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(2012 - Fall/Winter Issue)


It seems appropriate to me that while my companions haggle over diamond jewellery on Charlotte Amalie’s Dronningens Gade (a.k.a. Main Street), down a cobblestoned alley from a harbour decorated by mega yachts, I’m distracted by the tones of flutes and the rat-a-tat-tat echoes of snare drums swirling among liquor shops and cigar stores housed in historic buildings boasting yellow ballast brick and faded wooden storm shutters.

Appropriate that my friends shop: Charlotte Amalie is one of the Caribbean’s chief duty-free ports. More appropriate that I’m lured astray by a high school marching band—escorting a motley if enthusiastic parade toward Emancipation Park.

Named After a Song

For long before I’ve ventured onto the diva of this harmonious trio called the USVI, I knew St. Thomas chiefly as the title of a jazz standard composed by Sonny Rollins. The tune’s undeniably calypso, but it’s got an energetic, sophisticated vibe. Just like St. Thomas.

Occasional examples of Danish architecture, such as hipped roofs and arched galleries, lend a surreal cosmopolitan quality to Charlotte Amalie. The United States purchased the archipelago in 1917 from Denmark.

Charlotte Amalie boasts a 17th-century fort here and Frenchtown, with a small but fascinating museum highlighting the contributions of French ex-pats from St. Barth’s. Downright cosmopolitan.

And sophisticated. After sundown head to Red Hook to an infamous nightclub called Duffy’s Love Shack. Dine at Old Stone Farmhouse, a gourmet restaurant housed in an 18th-century stable where guests are invited to the kitchen to choose their own cut of meat. 

Maybe Rollins should add another verse, mention this restaurant and the wealth of hotels, beaches and cool excursions.

Sugar Bay Resort and Spa is a coral-painted, horseshoe-shaped complex high above Water Bay. The recently-renovated Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort offers scintillating night views of Charlotte Amalie, while the Ritz-Carlton boasts luxury accommodation and a beachside infinity pool with gorgeous views of St. John.

But you don’t have to go luxe. Bolongo Bay Beach Resort reminds you of pre-box-hotel Negril.

Venture to Coral World and learn to SNUBA, sun on Magens Bay, ride the St. Thomas Skyride to Paradise Point and be mesmerized by the views of both the colonial town and the Caribbean.

But watch out for their world-famous Bushwackers. Overindulge and you might be humming along with Rollins. And planning your next visit.

Pastoral Symphony

Might find yourself singing Home on the Range over on St. John. For this is where the deer and the donkeys roam—defining characteristics of this island that plays like a pastoral symphony.

The deer were brought from the States in the 1790s to create a sort of hunters’ paradise. The donkeys came to work the sugar plantations. Because more than 50 per cent of St. John is a national park, both species have flourished.

Both the park itself and a gorgeous resort called Caneel Bay (Brangelina once spent New Year’s here with the family) come courtesy of Laurance Rockefeller. The resort, boasting seven beaches, was once his estate; much of the park land was donated by him.

The park is the highlight of this lush, verdant and mountainous island. Drive the tree-shaded roads and discover the ruins of Annaberg Sugar Plantation. Snorkel along a marked underwater trail at Trunk Bay, rated one of the top 10 U.S. beaches. Find your own perfect and secluded beach.

Stroll a quirky village called Cruz Bay, shopping at pastel-painted establishments, or have a Cruzan Rum at a beach bar six metres from wooden fishing boats reclining on a white beach.

Dine at Le Château de Bordeaux, boasting views of the western British Virgin Islands; the nearest one inspired Treasure Island.

Get up in the morning and be serenaded by more than 50 species of tropical birds. It is a veritable pastoral symphony.

Caribbean Rhapsody

We rise at dawn on our first day on St. Croix, the third member of this melodious trio.

We watch a perfect sunrise at Point Udall. Here I hum a different tune—The Star-Spangled Banner. For by the dawn’s early light we watch white-foamed surf attack sculptures of volcanic rock, here where the sun first makes landfall in the Caribbean United States.

But as our island tour continues the melody in my head is transformed to a dynamic, ever-changing rhapsody.

We climb a steep rainforest trail to a lighthouse 300 metres above the sea. We dine in a vegetarian gourmet’s delight in Fredericksted—hard by a 17th-century fort painted cherry red, we stroll a street boasting gems of architecture, Danish and French and English.

We tour Ridge to Reef, an organic sustainable farm that could hold its head high in Costa Rica; we book a glass-bottom sea kayak tour with Sea Thru Kayaks and glide through a mangrove swamp then over a reef.

We board a 13-metre catamaran with Jolly Roger Charters and beat east toward Buck Island Reef National Monument. We don our masks and chase reef fish at one of the Caribbean’s best snorkel spots. We baste on ivory sand before casting off and plowing into rum punch powered by Cruzan Rum (they make it right here and offer tours of the distillery) as the hills of St. Croix grow closer and the lemon-coloured fort at Christiansted flows past our port beam.

The wind flaps in the sails, waves hiss against the hull.

Those sounds comprise the last triumphant cadences of a thrilling rhapsody—a fitting anthem to a harmonious Caribbean trio. 

Home of the Bushwacker

One of the best views of St. Thomas and nearby St. John comes courtesy of the Skyride and the promontory called Paradise Point. One of the most dangerous drinks in the Caribbean comes from the same establishment. This is said to serve four but feel free to use your discretion:

•  2 oz. dark rum

•  6 oz. Bailey’s

•  4 oz. amaretto

•  4 oz. Kahlúa

•  2 oz. vodka

•  4 oz. dark crème de cocao

Blend with crushed ice, top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg.

Travel Planner

Under a code-share agreement with American Airlines, WestJet (westjet.com) offers daily flights from Toronto to St. Thomas via Miami.

St. John is a quick ferry ride from St. Thomas with hourly ferries from Red Hook, or you can book a commuter flight via seaplane to St. Croix (seaborneairlines.com), the largest in the archipelago.

For more information on this archipelago of more than 50 islands—St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix are the chief population centres—log onto visitusvi.com.

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