Charlestown, Nevis | Neighbourhood

The capital of St Kitts’s sister isle boasts historic architecture, museums, and proximity to one of the Caribbean’s most famous beaches

  • Photo by EQRoy/Shutterstock.com
  • Photo courtesy Nevis Culturama
  • Photo by EQRoy/Shutterstock.com
  • Photo by EQRoy/Shutterstock.com
  • Photo by Sergey Goryachev/Shutterstock.com
  • A traditional Nevis cottage, painted in bright colours. Photo by M. Timothy O'Keefe / Alamy Stock Photo

Streetscape

Charlestown’s relatively well-preserved historic architecture includes a number of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century buildings — such as the Old Customs House, Courthouse, and Library. A history of earthquakes influenced the traditional style of houses with a stone-walled lower storey and upper storey of lighter wood — less liable to collapse in a tremor. Extending just a couple of blocks in from Gallows Bay, the historic centre quickly gives way to more leafy residential districts, with Nevis Peak towering in the background.

Head for the baths

Nevis is a volcanic island, and the proof is plain to the touch at Bath Spring, on the outskirts of Charlestown. The waters of this natural volcanic hot spring are said to be therapeutic for ailments of all kinds, and visitors have flocked here since 1778, when the Bath Hotel was first opened, catering to sufferers from gout and rheumatism (some say it was the Caribbean’s very first luxury hotel). Though the stone structure is no longer used as a hotel, outdoor pools in the grounds still offer the prospect of a hot soak, when you need a break from the cool turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.

Take a swim

Stretching for four miles north of Charlestown, Pinney’s is Nevis’s most famous beach, home to the Four Seasons Resort and numerous rustic beach bars — the most celebrated of them being Sunshine’s, the preferred hangout for locals and tourists alike, including the jetsetting celebrities who favour the island’s low-key vibe. But beware Sunshine’s Killer Bee, the lethally delicious rum cocktail invented by proprietor Llewellyn “Sunshine” Caines.

History

When Columbus sighted Nevis in 1493, it had been inhabited by Amerindian peoples for two thousand years. Though the Spanish claimed the island, they never established a settlement there — but they did capture and enslave much of the indigenous population, shipping them to the pearl beds of Venezuela.

Permanent European settlement finally came in 1628, under the English, who named their small town and its protecting fort after King Charles I. By the late seventeenth century, Nevis was one of the most productive and profitable West Indian colonies, thanks to the labour of enslaved Africans, with Charlestown even serving for a time as capital of the British Leewards.

An attempted invasion by the French in 1706 was repelled, but Nevis’s economy never fully recovered, and by the early nineteenth century sugar production was in near disarray. After Emancipation, the formerly enslaved population quick established small farms across the island, the beginning of a society of relatively prosperous landowning farmers with a culture distinct from nearby St Kitts. Nonetheless, in 1882 the two islands were joined into a single colony, finally achieving Independence just over a century later.

History boys

On the Charlestown waterfront, the Museum of Nevis History occupies the house long known as the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton — Founding Father of the United States, first Treasury Secretary under President George Washington, and most recently the subject of a smash Broadway musical. Born here in 1757, Hamilton left Nevis when he was five — for St Croix and then ultimately New York — but locals haven’t forgotten the connection.

Now somewhat eclipsed by his near-contemporary, Horatio Nelson was long considered Nevis’s most famous historical figure. Posted to the island by the Royal Navy in 1784 — years before he was recognised as Britain’s foremost naval hero — Nelson fell in love with the young widow Fanny Nisbet. History buffs can visit Fig Tree Church, where they were married, as well as the Montpelier Great House, location of the wedding party, and the Horatio Nelson Museum, home to what’s been called the biggest collection of Nelson memorabilia outside the UK.

Get stamped

Since 1980, Nevis has enjoyed its own independent Philatelic Bureau, headquartered in Charlestown, issuing postage stamps commemorating the island’s history and culture, alongside world events and personalities — avidly sought by collectors. A visit to the philatelic office is worth it for the history lessons conveyed through small colourful bits of paper — and the fine selection of first day covers, postcards, and other memorabilia.

Co-ordinates

17.13º N 62.62º W
Sea level

 

Caribbean Airlines operates daily flights to V.C. Bird International Airport in Antigua, with connections on other airlines to St Kitts and Nevis