Clinging to a steep saddle between Mt Scenery and Booby Hill, Windwardside has more steps than pavements. The classic Saba cottage is a neat structure of white-painted wood, hipped roof of red tiles, and green trim. Older houses have a kitchen chimney. Several dozen well-preserved examples are scattered through the village, set in gardens of colourful blossoms. Most newer buildings stick to the colour scheme of white walls and red roofs.
You can stroll briskly from one end of Windwardside to the other in ten minutes — or stretch your explorations out to a whole morning, allowing time to pause and admire the amazing views in all directions, enjoy the charming architecture, and negotiate the flights of steps cut into the volcanic rock which take the place of lanes and driveways on this vertiginous island.
Several shops in Windwardside sell samples of Saba lace — a traditional craft, passed down among the women of the island and still practiced today, though the number of lacemakers is dwindling. Technically, it isn’t lace in the strictest sense, but a form of embroidery called drawn thread work. Some of the threads are removed from a length of linen and the remaining ones are knotted into intricate patterns. Saba lace tablecloths and bed linens aren’t cheap, but handkerchiefs, napkins, and small samplers suitable for framing are more affordable. By asking around you can easily get an introduction to one of the Saban women who still practice the craft — and perhaps enjoy a demonstration.
The Harry L. Johnson Museum began as a private collection of historic artifacts, housed in a beautifully preserved 1840s cottage. Now managed by a foundation and professionally curated, the museum houses historic furniture, archaeological finds, and documents and artifacts from some of Saba’s famous nineteenth-century sea captains. The gardens are used for Easter egg hunts and occasional croquet matches.
For such a tiny island (just over five square miles), Saba boasts a surprisingly large community of resident artists. The Peanut Gallery in Windwardside is the best place to see — and buy — their work.
Towering over Windwardside is the (often cloud-shrouded) peak of Mt Scenery — the highest point in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and worth climbing for that reason alone. The trail to the top, like most Saba paths, is really a long flight of steps (1,064 is the official count), and begins just on the outskirts of the village. The climb takes about an hour and a half, through lush cloud forest most of the way. Expect it to be damp and misty, and look out for orchids, begonias, and tree ferns. At the summit, if the weather is clear, you have a 360º view of the north Leewards. On a cloudy day, you can hear the bustle of Windwardside far below, invisible behind thick billows of mist.
At lunch- and dinnertime you aren’t exactly spoiled for choice: you can count the restaurants in Windwardside on your fingers and have a hand free to hold on to your beverage. The verandah views make Scout’s Place — a slightly upscale bar — a good bet for lunch. Both Brigadoon and Restaurant Eden offer European-style cuisine in elegant surroundings — the former in a historic cottage, the latter on an outdoor terrace sheltered by trees. Whatever conversation you overhear is likely to be about diving. The near-pristine deep waters surrounding Saba are legendary among scuba fans.
A single main road connects the four villages in Saba with the airport on the north-east coast. It dates only to 1938, when a headstrong Saban ignored the Dutch consensus that the terrain was too steep for road-building, and engineered the two-lane thoroughfare that has become the island’s transport axis. For centuries prior, Sabans travelled around the island on foot or donkey-back, and the steep slopes made communities relatively isolated.
Caribbean Airlines operates regular flights to Princess Juliana International Airport in Sint Maarten, with air and ferry connections to Saba several times each day