side from quick trips to Mustique and Canouan a few years ago, the Grenadine island chain anchored by St. Vincent in the north and the smudge of land called Petit St. Vincent in the south remained on my wish list until last month.

Now, after a trip of four days in three hotels on two islands using one currency and traveling on big ferryboats, small airplanes, a speedboat and a Land Rover, I'm wondering why I waited so long to visit.

Many travelers know the Grenadines from the deck of a charter yacht or a small cruise ship. These waters are made for sailing.

However, I wanted land beneath my feet on this initial foray, so I headed straight for Kingstown, St. Vincent, via a LIAT flight from Barbados.

St. Vincent has a modern cruise port and an adequate airport but no big resorts, casinos or smart shops. It's not a mainstream Caribbean destination -- thank goodness.

A night at the family-run, 11-room Villa Lodge in Kingstown proved that point. Although amenities were sparse and the room needed some freshening, the staff was friendly, the restaurant offered local dishes, and the location -- a short walk from Indian Bay -- was perfect.

Jean-Michel King, general manager, doesn't get many American guests at his hotel. "We're not known," he said.

The property opened in 1970, also has eight apartments in the rental pool and pays 10% commission. King plans some room renovations and would like to work with U.S. operators.

To get the lay of the land, I hooked up with Clint Hazell, who, along with his wife, Millie, operates Hazeco Tours, which they founded in 1995 shortly after their return to St. Vincent, having lived for years in Canada.

Hazeco's Land Rovers and Jeeps, emblazoned with the logo of the protected Vincentian parrot, pop up all over St. Vincent and Bequia, a ferry ride away.

Hazell, a Vincentian whose family roots go back 400 years, proved a great guide.

His eco-tours reflect his passion "to operate in harmony with the natural environment," and his historical commentary entertained and enlightened.

His firm offers a variety of group and FIT programs.

The highlights of St. Vincent, according to the native-born son, are "many." A tight time frame gave me just a glimpse.

• Kingstown wraps around Kingstown Bay. It's a working city with a busy harbor and not much for tourists. The produce market, housed in a three-story building, is a colorful slice of life, especially on Friday and Saturday mornings.

• Fort Charlotte is "the only fort in the Caribbean named for a lady," Hazell said. Begun by the French in 1786 and completed by the British in 1806, the fort was named for the wife of King George III. It sits above Kingstown with a dramatic down-island Grenadine view.

The cannons face inward, and Hazell explained that the British had a greater fear of attack by island natives than by ships.

• Botanical Gardens. The magnificent gardens are the oldest in the Western Hemisphere. A descendant of the original breadfruit tree brought to St. Vincent in 1793 by Capt. Bligh of "Bounty" fame stands among the rubber, teak, mahogany and other tropical trees in the gardens' 33 acres.

"Admission is free -- for now," Hazell said, "but there's a plan afoot to institute a multi-site admission pass for approximately $12 that would cover various sites on the island."

Several Vincentian parrots have prime space in the gardens' aviary. A protected and endangered species that can live to be 100 years old, approximately 600 parrots live wild on the island.

The four colors of the parrot's feathers represent the nature side of St. Vincent. "Blue symbolizes our waters; gold and yellow feathers represent our beaches; green stands for our rain forest, and brown is our rich soil," Hazell said. Allow half a day for this tour.

• Mesopotamia Valley along St. Vincent's rugged Atlantic coast is "the breadbasket of St. Vincent -- everything we eat is grown here," Hazell said. I admired farmers maneuvering steep ridges and terraced plots.

The Falls of Baleine, in northern St. Vincent, features a natural freshwater pool for swimming at the base of the 60-foot waterfall. • Falls of Baleine. Allow a full day to explore the falls, hike the area, swim, picnic and return to Kingstown.

Short of time, I opted to board a powerboat operated by Baleine Tours in Kingstown. Capt. Wayne Halbich had me at the falls in an hour, after following wild dolphins on their morning swim and visiting a movie set. It's a five-minute trek from the beach to the 60-foot falls and freshwater pool below.

• La Soufriere Volcano, the source of the black sand on St. Vincent's beaches, last erupted in 1979. It's 4,048 feet high and so huge in area that it covers the northern third of St. Vincent. Its crater alone is 1.5 miles wide and 1,500 feet deep. Guided hiking tours to the rim of the crater are available for adventure-seekers.

• Young Island is a 35-acre private island resort 200 yards off St. Vincent's southern shore. Manager Bianca Porter welcomes nonguests who hop the resort's launch to take a look and pick up brochures. "We get some bookings this way, but most are from agents," she said.

Several of the 30 deluxe bungalows (two with plunge pools) line the beach while others meander up the hillside behind the resort, reached by stone steps bordered by tropical flowers.

Guests can wade out to the beach bar, swim in the saltwater pool, nap in a hammock, dive or snorkel, tour the mainland, or order room service and never leave their quarters.

"We get a lot of repeat guests," Porter said. It is easy to understand why. This is a resort with all the trappings of paradise.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

Get More!
For more details on this article, see Actor Johnny Depp a star on St. Vincent.

Fast facts

• Population of SVG (popular abbreviation for St. Vincent and the Grenadines): 110,000, of whom 98,000 are on St. Vincent;

• #1 industry: tourism, followed by agriculture;

• Simple rule of weather forecasting: "If it rains before 7, clear by 11; if it rains after 7, don't go out."

• Beaches on St. Vincent are dark sand from La Soufriere Volcano in the north;

• St. Vincent, 18 miles long by 9 miles wide, has one roundabout (traffic circle) and no traffic lights. "We had one but took it down. Traffic flows better with a policeman directing traffic," Hazell said.

• Many of the larger beach rocks are sold by enterprising locals to developers for use in high-end villas throughout the Caribbean.

Fast contacts for St. Vincent & the Grenadines Tourism
Phone:
(800) 729-1726
Web:www.svgtourism.com

St. Vincent
• VillaLodge
Web: www.villalodge.com
• Hazeco Tours
Web: www.hazecotours.com
• Baleine Tours
E-mail: [email protected]
• Young Island
Phone: (800) 223-3108
Web: www.youngisland.com
• Ocean Allegro restaurant
E-mail: [email protected]

Bequia
• Gideon's Taxi Service
E-mail: [email protected]
• Friendship Bay Resort
Web: www.friendshipbayresort.com
• Spring Studios
E-mail: [email protected]
• Oldhegg Turtle Sanctuary
E-mail: [email protected]

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