grenada-spice-up-your-tastebuds

Given its small size Grenada certainly packs in an amazing variety of historical and cultural influences, impressive geographical features, a mix of varying flora and fauna all topped by the friendly, relaxed warmth of its people. Situated in the south east of the sweep of Caribbean islands Grenada is perhaps less well known than some of its counterparts but the island begs to be visited and explored, offering numerous rewards for the more curious visitor willing to forsake the sun beds on its beautiful beaches. Mike Hampshire set out to explore.

But where to start? Our visit to the island was relatively short and so we needed to plan an excursion which would offer a taste (and yes, we were also after authentic Grenadian food!) of the true Grenada. There is less tourism development than in much of the Caribbean and so visitor attractions tend to be more genuine, reflecting traditional life and providing a chance to experience the island in an unsentimental 'take it or leave it way'.

Our hotel, as with most of the tourist accommodation, was situated on the Grand Anse beach in the south west. Studying a map of the island, it seemed that a day trip to the Belmont Estate in the north east could provide a full tour through the island's rain forest interior, returning on coastal roads. And descriptions of the estate suggested an unhurried opportunity to sample traditional rural life rooted in this 17th century plantation.

As we steadily negotiated the hair-pin bends and ascended into the Grand Etang national park, our driver, Roger, readily pointed out places of interest, unusual trees, distant views and village road-side displays featuring the striking red, yellow and green colours of the national flag. He shared the same pride and enthusiasm for his homeland of Grenada that was displayed by everyone we met.

Unprompted Roger made a lengthy diversion to the Concorde falls, one of a number of waterfalls on the island set deep in luxuriant vegetation. On the climb to the falls he was able to show us exotic crops growing right up to the roadside; in fact actually onto the narrow road!

Beautiful spices

Spices Galore

Guide books suggest there are more spices growing here in Grenada per square mile than anywhere else on the planet, hence its frequently used description of the 'Spice Island'. We began to lose the plot as he listed nutmeg, mace, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, cloves and cocoa. Luckily we knew that the Belmont Estate would give us a chance to catch up with all this information and sample the products of this blessed isle.

Although a major attraction on the island, the Belmont Estate, set in 400 acres of lush rolling hills, has a tranquil, uncrowded atmosphere. Visitors can explore farm exhibits, a simple and informative museum and garden walks full of colour. There is also the chance to hear about the process of transforming raw cocoa into the incredibly deeply flavoured, rich chocolate sold in the estate shop.

And the history of Grenada also comes to life on the Belmont Estate. Some of the tensions and struggles Grenada has endured are apparent. The exploitation of the natural wealth of the island by the colonial powers of England and France over past centuries, the impact of the slave trade, the damage wreaked by natural disasters such as the hurricanes that have caused real devastation. The island has not had it easy, but the courage and determination of Grenadians and their positive, optimistic outlook has helped them through so much of this turmoil.

Fact Box

For information about what to see and where to stay in Grenada and sister islands Carriacou and Petite Martinique visit www.Grenadagrenadines.com

It is easy to reach Grenada from the UK.There are five flights each week from London Gatwick to Grenada: two with British Airways, two with Virgin Atlantic and one with Monarch Airlines.

Visit www.ba.com/grenada, www.virgin-atlantic.com, www.monarch.co.uk, and www.golden-holidays.co.uk

Return air fares start from about £550 per person including taxes.

Great deals are available, including seven nights all-inclusive accommodation at Flamboyant Hotel on Grand Anse beach from only £754 per person including flights and return transfers. Price applies to departures on 18 and 25 April 2012 and is offered by Golden Caribbean on 0845 085 8080.

BB's Crabback Caribbean Restaurant: Progress House, St George's.

Patrick's Local Homestyle Cooking Restaurant: Lagoon Road, St George's.

The 'New' Nutmeg Restaurant: The Carenage, St George's.

Highly recommended to Foody Travellers is Restaurant Vastra Banken a fine dining restaurant on board an historic lighthouse ship:. Le Phare Bleu, Petite Calivigny Bay.

Dining out

The visit to the estate was rounded off by a meal in Belmont's impressive open sided restaurant, the dark teak wooden features contrasting with the sunlight on the palm trees just outside. Roger's charm worked wonders and the chef soon joined us in a rare moment of calm to describe some of the dishes she had prepared. "What other typically Grenadian food must we eat before we leave the island and where are the restaurants offering authentic cooking?" we asked. As ever, Roger, but now aided by several restaurant staff, enthusiastically came up with a long list of food we must try and places that would serve it well.

Back in our hotel, we divided our remaining precious evenings between the suggestions we had been given. Luckily friends Margaret and Michael were willing to participate in our foody crusade and they set off to Grenada's capital, St. George's to research BB's Crabback restaurant which juts out over the waterside with splendid views of the charming horseshoe shaped harbour and the Carenage. Margaret later related that the evening lights from harbour buildings barely matched the sparkle in Michael's eyes as he tucked into his massive red snapper whilst she had quietly swooned over her goat curry.

We were also on the harbour side, but in the first floor New Nutmeg restaurant. The laughter and banter from the good natured fishermen and taxi drivers below, drifted in the wide open windows whilst we enjoyed delicious callaloo lasagne and stuffed chicken breast in a coconut curry sauce.

Roger's list had been whittled down somewhat, but there were still a number of dishes to try and only one evening left. The solution presented itself in the form of Patrick's, a small restaurant which serves a medley of some 20 taster dishes tapas-style covering a wide range of Grenadian cookery. We sat on the veranda of this typical Grenadian home and in the very informal atmosphere sampled further dishes such as callaloo soup and gingered pork. After the second glass of wine, we even managed lambie (conch) in a creole sauce. The advertisement for Patrick's says 'skip lunch if you are coming to dinner'. Sound advice.

The next morning was, regrettably, 'good-bye Grenada'. It is only a small island but it certainly punches well above its weight in terms of variety and interest for the traveller. All the senses are delightfully and memorably assailed.

'Punches above its weight'. Don't start me on describing the rum punch! Cheers!

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