Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Visiting one island a day

By Margaret Swaine, National Post

My wildest adventure in the Caribbean recently was in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where I visited seven gorgeous islands in seven days travelling by local boats and planes. SVG comprises 32 islands in the southern Caribbean -- the last stronghold of the Carib Nation, and thus the last to be settled by Europeans and absorbed into the plantation system. They are the final stretch of Caribbean islands to embrace tourism. Here are my best discoveries.

St. Vincent

Mountainous St. Vincent, the largest island, boasts La Soufriere, an active volcano, and lush green crops of exotic plants. A visit to markets teeming with breadfruit, cassava, christophine, paw paw, sorrel, yams, nutmeg, bananas, soursop and dasheen is a must. And don't miss a visit to the Disney set where scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean were shot. We used a Fantasea Tours (fantasytours.com) powerboat (though there are plenty of other powerboat rental firms) and also took in Petit Byahaut, home of the treasure cave in the movie. I recommend Grand View Beach Hotel, a 19th-century cotton drying house, located on eight acres of tropical gardens overlooking the Caribbean.


Canouan is a mere three-square miles of green hills and secluded beaches sheltered by one of the worlds' largest coral reefs. Raffles Resort Canouan is the spot to loll about and golf, gamble, spa or swim. The secluded western side of Canouan, in a protected bay, is a playground for the wealthy.

Palm Island

Palm Island is a small privately owned island. The only place to stay is the charming all-inclusive Palm Island Resort, which features thatch and stone cottages that dot the beach. The topography is all sand and palm trees (over 1,850 of them). I felt like Robinson Crusoe washed ashore when I was dropped off at the wharf.

Union Island

Union Island is the unpolished gem, scruffy even, but vibrant with life. Most of the workers from Palm Island live here and so do their goats, chickens and donkeys, which wander the roads. One of its most prominent features is Mount Toboi, at 1,000 feet the highest point in the Grenadines. Union Island is the place to nosh on lobster and conch.


Tommy Hilfiger, Mick Jagger and Bryan Adams are just some of the stars who have purchased a spot on this private island. The Firefly bar is the place to visit; they have both a Champagne and a Martini Club wherein members get recognized with a T-shirt once they've consumed every version of Champagne or martini cocktail on offer. Guests have been known to earn their T-shirts after an extended 14-martini lunch. (Pierce Brosnan, I hear, wanted to earn a T-shirt, but unlike 007, he doesn't drink martinis. He left the task to his son.)


Bequia is very laid back but the watering holes, busy in mid-afternoon, prove this place can rock. Its traditions of boat-building, fishing and whaling are still evident -- there's even a joint or two that uses whale bones to decorate the bar.

Young Island

Young Island Resort is a rock skip or two from St. Vincent via a three-minute ferry ride across 200 yards of water. It's just 35 acres, and it's possible to rent the entire island and all its 29 double-accommodation cottages for a wedding celebration.

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