What's new in the Caribbean...an update from Star Travel regular Jo Matyas
Regular contributor to the Toronto Star travel pages, Josephine Matyas, gave up a weekend of turkey and cranberry to attend a Caribbean Tourism Organization conference on the island of Barbados. In addition to an island tour, a stop at the excellent Barbados Museum and some time bobbing in the water with a mask and snorkel, she got the scoop on what’s new for visitors to the Caribbean this winter.
Every winter-shocked Canadian knows that the Caribbean is a place with a “kick back and chill” vibe. Every island is different – a good starting place to plan, and find deals is www.caribbeantravel.com. The site has information on hot deals, festivals and events and you can search by your area of interest.
Barbados wants visitors to come for the food, as well as the sun and the turquoise waters. From November 19-22, 2010 the island is holding the first annual Food & Wine and Rum Festival. A number of celebrated chefs will be on island to show off their skills, including Canadian Ricardo Larrivee, host of Ricardo and Friends on the Food Network. Local Barbadian chefs will be doing a few cooking demos themselves, holding tasting events and interactive sessions. Drinks will be flowing as a part of the festival (how could they not be, on the island that is home to the world’s oldest rum, Mount Gay) – wine experts and mixologists will produce demonstrations and tastings around the island. www.foodwinerum.com
A few Bajan food facts:
- There are 3,000 rum shops (think very tiny, local bars) on the island. And next door there is often a church (although the island has substantially fewer of those – just over 300). The locals like to say that they aim to “keep all the spirits in one place.”
- The national dish is flying fish, rice and peas, and a side dish called “pie” which is an oven-baked macaroni and cheese.
- Another traditional favourite is callaloo soup, a delicious dark green, iron-packed soup made with callaloo leaves (much like spinach).
St. Lucia is well known as a destination for romance and honeymoons (ABC filmed The Bachelor on island) but it’s also a popular cruise stop and full of activities for families. The lush, hilly island is full of history, and fruit and vegetable plantations that the tourism people would like to open up to visitors. St. Lucia lies in the “cocoa belt” (a zone plus or minus 20 degrees latitude from the Equator). On December 29, 2010, Hotel Chocolat opens a new property on the historic Rabot Estate, an operating cocoa tree plantation (yes, the air does smell like cocoa) with a killer-view of the island’s stunning twin Piton Peaks. www.thehotelchocolat.com. The popular summertime Go Bananas program will probably run again in 2011 (for those who like to plan ahead) – room upgrades, complimentary babysitting, free meals and stays for kids under age 17. www.stlucianow.com. More in the adult realm, a new casino is scheduled to open by November 2010 in the Baywalk Mall in the Rodney Bay area at the north part of the island (the marina here makes Rodney Bay very popular with the boating set).
The sister islands of St. Kitts and Nevis (I am coming clean with a bias – these are two of my favourite Caribbean destinations) claim that studies show visitors come for the beaches (well, yeah) and for the rainforest tours and ecoadventures. There’s no hiding that these are two of the pricier islands in the Caribbean. St. Kitts is starting construction on a private air terminal (service should be up and running at the end of 2012), so if you’ve got a private jet, you’ve now got a place to park it. The Four Seasons Nevis will be re-opening on December 15, 2010 offering special package rates – the island’s premier property has been closed for a two-year refurbishment. www.fourseasons.com/nevis. If horseracing interests you, the new Beaumont Park on St. Kitts hosts races on a ¾ mile oval track. The new Silver Reef Resort on St. Kitts has completed 36 of the planned 62 units – built eco-sensitively the sale/rental units recycle grey water, employ solar power and use local building materials to reduce the carbon footprint. The Beach Club at Sandy Bank Bay is set to open in early 2011 – it’s the first stage of a luxury development called Christophe Harbour on St. Kitts (mega yacht harbour, marina, Tom Fazio championship golf course, boutique shopping and five-star hotels). The open-air Beach Club will have private dining patios, a natural-edged pool, waterfall showers and direct access to Sandy Bank Bay beach and the Atlantic Ocean. www.christopheharbour.com
Bermuda is even closer for Torontonians since WestJet launched service in May 2010. This November through March has been branded Bermuda’s Golf & Spa Season, with eight courses participating and spa specials for the golf widows. Eighteen of the island’s largest hotels have signed on for The Compliments of Bermuda promotion – every two-night stay gets you a third night free for travel between November 15, 2010 and March 15, 2011. www.bermudatourism.com. The Reefs Hotel & Club – voted Bermuda’s Best Hotel by Travel & Leisure and inducted onto the 2010 Conde Nast Traveler Gold List – recently doubled their size with a new fractional wing, www.thereefs.com.
And finally, tiny Anguilla, where the focus is on celebrity and stylish living will once again host the popular Moonsplash Music Festival, timed to coordinate with the full moon in March 2011. The festival is four days of reggae talent, ranging from cutting edge sounds to founding legends. www.bankieban.net
Josephine Matyas is a Canadian travel journalist who often writes about ecotourism and the Caribbean. You can find her at www.writerwithoutborders.com.