Ben Mitchell followed in the footsteps of The Pirates of the Caribbean.
PUBLISHED: 16:27 04 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:08 20 February 2013
Here be pirates. A film set location? These gorgeous islands certainly are, says Ben Mitchell, who followed in the footsteps of The Pirates of the Caribbean.
Here be pirates
A film set location? These gorgeous islands certainly are, says Ben Mitchell, who followed in the footsteps of The Pirates of the Caribbean.
Bamboo trees creaking gently in the Caribbean breeze provided the soundtrack as we sweated our way through the humid forest around the volcano which forms the centre point of this lush, green island.
We were being led up to the crater of La Soufriere in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), and the first stretch of a fascinating three-hour trek is submerged in beautiful forest.
But as we climbed further up towards the peak of the 1,234m volcano, the landscape gradually broke out into the stony scrub-land that covers the top of the crater.
Looking down inside, I found it difficult to get a feel for how deep it was. At first I thought it was just 20m down and then I suddenly saw something moving and realised, with a shock, that people were about 200m below us. I could also make out a hill growing in the middle of the crater where the volcano remains active beneath.
On May 7 1902, La Soufriere erupted so fiercely that it killed 1,680 people. When it last erupted, in April 1979, there were no lives lost, because of advance warnings.
At 21 miles long and 11 wide, St Vincent is the largest of the 32 islands and cays which make up this Caribbean group. Mustique, patronised by rock celebs and royalty, is another.
St Vincent is a hilly island, dominated by La Soufriere, and as we drove up to the starting point of the crater walk, the winding road took us through what felt like a natural botanical garden.
This is typical of the landscape of what is the best kept secret in the West Indies the islands are full of secluded beaches, lush forests, charming and honest harbour towns, all surrounded by crystal clear, azure seas.
But despite its relative obscurity, it is a place which many have fallen in love with, having provided the backdrop for much of the first Pirates Of The Caribbean movie and some of the second.
It is even possible to stay in the same hotel where the stars Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley laid their heads during filming. In some places, props left behind from filming are a magnet for tourists.
After our energetic climb up the volcano, guided by Sailor Wilderness Tours, we enjoyed a delicious picnic overlooking the striking black sand beaches at Black Point, which look almost metallic in glinting sunshine.
The spot also captured the imagination of the Pirates location scouts, not only for the unusual sands but for a tunnel carved 100m through the rocks by slaves in 1815 to enable sugar-cane to be loaded on to ships for export more easily.
However, St Vincent is not just about hill climbs and film locations. You can just as easily take part in those most Caribbean of pastimes, relaxing on the beach and liming the local word for hanging out with friends.
I stayed at the colourful Beachcombers boutique hotel, whose bright yellow, orange and blue buildings are nestled in a flourishing botanical garden with a pool overlooking the beach.
Just 200m or so across the water is Young Island, a private hotel resort with a taste of Caribbean luxury. Visitors can choose from a variety of villas, either touching the shore with their own steps on to the beach, or more secluded further up the hill, hidden among the vegetation.
In the islands main town, Kingstown, a throwback to colonial times can be found at Grenadine House with its elegantly-restored restaurant and hotel rooms which were chosen to sleep the Pirates stars during some of the filming.
From Kingstown, I took the hour-long ferry trip to the laidback island of Bequia (pronounced bekway). Its tranquil harbour town of Port Elizabeth is studded with little boutiques where you can buy local crafts, while Rastafarians lime by the waterfront and residents visit the vegetable market.
I stayed at the Bequia Beach Hotel in nearby Friendship Bay, a sister hotel of Grenadine House, which both have rooms decorated in a stylish throwback to mid-20th-century grandeur.
Taking an exciting flight in a six-seater plane across to the Raffles resort on Canouan, I could see across the green islands of SVG sticking out of the translucent sea and could just imagine the pirate ships of yesteryear sailing by.
And it is these unspoilt coastlines which remain thick with tropical vegetation that brought the Pirates crew to film at the beautiful Tobago Cays, a perfect destination for sailing, snorkelling and diving trips.
I finished my holiday in style at the Raffles resort, which takes up half of Canouan and boasts a Donald Trump-designed golf course.
But at this 88-room resort with 650 staff, the golf buggies arent restrained to the links as each villa is designated its own vehicle to travel to the beach, swimming pool, one of the four restaurants, casino or spa.
No luxury has been forgotten at this expansive site overlooking one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, including a poolside sunglasses-cleaning service.
While SVG remains a hidden gem, work has started on a new international airport allowing major carriers to fly direct, cutting the arrival time for visitors who have to go via Barbados, about 100 miles to the east. Visitors might be well-advised to enjoy island-hopping around this sleepy backwater while they can, before too many tour groups start flying in.
Best time to visit: All year, but cooler between November and February.
Dont miss: Sleepy harbour town of Port Elizabeth on Bequia with its great restaurants.
Language: English, making it an easy destination to meet the locals.
Dont forget: Mosquito repellent in humid summer months.
Travel info: Ben Mitchell flew to St Vincent and the Grenadines with British Airways, which offers return flights ex-Gatwick to Barbados from 569. Operators to SVG include Caribtours, which offers seven nights half-board at Young Island Resort from 1,615, saving 520, including BA flights ex-Gatwick or Manchester, transfers and surcharges for selected departures Jan 5-Mar 31. Connecting flights ex-Glasgow from around 80.
Beachcombers Hotel (www.beachcombershotel.com) has double rooms from 46 per night, and Grenadine House (www.grenadinehouse.com) from 85.
Destination info from St Vincent and the Grenadines (svgtravel.com), with advice also from www.responsibletravel.com (01273 600 030).