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2:09pm Friday 6th December 2013 in News
Grenada may not be one of the most popular destinations for winter sun-seekers flocking to the Caribbean but, beyond the beach, Abi Jackson discovers culture and charm
THERE'S something comfortingly festive about the sweet, warming aroma of nutmeg.
The Caribbean, may seem an unlikely setting for Christmassy flashbacks, but throughout my stay in Grenada, the spicy scent is never far away.
Nutmeg is sprinkled atop cocktails or used to add a kick to ice cream, and the seeds are threaded with cord to create spice garlands sold at street-side stalls. “Welcome to the Isle of Spice!” says tour guide, Mandoo.
It’s easy to assume that the picture postcard scenes of white, palm-lined sands, azure seas and rum cocktails sum up the region, but venture beyond the sun lounger and a diverse, colourful culture awaits.
For Grenada, spice is at its heart, with mace, cinnamon and cloves all in starring roles, while nutmeg sits centre stage. Despite being just 21 miles long and 12 miles wide, I learn that up until nine years ago, the country was the world’s second biggest producer of the spice.
Then in late 2004, Hurricane Ivan hit, causing catastrophic damage to infrastructure and wiping out almost 80 per cent of the crops. “New trees were planted, but they take seven years to bear fruit,” Mandoo explains.
Almost a decade on, in many ways, Grenada’s still recovering. Skeletons of ravaged houses remain dotted across the landscape and unemployment is high. Tourism also took a knock.
Yet Grenada has lots to celebrate. Despite economic challenges, crime rates remain low, which, says Mandoo, is due to the strong sense of community and family.
We split our stay between two hotels, starting with Mount Cinnamon on the south-west coast, just off the two-mile-long Grand Anse Beach.
A cluster of charming white-washed villas climbs the hillside, with a pathway leading down to the beach bar, where we toast the start of our holiday with our first rum punch, and first sprinkling of nutmeg.
Grenada has endearing time-warp qualities. While tourists flock to the big resorts and nightlife on islands like Jamaica, Barbados and Antigua, things are very peaceful here. Even the capital, St George’s, retains authentic charm. Pristine red-brick Georgian buildings line the city port, while classic Caribbean pastel-coloured timber and corrugated roofing scatter the backstreets.
In pride of place on the tourist map is the Belmont Estate, a plantation dating back to the 17th century which, among other things, produces cocoa. The nearby Grenada Chocolate Factory Company turns it into delicious bars, some of which end up on shelves at Waitrose.
But not all of the attractions are on land. After checking in at our second hotel, True Blue Bay Resort, which has more of a family feel, we head off on a snorkelling trip.
A boat whisks us northwards to the Underwater Sculpture Park. Hurricane Ivan destroyed much of the coral here, but artist Jason deCaires Taylor has created a stunning seabed exhibition which, over time, has become a habitat for marine life.
Last up is a day trip to Grenada’s sister island, Carriacou, far smaller at 13 square miles. We go by air, which takes 20 minutes.
Hillsborough, the capital, has one main street and, with its shabby-chic charm, looks as though it hasn’t changed since the seventies.
We catch a speedboat to Sandy Island, a sandbank a few minutes from shore, where we snorkel above the coral. As we dry off afterwards, a fish burger lunch at the candy-coloured La Playa Beach Bar and Bistro is the perfect end to a wonderful day – washed down with a rum cocktail, complete with a dusting of nutmeg, of course.
Abi Jackson was a guest of the Grenada tourist board (grenadagrenadines.com).
Kenwood Travel (kenwoodtravel. co.uk; 020 7749 9245) offer seven nights at True Blue Bay Resort from £1,088 per person (based on two sharing), including breakfast and flights with Virgin Atlantic.
Rooms at Mount Cinnamon (mountcinnamongrenadahotel.com) start from 375 dollars (approx £233) per night (two sharing).
Tours with Mandoo can be booked through grenadatours.com
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