A Slice of Europe
in a Caribbean Paradise
Curaçao has it all: 17th and 18th century Dutch-style architecture, history, eco tourism, pristine waters for diving, fishing, swimming, white sand beaches on all sides of the island; and for more sedate pleasures: an 18-hole golf courses, dolphins, casinos, a variety of fabulous food and great restaurants, and one of the most romantic settings for weddings.
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By Simone Zarmati Diament
Curaçao has it all: Dutch-style colorful houses dating back to the 17th and 18th century, history, – the island had a pivotal role in the making of European, Latin American and American history –, eco tourism, pristine waters for diving, fishing, swimming, white sand beaches on all sides of the island; and for more sedate pleasures: an 18-hole golf courses, dolphin interaction programs, casinos, a variety of fabulous food and great restaurants, and onme of the most romantic settings for weddings.
And… There are no hurricanes in Curaçao!
That’s because the little island; 35 miles off the coast of Venezuela and two and a half hours from Miami is just outside the Hurricane belt. This stretch of Caribbean paradise -- 38 miles long and 2 to 7.5 miles wide -- with a sunny climate has an average year-round temperature of 82F (27C) thanks to refreshing trade winds from the east which keeps things cool and humidity low.
A succession of rulers:
The Spaniards, who conquered the island and the Amerindian Arawaks in 1499, and the Dutch, who colonized the three islands: Curaçao, St. Maarten and Aruba in 1634, were so aware of the importance of the weather-stable deep sea port, that they built the seat of the Dutch Antilles’ government in Willemstad, the capital of Curaçao, with Peter Stuyvesant as governor until 1647 (when he left Curaçao to become Governor of New Amsterdam, now New York City).
More darkly in history, Curaçao became a Dutch commercial center and developed extensive slave trade activities. The island became a hub for slave trade from Africa; there, they were trained and shipped to the mainland America until slavery was abolished.
A slice of history with shopping and great food
Once you’ve tired of tennis, eco-tourism, water sports, swimming with the dolphins, scuba diving in the coral reefs or just being a lizard on the fine white sand beaches, Curaçao is a perfect place for visiting 17th century architecture sites, shopping at one of the duty free stores, or at the colorful market, and for enjoying fabulous food.
Because of its rich past, the capital of Curaçao and its natural harbor were added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites, and it is in historical Punda, on the south side of the estuary, where the Governor’s Palace still stands, protected and defended by an old Fort – now “The Waterfront Terrace,” a charming entertainment and restaurant center beaten up by the waves, and mighty canons -- that today look like toys.
A tour of Punda took us to the Town Hall, to the Governor’s Palace where ministers on their coffee break were eating a falafel-like snack of fried balls of chickpeas and beans, the Post Museum. Then, we were off to Mikve Israel, the old Jewish Synagogue with its sandy floor in the ancient Sephardic tradition, the colorful market place with the floating market, and Scharloo with its fine shopping in duty free stores and cafés overlooking the 24-pontoon bridge manned by a sailing crew in a tug boat; and to the “other side”, the picturesque Otrobanda
Flanked by neat Dutch-style colorful houses dating back to the 17th and 18th century, the port -- the deepest sea port in the western Hemisphere -- services of the most important oil refineries in the colonies. Schottegat, acquired in the 1960s by Shell Curaçao N.V.
Unlike Aruba who gave up the refineries when the baton was passed to Venezuela, and put all their eggs in the basked of tourism and entertainment, the refineries in Curaçao are still an important part of the island’s economy, employing close to 15,000 people. But while the oil is refined there, it is brought from Venezuela and returned to Venezuela, and the price of gas is as high as in Europe. The lease agreement with Venezuela slated to be re-negotiated this year: 2005, will probably keep the same clauses.
Do Drink The Water
There are no hurricanes in Curaçao. Which is great. But there isn’t any sweet water to be found either.
Yet, you can drink the water. It is sweet and tasty.
Even the beer Amstel Bright – a spawn of the Dutch Amstel - is made from sweet water coming from one of the largest desalinization plants. A seawater distillery built by the parsimonious Dutch who strongly believe in self-sufficiency, the plant Aqualectra provides irrigation, electricity and excellent quality drinkable water all year round. All of which is a source of great pride to the people of Curaçao.
The people of Curaçao
Curaçao, a Parliamentary Democracy, is an autonomous part of The Netherlands Antilles, which in turn forms part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands, and Dutch is the official language.
But like our guide, Chernov Rozier, the result of generations of Dutch, Indonesians, French and Spanish, the 160,000 Curaçaoans are multilingual and speak Dutch, English and Spanish, languages that they are taught in school along with Papiamentu —a mixture of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and African dialects, developed by the slaves. The official language, spoken at the Parliament, combines 56 different cultures and nationalities, and is the living testimony of a turbulent history.
I was amazed at the fabric of society in Curaçao; mostly midlle-class with very little if no poverty at all, no illiteracy and multi-cultured and multi-racial, it is also multi-creed. During the 17th and 18th centuries Jewish families from Holland, other parts of Europe, and Asia settled in Curaçao — with the total population reaching 2,000 by the early 1700s. In 1732, the community created the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue in Willemstad, the oldest still functioning synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.
The Dutch are renowned for being tolerant, and while 80% Catholic there is a vast mix of Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Baptists, and many other religions, each worshipping in its own houses of worship.
No poverty, no pan handlers or naked children begging for coins, but hospitable people proud of their heritage and secure in their own land makes it a delightful place to be.
Local currency: the Netherlands Antillean guilder (also called the florin) - Nafl. While U.S. dollars or credit cards are accepted everywhere vendors can rarely supply change in U.S. currency. Rate: US$ 1 = Nafl. 1.77 cash
Curaçao’s website is:
WHERE TO STAY
Curaçao Marriott Beach Resort and Emerald Casino
John F. Kennedy Blvd., Piscadera Bay, Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles.
Talking of hospitality: not only are you warmly received with hot towels and cold drinks but most of the rooms, equipped with full amenities, face the beach with crystalline waters and a coral reef. This luxury resort offers water and other sports and the best brunch in town, and has several restaurants and bars.
Avila Beach Hotel
Penstraat 130, P.O. Box 791,Willemstad, Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles
The best place to have the traditional Curaçaoan dish Keshi Yena, or stuffed cheese, is Avila Beach Hotel. It is a thick, stew-like gastronomic delight that the slaves created with their masters’ left over Gouda cheese rinds and that chef Karol Myer recreated.
The charming, European-style hotel is an early 18th century mansion built by the English which was successively a school and a hospital, and was rebuilt 36 years ago as the Avila Beach Hotel by a Danish lover of Curaçao. There’s jazz and music al fresco, surfing, water sports and fine sand beaches and a great thatched roof retreat for honeymooners, totally equipped and with access to internet.
But the most amazing discovery was the Simon Bolivar Museum, in the octagonal house where the Venezuelan Liberator hero lived in 1812 before claiming his land. On any good day – and there are many in Curaçao, you can see the coast of Venezuela from 4 of the 8 windows of what is now an unexpected museum.
Hotel Kura Hulanda, Restaurant and the Kura Hulanda Museum
Langestraat 8, (Otrobanda) Willemstad, Curaçao Netherlands Antilles
Tel.: +5999 434 7700 - Fax: +5999 434 7701. www.kurahulanda.com
A visit there is a must, even for those who choose not to stay at the colonial-style mansion hotel. A run-down 18th century village complex, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, was meticulously restored into a splendid and luxury boutique resort. Narrow cobbled streets lead to charming rooms, courtyards, and great restaurants -- Astrolab Observatory restaurant nestled between the Sculpture and Indian Marble Gardens serves contemporary continental cuisine; and Jaipur , adjacent to the Eco Pond Pool serves fine Indian cuisine and grilled foods outdoor. The complex has bars --Jacob’s bar & Terrace; art galleries, and most of all one of the most important museums of slavery in the hemisphere. The Anthropological Museum has an amazing collection of African art and the African Museum has the largest collection of slave documents and objects in the Caribbean and South America. This museum exhibits the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in its totality, from slave capture in Africa through the Middle Passage and the relocation in the New World. The Kura Hulanda has just opened a Lodge on the West end of the island.
WHERE TO EAT
Café Gouverneur ‘de Rouville’
De Rouvilleweg 9, Otrobanda waterfront, Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles
599-9-462-5999 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A picturesque restaurant overlooking the waterfront: you can have the most imaginative drinks in the island, with local tapas and local fare.
Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. 125, Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles
A late 18th century house is now "Villa Elisabeth", an exclusive, fine dining restaurant surrounded by a beautiful tropical garden. Architecture, ambience and culinary pleasures go hand in hand. French-European contemporary and classic cuisine prepared by chefs Emmanuel Mertens and Franky Vandierendonck is served a la carte or in one of several degustation menus.
Hoogstraat 49, Willemstad, Curaçao
599-9-562-3699 www.angelicas-kitchen.com, Email: email@example.com
There’s no better way to get to know Curaçao as a real insider and taste Curaçao’s cuisine than at Angelique Schoop’s Angelica’s Kitchen in Willemstad. A cooking class followed by a meal with wines is a superlative way to spend an evening and meet people. Reservations are a must. Angelique also offers walking gastronomic tours of Curaçao: from the fruit smoothie at the harbor's edge to the local fare at the Old Market.
Hotel Kura Hulanda, Langestraat 8, Willemstad, Curaçao
599-9-434-7700 Email: Hotel@kurahulanda.com
In the amazing Kura Hulanda complex, the fine dining restaurant Astrolab – contemporary continental cuisine -- nestled between the Sculpture and Indian Marble Gardens is set in a garden amidst the owner’s collection of antique astrolabs: one of owner Jacob Gelt Dekker’s interests.
Caracasbaaiweg #8, Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles
While the chef comes from Florida, the menu is Asian-inspired with sushi and very well executed fusion cuisine in a hyper-modern atmosphere. A great hang out spot with martinis to match.
NOT TO MISS
Dinah Veeris Den Paradera
Botanic & Historic Garden , Seru Grandi Kavel 105, Band’Ariba, Curaçao.
599-9-767-5608 Email: Dinahveeris@yahoo.com
The name “Den Paradera” refers to the Paraguiri Indians who long ago had the biggest herb garden at the east side of the island. When the Spaniards came, they brought their slaves to the Paraguiri Indians to be cured and called the location "En Paradera". In 1981, Dinah Veeris started her research for healing herbs and traditions by interviewing older people with the goal to recover and preserve the secret knowledge of former generations. She studied at the “California School for Herbal Studies''. In 1991 she started working on the garden, plant by plant. She wrote a book about the herbs and their use and received several awards for her input in preserving the culture and the healing herbs. Guided tour $6.00, children on a guided tour $4.00.
Kura Hulanda Museum Klipstraat 9 (Otrobanda) Willemstad, Curaçao
Tel.: +5999 434 7765 - Fax: +5999 434 7705
Museum Kura Hulanda is situated right at the city-center harbor of Willemstad, where Dutch entrepreneurs once traded and transshipped enslaved Africans along with other'' commercial goods”. This museum impressively exhibits the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in its totality, from slave capture in Africa through the Middle Passage and the relocation in the New World. The museum is open from 10.00 am - 05.00 pm.
Mikve Israel Emanuel Synagogue
Hanchi di Snoa No.29, P.O. Box 322, Curaçao
599-9-461-1067 www.snoa.com Email: Info@snoa.com
Built in 1703, this Synagogue with a sand floor in the Sephardic style is home of the oldest active Jewish community and the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Americas . Some 450 people now belong to the two Curaçao Jewish congregations; 75% of them are members of Mikvé Israel and the remaining of the more modern Shaarei Tsedek. As in the old days, the Curaçao Jewish community continue to play a vital part in Curaçao’s economic, commercial, cultural and social life.
A visit there is not to be missed. You will not only see the natives Curaçaoans enjoying a meal but you will also eat some of the best food around, namely funchi, the local polenta which brews in huge pots and is stirred by men. “ Funchi is a man’s work,” said our guide Chernov Rozier. You can sit at a table and have rich family-style stews: beef, cucumber, wahoo and bacalao and a delicious conch stew