St. Kitts & Nevis

Blasts from the Past British-built Brimstone Hill Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site about ten miles west of Basseterre on St. Kitts, is where most people start looking into local history. Take several more steps back in time by visiting the nearby Wingfield Manor Estate, where a natural gallery of prehistoric Carib petroglyphs lines the entrance. The Museum of Nevis History in Charlestown displays some of the island's oldest artifacts in its most historic building, an early residence of American statesman Alexander Hamilton.

Summit Meetings On St. Kitts, gaze down into Mount Liamuiga's dormant crater. Sign up with Greg's Safaris (tel. 869-465-4121) for an ascent through virgin rain forest and a picnic lunch on the site of a colonial sugar mill. When the crest of Nevis Peak isn't stuck in the clouds, views from the top can stretch all the way to Antigua and Guadeloupe. To hire a guide, contact the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society in Charlestown; tel. 869-469-5786.

Beaching It The nicest white-sand stretches on St. Kitts lie along the Southeast Peninsula and include Sand Bank Bay, Cockleshell Bay, and Banana Bay. The north end's gray volcanic coastlines are less swimmer-friendly, but windsurfers and snorkelers love Dieppe Bay. On Nevis, check out Pinney's Beach, a favorite near the Four Seasons. The Atlantic coast is rocky and rough, but if you have a surfboard, try White Bay beach in the southeast.

Road Rules Car rentals from all the major companies start at around $40 per day for a compact, with weekly discounts. You'll need a driving permit (about $20); to get one, present your license at the Traffic Department at the police station in Basseterre (St. Kitts) or Charlestown (Nevis). Keep left. Taxis are prevalent, and drivers commonly double as tour guides, especially worth hiring on Nevis's potholed and cattle-strewn roads. Interisland ferry services (MV Sea Hustler; $8 round-trip; tel. 869-466-4636) and water taxis ($20 to $30 one way; call Kenneth Samuel at 860-465-2670) make several one-hour crossings between St. Kitts and Nevis daily. Shuttle flights with Nevis Express are even faster ($70 round-trip; tel. 869-469-9755).

Room Key Plantation inns: On St. Kitts, The Golden Lemon Inn & Villas is a beautifully restored 17th-century French manor house on the north shore. Rooms and villas are antique-filled, but there are no newspapers or TVs (from $245; tel. 869-465-7260, www.goldenlemon.com).... Set on secluded grounds near Mount Liamuiga, Raw-lins Plantation Hotel & Restaurant draws honeymooners to its windmill suite, and everyone else to cozy cottages with ocean vistas (from $310; tel. 869-465-6221, www.rawlinsplantation.com).... Ottley's Plantation Inn is among the island's most deluxe properties. It features 35 acres of manicured grounds, a fine restaurant, and superb quarters that include rooms in the historic great house (from $225), and five "Royal Suite" cottages with private plunge pools (from $475; tel. 869-465-7234, www.ottleys.com).... On Nevis, ocean views and private verandas are standard at Montpelier Plantation Inn, perched on the slopes of Nevis Peak (from $200; tel. 869-469-3462, www.montpeliernevis. com).... Even higher on the same mountain, The Hermitage draws the island's coolest ocean breezes. Its charming set of pastel bungalows is built around one of the oldest wood houses in the Caribbean (from $170; 869-469-3477, www.hermitagenevis.com). Friendly giants: The St. Kitts Marriott Royal Beach Resort & Spa opens its doors this spring, unveiling about 500 rooms and suites, three pools, six restaurants, a full-service spa, and an 18-hole championship golf course (from $139; tel. 869-468-1290, www.marriott.com/skbrb).... The Four Seasons Resort Nevis, West Indies offers nearly 200 luxurious guest rooms and suites and all the usual Four Seasons services and amenities (from $745; tel. 869-469-1111, www.fourseasons.com/nevis).

What's to Eat As high-end tourism drifts onto these islands, so do formal dining rooms and French-Continental menus. Home-style cooking still reigns supreme, from spiny lobster and curried conch to Creole red snapper and some of the best "goat water" (goat or mutton stew) in the Antilles. For beautiful meals and decor, visit one of the plantation inns mentioned in "Room Key" (above). When it's not mobbed by cruise passengers, Ballahoo Restaurant is the place to savor the catch of the day at an open-air table; and don't miss the classic bar scene at Stonewalls in Basseterre.... The goat water at nearby Velma's Quick Snack gets two big thumbs up.... The Four Seasons dining room is an obvious choice for elegant fare on Nevis.... Some of the island's freshest, most creative seafood is served at the Mount Nevis Hotel and Beach Club's restaurant.... Next to the Four Seasons is Sunshine's Beach Bar & Grill, a no-frills joint with lots of personality, great lobster, and the "killer bee" - a rum-based concoction as mean as it sounds.

Leeward Literature Adventure Guide to Anguilla, Antigua, St. Barts, St. Kitts, St. Martin: Including Sint Maarten, Barbuda & Nevis, by award-winning authors Paris Permenter and John Bigley (2nd edition), is one good guidebook. For two good history lessons, check out St. Kitts: Cradle of the Caribbean, by Brian Dyde (Macmillan, 1989), and Swords, Ships, and Sugar: A History of Nevis to 1900, by Vincent K. Hubbard (Premiere Editions Intl., 1997). The Brimstone Hill Fortress, by D. L. Matheson, is a local primer on St. Kitts's most famous historic landmark.

Web Headings Official government site: www.stkittsnevis.net For St. Kitts: www.stkitts-tourism.com For Nevis: www.nevisisland.com For links: www.stkittsnevis.info A local favorite: www.skbee.com