The water's lovely in Grenada

A taste of the tropics on a Caribbean paradise peninsula

"Come and visit paradise," said my cousin Guy, "come to Grenada." Two years ago, he gave up his job as a GP in rainy Newcastle and went to work in a hospital on the Caribbean island. We followed him there.

"Come and visit paradise," said my cousin Guy, "come to Grenada." Two years ago, he gave up his job as a GP in rainy Newcastle and went to work in a hospital on the Caribbean island. We followed him there.

With three children aged two, four and six, the nine-hour flight was gruelling, and we arrived feeling shattered. However, when we awoke to ecstatic cries of delight from the children the next morning, I knew it had been worth it.

We were staying on the southern tip of the island on the L'Anse aux Épines peninsula, and our cottage was in the middle of a tropical garden of coconut palms and almond trees only 100 yards away from the turquoise blue sea. Beyond the beach, there were dozens of pretty little white sailing boats moored in the water, just far enough away to make a good target for a cool swim through the crystal-clear sea.

Swimming is what the holiday turned out to be about, and Guy's children led the way. His two tanned and lithe eldest children swim in the school team, and his little boy, Joe, who is only two, swims like a fish, snorkels and will be winning races soon. There are dozens of beautiful beaches to choose from, but the most popular resort is at Grande Anse, a long sweep of white sands with sparkling emerald water.

The sea is perfect for snorkelling, and we saw starfish, angelfish and baby swordfish darting over the luminescent pink and green coral reef formations. The water is also irresistible as an escape from the glorious heat of the sun. We arrived just at the start of the rainy season in June, and the air was sticky and humid. Then the rains came – great, torrential downpours that last about half an hour until, suddenly, the skies clear and brilliant sunshine returns.

When they weren't going swimming or snorkelling, the children loved playing in the sand and collecting the misshapen pieces of white coral that cover the beaches. The most spectacular shells are the huge conches that are left on the beach by divers. Glistening and pearly pink, they are about 30cm long and very heavy, with a fleshy animal inside that is a local delicacy.

Food is expensive on the island because much of it has to be imported. However, there is plenty of tasty and fresh local food, such as barbecued grilled chicken, swordfish and dolphin fish (not the real dolphin) steaks, and shellfish. The national dish is roti, a big pancake stuffed with spicy vegetables. Drinks are also expensive, but the local Carib beer is brewed in Grenada and is very thirst-quenching. The other fresh local drink is coconut milk – the cloudy, sweet juice inside the green coconuts that hang from every palm tree.

Most delicious of all is the tropical fruit. The whole island is covered in lush vegetation and there are 52 types of edible fruit, much of which can be seen growing in the rainforest that covers the mountainous interior of Grenada. We walked in the rainforest by the Concorde waterfall and saw orange mangoes, huge bunches of green bananas, pale green avocadoes, yellow pineapples, huge green prickly sour sop fruits, breadfruits and, most intriguing of all, Grenada's national spice, the nutmeg.

The Dutch introduced the nutmeg to Grenada in the mid-19th century, and the island now produces a third of the world's supply. The tree's yellow fruits split open to reveal a brilliant, crimson-red web of mace that covers the nutmeg inside. The nutmeg itself has a brown outer husk which you break off to reveal the speckled, fawn-coloured nutmeg inside. It's quite soft when it's fresh, and it smells delicious. The children happily fought over who could collect the most, and we drove home from the rainforest with our pockets bulging.

Driving around the island, you see the Rastafarian colours of red, yellow and green, which are also the colours of the Grenadan national flag; red is for the courage and vitality of the Grenadans, gold for wisdom and the sun, and green for the land's fertility. The soft bass thump of reggae music sings out from houses and shops, and the zing of steel bands fills the restaurants in the evenings.

However, this Caribbean island is heading for change. Tourism is increasing and there are building developments everywhere. Two things may save the island from over-development: the local dictate that no building may be taller than a palm tree (although there are some pretty tall palm trees), and the unhurried pace of life there. As Tim Brathwaite, owner of our cottages said: "Tourism is the way forward but the work ethic is totally laid-back. Some of the big hotels have given up because they became frustrated at the slow pace of progress."

The best place to learn about Grenada's history is at the little old-fashioned museum in the capital harbour town of St George's. Filled with fascinating artifacts, it has notices from slave auctions offering slaves for sale, such as: "Hannibal about 30 years old, an excellent house servant of good character." The French and British colonialists used African slaves to establish their cocoa and sugar plantations in the 18th century, and the British took control of Grenada from 1783 until it became independent in 1973. Britain's independence gift to Grenada is also on display – a silver coffee set with gilt-edged cups. There are also photographs of the American invasion in 1983 and, amazingly, Josephine Bonaparte's rather grubby marble bathtub, which she used in her homeland of Martinique.

We came out of the museum blinking into the bright sunshine. As we walked towards the Nutmeg restaurant for a drink, a man walked by and asked proudly if we liked Grenada. "Yes," I said, "it really is a little bit of paradise."

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