- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2006

As we head for the commuter flight that will take us from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to the tiny Caribbean island of Nevis, we overhear these song lyrics: “your loving arms, your loving arms, your sweet, sweet loving arms.” What a harbinger of things to come.

Like all couples in the rush-and-hurry, workaday world, we relish the idea of alone time, but we’re equally ready to fall into the waiting embrace of an out-of-the-way Caribbean island with a mere 11,000 residents and no traffic lights. It sounds heavenly.

Nevis and its larger neighbor, St. Kitts, operate as one sovereign democratic state within the British Commonwealth. Just seven miles long and five miles wide, Nevis lies near the top of the Lesser Antilles archipelago, about 200 miles south of Puerto Rico and just west of Antigua. An island focal point is the 1,000-foot Mount Nevis, where tours and hikes are offered.

We quickly discover Nevis’ romantic secret weapon: the plantation inns. Over the next week, we see why these former sugar plantations that have been converted to accommodate guests are such popular choices for honeymooners and other island visitors. So is the largest resort (and largest employer), Four Seasons Resort Nevis, which earned the Caribbean’s first AAA five-diamond designation.

“In the 17th century, Nevis was the jewel in the British crown,” our tour guide says, “and at one point, we produced more sugar than all of the other Caribbean islands put together.”

On the grounds of the Horatio Nelson Museum, we see the remains of the ferry (being restored) that took out the last boatload of sugar. The British naval hero’s name crops up again at Montpelier Plantation Inn, where he married local widow Fanny Nisbet in 1787. (The late Princess Diana stayed there after her 1993 separation from the Prince of Wales).

The Nisbet name, in turn, pops up at Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, Fanny’s one-time family home, which has become the island’s only oceanfront plantation resort.

The remaining plantations that house guests are Old Manor Hotel, dating to 1690; ecology-conscious Golden Rock Plantation Inn, with luscious grounds that butt up to hiking trails and rain forest; and the family-owned Hermitage, a plantation inn hosting just 36 guests. It’s the site of the island’s oldest wooden structure.

The plantations lend themselves to romanticizing about a gentler time. Their manors or great houses serve as gathering spots for guests, who sip cocktails in candlelit drawing rooms or intimate bar areas and later enjoy delicious meals on their porches or in their well-appointed dining rooms.

DIVING WITH A CHEF

Most resorts offer special surprises for those seeking something out of the ordinary in their island getaway.

The Dive and Dine Program at the Four Seasons Resort Nevis invites guests to dive for their dinner and to do so alongside the resort’s French-born chef, Cyrille Pannier.

The affable Mr. Pannier and a local dive master lead the two-tank excursion to about 80 feet at the Caves on the island’s southern tip and then to about 50 feet at Monkey Shoals, two miles west of the resort.

Though the goal is to lasso the elusive Nevisian spiny lobster, divers often spot blowfish, angelfish, sea turtles, moray eels, nurse sharks and extensive soft coral.

“This is fun for the guests, but for me, too,” says Mr. Pannier, who learned to dive as a chef at Four Seasons Palm Beach. He was inspired by the executive chef there, an avid angler who takes guests on similar deep-sea catch-and-dine excursions.

Mr. Pannier, former personal chef to the owner of Harrod’s department store in London, has been at Four Seasons Nevis two years and loves preparing seafood. His creations often incorporate mango, passion fruit, vanilla and Nevisian honey.

Dive and Dine is limited to six certified divers as an exclusive offering for resort guests. The fee ($3,000 per couple plus $500 for each additional diver) covers breakfast with the chef, during which he discusses local marine life; equipment; lunch on the private boat; and, finally, cocktails and cooking with the chef on the beach at sunset in an impressive spread beneath palm trees. The menu? Fresh fish, cowboy steak and, of course, fresh lobster.

The Hermitage offers a horse-drawn carriage ride with some of the best, slow-paced ocean views available. It takes us past enthusiastic Sunday morning worshippers — we can hear their joyful noise through open church windows. Our driver also teaches us to differentiate between the plethora of roadside goats and sheep: Tails down, sheep; tails up, goats.

Montpelier’s canvas-topped, circular-shaped, stone-walled sugar mill is turned into a private dining venue at night. Its steps are spotted with flickering lanterns whose glimmer reflects off the formal place settings inside. Dinner is a culinary delight thanks to the chefs and an extensive wine list. A honeymooning New Jersey couple declares this their most unforgettable island dinner.

Golden Rock Plantation uses its cozy, round sugar mill as a romantic suite complete with two beds — one of them in the second-floor loft. This resort is also the best place, by the way, to spot the island’s noted green monkeys.

ROMANCE, LOCAL STYLE

We ask the locals for their ideas on romantic see-and-do’s. Many zero in on the same things: walk or picnic on Lovers Beach; watch the sunset at Banana’s restaurant or on a cruise charter; meander through Nevis’ botanical garden.

“Sit outside your room in your own Jacuzzi with a glass of champagne and look out at St. Kitts under the night sky,” suggests Greg Clayton of Mount Nevis Hotel and Beach Club. The property’s elevation offers a stunning view. We can only imagine what it would be like to view a meteor shower from this spot.

“End your day with a relaxing drink or meal on the porch at Nisbet Plantation Resort,” suggests a regular. Lee and Kevin Kennelly of Charlotte, N.C., agree.

Their favorite memories: “Just the dinners on the porch, the food, the setting and the friendliness of all the staff. It was great every morning at breakfast to have them greet us by name.”

That porch view is an expanse of lushly manicured, palm-lined lawn that leads to an inviting palm-studded beach where, in fact, these honeymooners spent much of their stay.

Mrs. Kennelly recalls: “We stayed in one of the bungalows near the beach. We liked the fact that the beach wasn’t crowded. We also really liked that we could venture off in the hammocks.” One beach day, they took advantage of the resort’s private picnic option.

There’s no shortage of romantic suggestions. “Sleep in a canopy bed,” suggests long-time hotelier Richard Lupinacci at the Hermitage. Over dinner, he quickly reels off other suggestions. (He’s a good source because he and his wife, Maureen, have been married more than 40 years.)

“You get a lovely sunrise from the Golden Rock Hotel,” he says. “You can get a rosy sunrise or a golden sunrise. That’s why they gave Nevis the name ‘Golden Rock.’ It’s a light you can’t describe.”

End the day, Mr. Lupinacci advises, by watching for the famed green spark at sunset. “Look for the green flash from a vantage point with some elevation, and take a bottle of wine.” Fable says those who spot it remain forever in love.

ROMANCE OUR STYLE

Our own list of romantic Nevis moments includes:

• Our after-dinner swim in the Nisbet Plantation pool, which we had all to ourselves under a full moon.

• Sleeping away a stormy afternoon — “married people weather,” Mr. Lupinacci calls it — in our plush king bed at Montpelier Plantation.

• The first taste of the uniquely delicious rum punch served by Montpelier’s barman extraordinaire, Kaddy.

• The couples massage at the Four Seasons Spa, followed by plenty of relaxation at the private waterfall hot tub on one side and chilly, mountain-view plunge pool right across from it.

• The personalized dinner menus and photo fridge magnets that Nisbet Plantation gives its honeymooners and anniversary celebrants, plus the impeccable service from maitre d’ Patterson Fleming. (Ask about his necktie collection).

• Eating lobster sandwiches on homemade bread in Golden Rock’s Eden-like setting, preceded by an impromptu chat with Nevis’ own bee man, Quentin Henderson. Incidentally, a great souvenir for friends back home is the local honey produced by the island’s 20 professional beekeepers.

• A family dinner in which host Richard Lupinacci offered a fascinating glimpse into the life of Nevis-born Alexander Hamilton, about whom we learned more at the tiny Museum of Nevis History in the capital, Charlestown. Hamilton, of course, went on to become the first U.S. secretary of the treasury.

• Stealing kisses in front of the large tiki statue and snapping pictures of the charming monkey statue at the 8-acre Botanical Garden of Nevis.

• Watching the sunset while floating hand-in-hand in the ocean at the Four Seasons and reflecting on how fabulous travel can be. Afterward, we wander down the beach to sample the famed Killer Bee cocktail at Sunshine’s. Sinfully fun and potent.

• Adopting our own sea turtle, thanks to Four Seasons. The resort automatically makes a donation on behalf of each family with a youngster (adults get an adoption kit for a $25 donation) to the Caribbean Conservation Corp.’s efforts to study and protect turtles in the wild. We even can log on to www.cccturtle.org and check where our turtle, Cherokee Rose, was last seen, thanks to a transmitter.

In the romance department, Nevis never disappoints.

• • •

Check American, Continental, Delta, United and U.S. Airways to travel through San Juan, St. Maarten or Antigua, and there are three flights a week from Miami. Nevis now has a paved runway and a modern terminal.

For island information, visit the Nevis Tourism Authority: www.nevisisland.com, call 869/469-7550 or email info@nevisisland.com.

Popular activities include rain-forest hikes, horseback rides, golf, island tours, mountain biking and a variety of water sports. Guide T.C. Claxton offers a Rum Shop Tour (reservations required); call 869/469-2911.

Contact information for resorts:

Four Seasons Resort Nevis, www.fourseasons.com; 869/469-1111 or 800/332-3442.

Golden Rock Plantation Inn, www.golden-rock.com; 869/469-3346.

The Hermitage, www.hermitagenevis.com; 869/469-3477 or 800/682-4025.

Montpelier Plantation Inn, www.montpeliernevis.com; 869/469-3462.

Mount Nevis Hotel and Beach Club, www.mountnevishotel.com; 869/469-9373/4 or 800/756-3847.

Old Manor Hotel, www.oldmanornevis.com; 869/469-3445.

Nisbet Plantation Beach Club, www.nisbetplantation.com; 869.469-9325 or 800/742-6008.

Villa Paradiso, fully handcrafted, three- and four-bedroom Balinese-inspired private beach villas, www.villaparadisonevis.com; 910/323-8355 or 888/666-4282.

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