Beguiled by Grenada

Polly Thomas is captivated by the steep streets of the capital, St George’s, the white-sand beaches, and the spectacular beauty of the interior

Advertorial. Photograph by www.macabana.comAnnandale Falls. Photograph courtesy the Grenada Board of TourismBelmont Estate. Photograph courtesy the Grenada Board of TourismConcord Falls. Photograph courtesy the Grenada Board of TourismFort George. Photograph by Dexter LewisGrand Anse beach. Photograph courtesy the Grenada Board of TourismSt George’s and the Carenage. Photograph courtesy the Grenada Board of Tourism

Polly Thomas is captivated by the steep streets of the capital, St George’s, the white-sand beaches, and the spectacular beauty of the interior

If you arrive in Grenada expecting manicured tourist enclaves and slickly developed attractions, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. There are some definite visitor honeypots, mostly around the white sands and blue waters of Grand Anse Beach, and these have helped kindle a burgeoning restaurant scene in and around the capital, as well as a good spread of places to stay.

For the most part, though, Grenada is a world away from the packaged feel of some Caribbean destinations. It remains refreshingly unchanged by the demands of tourism, and it’s this sense of unaffected charm that makes the island such a beguiling place to while away a few days.

With white-sand beaches and a corrugated coastline rising up into steep, thickly forested hills, Grenada is a staggeringly beautiful place. Well-tended villages cling to the coastal cliffs, with verges and pavements painted each independence day in the red, gold, and green of the national flag, while the interior, with its conical hilltops and valleys filled with riotous plantlife, is truly spectacular. The southwest is the most developed part of the island, home to the Maurice Bishop International Airport as well as the majority of hotels and restaurants, and it makes sense to base yourself here and make day trips out to the island’s attractions. All of the must-sees are no more than a couple of hours’ drive from the capital, and we’ve picked out some of the essential stops on any tour of Grenada.

St George’s

After a dose of sun, sand, and sea-bathing at the glorious Grand Anse or Morne Rouge beaches, your first port of call should be the capital, St George’s, whose tight web of streets spreads down to the sea on the flanks of a steep hill.

On the south side of the hill, the Carenage is the quintessential Caribbean harbour, a perfect horseshoe of clear, calm water lined with handsome old buildings, some crumbling slowly into decrepitude, others meticulously restored. Fishing boats and hulking cargo steamers bound for Carriacou and beyond lend an industrious air, and several waterside cafés and restaurants provide a shady vantage point to take in the comings and goings over a beer or a bit of lunch.

Just back from the water, behind the warm red brick of the public library, the National Museum is set in a solid structure built by the French in 1704, which has variously served as a prison and a hotel. The displays are in need of an overhaul, with Maurice Bishop’s revolution and the American invasion notably absent, but they do give a basic overview of Grenada’s history, natural history, and geology.

To get to the rest of the town, head through the dank Sendall tunnel, built in 1895 on the orders of Governor Walter Sendall to save the legs of the donkeys, whose cargo-laden carts from the Carenage had hitherto skidded up and down precipitous, unpaved Young Street during wet weather. Out on the other side of the tunnel, precipitous steps to the left lead up to Fort George, a battered French-built structure from 1710 which affords brilliant views of the Carenage, the jumbled rooftops spreading up the hillside, and the hulking cruise ships that moor up along the Esplanade. The parade ground has a plaque commemorating the death of Maurice Bishop, who  – alongside several of his closest supporters – was shot dead here in 1983.

The Esplanade itself (properly called Melville Street) holds the cruiser-oriented Esplanade Mall as well as the bus station, fish market, and, just off Halifax Street, the main market, an excellent place to pick up nutmeg, spices, and mauby bark, as well as fresh produce.

 

Grand Etang National Park and Annandale Falls

Fort George offers some tantalising views of Grand Etang National Park, whose deep-green peaks glower over the capital under a cloak of mist. The drive up to the park is an event in itself. Once you leave the St George’s suburbs behind, the road narrows, buildings are replaced with thick forest, and the tarmac switchbacks through a series of sharp bends, eventually levelling out at the Grand Etang Visitor Centre, where you can take in displays on park ecosystems and the devastation wreaked in the hills by Hurricane Ivan. Thanks to the elevation here – the visitor centre is at 1,900 feet – the air is cool and fresh, and the whole area is often wreathed with a curling, shifting mist that usually clears for long enough to get a view down to the Grand Etang, a short walk away, whose chilly waters occupy the crater of a long-extinct volcano. A path threads around the reedy banks, and you can also explore the national park by way of a network of hiking trails into the rainforest, which range from easy 15-minute strolls to arduous treks up into the hills. Guides are available at the visitor centre, and given the inclement weather up here, it’s best to walk with waterproofs and sturdy shoes.

Heading back into St George’s, the road forks at a ruined church, one of the victims of Hurricane Ivan’s winds. The right-hand fork meanders through the village of Constantine toward Annandale Falls, a favourite with cruise-ship passengers and well worth a visit, especially if you catch it on a quiet day. Paths lead through pretty landscaped gardens to the waterfall itself, a fat cascade gushing down to a generous pool, with easy access for swimming.

 

The east coast

Given its modest proportions, Grenada is easy to circumnavigate in a day, though it would be a whistlestop tour – far better to take it one coast at a time.

Heading east from St George’s, you can stroll around the remains of a British-built rum factory at Westerhall Estate, and buy a few bottles of their excellent aged rum (or the killer Jack Iron overproof) as well as checking out the local memorabilia in the small attached museum.

Midway up the coast, at Grenville, the road runs parallel to the sea at the palm-lined fishing beach that provides the town’s livelihood. There are several nice places to grab a fish lunch or a roti, or you can continue north past the rusting Cuban planes that sit beside the long-abandoned tarmac of Pearls Airport, and turn inland to visit Belmont Estate. Though its landscaped gardens and signposted trails are very much geared to the short-stay cruise market, it’s well worth visiting on Wednesdays, when farmers from all over the island roll up with frothing buckets full of shelled cocoa pods. A tour takes you through the whole process of cocoa production, from weighing and grading to drying and polishing, and includes a sample of cocoa tea; fabulous bars of dark organic chocolate are also on sale, and there’s a good restaurant.

Carrying on up the coast past Pearls, you can smell the syrupy molasses long before you reach the cane patches that surround the River Antoine rum distillery, very much a working rum factory rather than a tourist show-site. Tours take in the oldest working waterwheel in the Caribbean, which powers the equally antiquated cane-crushing machine, as well as the cobwebby, humid fermenting and boiling rooms; try the knockout sorrel rum punch at the end.

North of the distillery, the coast road snakes up toward the sublime Bathway and Levera beaches, the former a favourite spot for weekend beach limes, and the turnoff to the Lake Antoine crater lake.

 

The west coast

The west coast road sticks close to the shoreline, dipping up and down over the hills to provide lovely views down and over the sea. Apart from a regular sprinkling of rum bars and hole-in-the-wall restaurants, there’s little reason to stop till you reach Concord, where a short road inland takes you to Concord Falls, one of Grenada’s prettiest, surrounded by greenery and with a deep pool for swimming.

Two-thirds of the way up the west coast, Gouyave is the largest town hereabouts, and Grenada’s main fishing centre. It’s a shabbily appealing place, its filigreed balconies overhanging a narrow main street lined with mom-and-pop stores. The tallest building in town is home to the island’s main nutmeg processing station, where guides take you past the racks of drying nutmegs and explain the curing and grading process.

North of Gouyave, the road hugs the shoreline before swinging inland just past the village of Victoria. Once it hits the north coast, you’ll get tantalising views of Carriacou and the Grenadine islands in the distance.

If you have the energy to press on a little further, it’s well worth stopping off at Sauteurs, roughly in the middle of the north coast, where a monument overlooking the sea commemorates the Carib Indians who, in 1651, jumped to their deaths rather than be captured by advancing French troops.

 

Caribbean Airlines now flies return services from Port of Spain to Grenada and New York on Wednesdays and Saturdays and has 12 weekly flights between Trinidad and Grenada. Customers can book online at www.caribbean-airlines.com, call the airline toll-free at + 800 744 2225 or contact their travel agent to make bookings.

 

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