The handmade nutmeg icecream won me over.
Who would have thought something so simple could taste so good?
Then there was the bittersweet dark chocolate produced from locally grown cocoa, the smallest and juiciest mangoes I've ever tasted, delicious papaya and sweet green figs (bananas) growing wild, and fat avocados. And that's before I even mention the amazing array of spices grown here or the fresh fish and lobster that abounds in the crystal clear Caribbean waters.
Grenada really is an island for foodies. It grows more spices per square kilometre than any other place in the world, including ginger, turmeric, saffron, cloves, black pepper and mauby, and is the world's second largest producer of nutmeg. The aromatic spices are used to flavour some tantalising local dishes. Take oildown, a Grenada specialty. The name may not be inspiring, but the dish is an intriguing mix of breadfruit, fresh coconut milk, callalou (like spinach), plantain, salted pig's snout with turmeric, saffron, thyme, chives and parsley. Let's just say it's an acquired taste!
Roti is a popular lunch dish, comprising highly spiced chicken or beef in a thick sauce wrapped in a thin flatbread. Good roti shops will have a queue out the door, and they're worth seeking out.
But finding a good coffee is impossible. On an island tour, 11am approaches and we ask our driver if we can stop for coffee.
He laughs. "We only drink coffee until 8am then it's too hot and we drink rum," he says. We had noticed the rum shops doing a roaring trade. We settle for water.
We're overwhelmed by the friendliness of the islanders, who seem genuinely interested in us. One woman at the market insists on giving us a "spice necklace", threaded with whole nutmegs, cloves, pieces of cinnamon bark and chunks of turmeric. Another time we're given a huge papaya because it's closing time and the woman doesn't want to carry it home.
At the east coast village of Grenville, local fishermen land their catch on the water's edge, and you have to go prepared. The fish is sold as is, and it's not much fun trying to carry a freshly gutted three kilogram wahoo on a bus. But at $5 per kg it's hard to resist.
We learn about chocolate making at historic Belmont Estate, a 17th century plantation where the cocoa fruit grows in the shade canopy of breadfruit, papaya, banana and coconut trees. When ripe, the fruit is split open and the white beans extracted from the juicy sweet flesh.
They are fermented and then put on trays to dry in the sun while being constantly aerated by teams of local women. The wafting aroma is enough to put you off chocolate (think rotten fish), but exposure to the sun eventually kills that and the dried beans are cracked open to expose the bitter dark chocolate. And yes, we sample the beans, the finished product and some incredibly rich hot chocolate.
At the nutmeg factory, we see the beautiful red mace lacework stripped off the nutmeg shell. The mace is used for cosmetics and colouring while the nutmeg is used to flavour a huge range of dishes, including the aforementioned divine icecream.
Just as well the island is a haven for hikers – it gives a great opportunity to work off all that delicious food. Grenada has some of the most wonderful walking trails in the Caribbean; trails that skirt lakes, follow stunning waterfalls, wend their way through luxuriant rainforest while others offer magnificent views of the mountainous interior.
Grenada has had its share of hard times. There was the political turmoil of the 1980s, when a bloody military coup sparked a United States-led invasion which ousted the four-year revolutionary government. Most islanders remember the events and express fondness for Americans, who they say liberated their country.
More recent and far more destructive was the catastrophic Hurricane Ivan that devastated the island in 2004. It destroyed 90 per cent of homes and flattened banana and nutmeg plantations. Landmarks damaged in its wake included the historic 17th-century prison, the St George's cathedral and the local stadium. Today there is still evidence of Ivan's path – the ruined stadium sits in the shadow of a brand new one and the cathedral remains roofless – but the islanders showed remarkable resilience to rebuild and recover.
These days Grenada has a thriving tourist industry based mainly around the capital of St George, which regularly hosts cruise ships. Passengers jump on buses and head off to explore the lush interior or take a small boat to the stunning white expanse of Grand Anse beach with its crystal clear water.
Unlike the bustling northern Caribbean islands with their designer boutiques, internationally rated restaurants and glitzy bars and clubs, Grenada is low-key, offering a destination for those who prefer snorkelling, sailing, fishing, hiking and exploring to partying, shopping and eating out.
For cruising yachts, the only anchorages are in the sheltered south of the island where the tranquil and picturesque bays are surrounded by magnificent multi-million dollar, fully staffed (and often empty) homes. Many are owned by Americans and, along with the huge medical university, it gives an initial impression of wealth and prosperity.
We soon learn that's not a true picture. During our day exploring the island we drive past rundown houses and through some fairly scruffy villages. Even the capital of St George is a bit scruffy but colourful at the same time, with some fantastic faces and wonderful street scenes.
While the villages may appear ramshackle and the people poor, what strikes us most are the happy faces everywhere. It seems wherever we go on this island it's the people with the least who are the happiest and give the most.
- The Marlborough Express