There's nothing ordinary about St. Kitts, a Caribbean island where golden beaches stretch along the coast and lush green rainforest cloak the rolling hills. But the island is taking a different approach to tourism compared to that of its neighbouring countries, focusing on high-end, sustainable growth. The real appeal, though, is that feeling you get while there; that feeling of community, of oneness, and of connecting to things greater than yourself.
I CAN’T DISTINGUISH WHERE THE WATER ends and the sky begins as I stare off into the distance, a blanket of fields and forest stretching out in front of me towards the ocean. My book is on my daybed, waiting to be opened, but for now, I dip my toes in the pool and watch it ripple, delighting in the solitude.
Suddenly, my quiet paradise is interrupted by rustling trees and a thump. I turn to see a small monkey on my deck and we lock eyes for a moment, both unsure of what to do with each other now. Perhaps he senses my annoyance – I was having a moment here! – but it's more likely that he notices I have no food to give; either way, he’s gone as quickly as he came, off to join his pals in the bushes.
Belle Mont Farm, Kittitian Hill
So it goes at Kittitian Hill’s Belle Mont Farm, a boutique luxury resort with secluded guesthouses woven into 162 hectares of St. Kitts’ verdant hillside. This isn’t your typical Caribbean resort, but then again, St. Kitts isn’t your typical Caribbean island. Not long ago, the country was a world leader in the cultivation of sugar cane, a history still evident throughout. You won’t find all-inclusive properties here and because the tourism industry is still in its early days (relatively speaking), there’s no feeling of manufactured experiences.
The journey to Kittitian Hill was a few kilometres off the main road and up into the hills. After being welcomed at the entrance, a golf cart ascended me further to the check-in desk, perfectly situated in a bright and airy villa overlooking the Caribbean Sea. I quipped to the woman helping me that this isn’t a bad place for an office, though immediately regretted it, confident almost every guest she's ever greeted has made the same obvious “joke.” She laughed and agreed, polite enough to avoid rolling her eyes at my lack of creativity.
Belle Mont Farm, Kittitian Hill
My guesthouse looks like it was pulled straight from a dream: bright and open, cathedral ceiling, wrap-around deck, private pool. Everything fits beautifully with the serene surroundings – even the bathroom, which is open-air (how fitting to be so close to nature when she calls). I’m not far from my neighbours – one to my left and one to my right – though this oasis is very much my own. With time, the other guesthouses will hardly be visible as the plants and trees between plots mature. The property is relatively new, after all, having opened in 2014, and still growing into itself. It’s perfect anyway, I think.
Kittitian Hill is quite the change from my first few nights in St. Kitts, during which time I stayed on the opposite side of the island at a Marriott property in Frigate Bay. The vibe in the south is somewhat more active and lively, as people congregate at the beach, head out on the water, or spend time on the area’s golf courses.
St. Kitts Tourism Authority
For me, the highlight was Thursday night cocktails at SALT Plage. A band played by the bar and patrons looked out at the yachts anchored in the ocean as they danced on the gentle waves and the sunset turned the sky from blue to yellow to black. There was a couple holding each other on the dock, unsteadily swaying to the music. It was apparent that they had been enjoying a few cocktails for some time, and while part of me worried they were going to stumble into the water, another part of me hoped for it, if only for the comedy.
I had spent that morning in Nevis, St. Kitts’ beautiful sister island, a short water taxi ride away. You can see Nevis Peak from the south shores of St. Kitts – a volcano that has no known history of eruption. They say it’s a great place for hiking, though I couldn’t tell you for sure; my experience didn’t extend much beyond the Four Seasons property that straddles the beach. I considered playing a round of golf though instead, opted for a massage – a welcome break from all the relaxing I was doing.
But today was all about St. Kitts and nothing else. I was introduced to more of the island while aboard the St. Kitts Scenic Railway, an iconic local experience that follows the path formerly used to transport sugar cane from the fields. My piña colada melted before I could finish it, too distracted by the landscapes and communities we passed. Most of the other passengers were only in St. Kitts for the day as per their cruise itinerary.
Now in my sanctuary at Kittitian Hill, I think of the mother and daughter who sat next to me on the train and feel kind of sorry that they don’t get to experience this. To each their own, I suppose, though this place in particular is not meant for just anyone, anyhow. After somewhat wasting the day away (I Facetime my siblings to gloat a bit, but I feel sorry for them too), it’s time for dinner.
Belle Mont Farm, Kittitian Hill
The farm-to-table movement is nothing new, with various tourism destinations touting their commitment to supporting local farmers. But at Kittitian Hill, it exists in the most literal sense at The Farm, an open-air venue with spectacular views of the ocean in one direction and towering green hills in another. All around, I can see our dinner ingredients growing from the ground, fresh for picking. Chef Christophe Letard prepares a family-style meal as I sit with fellow guests around a harvest table to enjoy one of the most spectacular dining experiences of my life; the food, the setting, the company.
It’s here that I meet Val Kempadoo, founder of Kittitian Hill, and truly begin to understand what this place is all about. It’s not just a resort, he explains; it’s a vehicle for social change. The client? “Affluent liberals.” Belle Mont Farm is just one piece of a development that will take years to come to fruition, but the idea is to alter the way travellers experience and perceive St. Kitts and the Caribbean overall, in hopes of affecting positive transformation across the region.
All resources to build the property are sourced locally, all labour is sourced locally, and all food – if not grown on the farm – is sourced locally. As a specific example of its sustainable practices: where at many Caribbean properties, fishermen might have quotas for a specific catch, chefs at Kittitian Hill will work with whatever comes out of the water on any given day. It's a way to ensure economic stability for residents of the community, which then has a ripple effect in many ways.
The mission is just as special as the setting itself and I walk away with a new perspective on hospitality and its impact on a region. My stay only gets better the next morning when I meet Winston Lake, who takes me and other guests on a walk through the gardens that he tends. We eventually make our way to a table set for breakfast, parked in the shade of a massive tree. When Winston learns I’m from Toronto, he tells me that he used to have a girlfriend there. “Don’t let her know that you found me,” he jokes, evidently quite the storyteller. ”I saw her in St. Kitts once; she was here on the island, and I pretended that I didn’t know her.”
Winston, who ought to be in his 70s, worked in the sugar business for a large part of his career, before the industry shut down. He says that the shift of focus to tourism has given him longevity. “I love plants and I love people,” he says, in the presence of both.
The rest of my day is spent much like the one before – I sprawl out on my daybed and take the occasional dip in my pool, enjoying paradise in peace, but for the monkeys.
When you go:
Belle Mont Farm, Kittitian Hill
Where to stay
For a unique and meaningful tropical escape, opt for Belle Mont Farm at Kittitian Hill. Enjoy your own private guesthouse or lounge by the pool. Dining options include The Kitchen, The Mill Bar, The Farm, Arthur’s and Rolling Mango, all of which source a large number of ingredients from the on-site farm.
For those who prefer the beach, Park Hyatt St. Kitts Christophe Harbour opened in November 2017 as the brand’s first foray into the Caribbean. The 126-room resort spans the secluded beach of Banana Bay at the foot of the island’s lush rolling hills, and is home to three signature restaurants, a destination resort spa and wellness centre, plus indoor and outdoor event spaces.
With rainforest encompassing 25 per cent of the island, hikers and bikers will find many trails to explore. Four-wheel drive tours and zip-lining are also available. Golfers should know that there are three designer championship courses on the island, and a fourth under construction. For a different experience, get a peek into the history of St. Kitts and book a ticket on the St. Kitts Scenic Railway. A tour of Brimstone Hill Fortress and National Park is also enlightening. Ready to venture out a bit? Nevis is only a short jaunt away, where you can enjoy the beach, spa or golf course at the Four Seasons Nevis.
Where to dine
Enjoy an intimate sunset dinner at Spice Mill on Cockleshell Beach, an open-air restaurant with delicious fare and stunning surroundings. SALT Plage at Christophe Harbour is another great place for sunset dining and drinks, just 15 minutes from downtown Basseterre. Here, guests can enjoy craft cocktails, Caribbean dishes, and if the night is right, live music.
This article originally published in the fall 2017 issue of Canadian Traveller.
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