- After 32 islands, I've found my Caribbean champion:
3 June 2017
Bequia is my favourite island in the Caribbean – and that’s saying something as, over the years, I’ve visited 32 of them. One of Bequia’s many attractions is that it always feels like the West Indies in the olden days, with real West Indians going quietly and calmly about their real West Indian lives.
It’s a small island, about five miles long, and with only 5,000 inhabitants, but it feels bigger thanks to its winding roads, hidden tracks, wooded hills, marvellous beaches and a spectacular harbour filled with yachts.
But blow me, on my latest visit, I discovered two new arrivals, straight from the modern world, which I never expected to see popping up on sleepy old Bequia. But before I reveal what they are, let me tell you a little about how I spent my trip there.
As usual, I divided my time between both sides of the island – staying first on Lower Bay, which is the Caribbean side, and then Friendship Bay, which is technically on the Atlantic.
All Caribbean islands have this division, with the Atlantic side considered wilder, but the differences are slight and both have their devotees.
On Lower Bay I stayed at Keegan’s. It’s a sort of hotch-potch guest house with bargain prices and friendly staff, and it has a tradition of screening films in a makeshift outdoor cinema, so it is very popular.
I have never stayed before, though I have eaten there over the past 20 years and watched many of their films.
Watching a movie there is always a good laugh. They show it on a screen on a wall of the main building. You sit across the road in their beach bar, while eating and drinking.
It always turns out to be action-packed, even when they are showing some soppy love story – cars will suddenly pass in front of you at vital moments and you think: ‘Hey up, has Keegan’s got the first 3D screen in the Caribbean?’
Some 38 years ago, the premises were just a little shop. The owner then, McVille John, was a sailor who was away at sea a lot, and his wife ran the place. Then they added four rooms and started letting them out.
On Lower Bay I stayed at Keegan’s, a sort of hotch-potch guest house with bargain prices and friendly staff
The name does originate from the one and only Kevin Keegan. While in various English ports in the 1980s, McVille heard people raving about Kevin Keegan, so on his return decided to name his next son – and the hotel – after him.
They went on to have five children in all, and one of them – christened McSmith John, though known as Messenjah – runs the family guest house today. It now has 14 rooms on the original site, plus three cottages.
I later moved over the island to the ever-so-luxurious, 56-bedroom Bequia Beach Hotel.
It was created five years ago by its owner, a Swedish man called Bengt Mortstedt who fell in love with Bequia and decided that what it needed was a classy hotel.
His family are big in property in London, but he trained as a lawyer and had no experience of hotels, until he built his own.
Which brings me to the first of the two surprising new arrivals on the island. Not content with the challenge of running a hotel for the first time, Bengt also decided to buy his own aeroplane.
On the side he has painted ‘Bequia Air’, which has led to a mickey-taking local rap record on the larger island of St Vincent, where they have been amused by the idea of their titchy little sister island having its own airline.
Bengt bought the aircraft online, without seeing it, for about $1 million. He then spent a small fortune refurbishing it. One of the problems Bequia has is that you can’t get there direct from the UK or North America. Brits have to change planes in Barbados, where they are often forced to stay overnight.
Bengt thought if had his own plane, he could help his own guests to get quickly to his hotel. Calling his plane Bequia Air means he will be able to offer trips from London to Bequia with the slogan ‘All the way on BA’.
Let’s hope British Airways’ po-faced lawyers don’t object!
It is only a nine-seater, but after endless negotiations with five different countries and authorities, it is now fit and registered to fly. A new company has been set up to run the service, One Caribbean, which hopes eventually to acquire further aircraft.
When I heard the news, I immediately offered Bengt my services as editor of its in-flight magazine.
The other new arrival can be seen on the waterfront at Port Elizabeth, Bequia’s capital – the swish offices of Sotheby’s. I blinked when I saw it, wondering if I had strayed into Bond Street.
It is the auction house’s international real estate wing, and inside I found details of million-pound-plus luxury villas, many of them owned by Brits.
They had 28 houses for sale when I went in, but had yet to sell one. The people who run it, husband and wife Pierre and Michelle Bellegarde, are from West Indian families but had previously been working in the United States.
They have two children, now at college, so felt it was time to return to their roots.
They had to buy into the Sotheby’s franchise, which meant selling their own house and cars, so they are taking a bit of a chance.
When I told them that I was going to edit a new high-end airline magazine, which would have about nine readers on every flight, they agreed to take a page of advertising.
I whipped out my mobile phone and recorded them saying so. They can’t get out of it now…