Perhaps living to a ripe old age is your aim. Then why not leave your medicine chest behind and move to Dominica? This Caribbean island has the highest number of centenarians in the world, and it was from here that the oldest person ever hailed.
Born in 1875, Ma Pampo died in 2003, aged 128. She didn’t retire until she was 104. Her next-door neighbour was 118, and at one stage there were four centenarians in the same street.
At the last count there were 27 centenarians — that’s nearly four per 10,000 of population, 50 per cent higher than the next old-age market leader, Japan, and three times as many as in Britain and the U.S.
Dominica, pictured, has the highest number of centenarians in the world, and it was from here that the oldest person ever hailed
With this in mind, I took myself off to the so-called Nature Isle of the Caribbean to sample a lifestyle that has thus far eluded me. Dominica, a 290-square-mile parcel of perfection, is one of those places so blessed with natural looks that it was chosen as the location for the Pirates Of The Caribbean films, and outshone Johnny Depp as the star.
And from this fertile soil springs one of the main sources of longevity: a healthy diet. You can practically hear the plants growing.
In search of the font of wellness I wander up the coast in a battered 4×4, past the geothermal springs at Bubble Beach and the palm-fronded diving haven of Soufrière Bay, before rattling over the colourful capital of Roseau with its jumble of tin-roofed shacks and concrete stores.
Reggae and reconstruction fill the airwaves but peace returns in the evening, and the Fort Young Hotel on the quayside provides a comfortable retreat for a Dark And Stormy rum cocktail as the sun plummets into the Caribbean at 6pm sharp.
Fresh seafood and vegetables straight from a nearby garden get me off to a healthy first supper, and the following morning a table groaning with fruit is served for breakfast.
I feel virtuous and aglow as I set off into the mountains for a yoga and meditation session at Freshwater Lake. I am accompanied by my teacher, Trudy Prevost, an Iroquois-Canadian with European blood and dreadlocks down to her bottom. We roll out our mats in the morning mist but have to retreat under cover when the heavens open.
‘It’s down to lifestyle. They’re fit and the island produces the most wonderful fruit and vegetables, almost all of it grown in their own back gardens,’ says Trudy as she attempts without obvious success to show me 12 basic yoga positions.
One of the island’s farmers is all smiles, deep in the rainforest
‘Traditionally their diet also included natural products from the forest, herbs and herbal medicines. No drugs, just herbs.
‘Sadly that is now changing with the arrival of fast food, crop-spraying and American habits.
‘The new generation is becoming obese but we are still tops for oldies, who have not known bad habits.’
I drive on with Trudy, a lifelong student of all things wholesome, to the hamlet of Wotten Waven where we lounge about in the hot springs at Bongo Baths in a series of natural pools of varying temperatures, before cooling off under a mountain spring — a blessed relief from the late-morning heat.
Then we lunch healthily on the shaded terrace at Le Petit Paradis on fish, chicken and vegetable rice and a glass of locally brewed pale ale, watched by a curious yellow finch.
No trip to the island would be complete without a boat ride up Indian River, pictured, through the mangroves, writes Mark
I could get used to growing old gracefully. Here, in the highland jungle, it is another world. Amid the hot springs and tropical rainforests the Morne Trois Pitons National Park rises high over the island, its volcanic craters towering to nearly 5,000 feet.
We visit Boiling Lake, the world’s second-largest hot spring. Mountain whistler birds herald the afternoon, and suddenly we are in cloud again with warm summer rain wafting across the valley below.
Two rainbows, one above the other, arc across the horizon like beautiful celestial bridges.
The winding roads, still mangled in parts by Hurricane Maria which devastated the island two years ago, connect small communities living in colourful houses on stilts. A mongrel mastiff leaps idiotically for a rubber ball dangling from a jacaranda tree while noisy men swig from bottles at a roadside bar, a cacophony of amiable high spirits in the afternoon shade.
I drop Trudy in Roseau and head north up the Caribbean coastline for Johnny Depp territory, with its coral gardens and lagoons.
Dominica is home to heavenly inlets and beaches. Pictured is Scotts Head village, on the island’s southwest coast
The Pirates movies were shot here, and the rooms at the Picard Bay Beach Cottages near Portsmouth were named after the stars who stayed in them — mine after the producer, Jerry Bruckheimer.
Picard Bay is informal but well run by Janice Armour, who comes from an old island family as well versed in hospitality as they are in longevity (both her parents lived to a ripe old age, and their parents before them).
The coast, like the mountains, is beautiful — coves and sculpted cliffs at Secret Bay, inlets and havens like Dublanc and Massacre.
Up at Purple Turtle Beach I hire the stoutest horse on the island and head along the beach to Cabrits National Park, to Fort Shirley which was built by the British for defence against the French in the late 18th century.
The handsome fort overlooks the bay and has recently been restored thanks to the attentive curation of local historian, Lennox Honychurch.
No trip to the island would be complete without a boat ride up Indian River, through the mangroves, gnarled bwa mang trees and hummingbirds. But instead of emerging in a heart of darkness I arrive at the Ticking Croc Tavern, where a cold beer awaits.
This really is nature island. With a tiny tourist industry, this is a great place to go if you want to avoid the crowds and see an unspoilt tapestry of real Caribbean life at refreshingly affordable prices.
It’s a hike because you need to take a short connecting flight but, as they say in France, the country from which the Brits seized the island, ‘vaut le voyage!’ (worth the journey). And if you want to ditch your tablets and knock up a century, then simply throw away your return ticket.