Have you ever really wanted to get away from it all and go somewhere remote, I mean truly remote? Somewhere so remote that the powers that be chose to banish Napoleon here ‘until his deadly fame ends’. If you’re yearning for such an extraordinary experience, consider a visit to St Helena. 

Before the ex-emperor’s arrival, the tiny island of St Helena was the property of the East India Company, with ownership being transferred to the British and it has remained an overseas territory ever since. This tiny volcanic rock, some 1,200 miles from the African coast in the middle of the Atlantic became eponymous with isolation, indeed before 201the only way to get here was a five-day cruise on the RMS Saint Helena. Adding to that, it was not until the end of 2023 that reliable internet reached the 4,400 inhabitants.  

So, what’s the appeal and why should you consider a week of exile yourself?  

For a start, that new airport has made the island so much more accessible with a short 6-hour flight from Johannesburg. That journey on its own is almost reason alone to go. The Namibian desert and coastline from 35,000ft is an unreal sight and coming into land on one of the world’s most exposed landing strips is a fitting arrival. The fact that only 6 pilots are qualified to land here just about sums up how incredible it is. 

While first impressions are everything, I have a general rule when travelling and that is to not judge a destination within 10 miles of the airport, that rule was quickly set aside here where the island is only 10 miles long by 5 miles wide. Leaving the airport, you enter a volcanic desert with coloured rock formations and sheer cliffs falling away to the endless ocean. Then, all of a sudden, the landscape changes into a land of luscious greenery and endemic trees, shaped by the wind. Travelling uphill further you enter a cloud forest with tall trees and colourful birds. At this point the descent into Jamestown starts. Narrow roads, incredible switchbacks and incredible views make this one of the shortest, but most spectacular journeys from one side of a country to the other anywhere on earth. 

It was in Jamestown that Napoleon spent his first night in exile before travelling to The Briars and then up to Longwood House, where he passed away in the higher parts of the island. For many Napoleon’s final home is the reason for their visit, and the chance to explore the places he spent his final years is a must for anyone. 

In the 18th & 19th centuries, Jamestown was little more than a pit stop for ships crossing the Atlantic, it was here where ships could be re-provisioned and sailors could take advantage of all that a traditional port town might offer. As more and more people passed through the population grew in size and diversity. Today that diversity is reflected everywhere you look, in the architecture, the dialect and most definitely in the food; a traditional Sunday roast is always accompanied by a full curry!  

That tiny settlement has grown and spread up the valley and onto the plateau above, yet the harbour remains very much at its heart and it’s here that almost all visitors to the island stay, whether they arrive by plane or by sea. The Georgian streets are home to several bars and restaurants while the waterfront is home to the diving and sailing centres, and the one nightclub on the island. 

Pop into the tourist office and you’ll soon discover quite how much there is to do. For the hiker there are 22 “post box” walks that have been developed recently. With well maintained trails these range from 1 to 10 in difficulty, and you’ll find a stamp at the end of each to prove you made it. These trails will take you through cloud-forests, volcanic scenery, walk along knife-edge ridges and swim in hidden rock pools. Alternatively, you can jump on one of a few e-bikes on the island (owned by the Minister for Health no less) and head out for a pedal up and down some majestic landscapes. Along the way, you’ll encounter the diverse birdlife on the island from endemic wirebirds to the beautiful tropicbirds with their long tails, or the red fody. 

If taking to the water is more your thing then you’ll be happy to know that the diving and snorkelling here is world class. With several wrecks to explore and the chance to see devil rays in crystal clear waters, there are some amazing opportunities. If you happen to be travelling between December and May then there is also a very high chance of being able to snorkel with whale sharks. These incredible fish can grow up to 18 meters long and pass through these waters in significant numbers each year. They are just preceded by the humpback migration which lasts from June to December. Then there are the resident pods of spotted tropical, and bottlenose dolphins that number in the hundreds. 

Did you know that St Helena is also the origin of one of the world’s most expensive coffees? Currently selling at £96 for 3.5oz in Harrods, it certainly isn’t in the same league as Costa! There are a handful of producers, perhaps the best of whom are Debbie and Neil Fantom who, in the process of lovingly restoring the Wrangham estate discovered coffee bushes and have become growers of one of the most sought-after beans on the planet. A tour of the estate with Neil, followed by a tasting (and some amazing cakes prepared by Debbie) should be a must for anyone on the island. And the best bit? His prices don’t compare with Harrods! 

The absolute joy of exploring this island is that everyone is accessible, head to the tourist office and you’ll likely bump into Matt, the head of tourism, go out cycling and you meet Martin, the health minister, want to buy a football shirt as a souvenir, well you’ll probably meet half the team along the way. This is a wonderfully welcoming place where people really do everything they can to make your time here as magical as possible. 

If none of that grabs you, then how about meeting Jonathan the giant tortoise, the oldest living land animal on the planet at almost 200 years old! Consider making Saint Helena your next destination and experience the unique charm and beauty this remote island has to offer. Visit St Helena, where history, nature, and hospitality converge in an unforgettable journey. 

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Charlotte Winter
Caroline Maber
Flora Sweeting

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