Nelson's Choice of a Caribbean Wedding Island

Article excerpt

Byline: Ivor Herbert

TOURISM in the Caribbean isn't the new phenomenon we suppose. Nearly four centuries ago British travellers would sail the Atlantic to stop off at little Nevis, sister island of bigger, breezier,busier St Kitts.

As early as 1607 they took the waters on Nevis, pronounced as in `knee', not as after Ben.

Its bath house flowing with hot pongy liquids still operates on the winding lane down from Fig Tree Church to Charlestown, the tiny, quite attractive capital.

There's a good Information Centre, the Alexander Hamilton Museum (the American statesman was, surprisingly, born there), several artists' little galleries and a tiny American art centre babbling on in a garden full of pretty humming birds set behind a collapsing house.

The hulk of the Bath Hotel, built in 1778, was the Caribbean's first `resort hotel'. It took a month to sail there from England, and you stayed a month.

Even before that, visitors from Britain had broken their long voyage to our colonies in Virginia and Maryland.

There's a legend that a Scotsman (typically) laid out a golf course nearby in the mid-19th Century.

The place, like much else, is now in sad decay. Ruins of sugar mills on mossy stone are monuments to an industry no longer active on Nevis, though still thriving on St Kitts.

Round these grey towers have sprung up small hotels. Tourism is now the main earner. The nicer places are old plantation houses.

Nelson married the widow Fanny Herbert Nisbet under the huge tree at Montpelier, the most charming of the island's half-dozen leading little country house hotels.

Their marriage lines, dated 1787, are registered in Fig Tree Church, which is rich in stylish memorials to old plantation owners. I noticed several of my namesakes.

I was staying at Montpelier before the Princess of Wales's visit over Christmas brought this quiet place to public goggling.

Now there is the new Four Seasons Resort. On an earlier visit I had seen the lovely wild lower slopes of the 3,200 ft green Nevis Peak being ripped apart to create a golf course, and the buildings rising up in the palm tree glades behind the island's Pinney's Beach (marvellous bathing). I had feared the worst.

It is the dozing, 36-square-mile island's first large complex.

Mercifully, the expensive rooms have been kept below the palm tree tops. You can scarcely see it from the road.

Its inmates follow American fashion on their `resorts': they hardly ever leave its guarded gates. They are paying from [pounds sterling]130 in the summer off-season for the cheapest room and up to [pounds sterling]2,000 a day for a grand three-room suite.

These are luxurious and the clients are almost 100 per cent `middle America' with noisy kids. The resort has, however, gained the American AA's first five-star award.

Its food is palatable and its clientele not offensive, seen as one walks along the white sand from Montpelier's `private' beach.

All beaches on Nevis and St Kitts are, in fact, public. But the 58-year-old James Milnes Gaskell, the unusual Old Etonian who bought Montpelier in 1964, has always bussed his guests down to that lovely shore.

WELL, nearly always. For supporting the party which demanded independence from the `Three Island State' of St Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla, James got arrested, imprisoned and deported for 13 years. …