Sail to the Leeward Islands to discover
beautiful beaches, colonial forts, and quaint villages to entrance you.
You’re not seeing double, Sint Maarten/Saint Martin is home to two sovereign nations. The Dutch side offers water sports, gambling, and duty-free shopping. Cross the invisible border to the French side where you can dine at quaint bistros or leisurely stroll the beaches–averting your eyes if au naturel is not your style. Be active or simply let the jasmine breeze melt your cares away on this tropical island that’s twice-as-nice.
St. Barts (St. Barthelemy Island)
When touring this arid and hilly island, you might dine alfresco at a village cafe or at a beachside table for two. You’ll feel every bit the foreigner here as French is the lingua franca. Buzzing scooters topped with tanned twenty-somethings on their way to the beach look more like tourists at the French Riviera. And, at times, you’ll think you never left the Mother Country: French food, wine, fashion and all things imported (including rumbling Peugeots) grace the landscape. St. Barts is a quintessentially chi-chi, celebrity island – a totally different Caribbean experience.
St. Barts, or St. Barths, both short for St. Barthelemy, is named after Christopher Columbus's brother, Bartolemo. The island has volcanic origins, and there is no fresh water source within its 8 square miles. Settled in the 17th century by immigrants from Brittany and Normandy, France leased the island to Sweden for almost 100 years in return for trading rights in the Baltic. French rule was restored by vote of the island's citizens, and St. Barts remains a dependency of the French overseas department of Guadeloupe.
Nevis, Leeward Islands
Almost completely circular, Nevis' green slopes rise in sweeping curves to the islands summit. From a distance, Nevis looks like a snow-capped mountain, but it's just clouds and mist hovering around Nevis Peak. Charlestown is a well-preserved village with plantation estates and 18th century buildings decorated with gingerbread trim. An interesting zoning law requires that no buildings be taller than the palm trees. Be sure to try the Calalloo soup while you are here.
Unlike other islands where traditional lifestyles have been stamped out by mass tourism, St. Kitts boasts a thriving West Indian culture. Her lush and forested slopes rise gracefully to mist-shrouded peaks. A worthwhile site for history buffs, the imposing 17th century fortress (Brimstone Hill) looms over green fields of sugar cane and banana trees. St. Kitts’ was the first successful colony in the British West Indies. Indeed, when viewed from the top of Brimstone Hill, the “Gibraltar of the Caribbean” appears to dominate everything in the Southern Sea. Shop in colourful Basseterre, play golf and tour old plantation houses. For the adventuresome there’s a brisk hike through the rainforest.
Anguilla is in the British Leeward Islands. Columbus thought this long flat island with its multitude of white sand coves looked like an undulating eel, so he named it Anguilla. The island has been a British colony/dependency since it was first settled in 1650. Except for a few half-hearted attempts at invasion by the French during the 18th century, the world has pretty much ignored the island. Recently, Anguilla has been discovered by the cognoscenti, who find the island's small upscale resorts an ideal retreat to get away from it all. Try the haute cuisine at Malliouhana, or the Arabian Nights ambience of Pimms.
This is where the slogan “life’s a beach” was coined. Anguilla’s thirty-three powdery white-sand beaches are excellent for walking, swimming or simply sipping rum daiquiris. The water in Anguilla is phenomenal: fading from cobalt blue to jade green to pale turquoise, the colors are otherworldly. You can stroll for miles and not see another soul ... truly blissful.
A deserted island all to yourself? We found one, and the beach is an ideal setting for Windjammer’s Rum Swizzle soirée. This beautiful beach has been molded into a perfect crescent shape by eons of caressing waves. If curiosity gets the better of you, take a walkabout and you’ll discover that the island is home to a large colony of hermit crabs. Where do you think we get them for our crab races? Animal activists need not worry: we handle crabs with love, and we always set them free.
St. Maarten (return)
The smallest island in the world shared by two countries. St. Martin/St. Maarten is big on shopping. You can also try your luck in one of St. Maarten's many casinos. Whether you go Dutch in Philipsburg or prefer Marigot's French touch, you're always welcome.