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Montserrat

The other Emerald Isle 

A tiny Island – 39 square miles – in the heart of the Caribbean, Montserrat’s rich Irish heritage has earned her the name “Other Emerald Isle”.

Montserrat is located in the Leeward Islands chain, which is home to the famous Soufrière volcano. Active since 1995, the volcano totally destroyed the capital of the island, Plymouth, forcing two-thirds of its population to evacuate the area. With the still-active volcano, the south of the island is considered an exclusion zone, not accessible and non-inhabitable.

But the other part of the island to some extent offsets this reality by its vitality and the richness of its exuberant flora.

A careful look

The Soufrière of course holds irresistible lure… it requires caution, however. The volcano is continually monitored and not accessible. On a clear day, visitors can stop by Garibaldi Hill, Jack Boy Hill or at other designated safe points for a panoramic view of the volcano and perhaps spot a thin plume of steam rising from the crater.

A ghost town

It was even compared to a modern-day Pompeii, minus the fossilized bodies. As the only volcanic-buried city in the Americas, Plymouth, the old capital, offers visitors the rare chance to witness a city frozen in time with its many buildings buried by ash and mudflows and some rooftops only still visible. Bathed in an impressive silence, no birds, no animal sounds around and no mobile phone network available, you really feel like you are in a ghost town.

To access the city, you have to do so through an on-site certified tour operator.

What a concert!

As absent as they are in the buried Plymouth, they are loud in the Centre Hills forest. This ecological zone boasts over 34 species of birds and diverse flora and fauna. Birders and nature enthusiasts will meet the Montserrat Oriole, Brown Trembler, Forest Thrush, Bridled Quail-Dove, Green and Purple-Throated Caribs, Antillean Crested Hummingbird and the sweet whistling call of the Yellow Warbler.

Moreover, should you visit New Beach at Bottomless Ghaut, the dramatic black sand beach, you might have the opportunity to observe the Red-billed Tropicbird and the Caribbean Martin nesting sites.

What a natural world!

Montserrat’s mountainous, lush green vistas, soft hills and deep valleys make hiking a natural activity. The island hosts several trails such as “The Cot” trail that provides visitors the opportunity to drink from the cool spring water at “Runaway Ghaut,” where legend has it that if anyone drinks here, he or she is guaranteed to be drawn to Montserrat repeatedly in their lifetime.

Let’s enjoy the water!

After all, you are on a Caribbean island, which is generally about coral, turquoise water and white sandy beaches! You can be assured you will find all of that in Montserrat. The island’s unspoiled and unpolluted coral reefs are teeming with exotic wildlife, some of which are easily accessible with palms and tubas from the island’s only white sand Rendezvous Beach, near Little Bay.

It is also possible to relax for a picnic at Bottomless Ghaut beach, the new dramatic black sand beach entirely created by volcanic activity. Why not try both, for the contrast?

A different type of stay

Montserrat boasts the serenity that results from the lack of mega-resorts and no fast-food chain restaurants.

The island offers small villas, apartments, guesthouses and B&Bs. Here the hospitality is based on hearty welcome and personalized service without a high-price tag.

For example, at Baker Hill, a charming 17th century sugar mill converted into a B&B, the Old Sugar Mill, you can stay in one of their 12 rooms for rates starting at USD $55 per night, breakfast included.

Should you be looking for more intimacy, your own housekeeper, a pool exclusively for you, Wi-Fi, sheltered in the hills, Olveston and Woodlands offer a vast choice of villas. Maybe a little more expensive, but with panoramic views and proximity to the beach…

You can also taste local delicacies and sumptuous island-style cuisine, and may even stumble upon a special gathering serving goat water, a tasty stew cooked on a wood fire, the national dish of the island.

Let’s discover this little-known vacation hideaway!

You can arrive via Antigua. A 20-minute flight then takes you to Montserrat, or you can choose to board a ferry for a 90-minute ride.

Research and writing: Christiane Théberge

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

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