Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Travel Blurb SVG

The great escape
Looking to get away from it all? Then you could do worse than consider a trip to St Vincent and the Grenadines – 32 stunning islands set in the clear blue waters of the Caribbean

Opted for the wallet-friendly, flight-free 'staycation' this summer? Thanks to the stubborn refusal of the sun to stay out for longer than the duration of one song from an ice-cream van, it's more likely you wound up with an upturned umbrella and soggy flip flops than a tan if you stayed in the UK.

Fortunately it's never too late to soak up some much-needed rays if you know where to look. The Caribbean remains sun-soaked and balmy of evening all year round, and if you're dreaming of eye-wateringly blue skies, talcum-powder sand and swaying palms, you can't beat St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Thanks to an absence of direct flights and mass tourism, this string of 32 diminutive islands is a haven for those looking to get away from it all. Only nine are inhabited: St Vincent, Young Island, Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, Mayreau, Union Island, Palm Island, and Petit St Vincent. The Tobago Cays is a stunning uninhabited marine park, which offers a perfect day-trip for any visitor.

St Vincent is known as "the mainland". The capital, Kingstown, is full of old world charm, its cobbled streets lined with old brick buildings. The market square at the corner of Bay and Bedford Streets is the perfect spot to sample some authentic Caribbean hospitality.

Once you've spent time in the 'big' city, you may like to get away from the hustle and bustle by following the hiking trail to the summit of the spectacular La Soufriere volcano.

La Soufrier volcano on St Vincent. Photograph: PR
Winding through bamboo groves, rainforest and across old lava flows, this three-mile trail ends with spectacular panoramic views and the chance to get up close and personal with an active volcano – the truly intrepid can even descend into the crater to take a mineral mud bath. The island's high altitude and volcanic structure bring regular rainfall and fertile soil, cultivating a landscape of dazzling green, lush vegetation slashed through with gushing waterfalls. The stuff of tropical dreams, this quintessential paradise will feel familiar to fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean film series, as much of it was shot right here. And if it's good enough for Johnny Depp…

The rest of the islands are known as the Grenadines. They're a bit more laid back than St Vincent and by far the best way to explore these beach-fringed beauties is to take to the water. All the islands are close together, so journeys between them are both short and sheltered. Experienced sailors can book a bareboat charter and take to the seas while yachting novices can hire a skippered yacht and let someone else do the hard work.

Whatever your vessel, there are vibrant harbours to explore, secluded bays in which to lay anchor and miles of palm-fringed coastline to discover – and wherever you spend your day, with distances this short you'll always be ashore in time for cocktail hour.

A yacht isn't the only mode of transport on offer: the independent traveller can always flit their way between the islands using local ferries or scheduled or charter flights.

A diver explores the crystal clear waters in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Photograph: PR
Once you've explored the islands from above the water, it's time to discover what lies in those turquoise depths. With warm seas, good visibility and a world-class reef system, St Vincent and the Grenadines is a great place to scuba dive or snorkel and, as on land, there are no crowds to contend with. Unless you're talking about what lies beneath the waves... Located at the meeting point of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea and swept by the Gulf Stream, the Grenadines are the sealife equivalent of Piccadilly Circus. The waters here are abundant in a diverse range of species from the large (turtles, sharks and rays) to the tiny (seahorses, frogfish and harlequin pipefish).

What's more, the multifarious landscape of this archipelago of inhabited islands, deserted caves and sand bars is as varied below the waters as it is above: the volcanic curves of St Vincent continue beneath sea level, offering vistas of sheer coral-curtained walls; the sloping reefs around the island of Bequia are home to massive schools of colourful tropical fish; and Mayreau's waters hide gardens of swaying grasses and waterlogged tree trunks.

If this beautiful seascape puts you in the mood for romance, St Vincent and the Grenadines is the ideal place to wash up post-dive, with each of the islands offering something different for the luxury traveller.

There are some gorgeous places to stay. Take the Raffles resort on Canouan for example (which is where the winner of our competition will be heading). It boasts an 18-hole golf course, a magnificent spa – with the first two over-water spa treatment suites of St. Vincent and the Grenadines - tennis courts, five restaurants and a fresh-water swimming pool.

So whether you're after romance and relaxation or activity and adventure, St Vincent and the Grenadines has it all. And what's more, you're sure of boarding that plane home with a tan – and not a soggy flip-flop in sight.