It’s bright and early on a December morning, the sparkling sun casting a silvery sheen over the landscape. It’s a beautiful setting. But enough about the drive to Gatwick. You’ll be wanting to know about the Caribbean. In fact, it may be that there’s no better time to visit Nevis (it’s pronounced ‘Neevis’) than between December and February; how much more glorious the weather is there then versus what one might expect in the UK.
Around 30 degrees by day, 25 at night, with the atmosphere being regularly refreshed by those wonderfully brief Caribbean showers – about the only occasion on which a British holidaymaker might admit to being happy to see the rain.
There are no international flights into Nevis but the 35-minute evening boat ride across the water from the airport at St Kitts is a lovely experience. It’s kind of romantic, you get complimentary cocktails (how West Indian is that?) and from the jetty at the other end a personal golf-cart chauffeur takes you to your room. Check-in and all the boring stuff waits until the morning.
The Four Seasons Resort Nevis opened in 1991. It has 196 rooms and the property is laid out over 350 acres. The centrepiece of the resort is the Great House, where two of the hotel’s restaurants are situated. The guest rooms are generously sized and all have balconies, fronted by palm trees which in part might inhibit views of the sea but, on the other hand, afford some shade if that’s what you want.
Then there’s the golf course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jnr. It’s a hugely enjoyable layout. Beginning with a dogleg par-five that veers to the left, the holes are demanding without ever being unfair. From the back tees (the golds), the course runs to 6,766 yards, although there are also blue tees and, shorter still, the recommended ‘resort’ length from the whites is 5,614 yards.
The course starts to become spectacular from the 8th, a sinuous uphill par-five that seems to be twice as long as it says on the card, particularly if you’re walking the hole. (See cart advisory in a moment.) From the green, the views out over the resort and the Caribbean are astounding. So is the vista when you play the 11th, a gently downhill par-four that heads towards St Kitts. There follow three terrific par-threes (the 12th, 14th and 16th) and the monstrous par-five 15th.
This is 663 yards from the tips, and the bold or foolhardy can make it even longer than that by attempting the 247-yard carry from the special black tees inserted on this hole. You’ll be relieved to learn that it plays downhill – that’s doing it an injustice; if it had snow on it, it might make the Hahnenkamm at Kitzbuhel seem a doddle – and the view from the tee, as from the 8th green, is truly memorable. The round concludes with the longest par-four on the card ending beside the seaside.
Green fees are $195 per round for hotel guests, $205 for non-guests, golf cart included. And you couldn’t manage this course without a cart. The resort suggests three walking routes (basically for non-golfers), the two most arduous of which include hiking from the sports pavilion at sea level up to the 14th tee. This involves not only a considerable climb but negotiating the road that bridges a chasm between the 14th and 15th holes. That’s about a five-minute drive in a golf cart. You would not want to do it while carrying a bag.
Back across the water, St Kitts has a fine golf course, too, managed by Marriott Golf. Opened in 1976, Royal St Kitts has been significantly revamped and upgraded over the course of the past nine years. It measures 6,851 yards from the back tees and notably has two holes that run beside the Caribbean and three more on the Atlantic shoreline. Water is in play on ten holes, so it’s perhaps not a layout for the faint-hearted, but overall it is definitely worth making that return boat journey one further time in order to sample the experience. In sum, while this combined destination doesn’t turn Nevis/St Kitts into the equal of Barbados for the avid golfer, it does make it a satisfying alternative.
Thankfully there are no nasties such as snakes on Nevis but there are many impishlooking green vervet monkeys. On the Saturday afternoon we were there, with the temperature in the high 20s, the only other primates on the golf course were several families of these creatures.
It was a quiet place for humans if not for the simian populace. But then the course had less than 9,000 rounds in 2012. “It’s never very busy,” I was told in the pro shop. You will be glad to know that the five-hour round is pretty much an unknown phenomenon on Nevis; even four hours is rare.
Nevis has a population of about 10,000 and measures less than 60-square miles. It does have a ring road; that is, one main road pretty much rings the island. The country was named by Christopher Columbus, who called it Nuestra Senora de las Nieves, which from the Spanish translates rather incongruously to ‘Our Lady of the Snows’, presumably on account of the almost permanently white clouds that sit atop the summit of the now dormant volcano, Nevis Peak, the 3,232-foot highpoint of the island. (So, no, it’s nothing to do with Ben Nevis.) Tobacco and sugar trading were the staples of the Nevis economy in bygone days but today, as with much of the Caribbean, tourism provides the financial heartbeat of the island.
The Four Seasons Resort was bludgeoned by Hurricane Omar in 2008, the ground-floor rooms being largely flooded then, consequently renovated now. It has three restaurants, each markedly different in style. The Coral Grill is primarily a top-class steak restaurant, Neve offers Italian food, while Mango, which has a fabulous al fresco location beside the sea and is only a one-minute saunter from the 18th green, serves Caribbean cuisine.
The local colloquial term for relaxing or chilling out (‘chillaxing’ I guess, if you’re David Cameron) is ‘liming’. And there are plenty of different ways in which to do this. There are three outdoor swimming pools. The attendants not only bring you towels and fruit-flavoured water but also a gorgeous selection of sorbets.
There is, as you would probably expect, a sumptuous spa. More strenuous activity can be enjoyed on the tennis courts (there are regular clinics and competitions), in the fitness centre or, of course, on the water, with sailing and many other aquatic options catered for.
Children aged between 3-9 can be entertained at the Kids’ Club.
This Four Seasons is a particularly environmentally aware operation. For example, the property is dim-lit at night in order to protect baby turtles from the circling pelicans. Apparently, if the resort resembled Blackpool Illuminations after dark, that would lure the egg-laying reptiles towards the lights rather than laying their produce on the sand, and their offspring wouldn’t then have a prayer of making it back to the sea before being scoffed.
Although there is a great deal to be enjoyed on site, it would be remiss not to venture further afield. Just up Pinney’s Beach from the resort (I know, that’s not very further afield) are a collection of apparently somewhat ramshackle bars and cafes/restaurants which in fact are vibrant and fun. The one with the biggest reputation is Sunshine’s Bar and Grill – “Sunshine is like a rock star on Nevis,” we were told – where the photos of various celebs adorn the walls and the house speciality cocktail is the Killer Bee. I didn’t risk one but I’m told that, to no surprise, it does feature a lot of alcohol, not all of it rum.
We tried two places elsewhere on the island, both inland, towards Nevis Peak. Bananas is a terrific restaurant with a fascinating menu and a very cool bar; Golden Rock, set in exotic gardens, overlooks the ocean to the eastern side of the island, where the next landfall looking out would be somewhere in Africa. They are both well worth the excursion.
We were driven to Bananas by a charming woman who reminisced about the Queen visiting the island when she was a child (the lady in the cab, that is), although I’m not convinced that a business card that prominently displays the words ‘Isaiah 43 – Fear Not’ is a great idea for a taxi driver.
It would also be a hard strategy to keep in mind with a driver from those black tees on the 15th.