At the end of a long day of touring St. Kitts, we went to our favorite smoothie stand. Our guide from St. Kitts Tourism was celebrating her birthday and we all agreed a smoothie was in order. At the stand, we came upon Maurice Widdowson, the proprietor of Romney Manor and Wingfield Estate, who we had met earlier in the day. There’s nothing like living on a small island to make chance meetings at the smoothie stand an everyday occurrence.
All day we had been struggling with how to describe St. Kitts, as we made the loop around the small island. We found ourselves swept up in the excitement of new development, the promise of jobs and new visitors. But we also found ourselves nostalgic and wistful – as much as one can be after a week on the island.
Nostalgic for a time when the vast fields of sugar cane was the backbone of a booming industry, and wistful for the thousands of Kittitians who look out at the sea each day and see multiple enormous cruise ships on the horizon.
Everyone we met were thrilled with the increased profile of St. Kitts. Our mixed feelings about progress and preservation were shared by almost no one.
When we asked Maurice about his thoughts on the developments sprouting up around the island, he summed it up perfectly:
“I moved here 40 years ago because I fell in love with its charm. And you know what, even after 40 years, the charm is still here.”
And that is what makes St. Kitts so special. In and around the chaos, we found interesting examples of projects that are thoughtfully expanding, embracing all the reasons why expats flocked here to live, and all the reasons why the masses are finding their way here today.
Luxury on the Southeast Peninsula
Christophe Harbour is ambitious in every sense of the word: a massive development consisting of a variety of commercial, retail, and residential projects, spread throughout the whole southeast peninsula of St. Kitts.
As you descend the steep hill onto the SE peninsula, The Christophe Harbour Marina is immediately visible. The marina is a network of docks designed for mega-yachts, capable of handling vessels up to 300′ in length. What those boat owners get is nothing but the best – top-notch service and first-class facilities, albeit with a local flair. Each slip has its own fuel lines, power stations, and dedicated wifi.
Once you disembark, you enter the Marina Village, which houses a handful of retail shops featuring artwork from local artist Dale Kelley and outdoor gear from local company Ballast Bay Outfitters. The building itself is modeled after the Treasury Building located in the capital, Basseterre.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg for Christophe Harbour. The biggest addition to this development is the soon-to-open Park Hyatt St. Kitts, the first Caribbean destination for this luxury hotel brand. Its 126 rooms will all be water-facing, tastefully designed and extremely private. Of course, there will be a variety of restaurants, a state of the art spa and wellness center, and an incredible beach, just steps from many of the rooms.
What impressed us about the Park Hyatt St. Kitts (besides the fact that it’s will be a stunner!) is how much the resort will be connected to the local community. In addition to many, many jobs, the retail space in the main building will be entirely rent-free galleries for local artists and businesses.
If luxury resorts and marinas are not your speed, then you still need to check out one of our favorite parts of this development: SALT Plage. The industrial-chic, beachside bar is one of the best spots for a sunset view in St. Kitts, and a ideal locale to sip a few rum punches or speciality cocktails.
Preserving History at Wingfield Estate and Romney Manor
“Every time we dig a hole, we find something”
Maurice Widdowson has made it his life’s work to hold onto history in St. Kitts, having bought and meticulously restored these two neighboring properties. For a man that should be retired, living the good life on a Caribbean island, he may in fact be the hardest working man on St. Kitts.
Mr. Widdowson has worked with a team of archeologists for the past 15 years, uncovering what lies beneath the soil at Wingfield Estate, a sugar mill from the 17th century. When he purchased the property, only the aqueduct and the towering chimney stack were visible, as the rainforest had reclaimed most of the land.
Eventually, after cutting back the dense brush, the team discovered kilns, sugar cane presses, and even the remains of a rum distillery. Everything was there, deserted, but intact. All it took was someone who cared enough to uncover the rich history that lay beneath the ground.
Just up the hill from Wingfield Estate lies Romney Manor, a home originally built in 1627 and eventually sold to the Earl of Romney. Much like Wingfield, Romney Manor was abandoned when Mr. Widdowson took over the land.
He cleared out the grounds and set about restoring this historic site, inspired by the beauty of the cornerstone of the property, the 400 year old Saman Tree.
He quickly established a batik studio, hiring local artists to create the colorful fabrics that are now sold at the home. Visitors can see first hand how batik is made, from the free-hand designs and patterns, to the dying and waxing process.
What struck us about Wingfield Estate and Romney Manor is how preserving the past can provide for the future. Mr. Widdowson employs a whole team of local artists and workers, some of whom have worked for him for 40 years. On our visit, Wingfield Estate and Romney Manor were crawling with visitors, and Mr. Widdowson and his team were eager to share the story of the island and the properties.
It’s a bargain too, just $3 entrance fee to Romney Manor, and Wingfield Estate is free of charge.
And it doesn’t stop there. Mr. Widdowson has more grand plans to make a visit to these properties a cornerstone for any visitor to the island. The excavations are continuing, and further improvements to the facilities will be made. He even plans to bottle his own rum with the Wingfield Estate name, making it first rum to be commercially produced on St. Kitts for some time.
Serenity in the Kittitian Hills
On the north end of St. Kitts lies Kittitian Hills. Part hotel, part private homes, this island oasis is unlike anything else on the island. Nestled about 1,000 feet up Mt. Liamuiga and set on almost 400 acres, this new community offers something unique for luxury travelers: a Caribbean hotel that is not on the ocean.
Sounds crazy, right? Well, once you step foot on the grounds, you understand.
The heart of Kittitian Hills is Belle Mont Farms, a hotel that focuses on sustainable living. Belle Mont Farms has established an organic farm on the mountain, minimizing its footprint by growing many of its own fruits and vegetables (including 100 varieties of mango). They also source their meat and seafood from local farmers and fisherman, helping establish a connection to the locals in the area.
Your car is left at check-in, as navigating the grounds is done by foot or solar-powered golf carts. You would think that not being seaside would be a drawback, but the feeling of serenity and peace you feel as you walk through the manicured gardens, surrounded by rainforest, and spotting the occasional monkey nibbling on some tropical fruit, makes this setting even more special.
The guesthouses are gorgeous, spacious with soaring ceilings, and plenty of sun drenched surfaces for an afternoon nap. Despite that feeling of being outside when you’re in, the landscaping is strategic in that you can’t see any other guesthouses from your own. It’s the ultimate private hideaway. And rather than having the ocean lapping at the foot of your door, you get an amazing view down the forested hill, to the sea below.
You can watch the world go by from the privacy of your infinity plunge pool.
During our visit, we were treated to lunch at the on site restaurant, the one that sources from private gardens and local farmers and fisherman. The concept of eating locally is taken to new heights here, and you won’t find staples like rice on the menu, as it’s not grown on the island.
We loved the freshness of the menu choices and how the chefs really took care to highlight Caribbean flavors, from the tart punch of a conch ceviche to the richness of a local spiny lobster in a coconut broth.
All of our favorite spices were there, and you can always kick it up a notch with fiery hot sauce.
It’s hard to argue with the progress being made in St. Kitts. With new developments come jobs and economic growth and many more visitors who can say they’ve experienced St. Kitts’ charm. From what we can tell, the development that is happening is being executed with a lot of care.
From a self-sustaining property on the mountain to the St. Christophe complex in the south, the people in charge want to showcase St. Kitts, while preserving the best things about the island.
It will be interesting to see how St. Kitts chooses to develop, in the short and long term. There is a definite urgency to up the ante on the luxury travel front, with the new properties we saw. But there is also a booming cruise ship industry, and single day visitors are the biggest source of tourism traffic for St. Kitts.