I think I’ll have the Chocolate and Ting,” I tell our host for the evening as I scan the menu at the Calabash Luxury Boutique Hotel and Spa’s beach bar.
As I peruse the options a bonfire crackles in the sand just feet away, palm trees sway overhead and a gentle melody drifts over from the steelpans in the corner.
In fact, I couldn’t really ask for a more typically Caribbean setting for my first night in Grenada. I’m on a fam trip with the Grenada Tourism Authority (GTA), and we have a jam-packed schedule ahead of us, with only four nights to get under the skin of the place.
But following a flight from the UK with Virgin Atlantic (stopping briefly in St Lucia en route with no need to disembark), a 15-minute drive from the airport and the perfect pick-me-up of a chilled rum punch, I’m already starting to feel the Caribbean spirit spread through me.
So much so, I absently wonder if I could apply for a job at the island’s newspaper in a Death in Paradise-style life overhaul.
As well as the short airport transfer to the island’s main hotels, the compact nature of Grenada means that most of the attractions are within easy reach. With our knowledgeable driver, Roger Augustine of the GTA, the journey itself becomes a highlight. He even stops the minibus to pick some sticky cherries and show us how the juice acts like a glue.
We weave along coastal roads (there are nine black sand beaches and 45 white, all of which are public and immaculate) and through the centre of the capital, St George’s – complete with colourful murals and food markets – before a steep drive into the luscious green of the rainforest.
At Concord Falls we find islanders selling their wares, and children from a local school join us in our anxiety as we watch a couple of daredevils scale the rock face and launch themselves from the top for fun. Entrance to the waterfall is $2, but it can also be visited as part of a commissionable Sunsation Tours island tour (grenadasunsation.com).
Back in the minibus we head further north through villages filled with houses of all shapes and sizes, each a striking blue, green, coral or red.
After an hour or so we reach the 17th-century Belmont Estate, where we start with a three-course lunch made from the estate’s produce. Both the cherry juice and the callaloo soup go down particularly well with the group and Augustine shares his belief that the quality of Grenada’s food is “grossly underestimated”. “It’s one of our biggest attributes… chocolate, spice,” he says. “We like our food and drink.”
Next we are given a mini-tour of the estate, witnessing first hand the workings of a fully functional historic plantation, including its cocoa processing facilities complete with workers walking over the beans.
While in the UK chocolate may be more closely associated with cosy nights in than tropical paradises, I soon learn that it is a key feature of the island, and even deemed good for the health – confirming a long-harboured belief of mine.
We also get a sneak peak inside the estate’s new chocolate factory, led by young British chocolatier, Jay, and leave with the strong smell of real chocolate still circulating in our nostrils. A mini-tour of the estate is also included in Sunsation Tours’ island tour options.
Back in the minibus, Augustine tells us it’s easy to get around by public transport or taxi, and buses will drop you wherever you want along a route. Augustine adds that islanders get on harmoniously with tourists too, and that Grenada is one of the safest Caribbean islands.
He tells us that when the prison was damaged during 2004’s Hurricane Ivan and prisoners escaped, they all handed themselves back in (after a short visit to see their families).
The next day is the one we’ve all been waiting for. We don our swimwear and sun cream and board a boat to Molinere Bay for a snorkel at Grenada’s Underwater Sculpture Park (from £46pp; grenadasunsation.com).
While clients can opt to scuba dive down to see the sculptures up close with their now coral-covered features, snorkelling gives a clear (albeit eerie) view of the children standing in a ring and a man sat at a typewriter, among other statues.
That night – after the kind staff at Spice Island Beach Resort have prepared some aloe vera to sooth my sunburn – we head to Street Food Wednesdays at True Blue Bay Resort’s Dodgy Dock, armed with tokens to buy as much as we can devour. Beloved Grenadian band Treo are performing in front of an eclectic mix of tourists and Grenadians enjoying a night out.
One local – an elderly woman – is serenaded with an Ed Sheeran song and starts singing along too. With Sunsation Tours, £12pp will get clients food tokens and transportation to and from the venue. Alternatively, tokens can be bought on the door.
We round off our stay with the must-do visit to the spice markets, leaving with everything from straw hats, beads filled with spices and “blazing” hot sauce.
Laden with goodies as we head to the airport, I feel like I’ve well and truly had a taste of the island in just a few days, and that’s without visiting Grenada’s other islands, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.
After a longer stay clients will almost certainly feel that they’ve fully indulged all their senses in an epic feast of adventure, gastronomy, culture, and relaxation.
Book it: Gold Medal offers a seven-night Grenada twin-centre from £2,669pp including four nights’ all-inclusive at Spice Island Beach Resort and three nights’ B&B at Calabash Luxury Boutique Hotel & Spa, with flights and transfers. Package is valid until July 18, 2017 for travel April 23 to June 20, 2018. goldmedal.co.uk
Why should agents promote Grenada above other Caribbean destinations?
Grenada is the authentic Caribbean as many imagine it to be, with all the amenities of luxury boutique hotels that are Grenadian or regionally owned.
Highlight the warmth of the welcome, the experience of visiting cocoa and nutmeg estates and the quiet pleasure of a Grenadian rum punch on perfect white sand as the sun sets.
There’s also plenty for the more intrepid, including our new rainforest highwire. All this on an island the size of the Isle of Wight! The Pure Grenada Music Festival and Grenada Chocolate Fest are also big draws.
Also mention the convenience of four flights per week from Gatwick; we give any holiday destination a good run for their money.
How are visitor numbers?
Visitor numbers for 2016 worldwide arriving by air were 144,333, which was up 2.5% year-on-year. UK tourist arrivals accounted for 24,100 of these, which makes us the number two market after the US.
For the UK market, Grenada has always been a bit of a hidden jewel – but since Sandals LaSource opened in 2013, interest in the island has increased particularly among 30-45-year-olds.