Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Romance Overview

By David Swanson

St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Romance Travel Tips

(1) Air access for all of the Grenadines is via neighboring islands. The easiest routing is generally through Barbados, 100 miles east, which is reached by several airlines from major U.S. East Coast hubs. From Barbados, it's a 30-minute hop on a small plane to the airports of St. Vincent, Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, or Union Island.

(2) Adventurous souls can explore the Grenadines by ferry. The St. Vincent-to-Bequia crossing is made several times a day. Several days a week, service also runs between St. Vincent and the southern islands in the chain: Canouan, Mayreau, and Union.

(3) Non-Vincentians planning to wed in St. Vincent and the Grenadines can do so easily. There are two types of marriage license. The governor general's license can be obtained just a day prior to the wedding but costs about $200. The registrar's certificate/license costs only about $15 but requires seven days of residency prior to being issued.

(4) The main island of St. Vincent is short on quality resorts. But with an agrarian economy and lush rain forests enrobing its gently smoldering volcano (a terrific hike, by the way), the island is also an intriguing step back into the Caribbean of yesteryear. Explore St. Vincent on a day trip from Young Island or Bequia.

(5) The Grenadines: Like pearls on a necklace, the Grenadines represent a treasure trove of secret Caribbean landings. Anchored by the larger islands of St. Vincent to the north and Grenada to the south, the chain of 60-some outposts lines the junction of the Atlantic and the Caribbean, with dozens of hideaway beaches and small, covert inns known to but a lucky few.

Yachties have sailed these cerulean waters for years; royalty and more than the occasional celebrity have bunked down on the islands for extended periods. So why do the best parts of the Grenadines feel a bit like the back of beyond? In a word: access. There are no jets flying in from America (or anywhere), no large cruise ships hogging the view, no all-inclusive resorts where "culture" is defined by the swim-up pool bar. So, you won't find yourself in these waters by accident.

And while a few of the islands have a population that swells to a four-digit girth, some, like Palm Island, Young Island, and Petit St. Vincent, are home only to a single "private island" resort. Many other Grenadines islands are uninhabited, and the idyllic settings reach their apex at the beautiful Tobago Cays, reached on the day sailboat Friendship Rose, out of Bequia.

The large island of Bequia is flush with quirky personality and is easily explored on foot by active-minded couples. The 5,000 islanders are good-natured, and visitors and locals mix easily, especially in the bucolic sailing hub of Port Elizabeth, where the pace of life is largely dictated by the ebb and flow of ferries.

Gradually emerging as a vacation destination, three-square-mile Canouan has been developed with a lavish Raffles Resort that boasts an awesome golf course that snakes across a mountain, and the exquisite Raffles Amrita Spa, tempting lovers with cosseting treatments. After exploring the lovely beaches of Canouan, it's no wonder the Sports Illustrated folks settled onto this island for a photo shoot that earned Bar Refaeli the cover of the 2009 swimsuit issue.

The most famous of the Grenadines is 1,400-acre Mustique, developed by the Scotsman Lord Glenconner. He bought the entire island in 1958 for a mere 45,000 pounds and two years later had a marketing stroke of genius, presenting a ten-acre parcel to Princess Margaret as a wedding gift. The gift put Mustique on the map, and soon the princess built a home. Then followed Mick Jagger, Tommy Hilfiger, and others who made the island exclusive and posh. Seventy-some staffed rental villas and a small hotel are overseen by the Mustique Company, and a holiday here is one of peace and pampering and hobnobbing with fellow guests at the weekly cocktail party.

If there's a downside to the Grenadines, it's that it's a bit of hassle to reach most of them. But that disadvantage is also key to what makes these islands special: They're relatively untouristed, they're very private, and they deliver tropical fantasies that are truly worth the extra effort.