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Montserrat Emerald Island of the Caribbean

Montserrat is known as the 'Emerald Isle' of the Caribbean. It has Irish roots and is covered in lush, green rainforest. A unique island, it is reknowned for the friendliness of the islanders and offers an excellent opportunity for nature lovers and sunseekers alike.In 1995, the Soufriere Hills Volcano erupted, destroying the former capital of Plymouth and meaning that many inhabitants moved overseas or to the North of the island.

Today, Montserrat is rising from the ashes and with the opening of a new airport at Geralds last year, tourists are starting to consider the island as a serious tourist destination again.Once the home of George Martin's Air Studios, it has seen many famous including Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Sting and others. In fact, it used to be known as the jetset island of the Caribbean.

The legacy continues and George Martin is currently involved in the development of a new cultural centre on the island.Whilst the golf course and marina were destroyed by the volcano, yachts are increasingly mooring at the Little Bay Harbour and people are arriving to see this very special place. The volcano remains active, one of the most studied in the world, and is a draw also for scientists, tourists and independent travelers alike. Stunning views which have been likened to 'Dante's Inferno' can be seen from St George's Hill which overlooks both the volcano and what remains of Plymouth.

Tours to view the volcano can easily be arranged, and trips to Plymouth with a police escort. There is also a chance to learn more about volcanic activity on the island by attending a tour at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (www. MVO.

ms).Current volcanic activity means that on a clear night, visitors can view the glowing dome and rock falls from Jack Boy Hill on the East of the island from a safe distance. The majority of the population live in the 'Safe Zone' which means that in the event of an eruption, there is likely to be no problems other than ash fall. Monitoring at the MVO means that residents would be notified in advance of a likely eruption but at the present time, this is unlikely.

The beaches on Montserrat are serene and uncrowded. You are unlikely to find more than a handful of people on most of the beaches at any time. Because of the volcano, most of the beaches have silver grey sand, some of which are surrounded by rainforest which makes them both picturesque and unique. The only white sand beach is at Rendezvous Bay and can be reached by hiking over the Silver Hills or by water taxi from Little Bay.

After walking over the hills, you are rewarded by a pristine white sand beach, covered in coral and pink shells with crystal clear blue water. It is an amazing place for a day's outing.During the turtle egg laying season, you may see baby turtles hatch. This is generally August and September, but you are quite likely to see turtles in the sea here at any time and recent visitors spotted baby turtles at Woodlands Beach in December. There are also magnificent reefs surrounding the island, some easily accessible from the beach as at Woodlands Beach, others further out at sea. Multi-coloured corals and fish make Montserrat a scuba diver's paradise and snorkeling is equally rewarding.

Snorkelling and scuba diving trips can be arranged through The Green Monkey Dive Shop (www.divemontserrat.com) or the Seawolf Diving School (www.seawolfdivingschool.

com) , both of which can offer PADI training if desired. Fishing and boat trips can also be arranged.This year, the Montserrat Riding Stables should be opening which will give opportunities for horseriding on the beach or camping/horseriding trips. Please contact Turtle Bay Apartments for further details.Festivals include a colourful month long Christmas festival, including calypso competitions, parades, bands and festivities around St Patrick's Day featuring celebrations at Festival City, food stalls and a boat trip round the island.

See the Tourist Board website for more information.Arts and crafts are thriving on the island. Montserrat is home to many artists and musicians, both local and international and craft outlets include Inge Kreb's craft shop where she has everything from pottery to lace that she makes herself, gift shops at the National Trust and Vue Pointe Hotel selling local crafts to beautiful handcrafted jewellery at several stores. There is a photography and painting gallery at the Turtle Bay Coffeeshop with a variety of work on show from both the resident photographer and local artists.

A workshop with Caribbean Travel Photographer of the Year, Igor Kravtchenko, is planned for next winter. There is also a range of fantastic volcano shots taken by Kevin West for sale at his shop, The Last Coconut in Paradise.There are plenty of restaurants and bars in Montserrat.

Eating out is cheap and you can have anything from international cuisine to local specialities such as goat water (rich spicy gravy with goat) to Mountain Chicken (Montserratian frogs!). One of the most popular restaurants is Danny and Margaret's 'Jumping Jack' Beach Bar where you can sample Danny's freshly caught fish with delicious side-dishes and puddings. Matched only by the fantastic views of Old Road Bay Beach and the volcano.

There are numerous other places to eat, ranging from BBQ night at the Vue Pointe Hotel, with musical entertainment and a large variety of dishes, to lobster at Tina's Restaurant. Local dishes such as spare ribs or fried chicken can be bought at a large amount of roadside stalls. Rum and coke is the national drink!.There is quite a range of accommodation available, ranging from 2 hotels to various guesthouses where you will receive a friendly welcome.

Turtle Bay Apartments is located in the quiet residential area of Woodlands and is situated in the rainforest, surrounded by mountains, overlooking the Ocean. We have an acre of tropical gardens, including banana, coconut, mango, guava and orange trees and beautiful hibiscus and frangipani flowers, frequented by hummingbirds. There is also a pool and coffeeshop/ gallery at the villa. It's ideal for a quiet break or for those looking for some privacy.

The rainforest is 5 minutes walk away and the beach a short walk (in the summer, we plan to start turtle conservation holidays) ?we are in an ideal location for eco-tourists, hikers and divers alike. Bars, restaurants and a supermarket are a 5 minute drive away and the apartments are comfortable, with all amenities. Prices start fromUS$60 pernight. Further details are available at www.

turtlebayapartments.com or telephone Montserrat 4914985 or 4931520.International flights are to Antigua and there is a Winair connection on to Montserrat from Antigua.

.Carolyne Coleby has lived in Montserrat since 2004. Her villa is located in the rainforests, surrounded by mountains, overlooking the ocean.

She is a photographer who has travelled extensively in Europe, Asia and Australia and currently rents apartments (Turtle Bay Apartments) and has a gallery/coffeeshop where she displays her own and other local artists work. She plans to hold a photographic workshop with Ivan Kravtchenko, Caribbean Travel Photographer of the Year, next winter. She considers it a privilege to live in Montserrat, a very beautiful island with diverse scenery and a live volcano plus the friendliest people in the Caribbean. Having travelled all over the world, she real believes that Montserrat feels like home.

For more information, see the Tourist Board website at http://www.visitmontserrat.com.

By: Carolyne Coleby

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