Caribbean of old at the Bequia Beach Hotel

|
A Junior Plantation Suite at the Bequia Beach Hotel with a view of Friendship Bay and the island of Mustique.
A Junior Plantation Suite at the Bequia Beach Hotel with a view of Friendship Bay and the island of Mustique.

"I'm going to Bequia," I told my daughter Jenn.

"You're going to do what?" she asked.

"Not what — where," I said of the island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which is pronounced BECK-way.

Two days later, I stepped off a nine-seat prop plane onto a runway surrounded by goats on a smudge of an island of lush, green hills flanked by both the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea.

The hourlong flight west from Barbados on SVG Airways included a quick stop in Mustique, where the runway has a small hill at one end to give prop planes a lift for takeoff.

From there it was a 9-mile, two-minute flight skimming low over the water to Bequia's J.F. Mitchell Airport, where the sole building had a baggage conveyor that did not work and a friendly immigration officer who wanted to know the temperatures "back where you come from."

Bequia, an Arawak word meaning "island of the clouds," is not easy to get to, but once there, visitors tend to settle in for at least a week.

Many arrive to board a yacht charter to explore some of the 37 islands that make up the Grenadines, only eight of which are inhabited.

On the drive from the airport in an open-back safari bus with bench seating, I spotted small, colorful, well-cared-for wooden homes that lined the sides of the one main north-south road on the 7-square-mile island.

Headquarters for me was the 57-room Bequia Beach Hotel, the largest on the island, whose '50s retro ambience and charm were matched in turn by Swedish owner and general manager Bengt Mortstedt, who first discovered Bequia in 1992 when his family sailed to the Grenadines.

He revisited what he called "this hidden piece of paradise" several times over the next years and on a walk along Friendship Bay in 2004 came upon a derelict bed-and-breakfast with a "for sale" sign in the weeds.

It struck a chord, and Mortstedt acquired it and adjoining properties. Instead of building a family holiday villa as originally planned, he built the Bequia Beach Hotel, which opened in 2009 with 12 rooms.

"I am an accidental hotelier," he said. 

Decor in the small lobby and reception area include a lazy ceiling fan, posters depicting the bygone era of Caribbean travel on now-defunct airlines, framed black-and-white Beatles flyers and suitcases from a much earlier era stacked above the doorway leading into the wood-floored library.

There was a brief, islandwide power outage shortly after I arrived, the first since last October, according to Philip Mortstedt, the owner's son, who serves as the hotel's director of business development.

Fortunately, my beachfront Junior Plantation Suite was equipped with candles in addition to other amenities that included an adapter for electric plugs, mosquito netting over the queen bed, a step-down seating area with a desk and couch, a sisal rug with banana leaf prints and French doors with screens that opened onto a balcony with a view of Mustique in the distance and the beach and gentle surf of Friendship Bay below.

There are no TVs in the rooms nor pounding music at the pool, but there is a spa, an outdoor yoga pavilion, two bars, a complimentary kids club and gardens and lounge chairs with palapas lining the beach.

Lights came back on in time for dinner at the open-air Bagatelle, one of the hotel's three restaurants, where I devoured the signature lobster thermidor dish accompanied by a salad of island-grown veggies and a glass of island-produced Sparrow's rum.

A pizza stand in Port Elizabeth, the capital of Bequia.
A pizza stand in Port Elizabeth, the capital of Bequia. Photo Credit: Gay Nagle Myers

"What's magic about Bequia is that it still is a sleepy island, reminiscent of the Caribbean of yesteryear," Mortstedt said. "It is not for mass tourism."

Indeed, I saw that for myself in the next days. Goats outnumber the 5,000 residents, and there are no traffic lights, stop signs, fast-food joints or hotel chains. Bequia has two schools, one hospital, 30 churches, five cops who don't have much to do, one fire truck that occasionally runs out of water and a tourist office whose slogan is "Bequia Clean and Green," the heart of its on-island recycling campaign. 

Port Elizabeth, the capital and only town, is fun, vibrant and the center of island happenings. Vendors in the large market overlooking Admiralty Bay do a brisk business in vegetables and fruits. Small shops sell island-made jewelry and clothing produced by the women of Bequia Threadworks.

Two large passenger-and-car ferries that formerly plied the Scandinavian fjords serve as the main mode of transport for locals and travelers to and from St. Vincent, an hour and $10 away.

Mortstedt hosted a lunch at Jack's Beach Bar, his off-site beachfront restaurant on Princess Margaret Beach, named for Queen Elizabeth's sister, who took a swim on that beach during her honeymoon with Antony Armstrong-Jones in 1960.

I walked from town along the mile-long, wooden Belmont Walkway that parallels the water to reach Jack's, a casual place popular with hotel guests, yachters and Bequians. Ballyhoo fritters, served with a rice-based concoction of avocado, tomato slaw and chicken in a calabash bowl, along with a soursop mojito, fortified me for the next stop at the Bequia Boat Museum, which traces the history of the island's wooden whaling boats.

Whaling was serious business back when it was done with hand-held harpoons. Bequia's logo contains a whale, and islanders are still allowed to catch up to four a year.

The Bequia Beach Hotel owns the six-stateroom, 115-foot Star of the Sea crewed yacht, which can be booked for day-long snorkel trips to the Tobago Cays, an archipelago of five small islands, coral reefs and deserted beaches.

"I want my guests to get the feel of this destination by exploring the surrounding waters and the nearby islands," Mortstedt said.

More than 60% of his guests, many of whom return each year, are from the U.K., with the balance from Canada, the U.S. and other countries.

"The U.S. is a virgin market for us. It's hard to get here, and not many know about us," Mortstedt said.

From the U.S., most travelers fly into Barbados and transfer to smaller planes to Bequia. American has year-round, weekly service from Miami to St. Vincent, and Caribbean Airlines has a weekly flight from New York JFK. From St. Vincent, travelers can connect to Bequia by SVG Air or ferry.

The Bequia Beach Hotel pays 15% commission on rates that start at $265 per room, per night, double, with breakfast. Villa rates start at $565 per night for a two-bedroom unit up to $1,143 for the estate villa. Half- and full-board meal options are available as are several packages, including wedding, honeymoon and yacht charters. See www.bequiabeachhotel.com.

Comments
JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI