Cigar smoking in luxury in the Caribbean.
The fit and hardy can grunt their way to the top of Nevis Peak, the cloud-enshrouded dormant volcano that hovers like a 3,232-foot talisman over the landscape.
But after days of travel and blazing sun I found a better vantage point for its contemplation in the open-air foyer of the Four Seasons on Nevis. I was also contemplating the confluence of pineapple juice, nutmeg and spices I was sipping as the tropical breezes flowed through. Rum punch is ubiquitous on Nevis, but here at the resort's plantation-style lobby with its high wood-beamed ceiling, the surroundings added their own intoxicating romantic mood, complete with the soundtrack of a symphony of tree frogs and a lantern-like full moon.
I emerged from the spell when our dining companions, Thomas and Tara, joined Flo and I, and we put ourselves into the capable hands of chef Mert Seran and sommelier Filippo Radrizzani in the most formal of the resort's four restaurants, The Dining Room, where casual elegance (comfortable collared shirt, long pants and closed-toed shoes for men; sundress, skirt or pants, and open-toe footwear for women) matches excellent service with appealing decor: large squares of parquet mahogany flooring, an open-beamed wood ceiling, a fireplace at one end of the room. White-metal filigreed wall lighting fixtures and similarly designed large chandeliers cast a soft lighting, with three walls encased by wood and glass shutters that allow for open-air views of the beach and ocean.
The tag-team pair worked us over with consummate skill in the food and wine selections, striking the opening notes with a glass of Veuve Cliquot yellow label Champagne alongside a local goat cheese mousse in a crispy parmesan basket.
Then the hits just kept coming -- prosciutto-wrapped diver sea scallops with sautéed spinach and roasted tomato sauce accompanied by a 2004 Santa Digna, Cabernet Rose; a pan-seared mallard duck foie gras with toasted brioche, quince chutney, walnut greens and 1990 Château Rabaud-Promis Sauternes.
Seran and Radrizzani took mercy on us for an interlude with a lime-grape sorbet. The crescendo that followed didn't skip a beat: a pink guava-poached Caribbean spiny lobster tail with green tea-scented rice, bok choy and Thai herb sauce was paired with a 2003 Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux. And for the meat dish, a melt-in-your-mouth, sun-dried tomato-crusted lamb loin with a cumin-carrot mash and grilled vegetable bundle. The inspired complement was a 2001 Gaja, Pieve Santa Restituita, Sugarille.
A warm pear mille-feuille with vanilla sabayon, ginger ice cream and a 2004 Elena Walch, Moscato Rosa, put the finishing touches on a meal that was like a vigorous yet graceful pas de deux. I was under my second spell of the evening.
The third arrived after moseying to the Library Bar and diving into its humidor, replete with Montecristo No. 2 ($20) and Edmundo ($10); Cohiba Esplendido ($30), Robusto ($20) and Siglo VI ($30); Partagas Lusitania ($25); Romeo y Julieta Churchill ($19) plus several other Cubans, as well as a broad range of Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series cigars, including the Diplomatico Maduro ($16).
I chose a Siglo VI, and Thomas a Lusitania. The clean, smooth draw produced an aroma from the Cubans that blended with the moist, sweet night air, as did the obbligato glass of island rum. We consumed both as the full moon rose over the sea. The drink, cigar, open-air lounge, warm tropical night breeze and synchronized sweet tree frog harmony was a multisensory delight and a perfect nightcap.
Nevis attracts an eclectic, affluent collection of guests and expatriate residents, adding informative and engaging conversation to the myriad activities of island life -- sailing, snorkeling, dining, drinking, sunning, swimming, playing golf; watching vervet monkeys, mongoose, tropical birds and nesting sea turtles; or, naturally, enjoying a cigar.
Lacking deepwater harbors, and with a short airport runway, Nevis has maintained a modest population of 11,000 on its 36-mile round island in the Lesser Antilles. It's a safe haven of friendly people, with low-impact development and a limited number of visitors. Offshore banking and tourism are its keys to a healthy economy. The former British colony retains much of its English personality, from driving on the left side of the road, to its provincial laws and demeanor. Almost everyone, everywhere, takes a moment to offer a greeting.
The Four Seasons resort spices up this hypnotic Caribbean blend of sultry seaside, sun and beach with its lush vegetation, mature flowing palms and those masters in the kitchen, ready to weave their spells.
Four Seasons Resort
Charlestown, Nevis, West Indies
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