“Can you see the mermaid?” asks a young man called Chris, before, quick as a fish, he dives down three, four, five or more metres to the bottom of the sparkling Caribbean sea to point out the lady in question. She’s lying on her side on the seabed and looks like she’s lived there forever.
We’re snorkelling at the Grenada Underwater Sculpture Park , where several works, some as much as 100 metres apart and not that easy to spot unless you know where to look, are waiting to be discovered. They include carvings of a man working on a typewriter at a desk, a nutmeg seller, and, perhaps the most powerful work, Vicissitudes, a circle of life-sized figures of children holding hands and facing outwards. I dive as deep as I can but can’t quite get close enough for a face-to-face look. Maybe next time (and this really is an island that compels you to plan a “next time”) with the aid of some Scuba gear.
We’ve reached the sculpture park on the Savvy, a boat that belons to the Mount Cinnamon hotel, a paradise on this beautiful island of tropical fruit, spices, divine beaches and down-to-earth people. In the eastern Caribbean, it’s a nine-hour flight from the UK, and surprisingly close to Venezuela.
Mount Cinnamon’s an unusual, super-luxurious and very special place to stay. There’s a weekly reception by the pool – beside the airy, open-plan restaurant area – at which you get to know the staff, and they all remember your name and treat you as an old friend throughout your stay. (For example, when I was feeling unwell at one point, the gardener brought me a couple of coconuts and the housekeeper delivered some ginger powder as if I was part of their family.)
The accommodation is largely composed of whitewashed two-bedroom villas with views of the sea, the port of St George’s (where the enormous cruise liners dock) and lush, green mountains. My villa had a large sitting room and kitchen (fully stocked with everything you might need for self-catering), two shower rooms and, most importantly, two verandahs, both with “I could stare out here forever” views. It’s on the south-west coast of the island, less than 15 minutes’ drive from the airport, and set in a large area of landscaped gardens brimming with tropical plants and trees and home to hundreds of interesting birds; I was thrilled to spot a few humming birds, even if they were too speedy and magical for me to take a snap. At night the evocative sound of crickets pierces the hot air.
Because it’s on the edge of a small mountain there’s a fairly steep walk down to the beach – the exquisite Grand Anse – but the hotel has a golf buggy, which helps with some of the journey if you’ve done as the Romans do and sampled a bit too much rum.
Savvy’s, the restaurant there, serves a good mix of Caribbean and international dishes, as well as the catch of the day, which might be anything from barracuda to lobster. On Friday nights they have a bonfire with traditional dancing. The beach itself is exactly as you’d hope – powdery white sand and twinkly, clear, blue water that’s calm and warm all year round. It really is exquisite.
But there’s so much more to do on this colourful island than beach-related pleasures. It’s small enough to drive around in about four hours (while car hire is straightforward, navigation can be a bit tricky so I’d definitely recommend you hire a guide instead), and the further uphill you go, the deeper you get into lush, tropical terrain. Bear in mind that if the weather forecast warns of rain, it’s probably referring to the inland climate, rather than the beach area.
Up in the hills we saw pineapples, bananas, coconuts and other delicious treats growing beside the road, but beware – just because they’re not on fenced-off land, it doesn’t mean they aren’t the property of a farmer. Incidentally, it’s not unusual to see men strolling along in these areas carrying machetes. Don’t panic – they’re farm workers.
There are some picturesque waterfalls worth visiting, such as Concord, and you can take a dip if the humidity gets to you and you don’t mind being observed by curious vendors.
Another inland spot that you should check out is the Belmont Estate, a 17th-century sugar plantation that has evolved into a beautiful agro-tourism centre where you can indulge in a marvellous lunch made from produce grown right there, and then learn about how cocoa beans are turned into chocolate – and even better, sample the finished product.
Grenada’s biggest export is nutmeg, and this intriguing spice features prominently in the island’s tourism industry. We visited the Gouyave nutmeg processing station, where you can watch workers grade and package the spice. Before they reach this point, the fleshy exterior is removed, and used to make other produce, such as the very popular nutmeg jam.
There’s a covered spice market in St George’s, where you can stock up on a decade’s supply of nutmeg, cinnamon, chilli and much more.
We also paid a visit to the River Antoine Rum Distillery, where traditional methods – and some pretty ancient machinery – are still used to produce the spirit. We sampled some that was 70 per cent proof – just sniffing it brings tears to your eyes.
Adventurous types should definitely have a hike to Seven Sisters in the Grand Etang national park – home to monkeys and all manner of birds – to visit the waterfall there and have a go at river-tubing at Mello’s.
Mount Cinnamon can also organise a cooking class at Azzurra Castle, where you can learn how to make the national dish of oil-down, a spicy stew that provides heart-warming comfort to Grenadians.
Some of the bigger islands in the Caribbean might get more attention from tourists, but Grenada is special in that it feels small, safe and relatively unspoilt, and people who live here take great pride in the fact that community really means something here. And wow, what a place to get some sun on your bones when it’s freezing in Scotland.
This article first appeared in Scotland on Sunday on 1 May, 2016.