‘What did you do for your birthday?’ I was asked the other day.
‘Well,’ I said, trying to sound casual, ‘after a champagne breakfast in my luxury Caribbean condo, I went on a catamaran cruise along the coasts, snorkelled among tropical fish, trekked through a rainforest underneath a volcano and then ended up riding a horse along the beach at sunset.’
There was a pause. ‘And I drank a lot of rum punch,’ I added, just in case they thought it sounded all too much like hard work.
As far as bragging rights go, spending your birthday on the spectacular island of Nevis, with its stunning turquoise waters and lush green rain forests, sets the bar pretty high.
Whether you are marking a special occasion or not, there a dozens of beautiful, sandy beaches to lounge on if you fancy doing very little, while there is everything from kayaking, horse-riding, catamaran cruises, hiking and snorkelling if you wanted to do something more active.
Nevis, a tiny atoll in the Caribbean twinned with St Kitts, came to the British public’s attention when Princess Diana stayed here 25 years ago with the young Princes William and Harry. To say that little seems to have changed in the meantime is a compliment, rather than a criticism of the tiny Caribbean island. Diana flew to Nevis (pronounced Nee-vis) for peace and solitude, and the 36-square mile island certainly still has that in abundance.
Few cruise ships and no long-haul flights stop here which has helped the island keep its charm and with just 12,000 inhabitants it certainly isn’t crowded – you will have the beaches all to yourself.
With just one main road hugging the coastline (driving is on the left, as befits the oldest British colony in the Caribbean – St Kitts and Nevis became a fully-independent country in 1983) it doesn’t take long to drive round the lush, green island which is dotted with coconut palms, 19th century churches and disused sugar cane mills, the legacy of the once-massive industry here.
The capital, Charlestown, is tiny both in population (just 1,500 people) and size: wandering through its narrow streets and the ferry port with its customs house and tiny central square feels like going back in time to a different era.
The local juice bar serves its drinks in a leafy garden where clucking chickens wander around, and even the journey to Nevis itself – on a tiny six-seater propeller plane from Antigua (you can also transfer from St Kitts by plane or boat) – felt as if I was really travelling way off the beaten track.
There are plenty of walking trails in the interior of the island in the shadow of the brooding volcano Nevis Peak. Our guide was able not only to take me through dense rainforest to some beautiful waterfalls but to point out every plant which had a practical use, from curing sore throats to producing the best bark for burning, or boat-building – and we saw a fair few monkeys too which roam the island and can be heard chattering from the trees.
Thankfully while Nevis doesn’t boast endless high-rise holiday apartment blocks or global hotel brands, it doesn’t mean visitors have to skimp on the essentials. While Diana stayed at the Montpelier Plantation, I stayed just down the road at the newly built and aptly-named Paradise Beach resort.
My four-bedroom, four-bathroom villa not only had its own swimming pool, outdoor shower, fully-equipped kitchen and wi-fi, but was just a few steps from the beach, and most importantly, the beach bar.
Here rum punches were served pretty much constantly, with even a passing ship stopping to refresh its passengers, but I indulged in some healthier pursuits on the beach too, including jet-lag busting early-morning yoga, stand-up paddle-boarding and a luxurious alfresco massage, made even more relaxing by the sound of the nearby waves.