Celebrating Christmas in Grenada, the spice island makes sense. The Christmas market in St Georges the capital is infused with the smell of cloves, allspice and nutmeg. The locals are so enthusiastic about baking Christmas treats that when we visited the shops had sold out of flour. Best of all both Grenada and the smaller island of Carriacou resound to the sound of festive Parang music, a joyful mix of Latin inspired music featuring the cuatro guitars and mandolins and the local shak shak. Locals flock to midnight mass and then enjoy a feast of baked hams, sorrel punch, black cake and spiced rums. All this and some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean.
The Travellers Tree was published in 1950 and is a vivid account of Leigh Fermor's journey through the Caribbean. He travelled by sea and air through the chain of Caribbean islands, visiting fifteen islands in all. Two chapters are devoted to Haiti one to Jamaica, another to Trinidad, but he also visited many of the smaller islands and he reflects on the different peoples, languages, religions and cultures that he comes across. His accounts of the various islands are not a travel guide but paint a detailed picture of the Caribbean as yet untouched by mass tourism. The title of the book refers to the Traveller's tree common to the region. His interest however is not just in the natural world that he encounters but the diversity of the people he encounters including the original Amerindian population of Dominica. Many sections of the book give the reader considerable historical background and also include references to earlier visitors and their impressions of the region.
Published by Penguin books
Halki is a small island five miles west of Rhodes but very far away from the hectic tourist activities of the larger island. There really is nothing to do there which makes it perfect for a relaxing holiday. Until recently there were no cars at all on the island and even now there are very few and the lack of traffic is wonderful. The island is very dry and water has to be imported from Rhodes which helps to explain the lack of major developments. There is one pretty harbour town and two small beaches which are served by traditional tavernas. Once you have walked to the beach of your choice the water comes in many shades of blue and green and is crystal clear. The beaches are never overcrowded as the island cannot accommodate many tourists, Most visitors stay in small apartments or villas in the town or in the new Hiona Art hotel.
The Windward Islands of Dominica and St Lucia both hold special food markets during their Creole Week festivals at the end of October. The
festivities include a focus on the produce of these very fertile islands and this is celebrated in the colourful food markets.
Stunning displays of local fruits, vegetables and spices are created for the event. Market vendors wear traditional costumes, stalls are festooned with brightly coloured madras fabrics and decorated with tropical flowers. Visitors can also sample the delights of a fresh jelly coconut, sugar-cane juice or a more substantial meal from a roadside snackette.
For a few days visitors have a glimpse of the past, away from the multi-national fast food outlets that are now sadly springing up near to these long established local market places.
Roseau market in Dominica
Castries market in St Lucia
The last Saturday in October
A traditional pre-Lenten Caribbean carnival that is friendly, accessible to visitors and uncommercialised. It is a moveable feast determined by the timing of Lent and in 2011 the main event falls between March 7th and 8th. Mas Dominik is a mixture of African masquerade and French carnival traditions. Many of the costume designs are traditional such as the Sensay where the masquerader is completely hidden by a costume of raffia, rope or strips of material topped by a mask and cow horns. The opening of carnival or Jouvert begins at dawn on the first day. Individuals take to the streets in home made costumes or night clothes banging drums or saucepans, anyone can join in and the streets are very eerie at dawn, populated by shadowy figures and the sound of drums. This is followed by the joyous celebrations of the school bands and other traditional masqueraders. The climax on Carnival Tuesday features the costume bands who make several laps of the route. There is no space in the narrow streets for elaborate creations or large structures but this means the carnival action is close, neither locals or visitors can remain spectators for long and will find themselves jumping up behind a band or a truck that plays the current carnival tunes.
The main carnival events take place in and around the capital city Roseau, and it is compact enough that you could not possibly miss the carnival. You need to stay in or around the capital to make the most of the events as public transport is virtually non existent after dark and associated events such as calypso competitions take place late into the night.
Google map: bit.ly/e4cdUX
The natural spa is just outside the village of Wotten Waven in the Roseau valley, an area of outstanding natural beauty and geothermic activity which creates hot sulphur springs.The spa has four hot pools with a constant flow of mineral rich water. The surroundings are very beautiful. You lie in the natural pools looking up at a canopy of lianas and vines. All the construction of pools and showers and a changing area is from natural materials and blends into the landscape. Screw, the Rastafarian creator of this tropical paradise, has the warmest welcome and makes bathers feel at ease. The spa is popular with locals and visitors alike, costing from 10 US dollars for a 45 minute session. After lounging in the pools and perhaps enjoying a lava scrub fresh local fruits and juices are offered to guests. A small bar provides other local drinks such a cocoa tea. It really is the most relaxing and beautiful place, once visited you have to return.
On the road from Wotten Waven to Trafalgar, there is a well sign-posted car park, or take the local bus the driver will know where to drop you. +767-440-4478
open 10am-10pm, except Mondays, arrive early or late if you want to avoid cruise-ship parties.
Google map: bit.ly/hefwed
An historic book shop with a beautiful art nouveau exterior and a fascinating interior dominated by a grand staircase. Visitors are welcome to browse and also to enjoy a coffee and a cake from the small cafe whilst admiring their surroundings.
Rua das Carmelitas 144
(+351) 22 200 2037
Google map: bit.ly/dfKIen
An old beautifully restored house in Stone Town, Zanzibar, recommended for its delicious coffee and cakes but also for the friendly local staff. Upstairs there are a small selection of rooms and suites all named after a type of coffee,eg, cappuccino. By night the hotel is a quiet romantic retreat, after the coffee house closes in the early evening it is only open to guests. Rooms have traditional canopied Zanzibar beds draped with extravagant mosquito nets. The hotel is decorated throughout with antique furniture, and scented with local spices and of course coffee. The locality is bustling with life being close to the large local market and bus station but inside all is tranquil. In the evening you return to find the vast beds covered with flower petals, in the morning you can take a leisurely breakfast on the exotic roof terrace, that looks like it has come from "The Arabian Nights" and admire the amazing views of the town.
From US $75-125 per room/suite per night
Stone Town, Zanzibar,close to bus station,follow the signs or ask a taxi driver to direct you they will be happy to do so though access is via narrow alley ways,on foot only.
details on www.riftvalley-zanzibar.com
The Utengule Country Hotel Ltd
PO Box 139, Mbeya, Tanzania
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