A holiday in paradise for under £500
Over the years I’ve seen my fair share of picture postcard beaches. But this year, one of them stormed ahead of the crowd and set the bar on idyllic beach paradise. The name? The Caribbean islands of Grenada and Carriacou.
A well-kept secret by those ‘in the know’, these islands are home to some of the most tranquil and off the beaten trail beaches in the world. And they don’t have to come with a big price tag. I spent one week on Grenada and Carriacou for under £500, and explored all the nooks and crannies of these gorgeous islands away from the package retreats. With the advent of charter flights, destinations like these have become much more accessible but, instead of booking an all inclusive, airlines such as Monarch often sell separate flights from the UK at a cheap rate (ours were £250 return), leaving you with the option of exploring beyond the package tours.
The allure of these islands is evident as soon as you land. You’ll hop into a taxi and drive away from the airport, along open green fields, passing by small shacks painted in bright greens, yellows and pinks, selling everything from cold Carib beers and fried fish, to batteries and spare wheels. The road drips over a hill, opening up onto a panorama over the island, with tiny Georgetown nestled below in an explosion of colour, sparkling water and lush green vegetation.
Laid back Georgetown doesn’t feel like much of a capital city. It’s spread out along a wide bay, and leaks out along the coastline, with white blonde beaches lining the outer road that cruises along the perimeter of the island. It’s dotted with small restaurants, hotels, local businesses and boats moored in the bay.
Where to stay
A great place to stay here is the Lazy Lagoon (473 443 5209; email email@example.com). Self-labelled tropical cottages, these are something special in the budget market, coming in at around $40 a room with a beautiful rustic porch overlooking the lagoon. A row of six brightly-painted clean and colourful rooms with mini kitchenettes are decorated with quirky features and there are also four separate cottages ensconced in the palm-filled garden. The homely atmosphere and refreshing decor is complemented by an inspired bar and restaurant named the Horni Baboon, which draws a nice mix of tourists and locals alike and serves great food, with a weekly Friday barbecue.
Basing yourself here for a couple of days, you’re ideally located to explore the island. The reggae buses (bright shuttles which dip along the coastline to the sounds of island music) are an enjoyable way to see the island’s beaches, and cost around $0.50 per trip. Take one up to Levera Beach for the day, and enjoy the isolated beauty of uninterrupted sands. Or simply cruise your way around the island, hopping on and off the reggae buses as it takes your fancy. If you can, try and make sure you hang around for Fish Fridays, a brilliant outdoor fish market where half the island gathers to chow down on some seriously fresh seafood, which has been fried, grilled and barbecued in local ingredients. If beach-bumming isn’t for you (and let’s face it, sitting in the shade reading horror novels isn’t for everyone), there are also Grenada’s nutmeg plantations, water-sports and some of the best scuba diving in the Caribbean, including the Bianca C, a wreck of Titanic proportions (www.divegrenada.com).
If you’re looking to stay somewhere a little more upmarket try the Laluna, which has 16 stunning cottages from $450 per night. Even if you don’t cosy down in one of their chic bungalows, it’s worth treating yourself to a cocktail at dusk or dinner at their restaurant – if your budget stretches to it. The pumpkin and ginger soup and seafood spaghetti are examples of how Grenada’s delicious local ingredients can be thrown together into an extraordinary culinary mixture. The Calabash Hotel and Villas are also another great upmarket bet.
Once you’re in Grenada, you can’t pass up the opportunity to spend at least a few days on neighbouring island Carriacou. It’s a two-hour boat ride from St. George’s on the Osprey Express, skirting the stunning coast of Grenada, but could belong to another era. Head for Paradise Beach, a long stretch of white sand, dotted by only a few quiet rooms and three wooden shacks, serving cold Carib beer, fried chicken and chips. You’d be hard pushed to spot another person here, and can enjoy long stretches of beach, warm sparkling water and curious sand crabs in complete and total isolation. Over the hill is a bay, where a few upmarket yachts are moored, and a couple of low key, but tasty, Italian restaurants serving classic favourites to tables lit by candlelight, with the waves providing a soothing backdrop. You can also rent a villa here. Island Villas (www.islandvillas.com) has a great selection on Carriacou. A week here, and you’ll wonder how this little gem ever managed to escape your attention.
And to the very end, Grenada manages to be the starting point on which to bar the term "paradise". Once you’ve checked your bags in at the airport, make sure you’ve left at least a couple of hours before your flight to stroll ten minutes down the road to the Aquarium Bar (www.aquarium-grenada.com). This bar is set over two levels, with tables and chairs sitting on the edge of the beach. It is the perfect place to sink a cold drink and watch the sun go down, while a reggae band and a plate of freshly-grilled lobster will provide an enduring memory of the chilled out idyll of Grenada.