crossing to Anguilla - so we woke up in Holland, had lunch in France and by mid-afternoon we were in England! We walked round the corner from the little port to the Ferryboat Inn, a very pleasant place in a lovely setting by the sea with a view across the water to St Martin. When we arrived the place was completely deserted so we sat in the bar for a while until Marjorie the owner came back and gave us a very welcome 'welcome' cold drink.
Anguilla Ferryboat Inn
Our room, apartment 8, was spacious and airy with a large bedroom, huge lounge, kitchen and two bathrooms, and a balcony all with fabulous views across the palm trees to the sea. We chilled out and enjoyed it!

Tues 24th. Marjorie provided a 'welcome pack' with orange juice, fruit salad and cheese and biscuits and we enjoyed it for breakfast. We spent most of the day swimming in the sea, relaxing on the beach or having a (mostly liquid) lunch at the beach-side bar. In the evening we hired a car (and had to buy another local driving licence) and went for a drive out to Cap Juluca, a hyper-luxury resort of Moorish-style rooms and restaurants spread out in a 179-acre estate around a pretty bay.

Weds 25th. We had another relaxing morning on the beach and another lovely lunch of soup and shrimp salad (the shrimp were huge) in the beach-side bar at Ferryboat Inn, then went for a drive round in the hire car. The car was an absolute wreck, the brakes didn't work then as we were returning to the airport after our tour of the island, as we stopped in a petrol station it overheated and the radiator blew and all the water spilled over the forecourt. The petrol lady let us call Maurice, the car hire owner, on her mobile phone and he sent his son to pick us up and take us to the airport, which was fine by us, we didn't want to drive the wreck any further. We flew to St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.

We got a taxi to Charlotte Amalie the main town, and were surprised to find that they drive on the left in this territory of the USA! But of course all the cars are American with the steering wheel on the left! We stayed at Galleon House, a nice hotel up the hill with a view over the town and harbour, and had a nice meal on the open terrace at Hervé's just below it, which was good but surprisingly expensive.

Thurs 26th. We had a nice (complimentary) breakfast at Galleon House then went on a walking tour round the picturesque old part of Charlotte Amalie old town.

Haagensen House
We went up the 99 steps to Haagensen House, former family home of a rich Danish banker, which was lovely - open and airy with dark wood furniture and floors .....
Haagensen House
..... and a great view.

We walked past more of the old villas and the Government House with wrought-iron balconies and a nice garden. The upper town was quiet and shady with lots of palm trees but down by the harbour and along the main shopping street it was packed with visitors from the two cruise ships which had just come in, and the dozens of taxi drivers trying to sell them tours round the island (but in a polite and not too pushy way). We strolled down the main street window-shopping, or in one case buying Swarovski ear-rings for Sheila, and then went to the ferry terminal and got Smith's ferry to the British Virgin Islands. Smith's was supposed to be one of the fast ferries and it was quite fast, but it was also an incredibly noisy old rattle-trap and Sheila didn't enjoy the voyage at all. The ferry stopped first at Soper's Hole / West End which was a pretty little harbour but there didn't appear to be much to do, then went on to terminate at Road Town, the capital of BVI.

We left our cases at the ferry terminal then went for a walk along Main Street, a picturesque shopping street with lots of old wooden buildings, and stopped at a café for tea and cookies. We walked round by the harbour which was full of expensive-looking yachts, then picked up our cases and got a taxi up the mountain and down again to Cane Garden Bay on the other side of the island. We stayed at Rhymer's beach resort, 'the best budget option in BVI', in a nice little room with a kitchenette and a balcony with a view of the sea. A few paces across the sand was a beach bar / restaurant called the Big Banana where we had a couple of beers and a nice meal (chicken roti curry and New York strip steak) and enjoyed the live music - one guy who was playing great music on two keyboards, but unfortunately he also tried to sing as well!

Fri 27th. We had a relaxing day at Cane Garden Bay, with breakfast in the restaurant by the sea, a walk around the bay and a quick look at the rum distillery, a swim in the sea and a sunbathe on the beach amongst dozens of people from the Queen Mary cruise ship who had been brought by bus from Road Town. This was followed by a pre-lunch beer in hammock chairs at yet another beach-side bar and lunch of soup in the kitchenette in our room.

Cane Garden Bay
Rhymer's hotel and beach bar at Cane Garden Bay, BVI.
Rum distillery at Cane Garden Bah
Callwood's rum distillery in Cane Garden Bay.  More or less the only industry in the British Virgin Islands, it has been operating since the mid-1700s.

We went back to Big Banana for dinner and both had absolutely delicious 'Shrimp Rossini' with big, meaty shrimps, capers, peppers and pasta in a rich creamy sauce.

Sat 28th. We were up early for our taxi to the airport but unfortunately Tyrone, the taxi driver, wasn't. We stood outside the hotel getting worried then went to see the proprietor of a nearby bar who was just opening for the day - he phoned Tyrone and woke him up, and a few minutes later he appeared, still half asleep. We reminded him of the time of our flight and we had a wild ride as we raced over the mountains to the airport, only to find the Liat check-in desk deserted when we got there - the flight was already boarding! Then the advantages of a small island became clear when Tyrone asked someone to call his friend in Liat, who came back to the desk and after calling the pilot, checked us in! We raced through the departure tax desk, where they were expecting us and made other people stand aside, and security where they said 'ah, you're the ones'! Finally we stood at the departure gate until the marshall came over and escorted us across the tarmac to the plane!

In Antigua we had most of the day to wait before our flight to London, so we hired a car from Carter's (yet another local driving licence at US$20) and drove around the island, stopping in St John's for an Australian ice cream (Sheila's favourite), and in Nelson's Dockyard for a very pleasant lunch at the Copper and Lumber Store hotel.

If you  would  like to see our other travel pictures, please click here ...... plane