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Planet Appetite: Unspoilt Caribbean Cool in St. Kitts, Leeward Islands, West Indies

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St. Kitts is one of the smallest of the Caribbean islands but has a huge amount to offer, including palm fringed beaches and volcano hiking.

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"Focus on the trail, guys" says O'Neil Mulraine who is guiding us to the top of the dormant volcano, Mount Liamiuga, or Mount Misery as it used to be called. I can see how it gets its name, as O'Neil pushes us on though the rain forest, climbing up through 2000 feet. He tells us stories of women "carrying a little weight" who weren't able to make it and, indeed, we meet a few cruise ship refugees on the way up, who've decided that they can't go any further. After a couple of hours, I'm staring down into the sulphurous lake, perched on the crater's rim, and decide the effort has been worthwhile.

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St. Kitts is part of the Leeward Islands in the West Indies which also includes Antigua, Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Nevis, Anguilla and Dominica.

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It's not exactly large, with a population of around 48,000, and it's a short 32 mile drive round the island. The neighbouring island of Nevis, even smaller, also forms part of the Federation and they both gained their independence from the British in 1983. Sugar ceased to be grown here in 2005 and it's now tourism which is the main source of income.

Tourism
Surprisingly, apart from cruise ships which dock in Basseterre, and only stay for the day, the island seems largely untouched by tourists. True, the area around Frigate Bay has a large Marriott Resort, but it's the only branded hotel on the island.

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Timothy Beach is good value and faces the Caribbean but perhaps the most refined accommodation is found at Ottley's Plantation Inn. Situated in 35 unspoilt acres, sprawling across the hillside, this restored 18th century sugar plantation gives you a sublime glimpse of colonial style.

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Kittitians are a laid back bunch, and even in the capital, there's nobody asking you for money or hustling you to buy things.

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Photogenic pastel coloured rickety shacks, with tin roofs, dot the countryside and you're never far from a beach bar where you can sample a Ting with a Sting - fizzy grapefruit juice with a dash of rum. I must say that I feel completely safe wherever I go.

Scenic Railway

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One way to get an overview of the island is to take the St. Kitts Scenic Railway. This narrow gauge line, the only one in the Caribbean, was built to transport sugar cane between 1912 and 1926. It's now been restored with carriages from Seattle and, ironically, an engine from Poland, originally used to move sugar beet. It doesn't yet make a complete circuit, but a coach, or catamaran takes you round the rest. Of course, no trip would be complete without refreshments on board, usually containing rum, and there's a memorable three strong Acappella group who serenade you singing "St. Kitts Scenic Railway - going to have a blast!"

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Brimstone Hill
In an early part of its history, St. Kitts was divided between great rivals, the French and British. Some say that monkeys were introduced by the French to plunder the British market gardens and the Brit response was to build a fortress on Brimstone Hill to fire on their neighbours.

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In its heyday, it was known as the "Gibraltar of the West Indies" and it's now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a monument to the ingenuity of the engineers who designed it and the strength and endurance of the African slaves who built it. It's all been immaculately restored and there are stunning views across the Caribbean to the Dutch islands of Saba and Statia.

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Sunday
It's not exactly a tourist attraction, but Sunday on St. Kitts is taken very seriously indeed. I don't normally go to church, but I can't resist an invite to the People's Evangelical Church in Needs Must, on the outskirts of Basseterre.

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My friend tells me that it's a "happy clappy" service and I can't disagree. Drum, bass and organ provides accompaniment for the singing with the words displayed on large screen. We're made especially welcome so there's no excuse not to join in, although I decide not to get involved in the dancing. The sermon is titled "Functioning Against the Odds", a quality that might be more useful in London than in this beautiful island.

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Spice Mill has good food and great sea views.

Shiggidy Shack is at Frigate Bay and has live music.

Reggae Beach Bar is good, but best avoided when the cruise ships are in.

Marshalls is the place for fine dining
Bombay Blues is a surprisingly good Indian restaurant.

Ballahoo Restaurant is a reliable establishment in the centre of Basseterre.

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St. Kitts Tourism has more information and follow them on Facebook. Facebook.com/StKittsTourism

British Airways flies direct via Antigua from London Gatwick twice a week, on Tuesday and Saturday.

All pictures copyright Rupert Parker.