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The view from St. Hilaire Point (Photograph by Jeanine Barone)

Island Paradise: The Best of Bequia

Goats roam freely among the headstones in a small cemetery. The owner relies on them to trim the grass.

Nearby, at the Fig Tree, an informal, harbor-front restaurant, “Miss J,” the proprietor, can be found trimming the hedges, warmly greeting passing schoolchildren, or leading a weekend reading club for youngsters. (Every morning, she can be heard on “Cruiser’s Net,” a VHS marine radio program updating cruisers who found a dinghy, where to purchase sail ties, and whether to expect gale force winds.)

A drive away, in the middle of a steep one-lane road, motorists think nothing of giving a wide berth to a dog curled up in the middle of the asphalt.

Welcome to Bequia, a seven-square-mile island where being in a hurry is met with puzzled looks–and a sense of community prevails.

As part of the necklace of isles making up St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Bequia welcomes visitors at Port Elizabeth where they find a landscape worthy of a watercolor painting.

Catamarans and single-hull sailing vessels speckle Admiralty Bay, whose shelter has long attracted buccaneers and explorers alike, while pastel-hued houses decorate the lower slopes of the foliage coated hills that spill down to the coast. The islanders hold fast to their traditions: boat building, fishing, and hunting humpback whales using 100-year-old methods.

Authentic Eats

In Paget Farm, a village on the south shore that revolves around fishing, the men head out at 3 a.m., returning with dorado, mahi mahi and tuna six hours later. Their boldly painted wood motorboats rest on ramps, including the one beside Toko’s Step Down Bar, an ultra-casual waterside cafe that fishermen and whalers frequent.

A mound of shells rises next to a stone breakwater, indicating the conch crawl where fishermen pull out these mollusks for the menu. Or, rather, the menu that isn’t. For the chef, Toko, everything is sea-to-table here, made with whatever the fishermen catch, whether it’s a pickled soup called conch souse, or minced whale prepared with sweet potato, sweet peppers, onion, garlic, and lime juice.

The chef and owner of Fernando’s Hideaway is a fisherman himself, catching everything he serves. Formerly a cook on a cargo ship, Fernando Morgan now manages this popular open-air eatery flanked by mango trees, where the only sounds are the chirping of tree frogs.

On each table, a small bag of flour doubles as a candle holder, and overhead hanging buoys and marine ropes round out the simple decor. The waitress describes what Fernando has whipped up for the evening: lentil pumpkin soup; baked snapper served with pumpkin fritters and curried eggplant; chicken with pineapple; and brownies made with ginger, butterscotch, and coconut for dessert. It’s clean-your-plate good.

Dinghies pull right up to the dock of the Devil’s Table in Port Elizabeth, where skulls draped with bandanas are part of a pervasive pirate theme, for the grilled mahi mahi with cilantro ginger butter and other specials. Most of the tables are built into a rock grotto of sorts while the most idyllic, and romantic, seating by far is the single table perched by itself in a gazebo above the water.

A dreamy night’s sleep is steps away at the Devil’s Nest, the property’s five-room inn with postcard perfect views that don’t come with a premium price (nightly rates start at $60) Each of the simply-furnished rooms, named for Jack Sparrow and other pirates, look out on this turquoise-sea paradise.

Picturesque Picnics

Scenic views are abundant on this frangipani and bougainvillea coated island. Whether walking along the beach (at low tide) or the asphalt roads, you’ll reach the slopes of breezy St. Hilaire Point, a mostly grassy hilltop expanse that makes for an ideal picnic spot.

In the distance, the islands of Petit Nevis, Pigeon Island, and Ile de Quatre together resemble the profile of a whale. Far below, the rough Atlantic tumbles onto the shore.

Another prime picnic site is even more likely to be overlooked. Driving along Upper Pea Patch Road, where the palatial homes of elite foreigners are sheltered behind tall walls, your only cue to pull over is a green sign for “Spring View.”

This newly landscaped viewpoint provides some of the best panoramic views of St. Vincent and the knob-shaped Bequia Head, all from the comfort of stools, well-placed logs, benches, and even a sheltered table bearing a chess/checker board.

On the south side of the island, Ravine Bay Beach never attracts more than a handful of people because of the difficult access, requiring off road driving or, preferably, hiking. A steep, rock and boulder ridden path courses from the 720-foot-high summit of Mount Pleasant.

When the foliage bordering the road thins, in the distance, the mounds of myriad isles and islands: Battowia, Balliceaux, Canouan, and Mustique, spread across the Atlantic. The ramble ends in a desolate strip of sand backed by palms, white cedar and almond trees. Roiling waves can be heard before you ever see the boiling seas crashing on this wide beach of dark sand. Another perfect spot to break out the picnic fixings.

Jeanine Barone is a freelance travel and food writer who writes for National Geographic Traveler and other publications. Keep up with her on Twitter @JCreatureTravel and on her blog

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