by Garry Cook (published in Daily Star Sunday)
I’m not saying the pace of life is slower in Tobago, but when the projector at the island’s only cinema broke down more than two decades ago, they never got round to fixing it.
But when you’re living in paradise, what’s the point of being cooped up indoors?
Sparkling shores, milky white beaches, exotic wildlife and reams of reefs to explore… I’m still racking my brain trying to decide why I came home.
Tobago might be smaller than the Isle of Man but it has a totally tropical taste. Just one-sixteenth the size of neighbour Trinidad, this pint-sized Caribbean island used to be seen as the lesser relation in the partnership.
But while Trinidad exploited its resources and became increasingly industrialised, Tobago took it easy.
Now the island is reaping the rewards of its laid-back attitude.
The natural beauty of its lush green mountains and chilled-out beaches are its greatest selling point. And just to make you feel better, almost the entire tourism industry is built on an ecofriendly masterplan.
Take my hotel, The Blue Haven. After 25 years of decay it was renovated in 2000 to incorporate enough energy-saving tricks to ensure it consumes less than half the electricity of a conventional hotel.
But it has kept its colonial feel of 50 years ago when stars like Robert Mitchum, Rita Hayworth and Jack Lemmon were guests. Even the Queen held a cocktail party there in 1962 to mark Trinidad & Tobago’s independence.
It’s the perfect blend of history and conservation.
And, despite its name, it’s actually pink. It’s for purely cosmetic reasons that I’ll never forget this place.
Built on a rocky outcrop, it has a perfect panoramic view of the Atlantic.
One side of the island enjoys the pond-like Caribbean, but I preferred the crashing Atlantic waves on the south side.
Bacolet Bay, the hotel’s private palm tree beach, ticks all the paradise boxes.
Breakfast never tasted so good after an early morning swim across the bay.
Blue Haven’s owner, an Austrian called Karl, was kind enough to give me and my friends a lift home after we bumped into him late one night on the other side of the island.
He even joined in the singsong. When you’re in the hotel owner’s white sports car, he’s driving at 60mph and singing Roxanne at the top of his voice, you know you’re as close to perfection as you’ll ever get on holiday.
Tobago is steeped in history, having changed hands down the centuries 31 times as Britain fought the French and Dutch for control.
Its slave-trading history is as fascinating as it is abhorrent. The Fort King George museum overlooking capital Scarborough documents the island’s bloody past.
But there are other historical gems like James Bond author Ian Fleming’s hideaway island a mile off the coast from Batteaux Bay on the east side.
You can sit and watch it from high up in Jemma’s Tree House restaurant or the Blue Waters Inn.
The British influence has left the place with a pleasantly reassuring feel.
Thankfully, the cost of a bottle of the local Carib lager, at little more than £1 a go, is very un-British.
If you prefer birds to beer, you will have to be up early to see some of the 220 gloriously-feathered species which inhabit the island.
Fascinating as the rainforest walk was, the highlight of my trip was a tour of the cocoa plantation.
This are one of the ecologically-sound initiatives Tobago has reintroduced in an effort to maintain the island’s natural beauty.
Other must-dos include taking a ride on a glass-bottom boat to the Buccoo Reef where there are 44 species of coral, go swimming in the Nylon pool, watch turtles crawl up the beach; dive into the Argyle waterfall, and eat a traditional meal of crab and dumplings. The island might be laidback, but the fun is nonstop.
Tobago Jazz Experience – gotrinidadandtobago.com Harris Jungle Tours: harris-jungle-tours.com Rum & chocolate: tobagococoa.com or rumchocolate.com. For information on tours to Duane’s estate, email infoattobagococoa.com or call 868 390 2021.
R&Sea Divers Company, Toucan Inn, Crown Point: Call 868 639 8120, see rseadivers.com or email rsdiversattstt.net.tt
Where to stay
SEVEN nights in Tobago with Virgin Holidays, including direct scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick, starts from £1,599*, with accommodation at the award-winning, four-star Blue Haven on an all-inclusive basis with transfers included. Prices are per person based on two adults travelling and sharing a standard room. To book visit virginholidays.co.uk or call 0844 557 3859. (*prices as of early 2011)
All images © Copyright Garry Cook