Perhaps it was during the slow shuffle as we inched towards the airport's immigration desk that we first realised Grenada was such a special place. Hot and tired after the flight, we found a steel band playing an exuberant welcome behind the bougainvillaea, and chilled bottles of the local Carib beer pressed into our hands. The hour we waited to have our passports stamped was spent tapping our feet to the music and watching children spin and twirl.
Grenada is one of the Windward Islands. A little larger than the Isle of Wight, it lies at the bottom of the curve of Caribbean islands which stretch down from Cuba towards Venezuela. Visitors come mainly for the classic beaches (white sand, palms and coral reefs), but there are plenty of other attractions.
The capital, St George's, overlooks a natural harbour. With its whitewashed houses, wrought-iron balconies and red-tiled roofs, it has a distinctly Mediterranean feel. Steep, narrow streets lead past stone churches with stained-glass windows. At the top of the hill, overlooking the harbour, is Fort George, guarded by a row of cannons pointing over the bay. Most of St George's visitors are day-trippers, ferried ashore from the gleaming cruise ships anchored in the bay. Steel bands drum the passengers ashore and eager taxi drivers jostle for their custom. Their first stop is the market, noisy and colourful, where bananas, breadfruit, yams and papaya are piled under the shade of black umbrellas. A man brandishing a machete sells coconuts with a straw to drink the milk. The musky scent of nutmegs, cloves and cinnamon hangs everywhere, a reminder of Grenada's other name, the Spice Island. Away from St George's and the luxury hotels, Grenada feels more like a third-world country. The roads are a collection of potholes laced together by narrow ribbons of asphalt. Goats and cows are tethered by the roadside and chickens scratch underneath the little wooden houses built on stilts. Children fill plastic bags with water from standpipes and stagger home leaving a wet trail behind them. Chapters of history lie behind the names on the map. The town of Sauteurs got its name from the desperate attempt of the Carib Indians to escape the French in 1651, when they jumped off the cliffs to their death on the rocks below. The mixture of French and English names - Grenville, Lance aux Epines, Woburn and La Sagesse - hints at the series of fierce battles for ownership of the island after Christopher Columbus first caught sight of it 500 years ago. The most recent conflict was just 14 years ago. Grenada made headlines across the world when American troops led an invasion force to crush the Marxist leaders of the People's Revolutionary Government. It was an extraordinary act of muscle-flexing, provoked by the paranoia of the Cold War. The barbed wire on the beaches has now gone, and the only reminder of the fighting we saw was bullet scars on buildings near the Cuban-built airport at Port Salines. …