Port Elizabeth, Bequia | Neighbourhood

The capital of the second-largest of the Grenadine Islands is a haven for yachties — but also for artists and foodies

Photo by Wilfred DedererPhoto by Wilfred DedererCzekma13/iStock.comPhoto by Wilfred DedererPhoto by Wilfred Dederer

Streetscape

For many visitors, Bequia begins with arrival at the ferry terminal in Port Elizabeth. “Front Street,” as the main road along the waterfront is known, is the centre of activity: from the island’s administration building and post office to the vegetable market to historic St Mary’s Anglican church (at right), rebuilt after a hurricane in 1829. Residential neighbourhoods climb the steep surrounding hills. South of Port Elizabeth, the Belmont Walkway runs along the coast, lined by restaurants, bars, and small hotels, in the direction of Princess Margaret Beach, the island’s most famous swimming spot. Heading the other way, north, the coast road leads to the remains of Hamilton Fort, situated to command the entrance to the bay.

 

History

With its indigenous name meaning “island of the clouds,” Bequia was originally settled by Caribs, before coming under French colonial control. Ceded to Britain in 1763, along with the other Grenadines, St Vincent, and Grenada, Bequia was planted with sugarcane and arrowroot, while Admiralty Bay on the island’s west coast was considered the safest harbour in the southern British West Indies. Port Elizabeth, never large, nonetheless became an important centre for boatbuilding and ship repairs. In the 1960s and 70s, as the Grenadines were “discovered” by wealthy tourists, the economy of Bequia and its capital shifted from fishing and seafaring to tourism — helped by the gorgeous beaches and dive sites close offshore.

 

Plans to hatch

Found throughout the world’s oceans, but critically endangered in all its habitats, the hawksbill sea turtle finds a special refuge in Bequia, thanks to the efforts of the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary. Founded by retired fisherman Orton “Brother” King, the Old Hegg sanctuary collects hawksbill hatchlings at the moment they emerge from their nests on Bequia’s beaches — at the time of their greatest vulnerability to predators. Normally, as few as one hawksbill hatchling in a thousand survives to breeding age. Reared in sheltered ponds until they grow to fourteen inches, Old Hegg’s young turtles get a headstart against those odds. And visitors’ donations keep the whole thing going.

 

Souvenir

As you’d expect in a small island with a strong seafaring tradition, Bequia is home to numerous expert boatbuilders, as you can see at the island’s Boat Museum (above). And though a full-scale vessel isn’t a very practical gift to take home, Bequia’s woodworkers also create intricately detailed model boats, replicating all the details of a seaworthy craft at miniature scale, down to the sails and rigging. For examples, check Mauvin’s and the Sargeant Brothers’ model boat shops, near the vegetable market in Port Elizabeth.

For such a small island, Bequia is also home to an unusually large and active community of artists, local and expat, working in media ranging from painting to textiles and ceramics, and often inspired by the lush landscape, history, and traditions of the island community. Many artists welcome studio visits, and the Oasis Gallery along the Belmont Walkway is a good place to get your bearings.

 

Appetite

From elegant French-inspired cuisine to hearty, zesty creole fare, Port Elizabeth and its surroundings have a more diverse dining scene than you might expect on an island of just six thousand inhabitants. Seafood is naturally the star attraction — especially lobster, in season, when you can enjoy it at the upscale Auberge de Grenadines or on a pizza at Mac’s. Frangipani is famous for its Thursday night barbecue — all you can eat, with live steelpan music. For a memorable meal in breathtaking surroundings, head out of town and up to Mount Pleasant, Bequia’s highest point, where The Old Fort hotel is centred around a historic French-built stone mansion, and dinner comes with a gentle breeze and view of the twinkling lights of the other Grenadines in the distance.

 

Co-ordinates

13.0º N 61.2º W
Sea level