By Miranda Larbi, Senior lifestyle reporter
Tuesday 2 Oct 2018 8:33 am
So youve done a few Parkruns and now youre thinking of taking on something, bigger, better, more challenging.
How about a running festival on the island of Nevis?
No, not Ben Nevis (that really would be hours of grim pain), but Nevis; the tiny, tropical island next to St Kitts and Antigua in the West Indies.
Nevis has a triathlon which has been dubbed the most beautiful triathlon in the world, and the running festival cant be far off a similar accolade.
Heres why you should head over to Nevis to make their running festival your next big race.
The Nevis Marathon and Running Festival is a low-key affair, offering runners of all experiences and distances the opportunity to explore the island on foot.
This year, the warm-up 5k was on the Thursday and the 10k, half and full marathons all started at the crack of dawn (literally) along the coast path in Charlestown (the capital) on the Saturday.
For the real explorer, the 26.2 mile route takes you around the entire island (and then some!), while the other races take you up the north side and back again – but not before showing off a few of Nevis gems.
The volcano follows you around the routes and acts as a fantastic backdrop, especially at sunrise when the rose-coloured clouds waft across the summit. On the ground, you pass the artists village (a series of pastel-coloured huts, each selling local arts and craft), and the church of St George (a 375-year-old church – the oldest in the Caribbean). And of course, you have a view of the ocean the whole time too.
Could there be a more idyllic setting to take your mind off the running? Trying to concentrate on the race rather than the potential photo opportunities is probably the toughest nut to crack.
In fact, both the American in front of me and I were told to get off our phones and do some running by a passing car – which was very good advice, albeit difficult to follow when the whole thing is just so darn Instagrammable.
Oh, and if you win, you get a pretty epic trophy made from proper Nevis rock and in the image of the friendly mount. Lets face it, a few million people might have a London Marathon medal but how many have a Nevis trophy on their bookcases?
But perhaps the best thing about an event somewhere so beautiful and so warm is that the R&R afterwards is insurmountable.
For a start, stay in the right place and you could potentially not move again until your flight home because the food, beach and comfort is so good.
The Nisbet Plantation (once owned by Fanny Nisbets family) has rooms looking onto a private beach, complete with hammocks, an onsite spa and a great bar (thats important). It also has a general manager, Tim, who is not only an expert in local goings-on, but also a keen walker who runs hikes three times a week around the local area – which I found to be not only dead useful in getting to know the place, but a good warm-up for the race.
Post-event, youve got move your luggage up to the Hermitage – a stunning series of pastel-coloured cabins at the foot of the volcano in the middle of the jungle. An onsite pool, surrounded by all manner of exotic birds, monkeys and smaller critters, its an oasis of calm and beauty. Its perfectly situated for lovely shake-out walks, surrounded by luscious green and ocean views. Oh, and it serves the best pumpkin pancakes for breakfast this side of heaven.
The hot springs are a must visit for anyone suffering from muscle aches and desk-induced shoulder pain, or anyone hoping to feel five years younger, as my guide Bernell claimed. Theyre piping hot – which youd think would be pretty uncomfortable when its 30C outside. But actually, theyre totally rejuvenating. Go down there after sunset and youll find people taking a full body bath after a day at work or post-exercise. Curiously, I also found it excellent for calming mosquito bites.
This being the Caribbean, there are any number of exquisite beaches all along the island, such as Oualie Beach and Pinneys (the latter offering a plethora of really great restaurants and bars for post-dip refreshment), so itd be a waste to stick to pools.
Nevis is a bevy of activity. Sure, you could stay by the pool/beach all day every day – and thatd be heaven. But if you want to make the most of our time here, then there are plenty of opportunities for exploring the place (and burning off those pumpkin pancakes).
The heritage village is a must-visit. At one point, Nevis had over 50 plantations and was the place for sugar and cotton in the West Indies. Unlike some other islands, its proud of its past and is committed to remembering how it came into being. The heritage village is an opportunity to find out about its roots, and the journey its people made from slavery to independence – all in stunning scenery. If you want to see the ruins of former plantations, there are a number of good examples dotted around too.
Of course, perhaps the islands most famous son is Hamilton – the founder of the USA. In Charlestown, theres a museum dedicated to his life and times (with a very useful and concise history of the island). The museum is currently in the process of building a replica of Hamiltons house which is no doubt going to become something of a pilgrimage spot for lovers of the musical.
But you cant come here and take selfies in front of the mount without actually going up it.
For the best views in the Caribbean, climb to the top of the volcano and on a clear day, youll be able to see as far as Dominica and Mustique.
I trekked up there with a guide from Sunshine Tours in a little over two hours. You couldnt find a greener, more lush climb if you tried; its cooler as you go up (so dont worry about sweating to death) and the scenery both in and from the forest is breathtaking.
And once youve run, climbed and swum around the island a couple of times, the last thing you really ought to do is rent a bike and go around in one fell swoop.
This being the home of the worlds most beautiful triathlon, there are some real biking nuts operating from Nevis. I rented a bike from Active Caribbean on Oualie Beach, and cycled around with a former triathlon champ Reggie, who has travelled all around the world representing Nevis and the West Indies in various road cycling and tri events. And obviously, the routes are stunning…but definitely not for the faint-hearted.
After going up Zion hill, youll understand why Nevisians might be at a slight advantage when it comes to training for events. No part of Nevis is flat – its all up hill and down dale. So make sure you get a good breakfast before you venture out.
Food and drink
As with most countries, youre better off getting away from your hotel (which is probably going to be expensive) for dinner and drinks.
The best way to see the island and meet locals is on Pattersons Rum Tour, which takes you to different tiny bars and snack shacks where you can try homemade moonshine, rum punch and delicious grub. Most of these places are also convenience stories too, so very useful for grabbing odds and ends while slowly getting hammered on overproof rum. Patterson knows everyone and spent over 25 years as the maître d at Nisbet, so youre in great hands.
Food-wise, try Wilmas in town if you want to eat from the hand thats fed Princess Diana (Wilma was the cook at the Montpelier Hotel when Lady Di visited in 1993).
Then theres Sunshines – a fantastic bar/restaurant just off Pinneys beach and home of the famous Killer Bee rum punch. Just make sure you dont get stung!
Yachtsmans Bar and Grill is a superb place for fresh catch and great vegan options. In fact, every place I visited was willing to go off-menu to put together a fantastic plant-based option so if you dont eat meat or fish, dont be scared to ask for an alternative.
Oh, and the best breakfast on the island has to be at the Hermitage – the memory of their pumpkin pancakes will go with me to the grave.
Its a tiny island – it doesnt take long before you know your way around and you start running into the same people everywhere. You couldnt find a more beautiful place to compete or relax afterwards.
Locals say that you only ever come to Nevis as a stranger once. The number of expats who seem to have come once and are still living there 30-odd years later is testament to that.
I just hope its true because Im yet to find a tropical paradise to top it…or a race quite like it.
Where to stay in Nevis and how to get there
The flight with British Airways goes from Gatwick and stops briefly in Antigua before going on to St Kitts. Prices start from £714 one way (although BA is having a sale right now – so you might be able to find a real bargain…).
Once you get to St Kitts, you need to take a taxi from the airport to the coast where you can pick up a water taxi (by far the quickest means of transport – six minutes between the islands, versus a 45-minute public ferry). You can find a list of bookable boats here.