Friday, September 22, 2017
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WHIFF OF HAPPINESS

There are Caribbean islands where a grown adult wearing a bicycle helmet and riding a Segway through a spice market is, if not exactly normal, at least accepted as part of the reality of being a tourist destination.

Grenada is not one of those places. As I rolled unsteadily through Grenada’s capital, St. George’s, on a busy Saturday morning, the looks I got from locals were less “crazy tourist” eye rolls than the gaping stares one might reserve for visiting space aliens.

The issue wasn’t with the tour: the guides from Caribbean Rentals Grenada actually did a great job keeping us upright and shepherding us through the narrow streets, the claustrophobic Sendall Tunnel (built in 1894 to connect the two halves of the city and keep horse-drawn carriages from rolling back down a steep hill into the ocean) to the Grenada National Museum.

It’s just that, while visitors aren’t exactly unknown in Grenada, they do tend to blend in a little better. That’s because this isn’t an island you come to for booze cruises and parasailing, but for authentic culture and amazing local food, not to mention some of the most luxurious resorts in the Caribbean. The difference starts with the smell: Grenada is known as the Spice Island, and the scent of nutmeg and cinnamon suffuse the air in Market Square. In Grenada, nutmeg is everywhere, from a sprinkle on top of your rum punch to nutmeg butter on your morning toast. You can even buy it as a pain-relieving salve at the nutmeg factory in Gouyave, where workers sort and grade nuts
straight from the felds in a process straight out of the 18th century. It’s the best $1 tour you’ll fnd anywhere.

For $2, a guided tour of the historic
River Antoine Rum Distillery adds rum tastings: you’ll defnitely want to pack their silky-smooth chocolate rum in your checked luggage home. Like the nutmeg factory, the distillery is a throwback to simpler times: a river tumbling down a hillside from the rainforest is channeled into an aqueduct to turn a water wheel, which crushes fresh-cut sugar cane to extract the sugary “honey” that’s distilled into fery 180-proof spirits.

Unless you’re ordering a cheeseburger (and you probably shouldn’t), nearly everything you eat on Grenada is produced locally—it’s literally a farm-to-table island. The “Bean to Bar” tour at the Belmont Estate moves effortlessly from cocoa and spice production to lunching on papaya salad, green banana soup and mutton. Dessert, you say? Try the cinnamon ice cream or nibble on samples from the Grenada Chocolate Company, whose lineup of all-organic treats includes a savory 71-percent cacao bar flavored with sea salt.

Also keeping it real with the local food scene is the True Blue Bay Resort, which hosts a lively Wednesday night “street food” buffet where you can sample Grenada’s national dish, the one-pot “Oil Down”—a mix of local herbs, spices, callaloo, vegetables, salted meat, and even bananas. If it’s good and it grows in Grenada, chances are it’s in the Oil Down. The dish is hearty eating, but you can dance it off to live local music as street food gives way to a street party as the night goes on.

The low-rise luxury resorts along Grand Anse Beach step up Grenada’s culinary experience at restaurants like Oliver’s at the Spice Island Beach Resort and Arawakabana at the Coyaba Beach Resort. Seaside dining hits its peak with lunch at the Beach Club restaurant at the Calabash Beach Resort, where we grazed through a refned tapas menu of ceviche, callaloo and feta fritters, and panseared mahi-mahi. La Belle Creole, located in a hillside estate home, richly rewards you with traditional fne dining: butter-fried local shrimp in a coconut and ginger sauce is scampi, Grenadian-style.

When you’re ready to push away from the table, Grenada’s beaches beckon with startlingly clear waters and calm tides, ideal for sunning on broad white sands or snorkeling over Troy Lewis’ famous Underwater Sculpture Museum, a seascape of sunken statues that includes a linked circle of fgures growing with live coral and a reverent Christ of the Deep.

Sparkling wine tinted with sorrel—a local twist on a Kir Royale—greets guests at the AAA Five Diamond Spice Island Beach Resort, an intimate retreat with 64 beachfront suites and a stylish spa where treatments draw on the healing powers of local herbs and you can literally get your body wrapped in chocolate.

Even more exclusive is Peter de Savary’s Mount Cinnamon Resort, which has just 21 colorfully decorated villas scattered across a hillside overlooking Grand Anse Beach and effortlessly blends the amenities of an upscale resort with the comfort of staying in a private home. Diaphanous curtains drape beds topped with swirled nautical linens in the villas at the Calabash Beach Resort, named the top Caribbean resort for 2017 by TripAdvisor; pool suites feature freestanding (or sitting, as the case may be) soaking tubs in private courtyards.

You’ll almost certainly leave Grenada with a few bags of local spices destined for your pantry back home, and the All Things Nutmeg store in St. George is the go-to for nutmeg essential oils, cinnamon soap and lemongrass herbal tea (widely used on the island as a folk medicine). But the bounty of the Spice Island isn’t just for your nose and palate: be sure to make time to browse the racks at the Nutmeg Design Company, where images of nutmeg nuts, mace and trees are woven into brightly styled dresses, skirts and scarves by designer Jessie-Ann Jessamy. It’s wearable art that will keep you thinking about Grenada until you return to the Caribbean’s most fashionably fragrant islands.