In St Vincent & The Grenadines, say the locals, change happens slowly. They’re proud of the fact. For those travellers who think of the Caribbean as one unvarying archipelago of hotels and poolside frangipani trees, a trip to the country is a neat way of breaking the misconception. The island group sits just 100 miles due west of Barbados, but while half-hour air connections between the two are regular, similarities are few. Where Barbados is slick and fine-tuned, SVG (to use regional parlance) is crowd-free and sun-sleepy: a mighty appealing place to decamp for a weekend.
Spend your first day on St Vincent itself, the main island. The swirling music and cobblestoned streets of capital city Kingstown make it a diverting place to wander through, particularly during the portside morning market. Even more relaxed are the St Vincent Botanical Gardens, said to be the oldest in the tropical world. In the afternoon, earn your grilled seafood supper with a walk along the Parrot Lookout Trail to revel in widescreen views, before spending the night in the sepia-tinged, old-world comfort of Grenadine House.
The most famous of the Grenadine islands is Mustique – the bolthole of choice for A-listers with platinum credit cards – but its private villas and celeb-playground vibe are unrepresentative of the country as a whole. More in keeping with the ‘Vincy’ way of life is Bequia (pronounced Beck-way), which lies a 25-minute sail from Kingstown. It’s said that the shaggy-hilled island is a living example of how the Caribbean used to be in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Hymns drift from whitewashed churches, goats rest under mango trees and wooden boats bob idly on their moorings. In other words, it’s a solid base for doing very little.
Fittingly, perhaps, there aren’t too many accommodation options. Among those that do exist, an enticing bet is the newly unveiled Bequia Beach Hotel, situated on a serene sandy bay and offering a suitably laid-back take on the Caribbean resort experience. If you’re keen to get out and see a bit of the island, reggae-powered minibuses cover the interior’s jungly roads and can be flagged down with ease, while more structured itineraries are possible with a guided drive.
Points of interest include a whaling museum (the tradition dates back several centuries on Bequia) and a turtle sanctuary, although the choicest charms are just as likely to be found by gentle exploration of the towns and villages that populate the island. It pays to know that the implausibly mellow ‘capital’, Port Elizabeth, is within walking distance of some great beaches. When the sun flops over the horizon, take dinner back at the hotel – if an evening of barbecued lobster and free-flowing rum punch sounds your kind of thing, you’ll be in luck.
The Grenadines enjoy hallowed status in yachting circles, so it’s virtually an obligation to dedicate at least one day to the pleasures of island-hopping by boat. Joining a full-day cruise gives the chance to take in the country’s most celebrated attractions, including the much-extolled Tobago Cays. Frilled with white sand and ringed by reef, this group of five uninhabited islands was used by the makers of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, and while there are no longer lithe-limbed Depps and Knightleys springing about the place, it remains a remarkably beautiful setting. The colour palette is the kind that encourages coconut-filled chocolate bar clichés, while the water is as entrancingly clear as you’ll find anywhere. It means the snorkelling is genuinely world-class – pop on a mask, step off the boat and you’ll sink into a noiseless realm of turtles, coral and parrotfish.
Despite its Hollywood kudos, of course, Tobago Cays is far from being the only part of the archipelago with wow potential. Sailing from Bequia gives the chance to take in the green scenery of lesser known islands like Mayreau and Canouan, and if the sea gods are smiling, the return journey may even feature a spot of dolphin-watching over afternoon tea.