‘But surely the Caribbean is already done and dusted?’ Indeed, while the Barbados crowd itching for their annual Sandy Lane fix continue to return year after year and St Barts gets no less starry, is there really any inch of the Caribbean left to uncover?
The twin-island federation of St Kitts and Nevis in the West Indian Leeward Islands, having successfully survived on sugar cane production since independence in 1983, have of late decided to diversify into the world of tourism. As a result, St Kitts should benefit from a position of hindsight and avoid the pitfalls of the so-called ‘all-inclusive resorts’, that Lord Glenconner, the man who pioneered the elite retreat experience on the fabled isle of Mustique in the early 70’s, blames for ‘sanitising the Caribbean experience for visitors’.
At present no such troubles abound on the environmentally, socially and culturally untouched, and devastatingly unspoilt, St Kitts. Discovered by Christopher Columbus and reputedly named after his namesake patron saint of travellers, the island is blessed with volcanic peaks and a fertile topography to match: think rainforests, waterfalls, the very quintessence of verdant tropical scenery exercised on a dramatic scale. The island’s capital, the wonderfully named Basseterre, fuses a delightful mix of Caribbean colour and vintage Georgian architecture, a throw back to its British Imperial past, the impressive heritage extending beyond the capital’s boundaries to the former sugarcane plantation houses in the outlying parishes.
Modern St Kitts remains a small and unspoilt island amongst its brasher and better known cousins, so the development of the island’s south-eastern peninsula, some 13 miles of deliciously rugged coastline and six beaches, is a big deal. Christophe Harbour, when finished, will boast 1,400 villas, a 300-berth marina, a super-yacht harbour and championship golf course. In order to lure seaworthy oligarchs, the yacht club will incorporate a captain’s lounge, guest quarters and serve as a designated port of entry for Customs and Immigration clearance. In addition the marina will offer a seamless arrivals service and concierge providing onward island excursions including diving the island’s pristine waters and making reservations at St Kitt’s best restaurants.
So what does Christophe Harbour offer the elite traveller with green sensibilities? The Christophe Harbour developers, Kiawah Development Partners, have a 20-year record in environmental stewardship and have pledged to preserve about a third of the total land, with around 900 acres being dedicated to green open space and walking trails. Although 1,400 plots sounds like an intensive measure of real estate to the ecologist in me, especially for an area that currently holds very sparse visible development, it is nevertheless a lot less than the amount initially approved by the Kittitian government. Besides, the properties permitted will adhere to strict architectural and environmental credentials: namely low-density and low-level, designed in harmony with the striking undulations of the landscape.
One important development which has convinced me that Christophe Harbour takes its green responsibilities seriously was the decision for the developers to transform the striking horseshoe-shaped Sandy Bank Bay into a permanent marine sanctuary to preserve the natural beauty of the coastline and its inhabitants. All motorboats and watercraft will be prohibited allowing the current marine eco-system to grow and prosper in more or less undisturbed conditions. Christophe Harbour is clearly showing signs of wishing to attract the naturalist as well as the yachtsman to the resort.
I was also fascinated to learn that it is possible to apply green incentives to the controversial golfing industry. For a game that unapologetically sucks water supplies dry, contributes to water pollution through liberal chemical usage, all in a bid to keep grounds in tip-top tournament condition.Tom Fazio, the prolific golf course designer, has proposed a number of environmental considerations into the plans for Christophe Harbour’s 18-hole championship course. Ocean water will be treated through a reverse-osmosis facility to irrigate the course (although there is, of course, a huge energy component to this); natural surroundings will be maintained through outcropping and strategically placed boulders; the utilisation of wetlands and saltwater mangroves to treat run-off water before flowing into other water networks on the island has been proposed; and finally, 100 acres of turf-grass will garland the course landscape. So before touching down in the tropics, I was relieved to find that Christophe Harbour appears keen to promote the resort as a base for eco-tourism.
Arriving at St Kitt’s International Airport, British Airways now fly direct from the UK twice a week; I embarked upon the short meandering journey, yet one of the most scenic drives I’ve made in the Caribbean.