DCSIMG

Grenada - Spice island

ROLLING backwards into the blue, out of the blazing tropical sun, we sank beneath the waves like underwater astronauts and into an explosion of colour.

Plunging into the inky depths, we were enveloped in a shoal of tiny, translucent fish. All around us swam brightly coloured critters, darting out from behind rocks and chunks of coral.

But beautiful as Grenada's marine life is, it wasn't sea creatures we had come to spot. Resting silently, 20 metres under the surface, is a series of eerie, underwater sculptures.

The 65 statues, placed in an 800 square metre area in Molinieres Bay, were created by English artist Jason Taylor to reflect Grenada's history and culture. For the next 45 minutes we drifted around the labyrinthine coral reef, discovering La Diablesse, a cloven-footed she-devil from local legend, and Grace Reef, a collection of 16 figures all cast from the body of a single local Grenadian woman.

Lying nearby is the Lost Correspondent, sitting at a desk with a typewriter, surrounded by newspaper articles about Grenada's links to Cuba. But most haunting is Vicissitudes, a circle of children, hands linked, appearing to sway in the currents.

This was my first taste of scuba diving and it was thrilling – so much so that three days later I found myself exploring another underwater realm – the wreck of a freighter, now inhabited by thousands of tropical fish and a massive green moray eel.

My magical ocean adventure was a very welcome surprise. An all-inclusive resort holiday in the Caribbean had conjured up images of long days of sun-kissed lazing and all-you-can-eat buffets – not really my cup of tea. Luckily, however, Grenada – and The Grenadian by Rex Resorts – caters for the more active traveller.

Attached to the hotel, and based on one of those paradise beaches typical of the Caribbean, is Devotion to Ocean, a dive school that also offers a range of water sports. Ruth Collymore runs the centre with her brother, Andrew, and her husband, Ocean. Incredibly, the brother and sister team had named the Padi-recognised (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) school before they met Ocean.

As part of Padi's Discover Scuba course, Ruth took me through the basics first in a classroom and then in the hotel's pool and within a couple of hours I was Factfile grenadaready for my first dive.

Later in the week, we also enjoyed a water-skiing lesson in the pretty BBC Bay – known for its television mast – where a patient Ocean and Andrew tried hard to get me to my feet.

On another afternoon we were whisked away on a Seafaris RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat), cutting through the waves for a fast-paced tour of the island's coasts. The boat idled in the bays and coves while a guide ran though the local history, geography and ecology. At the end of the tour we stopped off for a spot of snorkelling.

Also popular is the river tubing centre, where visitors can swirl and spin their way down the Balthazar River.

Away from the water, Grenada has plenty to explore. For an extensive tour and a fascinating insight into the island's history, we were driven around by tour guide Mandoo Seales. He took us the length and breadth of the island (21 miles by 12) – which bears an uncanny resemblance to Jurassic Park, with its lush rain forests and dormant volcano – stopping off for a swim in the Concord waterfall pool as temperatures soared.

In Grenada's central highlands, Grand Etang National Park offers good walking in the lush surrounding forest. The highlight is Grand Etang Lake, in the crater of an extinct volcano. But it's the heavy scent of spices that lingers in the memory. Known as the Spice Island, Grenada produces and exports a heady mix of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace and especially nutmeg, which features on the national flag. There are more spices per square mile here than any place on the planet.

Dougaldston plantation near the town of Gouyave has been producing spices for centuries. The crops are dried out in the hot sun on enormous trays on rails and, as Delta, a harvester, explained, are quickly shoved under a slightly ramshackle, wooden "factory" should a tropical rain storm break. Then, as in the 1800s, the workers dance on the cocoa beans, turning them over with their feet so they dry evenly, and pick out individual dried pieces of mace that grow on the outside of the nutmeg nut.

We stocked up on pure local cocoa and Delta explained how to boil it up with a little milk and sugar to make a delicious, slightly spicy hot chocolate.

A tour of Laura's Herb and Spice Garden in Perdmontemps is another must. Guides lead visitors around the six acres of lush garden pointing out orange, nutmeg, cocoa, vanilla, allspice, thyme, basil and turmeric, explaining their uses in cooking and medicine.

At the River Antoine Rum Distillery in St Patrick's, an old-fashioned water-wheel powers a mill, crushing the juice out of sugar cane to make the local rum. The tour involves sampling the resultant rocket fuel – so strong it cannot be exported off the island.

Mandoo, a retired sailor, frequently voted the island's tour guide of the year, also made a stop at Leapers Hill – or Morne de Sauteurs – where, in the 1650s, the Carib Indians jumped off a cliff to their deaths rather than surrender to the invading French soldiers. A small heritage centre filled with Carib artefacts tells the harrowing story.

History is everywhere on Grenada, as Mandoo explains, pointing out its legacy of forts, cannon and French place names left behind from the battle between the French and British to gain control of the island in the late 1700s.

Fort George, Fort Frederick and Fort Matthew, which still command the heights overlooking St George's harbour, are all relics from that embittered struggle.

Fort George is the oldest – built by the French in 1705. The stunning views it offers of the harbour, lagoon and Grande Anse Beach belie its bloody history. Within the fort is a courtyard where in 1983 the overthrown socialist leader Maurice Bishop and his pregnant girlfriend were executed. The bullet holes made by the firing squad can still be seen.

At the opposite end of the island is the disused Pearls airstrip, where relics of the 1983 US invasion remain. A tiny passenger plane owned by Fidel Castro and a Russian crop sprayer lie abandoned on the runway, rusting where they were grounded.

The hub of the island is the port of St George's, devastated by hurricane Ivan in 2004 but still reckoned to be the most beautiful in the Caribbean. The Carenage – its inner harbour – is a perfect horse-shoe shape with tourist boats, yachts and fishing vessels all jostling for space. At the heart of the city is the colourful open-air market – the best place to stock up on spices, Grenadian chocolate, delicious nutmeg jelly and syrup and even Nutmed, a popular local remedy for easing aches and pains.

The state of Grenada is actually comprised of three main islands; the other two are Carriacou and Petite Martinique. Named from the Carib for "land of reefs", Carriacou is just a two-hour ferry ride from Grenada. Scottish settlers, who arrived in the 19th century and left their mark – in the districts of Dumfries and Lauriston – remain. The settlement of Windward is famous for its boatbuilding trade, also established by a Scotsman.

A half-day tour of Carriacou takes in most of the island, with spectacular views from 955ft High North Peak and Paradise Beach, widely accepted as one the Caribbean's most perfect. We also sampled lambi – or conch – a local delicacy at the beautiful Grand View Hotel, which offers a breathtaking view over Hillsborough Harbour.

The island's beautiful sandy beaches are all wonderfully secluded and mostly deserted, creating a shipwrecked, Robinson Crusoe feeling. Offshore is Sandy Island, nothing but a strip of palm-fringed beach marooned in a bay. A stunning coral reef in its turquoise waters made for a perfect afternoon's snorkelling as our water-cabbie, Cuthbert, snoozed in his boat, moored just off the shore.

Grenadine cuisine is spicy and satisfyingly exotic. Callaloo soup – callaloo tastes a bit like spinach – and fresh seafood such as kingfish, tuna and mahi mahi are served up in excellent restaurants at the True Blue Bay resort and the Belmont estate.

A favourite during our stay was the Aquarium at the Maca Bana Villas – just a short stroll across the beach from The Grenadian. The restaurant also hosts a lovely barbecue on Sundays, and well-heeled locals and tourists flock there for an afternoon of sun, sea, grilled lobster and rum cocktails.

One culinary highlight in Grenada is the Fish Friday festival at Gouyave, where islanders go to enjoy some "lime" (fun). Every conceivable type of seafood is on sale from stalls lining two main streets – fish cakes, shrimp kebabs, jerked marlin, barbecued snapper and lobster. The sound of steel drummers and calypso mix with the local French patois as visitors browse the fishermen's wares or sip rum punches at open-air tables decorated with colourful fairy lights.

If, like me, you are after activity and adventure, Grenada has it all. On the other hand, there is nothing much wrong with hanging around on a sun-dappled patch of talcum white sand, doing very little other than a spot of light reading and occasionally sipping from a rum punch.

Factfile: Grenada

How to get there

• BA Holidays (0844 493 0758, www.ba.com/holidays) offers seven nights at The Grenadian by Rex Resorts from 779 per person, including return flights from Edinburgh (via Gatwick) and in-resort transfers (subject to availability, based on two sharing).

Where to Stay

• The Grenadian by Rex Resorts, Point Saline's, St George's, Grenada (00 473 444 3333, www.rexresorts. com). From 109 per person per night.

AND THERE'S MORE

• For more information on activities, visit www.devotion2ocean.com, www.grenadaseafaris.com and www.grenadatours.com

• Scotsman Reader Holidays has cruises in the Caribbean for 2009. Call Connoisseur Cruising (0845 130 0788, quoting The Scotsman).

 
 
 

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