It's always a plus to have a husband with whom you agree most of the time, but after the stress of dealing with all the myriad details of our wedding, there were few things we were more determinedly in sync on than our choice of where to go on our honeymoon. Sure, we had heard of newly married couples jetting off to places like Patagonia, to hike, boat, ride horses, and generally race Father Time around the mountains. Then there are those who plot out a week or so of art and erudition in old-world cities like Rome or Florence. Even that felt too frenetic. What we wanted for our honeymoon was the tropical-island equivalent of sitting on your front porch in a rocking chair meditating on a blade of grass--a vastly underrated pastime, in our opinion.
Our vision of an island paradise had nothing in common with the soulless cookie-cutter Sandals variety, however. No, we wanted an unvarnished, unstructured Caribbean island experience, a place where we could really be alone, go barefoot and get nut-brown from the tropical sun, and spoon with little but the music of the surf and wind in our ears.
At the same time we wanted some degree of pampering--this was our honeymoon, after all, and we wanted to get away from it all with style, with good food and drink and a nice place to bunk. After weeks of searching through Frommer's guides and surfing the Internet, we zeroed in on the tiny island resort of Petit St. Vincent, one in the chain of islands known as the Grenadines in the southernmost Caribbean. Just 22 cottages on a 113-acre private island resort that one guidebook called perhaps "the most secluded, most private of the Caribbean luxury hideaways." Bingo!
To get to Petit (pronounced petty) St. Vincent, we flew to Barbados and then boarded a 6-seater puddle jumper for the hour-long trip to Union Island. Union Island has a tiny little airport with a finger of a runway that makes few concessions for horseplay at the wheel. The plane landed without a hitch, as it does several times a day, and the hum of the engines sent several baby goats scuttling up the green volcanic hills. From Union Island, we were boarded on a 40-foot motorboat for the 25-minute ride to Petit St. Vincent over rolling seas. On board was the other honeymooning couple who had flown with us from Barbados, and in no time at all we found ourselves in a take-no-prisoners cuddling competition. In fact, it would turn out that more than half of the guests on the island that week were newlyweds, there from all over the country.
On Petit St. Vincent, we were greeted with a cold rum punch brought to us by a smiling gentleman who pulled up to the dock in a mini moke--the ubiquitous golf carts that do the work of cars--and sometimes feet--on the island. The mini mokes are an essential part of the Petit St. Vincent id. Say you just don't feel like taking the quarter-mile (if that) hike to the dining room from your cottage in the morning. Simply scribble down whatever it is you want for breakfast, stuff the note in your cottage's little mailbox and hoist the flag. If you're feeling really decadent, you can do this wherever you find a flag on the island. We were sunning on a remote beach when we developed a thirst for a couple of rum punches. Up went the flag, and 20 minutes later a mini moke pulled up in the sand and delivered two icy drinks. Okay, if truth be told, we always felt a little sheepish having someone go to the trouble of carrying a couple of drinks halfway across the (admittedly not very big) island. But it's a nifty selling point.
Our "cottage" was one of 22 structures built for guests on the island, and each is spacious (three rooms or so to putter about), beautifully conceived and utterly private. Ours was high up on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic side of the island. A dark green necklace of coral reef--and its attendant population of aquatic beauties--rimmed the surf. In the morning, we grabbed snorkels and fins and rushed down to the water to play, just the two of us alone in the luminous sea.
In fact, it was rare to see a soul along our stretch of beach. That is, until the dogs would make their late-afternoon constitutional. Seven resident yellow labs have the run of Petit St. Vincent (as well they should; they belong to the island's owners). This pack of sun-kissed blondes makes quite a picture as the dogs skip along the foamy surf of the Atlantic, loll about in the placid Caribbean and take midday siestas in a giant sandbox next the restaurant. You'll see a few hitching rides on the mini mokes from one swimming hole to another. Try to get a rise out of one of them lazing about in the high-noon heat--even the frisky babies give you the fish-eye.
Creamy white boats of the leisure-class cruising variety put anchor here, where its occupants tuck in for days of snorkeling the clear green waters and wining and dining the barefoot Petit St. Vincent way. And dine they do: Lunches are full buffets, with hams, boiled shrimp, cool soups, salads and fresh fruit. Dinners are elaborate multicourse meals, offering fresh local seafood and meat flown in from the owners' favorite Boston butcher. You dine in the open-air restaurant or on the patio, where long-beaked birds make kamikaze dives to retrieve a fallen crumb.
We were blissfully alone in our cottage high above the sea, but we were never really alone. Birds almost sat in our laps at breakfast time, waiting for us to look away so that they could plunge a beak into the pot of sweet jam. A black-and-yellow bananaquit swung merrily from curtain to curtain. Lizards resided in the cool, wet confines of the bathroom's stoney crevices. A giant Petit St. Vincent stone crab came out of his sandhole on a moonlit night to woo a sweetheart (we dined on the meat of a relative the next day). In fact, much of the food is local; every week, boatloads of fresh mangos, papayas, tomatoes and cabbage arrive from the fertile volcanic soil of the island of St. Vincent. The mangos and papayas are there in the morning for breakfast, and in the late afternoon they reappear as fresh fruit daiquiris.
Petit St. Vincent is determinedly out of touch. Cottages have no phones; there are no newspapers or TVs, and our one connection with the outside world was a little radio that played reggae music and broadcast cricket matches (the islanders are mad for the sport). As idyllic as it all can be, you may want to take a day trip off the island--or at least to find a grocery where you can buy some basics (like soft drinks, snacks, beer and rum) to avoid paying the inflated minibar prices on PSV (yes, even idyllic island retreats make you pay through the nose for minibar items). So that's largely why we took a boat ride to the island of Carriacou--but we found it a worthy trip for many other reasons. Known as "Coo-coo" to the locals, Carriacou is largely unmarked by tourism; it's a colorful, bustling place of boatbuilders, islanders and resident goats. For the traveler, it's a real find: you can rent a lovely gingerbread-style house on a vine-tangled bluff complete with with Caribbean views and breezes, at astonishingly low weekly rates. It's as far away from trendy Mustique as any sister island could be. The sturdy wooden boats built on Carriacou have a worldwide reputation; Scottish colonizers brought their craft across the Atlantic passing it on to descendants and native peoples alike. Carriacou's boats are distinctly Caribbean, however--they're painted in bright island colors. You'll have no trouble recognizing a Carriacou-built boat as it sails the waves.
The nice thing about visiting the Grenadines in the summer is that the off-season is relatively uncrowded, and the rates are at their lowest. The trickiest aspect is the weather. The heat's not a big problem; you've still got those luscious island breezes to keep you cool. But beginning in July, tropical waves--the harbinger of the wet season--sweep torrential wind and downpours across the Caribbean; you can literally see a wave as it muscles its way over the islands. (That kind of unpredictable weather can pose a problem if you take a dive trip to nearbyTobago Cays, which offers some of the most superb snorkeling in the world.)
As one guidebook writer admitted, Petit St. Vincent is not everyone's cup of tea. It has few planned activities. You won't get a morning paper, although it does have a nice lending library, and you can't watch TV, though the radio did pull in some toe-tapping calypso from a nearby Trinidad station. As comfortable as the cottages are, you're still exposed to the elements much of the time--it's you, the wind, the sea and the tropical sun. But for us, it was perfect. On the last night of our honeymoon, we dined outdoors at a big table at the top of a hill with several other newlywed couples, torches burning and the lights of the anchorage below playing on the water. We drank wine and ate island crab and fresh-picked papaya. We were barefoot and nut-brown and surrounded by the calls and rustlings of wild things in the island bush. It was just right.
Petit St. Vincent Resort--For reservations call tel. 800/654-9326 or 513/242-1333; fax: 784/458-8428; or go online to www.psvresort.com. Rates: $910 Full American Plan (all meals included) (Dec 21-March 15), children 6-16 $170, children under 6 $65; service charge 10%; off-season 35% less. Shared-seat charter from Barbados: $120 each way per passenger (PSV will arrange in advance). AE, MC, V. Amenities: Snorkeling, Sunfish sailing, Hobie Cats, windsurfing, tennis courts, and fitness trail. Water skiing, scuba diving, and day trips to Tobago Cays and Carriacou cost extra.