Island hopping in the beautiful Caribbean – St Lucia.


My Lonely Planet Guide Book waxed lyrical about my next destination. As such I was truly excited to have included it on my itinerary.

The Inter Caribbean flight to St Lucia, from St Vincent, much to my annoyance, required a 4-hour layover in Barbados. This made the total journey time an eye watering 8-hours. A direct flight would have taken less than 30-minutes. To add further pain, the Barbados to St Lucia flight was delayed by an hour. Realising the impending lateness of my arrival in St Lucia, I decided to book an airport transfer online. It proved to be money well spent.

Harbour Vista Inn (HVI) boasts incredible views across Castries harbour, which can hold three cruise ships at any given time. This view comes with a price tag, it’s a very tough walk to get to. Its closeness to the harbour also makes HVI a great choice prior to an early morning ferry. The accommodation itself has seen better days. With very little else to offer it’s multicultural guests, most visitors stay here just the one night!

The local (mini) bus took exactly one hour to get to Soufriére, a small town on the south west coast of St Lucia. It was a fascinating journey, with some amazing views along the way.

My accommodation, Frenz, was an excellent self catering apartment, just on the edge of town, conveniently close to a well stocked supermarket. I was warmly welcomed by Glenda, who had very kindly facilitated an early check in for me. She told me all I needed to know about what to do, and what to see, during my stay.

Soufrière’s attractions include a slew of colonial-era edifices scattered amid brightly painted wooden storefronts, and a bustling seafront. Sadly, there are no public beaches. The main beach was commandeered by one of the nearby resorts.

All of the decent restaurants in Soufríere are closed in an evening. I therefore made use of the self catering facilities in my apartment. I didn’t much fancy being in the town centre after dark. The only down side to this being the lack of social interaction. Even during the day, Soufrière was not a pleasant place to be. It’s obviously struggling financially, and I found the constant harassment, mainly from people asking for money, somewhat draining.

Soufríere, with the Pitons in the background.

The Diamond Botanical Gardens, Mineral Baths and Waterfall are located in a small portion of the 2,000 acres of land granted to three Devaux brothers by King Louis XIV of France 1713, in recognition of their services to “Crown & Country” It is claimed that Empress Josephine, wife of Naplolean Bonaparte, bathed in the original baths while spending holidays at her fathers plantation in Soufriere.

In 1928, Andre du Boulay, owner of Soufríere Estate and Diamond Baths, excavated the site and restored 2 baths out of the original 12, that had been destroyed during the French revolution. The baths are fed by the original spring water, similar to the waters of “Aix les Bains” in France. The original holding tank built in 1784 is still in use. In 1983, on the death of Mr Andre du Boulay, his daughter, Joan Devaux took over the estate.

Diamond waterfall.

There are a number of opportunities to explore other areas surrounding Soufríere (on foot), including a hike up Gros Piton. They almost all require a guide that comes with a hefty price tag. I managed to avoid the guides and filled my time with some enjoyable walks.

The Pitons.

After 3-nights in Soufríere, I was ready to get back to Castries in readiness for the ferry to Martinique. I waited over 2-hours for a bus back to Castries. In the end I gave up and thumbed a lift. This proved to be a far more comfortable, and quicker, ride than the cramped bus.

Castries, the main city of St Lucia, is worth a quick visit. It’s best feature being the soaring Morne Fortune (853ft), which serves as Castries’ scenic backdrop. Most of the city’s historic buildings were destroyed by major fires between 1785 and 1948, but it still makes for an interesting afternoon stroll.

St Lucia is undoubtably a stunningly beautiful country. But for me it proved to be my least favourite Island to date. Had I chosen an all inclusive package holiday perhaps my opinion of the country would be somewhat different.

St Lucia backpacking possibility rating: quite possible. Finding cheap accommodation is relatively easy – with prior preparation. Beer cheap, wine expensive. Supermarket food on par with UK prices. Local transportation and museums are reasonably cheap, but more expensive than some of the other islands. Country score: 6 out of 10. Hassle factor, high – constant pressure from people asking for money.

St Lucia.

Next stage: Martinique.

Posted in St Lucia | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Island hopping in the beautiful Caribbean – St Vincent & the Grenadines.

“Love the life you live. Live the life you love.”

Bob Marley.

Arriving at Argyl International Airport was a smooth, easy process and the first passport control, thus far, to kindly place a visa stamp in my passport.

My accommodation, Buttercup Cottage Apartments, was situated in Arnos Vale, a small town located near the old airport. Set in a beautiful rural backdrop, it’s a 15-minute bus journey from Kingstown.

The narrow streets, arched stone doorways and covered walkways of Kingstown conjure up a Caribbean of banana boats and colonial rule. It heaves and swells with a pulsing local community that bustles through its thoroughfares and alleyways. The frantic pace and it’s unpolished edges inspires many to take the first boat down to the calm of Bequia. However, there are a few locations worth taking the time to visit in the town.

Fort Charlotte can be reached on foot, but it’s a long hard slog up a very steep hill. The best way to get there is by taking a mini bus (5 ECD) and then walking (down hill) back into town. The views from the fort are spectacular. St Vincent Botanic Gardens are the oldest gardens in the western hemisphere. A beautiful oasis in an otherwise chaotic town. St Mary’s is the most eye-catching of Kingstown’s churches.

Kingstown.
Fort Charlotte.
Botanic Garden.
St Mary’s Church.

History lesson: In 1783, after a century of competing claims between the British and French, the Treaty of Paris placed St Vincent under British control. In 1969, in association with the British, St Vincent became a self-governing state. On October 27, 1979, it was cobbled together with the Grenadines as an independent member of the British Commonwealth.

A short ferry trip (1-hour) from Kingstown is the beautiful island of Bequia (beck-way). It is said to be the most perfect island in the whole of the Grenadines. Stunning beaches, and some beautiful hikes, make this island a must visit.

Bequia harbour.
Bequia harbour.

Peggy’s Rock is a gorgeous hike! There are several ways to access this beautiful viewpoint – the long loop, starting at the main dinghy dock in the town of Port Elizabeth, walking the boardwalk and then the road about 2.7 miles to the trail head, then up-up-up to the summit and 360° views. You complete the loop by climbing down the opposite side to Lower Bay where you can stop for lunch or drinks or a dip in the ocean. Then back along the beach and over the headland to town and back to where you started. It takes approximately 3 hours.

The view from Peggy’s Rock.
Friendship Bay.

Backpacking possibility rating: quite possible. Finding cheap accommodation is relatively easy – with prior preparation. Eating out is cheap. Beer cheap, wine expensive. Supermarket food on par with UK prices. Self catering facilities help keep the costs down. Local transportation and museums are very cheap. Country score: 8 out of 10. A great country to visit. Hassle factor, moderate level in the capital Kingstown. Outside of the capital most people are very friendly. Annoyances, the speed that the local buses travel, and the volume of the music inside.

The route.

Next stage: St Lucia.

Posted in St Vincent and the Grenadines | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Island hopping in the beautiful Caribbean – Grenada.

One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.

Bob Marley.

The ground crew at Maurice Bishop International Airport underestimated my resolve when it came to saving money on airport transfers. It’s the first international airport I have ever arrived at where there is no ATM and no Bureau de change. I desperately needed to change my Barbados dollars (BBD) into Eastern Caribbean dollars (ECD), or get some cash. It proved challenging.

Explaining my predicament, to whoever would listen, and a surprising number of people did, I was told, on countless occasions, that it would be best to take a taxi and that the driver would be “happy to accept my Barbados dollars”. I’m sure he would, I muttered under my breath. The taxi: £25.00, the bus: £3.00. I was not going to give in. Finally, I spoke to a cleaning lady who pointed to a shop and explained that “Joy usually exchanges BBD for ECD”. Twenty minutes later I was getting off the local bus, a two minute walk from my guest house. Result.

History lesson: In 1498 Christopher Columbus became the first European to sight the island of Grenada. It wasn’t until 1609, however, that English tobacco planters attempted to settle; within a year, most were killed by the Caribs. Some 40 years later, the French ‘purchased’ the island from the Caribs at a pittance. Grenada remained under French control until 1762, when Britain first captured the island. Over the next two decades, colonial control shifted back and forth between Britain and France. In 1877 Grenada became a Crown colony, and in 1967 it converted to an associated state within the British Commonwealth.

According to my guide book, “St George’s is one of the most picturesque towns in the Caribbean”. I really cannot disagree, it’s a fabulous place to explore, with lots of handsome old buildings, and of course the Carenage harbour. Interesting shops and cafes dot the narrow and busy streets. Sites of interest include: Fort Frederick, Fort George, St George’s Anglican Church, the market square, and the Carenage.

View of George’s and the Carenage from Fort George.

Located virtually in the centre of the country, Grand Etang National Park is a natural wonderland of misty landscapes centred around a lovely lake. There are many hiking trails within the park. In addition, a number of beautiful waterfalls can be accessed near by.

Two of the Seven Sisters waterfalls.

Gouyave, roughly halfway up the west coast from St George’s, is an attractive fishing village. It’s also home to the Nutmeg Processing Cooperative, which I visited. Also nearby, 10 minutes by bus, is the nutmeg museum.

Grading nutmeg at the processing plant.
Nutmeg drying tables – part of the display at the museum.
Stencils for marking bags for export.

Grenada summary; the things that stood out for me, when compared to Barbados, less developed and with slightly fewer international visitors. Slightly cheaper. In addition, Grenada has some of the best scuba diving that I have ever experienced – with pristine coral reefs and a plethora of fish.

Fort George.

Backpacking possibility rating: quite possible. Finding cheap accommodation is relatively easy – with prior preparation. Eating out is expensive. Beer cheap, wine expensive. Supermarket food on par with UK prices. Self catering facilities help keep the costs down. Local transportation and museums are very cheap. Country score: 8 out of 10. Less touristy than Barbados and a great country to visit. Hassle factor, very low – most people are very friendly.

The route.

Next stage: St Vincent & the Grenadines.

Posted in Grenada | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Island hopping in the beautiful Caribbean – Barbados.

One love. One heart. Let’s join together and I’ll feel all right.

Bob Marley and the Wailers 1965

Perhaps better known as a destination for the rich and famous, ‘Backpacking in the Caribbean’ might seem like an unlikely possibility; the availability of cheap accommodation has already proved to be the main stumbling block.

On arriving at Grantley Adams International Airport I jumped on a local bus that took 30 minutes to get to Rockley Beach, close to my accommodation – Merton Studio #1. This was to be my first taste of AirBnB. It got off to a great start. I was warmly welcomed by my host, Eleanor, who presented me with a big smile and a cold beer as soon as I set foot through the door! This warm welcome continued, throughout my stay, with nightly chats around the kitchen table.

Eleanor, my AirBnB host in Rockley Beach.

Rockley Beach is a charming location to base yourself, and close to all the amenities you could possibly wish for. As the name suggests, it is near to a (gorgeous) beach and a lovely beach side ‘board walk’ – a regular haunt for early morning/late afternoon walkers and joggers.

Garden view from the veranda.

Captain John Powell claimed Barbados for England in 1625. Two years later, a group of settlers established the island’s first European settlement, Jamestown, at present-day Holetown. It was not long before the sugar cane industry started to take off and with it the mass influx of African slave labour – the descents of which now make up the majority of the islands modern day population. In 1966 Barbados was granted independence from England. It is still part of the British commonwealth.

Wandering around bustling Bridgetown, with its many sights and old colonial buildings, can easily occupy half a day. Pedestrian only Swan street buzzes with the rhythm of local culture. The entire downtown area, and south to the Garrison, was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012. Parliament building complete with a clock tower looking and sounding like a smaller version of Big Ben was very nostalgic for a Brit. Unfortunately, the statue of Lord Nelson, in Trafalgar Square (now called heroes square), has been removed and ‘banished’ to the National Museum! Wokism has even reached Barbados.

Bridgetown.

Easily the most evocative small town on Barbados, Speightstown combines old colonial charms with a vibe that has more rough edges than the endlessly upscale (read extremely expensive) precincts to the south. The settlement was once dubbed ‘Little Bristol’ as, thanks to its maritime connection to that English town, many of the first settlers originated from there.

Barbados round up: The three things that stood out the most for me were the super friendly people, the laid back vibe, and the pristine, white sand beaches. It’s most definitely not a cheap country to visit but I am really pleased I did.

Rockley Beach.

Backpacking possibility rating: challenging. Accommodation is expensive, as is eating out. Beer cheap, wine expensive. Supermarket food on par with UK prices. Local transportation and museums very cheap. Country score: 10 out of 10. It’s is one of the most amazing countries I have ever visited. Hassle from locals, non existent.

Next beach along from Rockley Beach.
The route.

Next stage: Grenada.

Posted in Barbados | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain”.

The Spanish version of the above diphthong being: “La lluvia en Sevilla es una pura maravilla” (The rain in Sevilla is a true marvel) playing with the sound of the “ll”.

Having experienced excellent weather for the past week and a half, on arriving in Granada the weather took a turn for the worse. Cold and wet.

Revered for its lavish Alhambra palace, and enshrined in medieval history as the last stronghold of the Moors in Western Europe, Granada is the darker, more complicated cousin of Seville.

Lonely Planet’s Best of Spain.

Despite very much enjoying the food here in southern Spain, there is only so much tapas a man can enjoy. It was time for a change. Last night I ate at an Indian restaurant. The food was nothing special. I wouldn’t race back!

Again, my to do list included two places of importance.

Basílica San Juan de Dios: Built between 1737 and 1759, this spectacular basilica unveils a blinding display of opulent baroque decor.

The Alhambra is part palace, part fort and a World Heritage Site that’s a lesson in medieval architecture. It is unlikely that, as a historical monument, it will ever be surpassed. Buy your (timed) tickets in advance to avoid the queues. Plan your visit in advance and allow plenty of time to take everything in.

The alter – Colegio Mayor Isabel la Católico
Alhambra
Alhambra.
Alhambra.
Alhambra.
Alhambra.
Alhambra.
Alhambra.
Granada Catedral.
Alhambra from mirador Saint Nicholas.
Posted in Spain (mainland). | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The unifying theme being olives – autumn in Córdoba.

Córdoba’s mesmerising multi-arched Mesquita is one of the world’s greatest Islamic buildings. The Mezquita is a symbol of the sophisticated Islamic culture that flourished here more than a millennium ago, when Córdoba was the capital of Islamic Spain, and Western Europe’s biggest and most cultured city.

Lonely Planet’s Best of Spain.

Throughout Andalusia, the unifying theme is olives, they can be found just about everywhere.

Olives have permeated every Mediterranean culture from prehistory to the present day. Aristotle philosophised about them, and Leonardo invented a modern way to press them. Egyptian pharaohs were sealed into pyramids with golden carvings of olives.

Olives have been the emblem of Spain since the first dispatches from Caesar’s legions. Today they grow everywhere in Spain, covering 5 million acres, from the ancient port of Cadiz to the chilly slopes of Galicia. But the heart of olive country is Andalusia.

Córdoba highlights.

Mezquita: It is impossible to overemphasise the beauty of Córdoba’s great mosque. With all its lustrous decoration, it evokes the city’s golden age of sophistication and peaceful coexistence between faiths. From 08:30 to 09:30 (except on a Sunday) it is possible to gain free entry. The one hour slot is just about enough time to see everything. Otherwise the entry price is €10. The bell tower is extra.

Alcázar de los Cristianos: This formidable fort-palace dates to the 14th century when it was commissioned by King Alfonso XI and built over an earlier Moorish palace. Entry price €5.

Puente Romano: Spanning the Rio Guadalquivir, just below the Mezquita, this 16-arch bridge originally formed part of Via Augusta, the ancient Roman road that connected Girona in Catalonia with Cádiz.

Next stage: Granada.

Calleja de las flores
Mezquita.
Mezquita bell tower.
Inside the Mezquita.
Puente Romano.
Posted in Spain (mainland). | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The strong smell of citrus – autumn in Seville.

Some cities have looks, other cities have personality. The Sevillanos get both, courtesy of their flamboyant, charismatic, ever-evolving Andalusian metropolis founded, according to myth, 3000 years ago by the Greek god Hercules.

Lonely Planet’s Best of Spain.

Seville has to be one of my all time favourite cities; – compact, navigable (despite the many narrow, intertwining streets), and very relaxed. In addition it’s an excellent place to enjoy one of my all time favourite pastimes – people watching. It’s also a lovely city to just wander around and explore.

As with Madrid, there were two must see places on my list. It is worth buying tickets for both of these places, on line, in advance, to avoid the queues. Don’t try and visit both places in one day.

Catedral and Giralda: Seville’s immense cathedral, officially the biggest in the world by volume, is awe-inspiring in its scale and sheer majesty. In addition, it’s former minaret, the Giralda, is an architectural jewel.

Real Alcázar: If heaven really does exist, let’s hope it looks a little a like the inside of Seville’s Alcázar. Built primarily in the 1300’s, the castle marks one of history’s architectural high points.

Next stage: Cordoba.

Spain has an awesome railway system.
The Cathedral of Seville with Giralda (tower).
The Cathedral.
The main alter – Seville Cathedral.
Inside Real Alcázar.
The garden of Real Alcázar.
Posted in Spain (mainland). | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A taste of the good life – autumn in Madrid.

Madrid is a miracle of human energy and peculiarly Spanish passions, a beguiling place with a simple message: this city knows how to live.

Lonely Planet’s best of Spain.

On arriving at Alicante airport I was swiftly guided to the required bus stop by a friendly member of the always professional and always helpful Jet2 team. It took less than 20 minutes to get to Alicante train station where I found my seat (coach 5 seat 5B) on the 14:45 – bound for Madrid.

Travelling at speeds of up to 285 km/h (178 mph) it took exactly 2 hr 30 min to travel the 490 km to Madrid. The train was punctual, clean, the staff polite, and every seat was occupied.

Stepping into the main hall at Madrid-Chamartín-Clara-Campoamor train station, my look of obvious bewilderment was quickly spotted by one of the eagle eyed metro staff. A young lady, with long blonde hair, tight jeans, and wearing a distinctive hi viz jacket (colour blue), homed in on me with boundless enthusiasm. I was quickly shown how to book a metro ticket and then escorted to the relevant platform.

From Sol metro station it was a short walk to Hostal Aresol. It has clean, private rooms, with en suite facilities. Close to all of the ‘must see’ tourist attractions, it also has one of the most amazing lifts that I have ever seen. Nearby there are a couple of excellent ‘value for money’ restaurants – my favourite being Caña y Tapas.

I had two full days in the city – with two ‘must see’ locations on my to do list.

Museo del Prado, officially known as Museo Nacional del Prado, is the main Spanish national art museum, located in central Madrid. It is widely considered to house one of the world’s finest collections of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century, based on the former Spanish royal collection, and the single best collection of Spanish art. Prado Museum is one of the most visited sites in the world, and is considered one of the greatest art museums in the world.

The Royal Palace of Madrid (Spanish: Palacio Real de Madrid) is the official residence of the Spanish royal family at the city of Madrid, although now used only for state ceremonies. The palace has 135,000 m2 (1,450,000 sq ft) of floor space and contains 3,418 rooms. It is the largest royal palace in Europe.

Next stage: Seville.

Museo Del Prado
Madrid
The lift – Hostal Aresol
Outside the Royal Palace
Posted in Spain (mainland). | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Lanzarote part two – el Norte

From Arrecife I took the local bus to Órzola (1-hour north).

Órzola pop. 300

Most people just zip through Lanzarote’s mellow, secluded, most northerly fishing village en route to and from Isla Graciosa, but it’s worth lingering around. With majestic cliffs looming behind, the surrounding coastline has stunning little coves and strips of sand, while several excellent seafood restaurants flank Örzola’s port. I stayed at Perla del Atlántico – a superb self-catering option with great views across the harbour.

Órzola

Jameos del Agua can easily be reached, by bus, from Órzola.

When molten lava seethed through this volcanic cavern around 5000 years ago, the ocean leaked in slightly, forming the startling clear azure lake that glints in the basilica like grotto at the heart of the Jameos, one of Manrique’s greatest masterpieces and the first of the intervenciones. The artist’s idea of installing bars and a restaurant around the lake and adding a white washed pool and a 600-seat concert hall (with wonderful acoustics) in the 1960s was a pure brainwave.

Jameos del Agua
Jameos del Agua
Jameos del Agua

Cueva de los Verdes is an easy walk approximately 1km from Jameos del Agua.

A yawning, kilometre long chasm, the Cueva de los Verdes is the most spectacular segment of an almost 7km long lava tube left behind by an eruption 5000 years ago. As the lava ploughed down towards the sea, the top layers cooled and formed a roof, beneath which the liquid magna continued to slither until the eruption exhausted itself.

Cuervos de los Verdes

Isla Graciosa pop 730

The only inhabited island of the far-flung Chinijo Archipelago, just north of Lanzarote , gorgeous sand-dusted Isla Graciosa was officially named the eighth Canary Island in 2018.

The best way to explore the island is on foot or bike. I enjoyed a leisurely 5-hour hike (a circular route) around the eastern side of the island, taking in some gorgeous beaches and natural rock features.

From Órzola, you can easily take a half-hour ferry to the island.

Isla Graciosa
Isla Graciosa
Isla Graciosa
Isla Graciosa

Next stage: Fuerteventura.

Posted in Canary Islands | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Las Islas Canarias – Lanzarote

There aren’t enough words to describe the joy that I am currently feeling – it’s so good to be back on the road . As for most people, the past two years have been tough. My travel plans have been on hold for too long. I’m not in a good place (mentally) when I cannot travel.

I nearly got away at the end of last year! On the 14th of December I was about to check in at Birmingham airport for a flight to Mexico. I was within two places of doing so but ‘bottled out’ at the last minute. It just didn’t seem right to be travelling in the middle of a pandemic.

Christmas 2021 was my first in the UK since 2012. Little did I know at the time, but the Christmas of 2012 would be the last one that I would spend with my mother, in the following May she sadly passed away.

In January of this year, with travel restrictions crumbling away, I decided to bite the bullet and return to the Canaries. This time with a trip to Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. The last time I was here I visited Tenerife, Las Palmas, and La Gomera, in December 2020. Back then I had to abort my trip due to the diminishing number of commercial flights that would get me home – just at the start of the UK’s second lockdown – in January 2021.

Arrecife pop. 45,630

Lanzarote’s capital is a small, agreeable, south coast city with a pleasant Mediterranean style promenade, an inviting sandy beach washed by the sparkling Atlantic, and a disarming backstreet hotchpotch of sun bleached buildings, unpretentious bars, buzzy shopping streets and a plethora of restaurants (to suit every taste). I based myself in a small apartment, along the main drag, with a delightful sun trap balcony and overlooking the sea.

Arrecife

Teguise pop. 1,770

Lanzarote’s original capital and one of the oldest towns in the Canaries, Teguise simmers with a North Africa-meets-Spanish pueblo feel. This intriguing mini-oasis of low-rise whitewashed buildings is set around a central plaza and restored 15th-century church, and surrounded by bare arid plains of central Lanzarote. Though firmly on the tourist trail, Teguise’s old town is a delight to explore, with good restaurants, a handful of lively bars and a string of monuments testifying to the town’s dominance until Arrecife took the baton in 1852.

Teguise

Volcano House. César Manrique Foundation. Tahíche

César Manrique Foundation is headquartered in a spectacular dwelling designed by César Manrique himself upon his return from New York City, when he decided to locate permanently in Lanzarote. This was his home for the 20 years running from 1968 to 1988, the longest he ever lived in a single place. It is sited in the midst of a lava coulee formed during the violent eruptions that rocked the island between 1730 and 1736.

César Manrique
Volcano House
Volcano House
Volcano House

Palm Grove House. César Manrique House Museum. Haría

The César Manrique House Museum is located in a handsome palm grove in the picturesque village of Haria, which still conserves many of Lanzarote’s traditions. In Haría, the artist found the quietude and harmony with nature that he had always pursued.

In early 1986, he began to build his new home, re-using and adapting a run-down farmhouse sited on farmland he had purchased in the nineteen seventies. Manrique revisited the language of traditional architecture with a modern vision governed by aesthetics and comfort. He lived here until his death in 1992. In 2013 the house was opened to the public as a home and museum. Visitors are afforded a view of the rooms and the studio where the painter worked and lived during the last few years of his life.

Palm Grove House
Posted in Canary Islands | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment