Often overshadowed by its glitzier Caribbean neighbors, Nevis led a quiet existence until 2015, when the blockbuster play Hamilton premiered on Broadway. Three years later, the island buzzes with Hamilton buffs — called Hamilfans — in search of bits of information about the early life of America’s first treasury secretary. Along the way, the island’s stunning beaches, lush, jungly interior and elegant plantation inns offer a glimpse into the quieter side of the Caribbean.
I Know Him
We’re zooming down one of Nevis’s notoriously steep hills when our guide, Romel Gaskin, signals for us to stop our bikes and pull up beside what looks like the ruins of an old factory. Filled with crumbling brick buildings, thick vines and trampled grass, the lot doesn’t seem worthy of exploration. But then, one of the Hamilfans among us spots the historic marker that identifies the place as Hamilton Estate and the cameras start clicking. As we walk toward a tall chimney, Gaskin explains that although Alexander Hamilton, who was born on the island, probably never visited this former sugar plantation, it was owned by a member of the Hamilton family until the 1950s. “At one time, there were more than 200 sugar plantations on Nevis island, and this was considered the most modern,” he says as he points to several large pieces of machinery. “The gears used to process the sugar cane were imported from Scotland, home of Alexander Hamilton’s father, James.”
We had started our cycle tour that morning from Montpelier Plantation & Beach, a Relais & Chateaux property in the breezy foothills of Nevis Peak. Led by longtime employee (and Nevis native) Romel Gaskin, the resort’s new outdoor adventure program lets guests create their own guided hiking, strolling or cycling itineraries. We’d chosen a general island tour that started at the resort and ended with lunch at Montpelier’s private beach club and, thankfully, transport back to the resort. Guests can also hike hilly trails past plantation ruins and waterfalls, ride horses or cycle to nearby settlements and restaurants.
Our next stop was Charlestown, a neat town that was settled in 1660 and is home to a Saturday morning farmers’ market, a few restaurants (including the notable Café des Arts, with its colorful outdoor patio and bright paintings) and a trove of Hamilton sites and lore.
History Has its Eyes on You
Start with the Museum of Nevis History, which is located within the Alexander Hamilton Birthplace, a Georgian-style building restored in the 1980s after the original was destroyed in an earthquake in 1840. After taking the requisite tourist shot, slip inside, where you can listen to the Hamilton soundtrack as you explore exhibits detailing Hamilton’s early life and the role the island played in his development as a statesman and patriot. If there’s time, meander over to the Jewish cemetery, where 19 gravestones dating from 1679 to 1730 are all that’s left of the
island’s once thriving Jewish community. They’re also a link to Hamilton, who, as the son of unmarried parents, was not allowed to be educated in Nevis’ Christian schools. Instead, he was said to have attended a Jewish school, where he learned both Hebrew and French. It’s quite likely that he walked along the Jews Walk, which runs between the graveyard and what many believe to be the site of Nevis’ Jewish school and synagogue.
Leaving Charlestown, we headed north along the coastal road to Nevisian Artisan Village, a collection of sherbet-colored wooden buildings each housing a local artist. Sipping a tangy drink made with local tamarind, we looked at — and purchased — jewelry, wood carvings and paintings; there’s also a large gallery where carpenters build everything from mahogany bed frames to hand-turned vases. We also passed by the island’s soothing natural hot springs and St. Thomas’ Lowland Church, which was built in 1643 and was the first Anglican church in the Caribbean. A slight left took us into a shady thicket with a dirt road that led to Montpelier’s Beach Club, a sun-drenched oasis with bar service, showers, bathroom facilities, lounge chairs and a covered patio.
After cooling off with fresh mango daiquiris, we tucked into a picnic lunch that had been delivered just before we arrived. After a quick swim, we caught the shuttle for the 15-minute ride back to Montpelier.
Meet Me Inside
Located on the site of a 1747 sugar plantation, Montpelier is not a typical island resort. Just 19 rooms and suites dot the 60-acre property, which is set with an oversized mosaic pool, a 300-year-old sugar mill that’s been transformed into an intimate dining room, an outdoor spa and a charismatic manor house crafted from local stone and inhabited by Cosmo, the owners’ friendly yellow lab. Pilates and yoga classes are held in a restored barn that fronts a cool green lawn shaded by mango trees. Towering above it all stands Nevis Peak, a 3,232-foot mountain embroidered with trails that lead through the rainforest to uninterrupted vistas of Saba and St. Kitts. Quiet and cultivated, it feels like part of the landscape.
Once again taking advantage of the resort’s outdoor program, the next day I found myself hanging by well-used ropes as my guide and I made our way slowly up the steep mountain face to the top of Nevis Peak. It was a grueling workout, as hard coming down as it was going up, and I was grateful for my nimble guide, who told me where to place my hands and feet, which rope to grab and when to duck out of the way of low-hanging tree limbs during the nearly four-hour marathon. I celebrated my achievement with a massage in the spa — where the glorious relaxation area is a hammock strung under a flamboyant tree — and a nutmeg-sprinkled rum punch by the pool.
It’s Quiet Uptown
Yet for all the hubbub surrounding Alexander Hamilton, Nevis remains remarkably, wonderfully, unchanged. Yes, you can order a Brandy Alexander (Hamilton) at the local bar, and it costs five dollars to enter Hamilton’s birthplace, but there are no high-rise hotels, casinos or even traffic lights. Instead, you’ll find quiet beaches, tiny local restaurants and the kind of easygoing charm that made the Caribbean popular in the first place.
AAA Member benefit: Receive $50 optional tour credit with a Travel Impressions Nevis tour!