Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Eat, pray, love it

Nevis the Caribbean you dream about but rarely find

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They say Diana chose Nevis as a hideout following her divorce from Prince Charles, and as I wandered along the beach near my resort, I could see why -- there wasn't a soul in sight.

I like to think the people's princess had her own "eat, pray, love" moment on that sleepy little Caribbean island.

At less than 100 square kilometres in size and with a population of just 12,000, Nevis is intimately tiny and remarkably unspoiled. The smaller of the two Leeward Islands that comprise the federation of St. Kitts & Nevis, Nevis has the kind of relaxed vibe and rustic charm you always picture when you think of the Caribbean.

A single ring road circles the island, so the odds of getting lost are slim. As one local put it, "If you don't know where you are, just get on the main road and drive and eventually you will be back where you started."

Taking that advice to heart, we rented a 4X4 from Funky Monkey Tours.

Not surprisingly, our first stop was a pair of abandoned sugar mills. There was a time when Nevis was covered with sugar plantations, and in the early 18th century an estimated 20 per cent of the British Empire's sugar supply came from Nevisian plantations.

In those days, sugar fields stretched high up the volcanic slopes of Mount Nevis and sugar mills dotted the landscape. When the bottom dropped out of the market, most of the rich plantation owners left and the mills fell into ruin. Some have been transformed into unique hotels and some sit as crumbling reminders of the island's rich industrial past.

Two of the most accessible ruins are New River and Coconut Walk Estates. Located on the east coast of the island, about 25 minutes from the capital city of Charlestown, New River was the last sugar mill in operation when it closed in 1958. As we exited the vehicle, I noticed a small herd of goats treading gingerly through the ruins. Wandering around, we were able to check out an old steam engine, a cistern and the ruins of the Great House.

From New River, we drove along a goat trail to Coconut Walk -- so named for the tall coconut trees that once lined the borders of the walk. The key ruins of this mill include the tallest windmill on the island and a stone lime kiln that was once used to fire coral to produce lime for plaster and cement for the construction industry. Being all alone at an abandoned historical site was a bit eerie. As I stood on the windswept rocky shore between the ocean and the ruin, I couldn't help wondering what this place was like in the days of slavery.

Back on the ring road, we went in search of sustenance and ended up at a local lunch shack called Rodney's. The proprietor, a stout middle-aged Nevisian woman named Rodney, has created a menu of Caribbean classics.

"I don't sell burgers and fries," she said. "If you come to the Caribbean, you want Caribbean food. You try my coconut Johnny cakes, salt fish, and breadfruit cheesy. That's what real Nevisians eat."

I have to admit; I almost felt like a real Nevisian as I left Rodney's. "My mother always wanted a boy," Rodney confided as we were leaving. "And after six girls, she just decided to name the next baby Rodney -- no matter what."

Back on the ring road, we weren't sure where to go next. But on Nevis, it doesn't really matter -- "eat, pray, love" moments are around every corner.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 E3

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