Thursday, August 21, 2014
   
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Cocoa, nutmeg and rum flavours of the spice isle

‘At times the heavens opened, but the sun loungers dried out quickly...’ ANDREA McVEIGH pays her first visit to one of the not so well-known Caribbean Islands...

THE gorgeous Caribbean island of Grenada may be famous for its nutmeg, but on my trip there I couldn’t resist a visit to the Grenada Chocolate Company factory shop at the agro-tourism attraction, Belmont Estate.

With the heady smell of cocoa filling the air, I swooped into the shop and stocked up on something a bit different from the usual tourist trinkets - a bag full of organic bonbons. Not all of which made the journey back to friends and family back home, I might add.

Most of Grenada’s raw cocoa and nutmeg is exported, so the fact that the company not only manufacturers chocolate bars, but that they’re exported all over the world, is something the locals are rightly proud of.

At Belmont Estate, a restored 17th plantation in the parish of St Patrick, you can also enjoy a museum tour and learn about the journey cocoa makes from field to fermentary, before taking in the estate’s magnificent organic farm, gardens and restaurant.

Unspoilt and very safe for tourists, Grenada’s geography and variety of micro-climates means that you’ll find everything from lush rainforests to white sandy beaches, plus a mountainous interior dotted with waterfalls, rivers and roadside trees laden with plump, ripe fruit.

Known as the Spice Isle, it’s a leading producer of ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, and its location just 12 degrees north of the equator provides it with tropical temperatures made comfortable by cooling trade winds.

Perhaps it’s Grenada’s compact size - just 12 miles wide by 21 miles long - added to the fact that it’s not over-run with resorts, that gives it a more laid back vibe than you’ll find in some of the other Caribbean islands. Take it easy, enjoy life and smile - that seems to be the philosophy here.

That’s not to say they’re so laid back that they don’t care about holidaymakers - quite the opposite is true.

First impressions count and other countries could take a leaf out of Grenada’s book when it comes to welcoming tourists. Just a few minutes after getting off our Monarch charter flight from Gatwick, my husband and I were welcomed at passport control. “Is this your first time to Grenada? Welcome to the Spice Island,” said the passport official with a smile. It certainly made a welcome change from the snarl you get at many immigration desks and, within minutes of arriving on the island, we knew that we had fallen in love with Grenada.

The warm welcome continued as we rolled up to reception at the luxurious Spice Island Beach Resort - renowned as the island’s top hotel - and filled in our details on a form that provided space to mention any food allergies or preferences we had. It’s a thoughtful touch which meant the kitchen can tailor meals to guests’ requirements.

As if she had read our minds, a waitress came over with two chilled glasses of the Spice Island Classic, a subtle combination of champagne and sorrel. This isn’t sorrel the herb that we know, but rather a flower from the Hibiscus family, and rather delicious it is too.

All guests are treated to the cocktail at check-in as part of the hotel’s aim to make everyone feel like a VIP. The drink is the resort’s own creation, up there with the likes of the Bellini, created in Harry’s Bar, Venice, in our minds.

A former French, then British colony, Grenada gained independence in 1974, and is divided into 6 parishes, each one scenic in its own way. Our day-long island tour which took in the Belmont Estate, also featured a tour of St George’s, the island’s capital with its hilly terrain, horseshoe-shaped harbour and colonial architecture. Its lively Saturday morning market is where locals go to buy their fruit, veg and spices.

We also visited the lake (a water-filled former volcanic crater) at the Grand Etang National Park; a spice boucan (estate) and Concord Falls, a waterfall at the edge of a forest reserve on the west of the island.

To read the rest of Andrea McVeigh's feature on her visit to Grenada and see all the pictures, pick up a copy of Northern Ireland Travel News...

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