Expert's Choice: Windward Islands
A resident of Grenada, Chris Doyle wrote his first Cruising Guide to the Windward Islands in 1980. The current 2007-08 guide is the twelfth in the series.
By Chris Doyle
FOOD AND DRINK
There was a time when charterers set off for the Windwards with bags of food—who knew what you would find down island? Forget that! These days every major island has supermarkets. The best and biggest are in Martinique, but even on tiny islands you find specialty food stores, like Doris Fresh Foods on Bequia and Captain Gourmet on Union, where you can buy smoked salmon and good wine.
But if it's fresh produce you're after, visit the local market; every major island—and some small ones, like Union, Carriacou, and Bequia—has one (Fridays and Saturdays are the best market days). Union Island's is particularly cute, with unfailingly friendly vendors.
Keep an eye out for bottled coconut water. This is a tasty local drink, ideal for hot weather. It keeps for only a day or so even in the fridge.
» Eating Out
Eating out at its best means great food and service and a feeling of excitement. For fancy fare, you can't beat Chef Bobo's The Edge in Rodney Bay Lagoon, St Lucia. He serves wonderful food, has a full sushi bar, and you eat so close to the water you can tie your dinghy to the table leg. Devil's Table in Bequia always serves top-of-the-line food on a delightful platform over the water, and at La Phare Bleu, in Grenada, you eat wonderful food on the upper deck of a gorgeous old lightship. In Martinique, I really love Paridiso (lunch only) at Cap Chevalier (closest anchorages are St. Anne or Marin). It isn't just that the food is wonderful, but all the staff seems full of the joy of life and working together.
• Local Flavors
Local food is tasty, fun, and usually available at bargain prices. An excellent place to start is upstairs in the Martinique food market, where half a dozen local restaurants compete to offer you a fine Creole lunch. The Old Plantation Yard in Vieux Fort, St. Lucia, is wonderfully authentic lunch stop. It is set in a large old courtyard behind a quaint building, and the cooking is done on open fires in front of you. An outdoor beach barbecue can be unforgettable. Try to arrive on a full-moon night at Chatham Bay, Union, where Shark Attack will feed you well. For something outside, but more intimate, visit Rock Side Café in Kearton Bay, St. Vincent.
If you like to get out and about in the morning, Breadbasket in Rodney Bay Marina, St. Lucia, does a hearty cooked breakfast. My preference is a local breakfast of saltfish and bakes, which can be found at Sandisland Café, in Hillsborough, Carriacou. For ambience, it takes a lot to beat the pleasant seating under the trees at Gingerbread in Bequia.
• On the Beach
Beach bars are synonymous with the Caribbean. The Frangipani in Bequia is hard to beat as an afternoon gathering place, and you may have to visit Basil's in Mustique just to say you've been there. But the bar not to miss is Janti's Happy Island on the outer reef of Union. Janti built the whole island himself by hand from discarded conch shells.
HIKES AND BIKES
After all that food, you'll need some exercise. In Bequia this can mean a great double-beach run. Dinghy in to the Plantation House dock, jog up over the hill to Princess Margaret Beach, run along the beach, up over the next headland, then down to Lower Bay Beach and on to the end (and return). If you're in Prickly Bay, Grenada, dinghy over to True Blue Bay beach at the crack of dawn and find yourself among throngs of medical students taking early exercise.
The Windwards offer world-class hikes and walks. Hiking St. Vincent's volcano, on the windward side, is among the best. The trail takes you through agricultural land, rain forest, cloud forest, and finally up onto a slope where only small plants can survive. The summit is mainly covered in cloud, but take lunch and at some time a break will give you a view into the dramatic smoldering crater and possibly both the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean (guide advisable).
In the mountains south of St. Pierre, Martinique, Canal de Beauregard makes an extraordinary walk. Slaves built the canal in 1760 to bring water around a steep mountain to supply the distilleries in St. Pierre. The walk is level and often shady, but you walk on a narrow canal wall and need a head for heights, as there are no guard rails and the view is often dizzyingly precipitous.
Bikers will find getting across the main road in Gros Islets, St. Lucia, is a challenge, but the road out to Cas-en-Bas is okay and leads to a great biking/hiking trail that goes along the coast both north and south.
FORTS AND MUSEUMS
Like the Leewards, the Windwards have some great old forts. Unfortunately, most are still used by the military or government and are off limits. Of those you can visit, Pigeon Island in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, is the best, with lovely walks, great views, and several interesting foundations and fortifications. In Union, Fort Hill has only a couple of cannons, but the view is worth the climb.
Local museums can be enchanting. The museum in St. George's, Grenada, is in a lovely old building, and the eclectic collection includes items from many different periods.
•The spectacular Ladera Resort in Soufriere, St. Lucia, is perched on a 900-foot-high ledge between the towering Pitons. The view from the bar encompasses both Pitons and the precipitous drop to the beach. It is breathtaking—and way too huge to capture with a camera.
• St. Pierre, Martinique, was destroyed by a volcano in 1902 and then rebuilt. This town is fascinating, with lots of old walls and ruins to explore.
• Grenada's capital, St. George's, built on a hill and surrounded on three sides by water, is the prettiest town in the Windwards. Many buildings are brick and have decorative fish-scale tile roofs.
• A couple of half-day shore trips are extra-special. The Grenada Chocolate Factory is a wonderful cooperative effort near the cocoa fields. The machinery is all antique or hand-built, and much of it is solar powered. Chocolate making is labor intensive, and Grenada's wonderful dark organic chocolate has been rated among the best in the world. You could make it a whole day and include a trip to the San Antoine rum factory, which operates much as it did a couple of hundred years ago, with a giant water wheel to crush the cane.
• The turtle sanctuary in Bequia is always a delight. Orton King takes turtle eggs and rears the young until they are big enough to have a good chance of surviving in the wild. Kids love to look at the turtles, which range from babies to two-year-olds.
• If you're in St. Vincent, check out the botanical gardens, where you'll find a direct descendant (by cuttings) of the breadfruit tree brought over by Captain Bligh a year or two after the mutiny on the Bounty.
SNORKELING HOT SPOT: The bat cave, just west of Petit Byahaut in St. Vincent, is special. From pleasant snorkeling in a shallow area, you enter a dark cave, which can be somewhat spooky as it is full of bats and scuttling crabs. A streak of light appears on the left side. You follow it down a long, narrow crack in the rock to the open sea on the other side. The water colors as you reach the sea are spectacular.
It's still possible to avoid the crowds in the Windwards. Frigate Island, off Union Island, is in lovely water with fair snorkeling. You can scramble up the hill for a view or dinghy over to Ashton to visit a village untouched by tourism. Anse Noir in Martinique is a perfect little hideaway you can often have to yourself; just avoid lunchtime on weekends. The really adventurous can, on a calm day, find an anchorage on the windward side of Canouan, where the snorkeling is great and you're unlikely to see another soul.
SAIL YOUR PANTS OFF
When you're ready for a thumping good sail, leave Carriacou and head around the windward side of Grenada. It is a gorgeous romp in open water with pretty islands and excellent fishing. Get your charter company's okay before you go.