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Holiday `98 St Kitts & Nevis: Planter's paunch; EAT WELL AND BE LAZY ON AN ELEGANT SUGAR PLANTATION.

WHEN the 28-gun frigate HMS Boreas weighed anchor off Charlestown in 1786, her captain - a mere slip of a lad with "lank, unpowdered hair tied in a tail of extraordinary length" - trained his eyeglass inland.

He saw a higgledy-piggledy little town of weatherboarded houses, a square, a stone-built cotton ginnery, two churches and a spa hotel.

Take the ferry from St Kitts to Nevis today and you will get the same view of the island's capital.

Except, of course, for the building they have since put up as a memorial to the baby-faced skipper - the Horatio Nelson museum.

Nevis, just 36 square miles of greenery and sandy beaches in the Eastern Caribbean, has seen one or two other changes.

There is the picturesque cricket ground where local boy turned West Indies hero Stuart Williams is said to have hooked a bouncer so hard the ball sailed over the grandstand.

The tree-covered slopes of Mount Nevis at midwicket and the island of St Kitts at deep square leg could only watch as it cleared three streets and landed in a bar in a coconut grove.

The economy has also changed. Nelson was there to enforce the law that sugar planters could only trade with British ships. And Nevis had more sugar than an Andy Williams Christmas Show.

Despite its size, it was sweetening more cuppas back home than any other island in the West Indies. Thanks to sugar beet, the sugar cane market eventually collapsed and now many old plantations nestling in the hills above Charlestown have been converted into delightful inns - the Old Manor, the Hermitage, the Golden Rock.

With the exception of the very up-market Montpelier Plantation - where Princess Diana once stayed with her sons - they are all surprisingly affordable and refreshing alternatives to the heaving, all-inclusive gin palaces of Antigua, Barbados and the Dominican Republic.

At the Old Manor, a five-mile drive from Charlestown along a leafy country lane, dodging feral donkeys and wandering pigs, all 15 rooms, including some with four-poster beds, have been lovingly created by the friendly English owners from original estate buildings.

Enjoy a huge breakfast on the dining room verandah, which has probably one of the most breathtaking views in the Caribbean, down a valley of palm, banana and sandbox trees and across the turquoise sea to Montserrat and Antigua.

There's a swimming pool, and the Cooperage Restaurant at the Old Manor is said to be the best on the island. Don't go to Nevis if you plan to diet. The standard of food - from lobster to lamb cutlets - is among the finest in the Caribbean. The Old Manor also has a free shuttle to its beach bar, The Beachcomber, on popular Pinney's Beach.

The Hermitage, just down the road, is owned by an American family. It has a riding stables and accommodation in cottages.

The Golden Rock, slightly higher up the slopes of Mount Nevis, has some four-poster rooms in its old plantation mill. The owner's black Labrador will take you for a guided tour of the forest, where you can see vervet monkeys.

There are thousands of monkeys on Nevis. They are not aggressive, but the locals regard them as pests as they raid plantations and take just one bite out of every piece of fruit they can find, then throw the rest away.

There is a friendliness to Nevis that has been lost on many of the larger islands. Everyone says "hi man" with a smile, and the impression is that they are actually pleased to see you. A huge emphasis is placed on education, and politeness is part of the culture.

Historically, the locals have always been accommodating. Even Nelson, despite his haircut, managed to pull. In the two months he was on the island he wooed and wed a rich young widow called Fanny Nisbet - you can see their marriage certificate in St John's parish church.

His best man at the wedding, the Duke of Clarence - later William IV - also had his moments, then probably wished he hadn't. After several nights of debauchery at the Bath spa hotel in Charlestown - the first resort hotel to be built in the Caribbean, and now a ruin - he sailed home with an embarrassing itch, vowing never to return.

He missed out on all the sunbathing. Pinney's, the main beach on Nevis, is just a 10-minute walk from the centre of Charlestown. The American- run Four Seasons Hotel (at least $500 a night, room-only) dominates the place.

A shack backed by palm trees and fronted by the warm Caribbean sea, Sunshine's serves up the most lethal cocktail known to man. Or, much more devastating, known to woman.

It is called the Killer Bee. Sunshine, the owner of this gimcrack bar, would not serve me a Killer Bee because he wanted me to observe its effect on a group of Americans who had just been jettisoned onto the shore by a four-master cruise ship. Sure enough, within 20 minutes two couples were doing an interesting version of synchronised swimming, about 15 others were singing God Bless America and several more had stumbled off behind the palm trees and returned rearranging their clothing.

"People don't realise that Nevis is a lurve island," said Sunshine, who admits he's had his own fair share of lurve.

"My Killer Bees keep them happy. I won't tell you what I put in the glass, man, but you see that girl over there? I give you and her a Killer Bee and you will be together for life".

If Captain Nelson and Fanny Nisbet had taken Sunshine's advice, Lady Hamilton might never have got a look in.

TRAVEL CHECK: ST KITTS & NEVIS

CARIBBEAN Connections (01244 355 300) 1wk B&B at the Old Manor & Estate on Nevis from pounds 871 pp (May) with Caledonian flights to St Kitts and onward flight to Nevis.

Further info: St Kitts & Nevis Tourism Board, 10 Kensington Court, London W8 5DL (tel: 0171-376 0881).
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 19, 1998
Words:990
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