GRENADA: From regal mystery to brightly-lit beauty, Dave Craven falls under the charmsof an island in the Caribbean.
IT SHOULD have come as no surprise that Princess Anne disappeared. After all, it is difficult not to lose yourself in the magic of Grenada even if you are a highly-protected royal usually controlled by strict protocol.
Apparently, on a recent visit to the irresistibly picturesque Caribbean isle, the Queen’s only daughter could not resist the sudden urge to escape and discover its world-famous Grand Anse beach all by herself.
Aides were amazed to see her casually return to her hotel suite having unknowingly given them the slip for a pre-breakfast stroll along the inviting white sands. It seems she does not ordinarily act so rashly.
However, her bold decision speaks volumes about Grenada – known as the Spice Isle for its rich supply of nutmeg, cinnamon and the like – on two fronts. It shows their elegant two-mile long beach, and the numerous marvellous vistas it produces with every longing stare, to be as intoxicating and magnetic as the photos suggest. Regal, in fact, and little wonder it is often rated as one of the world’s top 10.
But also it is a shining example of another of the island’s many wonderful characteristics, namely its pleasantly safe and welcoming demeanour.
So many of its larger Caribbean cousins come with stark warnings about dark and menacing areas which should be steered clear of. Grenada is an oasis of calm open to everyone, crime is almost foreign and this is officially the safest of them all. The engaging locals, beaming and effervescent, are rightly proud of their homeland and happy to share its beauty as they herald “Welcome to the Caribbean’s best-kept secret”.
Officially Grenada, in the south-east of the Caribbean Sea just north of Venezuela, measures 21 miles by 12 miles. One tour guide thinks that’s probably a little bit shy due to some traditionally relaxed mapping. In this compact area there’s plenty to capture the imagination.
Aside from the stunning beaches, you can explore inland into acres of mountainous rainforest to discover beautiful greenery and countless varieties of exotic flowers – Grenada was a winner at the Chelsea Flower Show for a ninth time since 2001. There are breathtaking views and some marvellous waterfalls. Concord is the most popular but the finest is Seven Sisters. It’s untouched, achingly scenic and particularly invigorating if you fancy a dip following the trek you must undertake to reach it.
Having diabetes, I had ensured I packed the ubiquitous can of Coke ahead of our morning venture, armed with walking sticks to negotiate the terrain, in fear of being caught short in the searing heat.
However, when sugar levels needed to be replenished there was no need for the artificial kick-start. Our guide simply chopped down some bananas with his flick knife and sliced open some mango from the trees which were but an arm-stretch away. Effortless and simply delicious.
The local cuisine is something to behold given the island’s fruit and vegetables plus the bounty from the sea.
“Fish Friday” in Gouyave is the time to savour the latter, wandering down its high street to sample a little bit of everything as cooks fry off their catches with favourite combinations of ingredients and flavours.
Blue Horizons Garden Resort is the perfect place from which to start and finish any day. Its tropical gardens spanning more than six acres are host to an abundance of colourful birds zipping or humming around, picturesque views and freshwater pool.
The eco-friendly venue, 300 yards from Grand Anse beach and within walking distance of the vibrant capital St George’s, has 32 well-presented self-catering rooms.
The Spice Island Beach Resort, where Princess Anne stayed is close by. For those who want extra bliss, the private hammock stretching out on to the sands from the room’s terrace did it for me. They claim to be “paradise re-imagined”.
The Belmont Estate, an authentic 17th century plantation, is the premier tourist attraction. It’s in St Patrick and offers an insight into the island’s commercial story from how cocoa processing works to the business of goat farming.
Heading out to the Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park is a surreal experience. The finest part of Aquanauts Grenada’s elegant trip proved to be sailing around the coast to Dragon Bay. Snorkelling here in crystal clear, coral-filled waters is like watching an David Attenborough documentary in finest high definition. Seeing such vivid, bright and colourful fish of all shapes and sizes so closely and so sharply is magical.
Many potential travellers to Grenada my be deterred by the “rainy” season from June until December. Don’t imagine torrential downpours. You are more likely to get sporadic stormy showers, or “liquid sunshine” as the locals like to call it. The showers rarely last more than an hour once a day and often disappear as swiftly as they descend.
The River Antoine Rum Distillery tour offers an enlightening – and intoxicating when you sample the fiery brew at its conclusion – view into how the island’s favoured spirit is brought to life. They produce 80,000 bottles a year with machinery dating back 200 years. There is not enough to meet demand and it is no surprise they do not export their strongest rum, a devilish concoction at 75 per cent proof. The locals who wile away days in shady little rum shops prefer to keep it all to themselves.
Grenada came to international attention in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan damaged or destroyed 90 per cent of homes and decimated crops. The nutmeg industry was particularly affected and is still getting back on its feet because a tree needs around 12 years to reach maturity, a legacy that is still with the islanders.
* Monarch Airlines economy return fare is £444 per person. Departures August 31 to October 5.
* Seven nights at Blue Horizons for the same dates of travel including flights and transfers and based on two sharing a Superior Studio £799 per person including continental breakfast or £855 per person with full breakfast.
* For more information about Grenada visit www.Grenadagrenadines.com.grenadabluehorizons.com