Full of natural charm, Grenada is a small island packing a big punch. Jeannine Williamson reports
As I adjust my goggles and dip my face below the surface of the warm, clear seawater I see a serene mermaid reclining on the sandy ocean bed.
Further along a man sits at a desk in front of a typewriter, seemingly engrossed in work, and an ethereal group of children stand in a circle holding hands.
You might be forgiven for thinking I’d indulged in a drop too much local rum the previous evening, but it’s with a totally clear head that I immerse myself in one of Grenada’s unusual attractions.
There are now more than 65 installations at the world’s first underwater sculpture park that opened in Molinere Bay in 2006. Some are just 20ft below the surface and can be seen on glass-bottom boat trips as well as by snorkellers and divers.
Sugar and spice
The most southerly of the Windward Islands, Grenada might not be as well-known as some of its larger and glitzier Caribbean cousins, yet it packs plenty into its small size, which is roughly the same as the Isle of Wight.
It’s dubbed the spice island due to the abundance of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and other aromatic seasonings that grow in fertile plantations.
Many of its attractions are homespun, rather than hi-tech, and this is all part of its natural charm. One morning we visit the west coast fishing village of Gouyave, where the nutmeg processing station is one of the largest on the island.
A tour, costing just $1, takes us past wooden shelves, piled high with nutmegs and bearing chalk-drawn information for staff.
Nearby, resting workers drink coffee and wave as we pass.
UK health and safety fanatics would doubtless have a field day at River Antoine, the island’s oldest rum producer and the only remaining water-powered distillery in the whole of the Caribbean.
With production methods little changed since the 1800s, it’s refreshing to have such an authentic experience – unhindered by barriers and multiple warning signs – as we walk alongside a machine chewing up sugar cane, open fires being stoked by hand and vats of bubbling spirits.
The real health warning relates to the finished product, as some Grenadian rum has a breath-taking alcohol content of 70% and is so flammable you’re forbidden to take it on planes!
The majority of hotels are situated on the beautiful two-mile sweep of Grand Anse, regularly voted one of the world’s best beaches.
In the early morning, many islanders use it as a meeting point, standing waist-high in the water to chat and catch up on the latest news.
We check into Spice Island Beach Resort, where the 64 rooms range from chic beachside suites with hammocks to secluded walled villas with private pools close to the spa.
Compared to other islands Grenada’s nightlife is fairly low-key, but night owls can head to hot spots such as Fantazia on Morne Rouge Beach where locals strut their stuff with disco moves that make Dirty Dancing seem positively tame.
By day, the island’s compact size makes it easy to get around – within half an hour of leaving the beach, you can be in the rainforest heartland.
A highlight is Concord Waterfall in Grand Etang National Park, where you can swim beneath the curtain of water, while local daredevils jump from high rocks to try to earn a few dollars from tourists.
Another day takes us to Belmont Estate, a 17th-century spice plantation and cocoa processor.
The ‘bean-to-bar’ tour begins with a look at a large cocoa pod, split open in front of us to reveal raw beans nestling in a sticky pulp.
We learn how beans are fermented, dried, roasted and pressed and our appetites are well and truly whetted by the time we get to taste the delicious, dark organic chocolate.
On the way back to the hotel we stop at the capital, St George’s, which has to be one of the Caribbean’s prettiest waterfronts with pastel-coloured buildings set against the backdrop of emerald-green mountains and impossibly blue sea.
The open-air spice market is a great place to stock up on inexpensive souvenirs and gifts, and nearby shops sell plane-friendly rum.
At dinner that night we try the local speciality, oil down.
Although it sounds a little unappetising, it’s a one-pot comfort food comprising meat, vegetables, breadfruit and any other ingredients that might be to hand, all simmered in coconut milk.
It provided us with another lasting taste of this delightful island that serves up so many different experiences.
Great for tranquil travellers
For a break from the beach, take a walk in the rainforest. Local guides include the legendary Grenadian hiker Telfor Bedeau, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the local flora and fauna.
If you’re lucky, you might even spot the distinctive grey and white mona monkey.
Great for spirited adventurers
Embark on a thrilling tubing ride along the Balthazar River with Adventure Tours, 45 minutes from St George’s.
Sitting in giant rubber rings, you’ll spin and swirl in the river currents, stopping at tranquil pools to catch your breath and admire the lush, tropical scenery.
Great for food lovers
Brian Benjamin left London to return to his homeland in 2006 and opened BB’s Crabback, overlooking the harbour at St George’s.
It’s now a Grenadian institution, serving the freshest seafood and BB’s signature dish– goat curry.
Caribtours offers a seven-night all-inclusive stay in an ocean-view or garden suite at the
Spice Island Beach Resort, from £2,469, including flights, private transfers and use of the airport lounge at Gatwick.
For further details, call 020 7751 0660 or visit caribtours.co.uk.