No other Caribbean country has endured such a tumultuous modern history as Grenada.
The Cuban and Russian-backed revolution of the early Eighties ended with the American invasion (referred to in these parts, quaintly, as the ‘intervention’) then, just as the country was finding its feet, along came Hurricane Ivan in 2004 to flatten the place over eight terrifying hours.
It destroyed or damaged more than 90 per cent of buildings, ripping up the countryside and wiping out industries (especially nutmeg production at a time when Grenada was the world’s second biggest exporter of it after Indonesia).
Unbeatable: Grand Anse beach on the Caribbean island of Grenada. The Daily Mail’s Mark Palmer visited the island and describes the hotel scene as ‘buzzing’
The magnificent pool at Silversands hotel on Grand Anse beach
Ivan’s wrath is estimated to have cost at least $1 billion. But mother nature wasn’t quite finished. Twelve months later, Hurricane Emily blew in and caused a further $100 million worth of misery.
And, yet, in the dimly lit National Museum in the historic part of the capital, St George’s, there is no mention of the events leading up to President Reagan’s bold decision (which displeased Buckingham Palace, given that HM was — and still is — Grenada’s head of state), and not a squeak about the aftermath that eventually restored democracy to the country.
‘That’s because we still don’t really know what to think about it or how to present it,’ says the friendly man at the entrance selling tickets for £1.50 a pop.
I can’t resist pompously pointing out the importance of owning one’s history rather than being cowed by it, after which he leans in and says: ‘Come with me.’
We walk up a rickety staircase and stop in front of a padlocked door. He unlocks it, then ushers me into a room where various museum-type display boards stand abandoned.
Two comprise timelines chronicling the political upheavals leading to the execution of premier Maurice Bishop on October 19, 1983, the final act which prompted Reagan’s phone call to Margaret Thatcher telling her that America was ‘going in’.
Some 120 people died in Operation Urgent Fury, including 12 Americans and 24 Grenadian civilians, 18 in the accidental bombing of a mental hospital. ‘Thank you America for liberating us,’ is scrawled on a wall outside the capital. It’s the only reference we see to Grenada’s troubles.
But, of course, people don’t come to this island for a crash course in interventionist politics. They come to drink from the well of what locals — especially the ex-pats, of which there are a few — call ‘the old Caribbean’ or ‘authentic Caribbean’, by which they mean that Grenada, although roughly the same size as Barbados, is not like Barbados at all.
Grenada’s capital St George’s. The population of the island is only about 100,000, compared to Barbados’s nearly 300,000
The spice island: Grenada was once the world’s second largest nutmeg exporter
For a start, the population is only about 100,000, compared to Barbados’s nearly 300,000. Plus, whereas Barbados principally is flat, Grenada has hills and valleys, rain forests, waterfalls, an abundance of fauna, farmlands growing citrus, cocoa and an array of spices that justifies the country’s ‘spice island’ moniker.
My impression is that Grenada has not sold its soul to tourism. Or, at least, that its soul has not as yet been consumed by tourism, possibly because it still does not have direct flights every day of the week.
There’s an energy about the island — a resourcefulness, a confidence. Its people are gentle, open, warm and infectiously joyful.
It’s perhaps going overboard to claim — as one store owner puts it — that ‘God is a Grenadian’, but we feel our spirits soar as we flit around the island in our rented car, stopping now and again to admire the craggy unspoilt coast, the constantly changing light, wild flowers and signs such as ‘let my hardware excite you’ outside a ramshackle shop selling hammers, spanners and nails of every size.
One minute threatening dark clouds roll in, but it doesn’t matter because you know they’ll scurry away just as fast. There’s a lesson to be learned there somewhere.
One of the island’s beautiful waterfalls. Grenada has hills, valleys, rain forests, waterfalls and an abundance of fauna
What also sets Grenada apart is how the us (overweight tourists like me) and them (locals trying to eke out a living) divide is refreshingly absent. A stroll along famous Grand Anse beach brings this home.
There may be a string of resorts and restaurants hiding amongst the shrubbery and palm trees on this glorious stretch of white sand, but it’s the locals who own it.
They’re there early in the morning, jogging or ambling in pairs, putting the world to rights; children walk along it on the way to school; families picnic and run in and out of the water. Grand Anse is a celebration of life — in all its forms.
The hotel scene is buzzing — or, at least, it was until Covid had its way. We stay first at the all-inclusive Spice Island Beach Resort at the southern end of Grand Anse. It’s a much-loved institution founded by Sir Royston Hopkin, who, knighted by the Queen in 2005, died shortly before lockdown.
I’d guess the average age of guests is well north of 70 — and many of them have been returning year after year, almost all from Britain and America.
I make the mistake on our first morning of turning up barefoot for breakfast, because I dislike wearing shoes in general and can’t stand the look of men in flip-flops.
This does not go down well and, within minutes, a pair of white slippers has been produced. I feel sufficiently chastened. Strangely, the more expensive rooms at Spice Island, which have plunge pools, are not on the beach. Who wants to plunge in a pool when you have a whole ocean on your door step?
Shoes or no shoes becomes something of a benchmark. Before we sit down for a superb dinner at Laluna, a gorgeous hotel a few bays along from Grand Anse, the owner, Bernardo Bertucci (an Italian married to a Trinidadian), suggests we may want to go barefoot. That’s more like it.
And at Silversands, at the opposite end of Grand Anse to Spice Island, no one bats an eye when you wonder around shoeless.
Silversands is a big talking point in Grenada. The story goes that Naguib Sawiris, a Christian-Egyptian with a bob or two made from telecoms, visited Grenada and saw a For Sale sign where his hotel now stands — and bought it. The hotel, that is, not the For Sale sign. Estimates vary but it’s thought he’s poured more than £100million into the whole caboodle. It’s money well spent. In fact, it’s a triumph.
Mark writes: ‘My impression is that Grenada has not sold its soul to tourism. Or, at least, that its soul has not as yet been consumed by tourism.’ Pictured is Grand Anse beach
‘There’s an energy about the island – a resourcefulness, a confidence. Its people are gentle, open, warm and infectiously joyful’, writes Mark
The French architects have softened the hard lines with slatted wood that blends effortlessly with the glass and marble and opens up the public spaces in such a way that even if all 39 rooms, four suites and eight pool villa suites are occupied, you never feel cocooned.
It’s glorious by day, with the 101-metre infinity pool (the longest in the Caribbean) stealing the show, as it stretches from the reception area to the beach and looks sensational by night as the subtle lighting chimes with the chirping frogs.
Add two restaurants and a beautiful spa (with pool) and you’ve got the full package, albeit not at package holiday prices. We have a whistle-stop tour of the island with an engaging guide named Roger Augustine, who never draws breath.
We visit a nutmeg-pressing factory and a chocolate manufacturer housed in what was a rum distillery built by French monks. But, most of all, we relish Roger’s take on life. ‘Mileage too high, bye bye,’ is his advice to young men thinking about marriage — and he’s not talking about age.
One day we see a sign to Annandale Waterfalls, where three ripped young men leap from a great height into the water if you give them a few dollars.
We hand over $10 and no sooner does a group of local young women appear. Why don’t they have to pay to watch?’ I ask, playfully. ‘Because they are here to see our bodies, not what we do with them,’ one of them replies.
Later, we call in at the Tower Estate, a Great House built in 1913 about 45 minutes from St George’s. It has two foot thick walls, carved mahogany ceilings and a shingle roof that somehow defied both Ivan and Emily.
Its collection of heliconias (lobster claws) always feature at the Chelsea Flower Show, but to see them in their natural setting is a real treat.
We have lunch that day at the side of the road where a man is barbecuing chicken. ‘I cooked for you last night at BB’s Crabback,’ he says. Small world (which is half the joy of island life), although BB’s is something of a blur because this properly Caribbean restaurant serves its rum punches in pint glasses. And I had a couple of them.
That night our favourite waitress at Silversands requests us to ‘enjoy’ when bringing our first courses — and when she arrives with the mains she says, quietly, ‘continue to enjoy.’ Continuing to enjoy in Grenada is the easiest thing in the world.