The Hermitage

Frangipani breezes, volcano view

The Good Life     Photo: Timothy O'Keffe/Index Stock

THE SOUNDTRACK TO NEVIS, a volcanic bit of emerald-green pointing skyward in the West Indies, lacks a badass steel-drum reggae riff. Nevis, blessedly, is not that Caribbean. Its rhythms require closer attention: nocturnal, chirping bell frogs and murmuring trade winds that rustle the coconut palms and spread the sweetness of frangipani across 50 square miles of overgrown hills and dignified former sugarcane plantations. The most charming of these mansions, the Hermitage, is perched 800 feet above sea level on the southern flanks of dormant-for-now 3,232-foot Nevis Peak. The 15 gingerbread cottages and 340-year-old British colonial lodge are embellished with pastel-shuttered windows and four-poster canopy beds. Despite this dollhouse decor, you won't feel embarrassed to take your lunch of grilled-flying-fish salad on the veranda after a muddy five-hour hike up the volcano. Just hose yourself off in the front yard first. The Good Life // Amiable American transplants Richard and Maureen Lupinacci bought the Hermitage 33 years ago. Its Great House, reputed to be the oldest wooden building in the Caribbean, is where guests dine by candlelight or sidle over to the bar for rum punch at cocktail hour. (The free-flowing mixture of dark Cavalier rum, syrup, lemon juice, and a dash of cinnamon is part of why the refined Hermitage vibe never crosses over into stuffiness.) Most of the cottages are restored originals—whitewashed, light-filled retreats furnished with regional antiques. All have hammock-equipped balconies for horizontal views of Nevis Peak and the white clouds that usually shroud its summit. The three-acre grounds are dotted with citrus, mango, and cashew trees, and have two pools and a tennis court.

Jaw Dropper // Roam trails crisscrossing the Gingerland District on one of the lodge's 16 thoroughbreds, or charge up Saddle Hill to an old lookout used by British admiral Horatio Nelson in the 1780s.

Sports on-Site // Explore the terraced gardens of lilies, ginger, and hibiscus or take the ten-minute shuttle to four-mile Pinney's Beach, the loveliest of Nevis's sandy stretches. Just a quarter-mile from the inn is the trailhead for the mile-long climb to the summit of Nevis Peak (contact Top to Bottom; $35 per person; 869-469-9080).

Beyond the Sand // A wild donkey—an odd trail obstacle—brayed his displeasure as I pedaled the sea-grape-lined singletrack of Tower Hill. Windsurf 'n' Mountain Bike Nevis (869-469-9682, www.windsurfingnevis.com, www.mountainbikenevis.com) offers half-day rides from $40, including use of a Trek front-suspension bike. At Oualie Beach, on the island's northwestern coast, let marine biologist Barbara Whitman introduce you to four-eyed butterfly fish, goat fish, flame coral, and pink sea anemones. Under the Sea (869-469-1291, www.undertheseanevis.com) charges $40 for a three-hour snorkel, including gear.

The Fine Print // American Airlines (800-433-7300, www.aa.com) is the only major U.S. carrier serving Nevis. The daily flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico, takes an hour and 15 minutes (round-trip airfare from New York City costs about $725; from Denver, about $980). From December 15 to April 15, rates at the Hermitage (800-682-4025, www.hermitagenevis.com) start at $325 for a double, including a full breakfast (low-season rates from $170).

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