Often overshadowed by its livelier sister island, St. Kitts, Nevis offers a low-key, tropical escape with a small-town feel. You’d easily overlook the West Indies’ hidden gem—at 36 square miles, Nevis (pronounced “knee-vis”) is about half the size of Washington, D.C. But Nevis, which is 1,200 miles from Miami, stands as one of the last-remaining Old Caribbean islands.
Its capital, Charlestown, looks the part with well-preserved 18th- and 19th-century Georgian-style buildings. The traditional “skirt and blouse” architecture, named as such for having a stone bottom and wood second story, remains intact. Fronting the small town square is the courthouse, with the town library on the second floor. Among shops — which typically close by 4:30 p.m. weekdays, 1 p.m. Saturdays and shut down Sundays for church — the only familiar name you’ll see is Best Buy; it’s not the electronics chain, but a grocery store.
Instead of overdeveloped land crowded with tourists, the island’s fairly empty roads see roaming donkeys, sheep, cows and green vervet monkeys (though you won’t see any traffic lights, you’ll spy “Monkey Xing” signs). In fact, the roads only received names and signs in October. Even the beaches seem somewhat deserted, giving you ample space to spread out. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors recently visited Nevis to scope out the best things to do on the quiet, alluring island.
Where to Stay
Nevis’ defining feature is Nevis Peak, a dormant volcano shrouded by clouds that sits in the center of the island. At its base amid tropical hills, you’ll find Montpelier Plantation and Beach, a 1747 sugar plantation that converted into a boutique hotel. Take in striking views of the mountain from the estate’s black-and-white mosaic pool with palms and a 300-year-old sugar mill in the foreground.
The hotel revealed a new look in October in seven of the 19 rooms. Martyne Kupciunas of The Design Garden in Miami injected vibrant colors into the individually designed units. You’ll find bright Trina Turk textiles, free-form stone coffee tables and décor that hints at the property’s past. One headboard bears distressed metal circles that resemble old sugar kettles, and another is made of stacked sugarcane stalks. The must-have rooms are the Garden Suite and the Tamarind Villa. The former is an island-chic space with bamboo flooring, a wood four-poster bed and a gazebo with a red-cushioned couch. The two-bedroom Tamarind Villa is a light and airy plantation-style cottage with glass doors that open onto a private plunge pool where you can soak up vistas of the surrounding hills and the water.
While Montpelier should be a destination for foodies (more on that later), the family-owned hotel’s best asset may be its personable staff, namely matriarch Muffin Hoffman, who makes a point of welcoming guests before dinner every night, remembering all guest names and histories, and occasionally leading them on a challenging bike ride on the hilly island (warning: you’ll have to work to keep up with her). Friendly Labrador Ziggy vies for the title of most popular Hoffman.
Where Montpelier is small and intimate, Four Seasons Resort Nevis is sprawling and all-encompassing. Set along the Caribbean Sea, the island’s grand dame hotel counts 179 rooms, 17 suites and 44 villas on its 350 acres. Of course, Four Seasons Nevis—the brand’s sole hotel in the region—goes over the top with luxurious amenities, including its own dock and boat to shuttle you from St. Kitts to the island, private beach houses complete with butler service and three gorgeous infinity pools that encourage lingering outdoors.
All of the sunny-yellow rooms with bursts of navy come with a view. The oceanfront rooms are the most requested, though we prefer looking out at the peak from the mountain-facing accommodations. Either way, you’ll also snag a spacious bathroom with a separate glass shower and deep-soaking tub, a balcony or patio and flat-screen TVs. Upgrade to a luxury suite for touches such as a white marble bathroom, a roomy dressing area, an iMac, a Bowers & Wilkins iPhone dock and speaker, and expanded living and dining rooms.
Four Seasons Resort Nevis is an ideal option for families. Parents will find the complimentary laundry rooms in each cottage to be a lifesaver, while children won’t want to leave the ball pit in the supervised Kids For All Seasons clubhouse. Plus, those age 5 and under can dine gratis at the resort’s restaurants.
What to Do
Nevis is a place for “liming,” local slang for relaxing. Cover the entire island during an hour-long driving tour, from sites in Charlestown (including the Bath Hotel, which claims to be the first Caribbean hotel; the birthplace of U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton; and the Bath Spring, a natural 108-degree hot spring that’s supposed to be therapeutic—alas, it didn’t heal our sprained ankle) and beyond (stop off at St. James Anglican Church for a peek at one of only three black crucifixes in the Caribbean).
You’ll be able to enjoy all of Nevis’ beaches—they are free and open to the public. Though the one owned by Montpelier, which is six miles from the hotel (a daily shuttle transports guests; be sure to come here for the weekly beach barbecue), feels like a private beach because of its secluded location. The best beaches sit on the north and west sides of the island. The most popular is Pinney’s Beach, a three-mile stretch anchored by Four Seasons Resort Nevis in the north. On the northwest shore, Oualie Beach is protected from the rough Atlantic, so it’s a good spot for those who want to do some swimming, snorkeling and other water sports. Located on the island’s northern tip and concealed from the street, Lovers Beach guarantees privacy.
While you can partake in a slew of water-centric fun, you’d be remiss not to plan an activity around Nevis Peak. Scaling the 3,332-foot mountain is ambitious, but you can break it down into a more reasonable hike. Make Golden Rock Inn, which rests on the mountain’s slopes, your starting point. The stone gazebo and buildings surrounded by lush exotic gardens, lily-pad-adorned pools and troops of monkeys also provide a scenic alfresco spot for post-hike cocktails or lunch.
If you’re a golfer, don’t miss the Four Seasons’ 18-hole Robert Trent Jones II-designed course. The 15th hole — a black tee — affords a dramatic panorama of the water framed by trees carrying bold red flamboyants, the national flower of St. Kitts and Nevis. (It’s a top venue for weddings, as is the second hole, where you can see ruins of a sugar windmill.)
If golf isn’t your game, trade your club for a racket and hit the hotel’s 10 tennis courts. Regardless of your athletic prowess, you’ll want to book some time at Four Seasons’ spa, where you can get a Caribbean fusion massage (lemongrass and coconut milk pamper your skin during the hot-stone service) in a charming yellow treatment cottage with white gingerbread trim. Or find solitude on a chaise lounge at the spa’s infinity pool with Nevis Peak looming behind it.
Where to Eat
You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the food coming out of Nevis. One of the best dining experiences on the island is Montpelier’s Mill Privée. Housed in a sugar mill that was in use until 1933, the open-air restaurant sets a deeply romantic mood—lanterns light the stairway to the small circular space with exposed stone walls, candlelight and a view of the stars overhead. Talented executive chef Stéphane Caumont crafts sophisticated French-Caribbean dishes like a refreshing mango gazpacho topped with melon caviar, cucumber relish and mango jelly, and slices of sesame-crusted wahoo tataki with a drizzle of lime beurre blanc.
Even if you don’t go for the multicourse dinner, Montpelier delivers upscale fare throughout the day in all of its restaurants. One of our favorites came at breakfast, which is included with a stay: mounds of decadent butter-poached spiny lobster, scrambled eggs with Gruyère and a spicy Creole sauce.
But you needn’t frequent fine-dining venues for such food. Right near Four Seasons Nevis is a cluster of unassuming structures that could be mistaken for beach huts. With U.S. license plates lining its walls, Sunshine’s Beach Bar and Grill built a reputation for itself with its Killer Bee (don’t let the plastic cup fool you—it’s one tasty, potent rum drink), but its food shouldn’t be overlooked. Try the shareable spiny lobster salad—okra, tomatoes, corn, romaine, pumpkin, cauliflower and more crowned with a heap of the super-fresh seafood. Save room for an entrée at Double Deuce Beach Bar and Restaurant across the way. Chef Mark Roberts, who formerly helmed the kitchen at Montpelier, grills a flavorful burger that should be on your radar. Roberts wouldn’t reveal the secret seasoning in his beef patties, but we got him to confess that it includes seven ingredients.
Four Seasons is looking to up its food game with the debut of its Italian-influenced Ocean Terrace (try risotto with spiny lobster, fennel, eggplant and cherry tomato confit, or roasted chicken with polenta), and its former fine-dining restaurant Coral Grill will reopen soon with a new look and menu. But you can always count on the luxury hotel for two things: rum — it has the island’s largest selection with 101 varieties — and satisfying Caribbean soul food at Mango. Start with the light and fluffy skewered lobster fritters and then move onto the tender, fall-off-the-bone barbecue ribs. The sides are equally impressive: Subbing coconut for cabbage elevates the slaw into an addictive treat, and the sweet potato jerk fries is a delectable way to use the Jamaican seasoning.
The food is unbeatable with the sunset views at the casual-cool alfresco restaurant, which is perched on the rocky coast with waves crashing below. When the sun sinks, look beyond the coastline to the lit-up St. Kitts in the distance. It sits in bright contrast to unspoiled Nevis, where the lights are happily absent.