Having a blow-out in the Windies
We found ourselves lapping up the beach and sites of Grenada.
Life is pretty slow at Grenada's Spice Island Beach Resort, so busy yourself with sunbathing and take a tour of the island on your day off.
The small Caribbean island may be only a 10-hour flight away on the other side of the Atlantic, but you are greeted by scenes you would have thought probably only possible in paradise: beautiful blue skies, the ocean lapping at the side of the runway, and scorching sunshine.
And it's just as breathtaking at the Spice Island Beach Resort, a beach-side suite and cottage complex about 20 minutes from the capital, St George's. Local entrepreneur Sir Royston Hopkin built the resort in 1961, although it has been renovated numerous times and most recently following Hurricane Ivan. As you might expect in the West Indies, life at Spice Island is pretty slow. There is not a great deal to do other than sunbathe, but then that is what you are there for. Should the occasional cloud spoil your sunbathing then it's a good idea to venture further afield. The best way to see what the island has to offer is on a mini-bus tour.
There is no better guide than local celebrity Mandoo. He regularly pops up on TV and radio to discuss island issues, and is one of the most popular men in Grenada.
Everywhere we go he receives a wave and a smile from his adoring public. He claims to know 50,000 of the island's inhabitants and given the number who stopped to chat to him, I wouldn't doubt him.
The top attractions on his all-day tour include Caribbean classics such as waterfalls, a cocoa plantation and a rum distillery.
At the Dougaldston cocoa plantation you get an explanation of how cocoa beans are picked, dried and turned at the start of the chocolate-making process.
● Golden Caribbean offers seven nights half-board on Spice Island Beach Resort (review on p42) from £1,345 per person. includes return flights, transfers and Swedish massage. www.goldencaribbean.co.uk, 0845 085 8080
● Tourist information: www.Grenadagrenadines.com
● Guided Tours: Sunsation Tours offers guided island tours from £58 per person. Includes St George's, rainforest waterfalls, spice plantations, rum distillery and national parks. www.grenadasunsation.com
The technicalities were a little over my head, but peeling open a cocoa bean from its slippery pod and popping it in your mouth is a remarkable experience. You'll also see how nutmeg, mace, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves are picked and processed for use in a variety of foods and medicines. They don't call Grenada the "spice island" for no reason. The guided tour of Rivers rum distillery provides an insight into another industry that European tourists are unlikely to have witnessed before. Its original distillery wheel was brought to the island from Derby in 1785 and is still in working order. Local sugar cane, the majority grown on the estate, is turned into the shockingly strong 75 per cent proof product that Grenadians love so much.
At the Grenada Chocolate Company's factory, across the road from the Prime Minister's home, is a chance to see how cocoa beans are roasted and ground into liquid to be turned into bars of the darkest, most bitter chocolate you can imagine. Kimon the chocolatier hands out free samples.
As we wind our way through the precariously narrow streets everyone waves and a smiles. Apparently it's an island-wide, government-encouraged initiative to make visitors feel welcome. It works.
The final stop is to Grandetang lake, high in the mountains. Two cheeky mona breed monkeys pop their heads out of the bushes, run along a fence and allow tourists to feed them bananas. They sit and pose for pictures before darting off back into the trees.
One of Grenada's supposed highlights is the weekly Fish Friday event in the town of Gouyave. Billed as an opportunity to see the best the island's fishing industry, it sadly proves to be a far from heimishe night out.
After a treacherous journey through the steepest, narrowest, windiest roads on the island, we arrive at what amounts to a couple of tents and cooking stands serving up fried delicacies such as squid and crab back. The expected range of tasty, and indeed kosher, fish unfortunately did not materialise.
A day of torrential rain admittedly hampered the event's usual flamboyance. Booming RnB music and the smell of marijuana wafted across the narrow, dirty backstreets. The entire scene did not fit in with all the other luxuries experienced on the otherwise five-star trip.
When it finally came to getting back on the bus, I couldn't clamber aboard fast enough. I rather suspect a good number of you wouldn't have even disembarked in the first place.
Travellers of a nervous and even vaguely kosher disposition would be well advised to give Fish Friday a miss and stay in the comfort of the hotel.
Once back at Spice Island, I took myself off to Jarissa's Spa. The purpose-built block, which includes a full gym and hairdressing salon. Mavis my masseuse put me at ease for my full body Swedish massage. She began with some gentle back rubbing, regularly checking I could still breathe with my face stuffed into the small round head rest at the top of the table.
While Mavis dug her thumbs and elbows into a variety of tight muscles I lay there pondering the fact that people voluntarily spend $100 on such punishment.
An hour later I staggered about in a state of Norman Wisdom-like discombobulation for some time before putting my robe back on, albeit back to front.
It was an interesting hour but far less comfortable than the many subsequent ones spent at the bar supping Mudslide cocktails, mixed by waitress Shelma and containing a tasty mix of Baileys, vodka, coconut milk and chocolate syrup.
I may well have looked like Del Boy at his peak (the mini umbrella was all that was missing) but never let it be said that Grenadians don't know how to entertain their guests.
It is, without doubt, one of the most welcoming nations on earth.