Treasure Island

Until recently, Grenada was often overlooked or ignored by those choosing a Caribbean holiday or incentive destination. Either too little was known about the island, or tourists felt uneasy following the turmoil in 1983 when US-Caribbean forces invaded the country.

But Grenada is in fact a comparatively unspoilt island. It is as if the events of 1983 were an unexplained moment of sudden, mass madness that flared briefly and were quickly forgotten. However, the secret of Grenada’s charms now appears to be out – the number of visitors to Grenada leapt in 1998 by almost ten per cent over the previous year.

Grenada is at the southern end of the arc of Caribbean Windward islands. It is the principal island in a three-island independent nation. Its two small dependencies are Carriacou (13 sq miles) and Petite Martinique (486 acres) in the Grenadines, 25 miles to the north east. It was discovered by Columbus in 1498, colonised by the French in 1650, and it remained a French colony until the mid-18th century when the British took over. It gained independence in 1974 and is now a member of the Commonwealth.

Grenada is 21 miles long and 12 miles wide. A chain of mountain peaks rising to 2,757 feet runs through the middle of the island. The mountains are covered with dense green vegetation, which is why, with the exception of a couple of roads that climb up and over the middle of the island, all the infrastructure is based on the coast.

Grenada is known as the “spice island”. Its rich volcanic soil, year-round 83F temperature and plentiful rainfall during the rainy season (June to November), make it a natural greenhouse. All the usual Caribbean fruits are grown, plus vegetables and cash crops such as papaya, bananas, avocados, sugar, cocoa and coffee.

It also grows cinnamon, vanilla, bay, turmeric, ginger, mace, cloves, and nutmeg. In fact, a third of the world’s nutmeg comes from Grenada. Indonesia is the only country which grows more of the spice.

Most of the island’s resorts are in the south, particularly around the capital, St George’s, and nearby Grand Anse Bay with its mile-long beach. The island’s best known resorts are Renaissance Grenada and Spice Island Inn on Grand Anse beach itself. There is also the island’s biggest resort, Rex Grenadian, on Point Salines near the airport; Secret Harbour which is in a cove on the south-east coast; and close by there is Grenada’s most famous resort, Calabash, the choice of visiting Royals.

Most of the resorts have sports facilities, but golfers will be disappointed to learn that, with not much flat land available the Grenada Golf & Country Club is the only course, with just nine holes.

However, for those keen on watersports, it’s an entirely different prospect. Most resorts, as in the rest of the Caribbean, have small sailboats and a range of watersports facilities. The sailing is good in these waters and most yachtsmen head for the Grenadines where there are lots of little islands and coves to explore. Scuba divers will also find plenty of dive companies.

One of Grenada’s strengths is that there is plenty to see and do away from the beaches, unlike some islands which claim such facilities but don’t really have them. A sixth of Grenada’s landmass is protected parkland or wildlife sanctuaries.

For those interested in Grenada’s history and produce, the old nutmeg factories are still operating much as they did 150 years ago, as are Dunfermline Rum Distillery, the Grenada sugar factory and Dougaldston Spice Estate.

One obvious place to spend a day away from the beaches is in the capital, St George’s, but take care to avoid the days when cruise ships visit.

Grenada’s other strength is its culture. It has a steel band tradition, plus calypso and reggae, like other Caribbean islands. But few have Big Drum – drum music, found mainly on Carriacou, that goes right back to the roots of the African slaves. Dancers dance till they drop. There is also Quadrille, which is based on European ballroom traditions. Four men and four women dance, but the music is played on drums, tambourine, violin and triangle.

Caribbean festivals, such as CropOver and Carnival, are also celebrated – don’t dress smartly on Sunday night in St George’s when the Djab Djab Molassi representing devils, smear themselves and everyone else in black grease.

But no other island has Shakes-peare Mass. Introduced to Carriacou by a quirky and somewhat authoritarian plantation owner, participants, with protective cardboard boxes on their backs, quote lines from Shakespeare. The moment they get it wrong they are beaten with sticks by the audience. I guess that’s one way to learn your lines.

Correction: In our February 25 issue, in a report called Breaking the Mould, we stated that Sports Update was published by Miller Freeman. It is in fact published by Data Team Publishing.

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