A luxury guide to St Lucia: Where to stay, what to see and what to do
Leading travel writer Gilly Pickup discovers paradise on the beautiful Caribbean island of St Lucia.
Think of St Lucia and luxurious resorts and pashmina soft sandy beaches probably spring to mind. What lots of people don’t know though is that this nation has produced more Nobel Prize winners per capita than any other, has a rich folklore which has survived the centuries and has the world’s only drive in volcano where you can wallow in a mud bath if you want to. Ah – and then there’s the chocolate. St Lucia has been a prime producer of the sweet stuff for hundreds of years with cocoa beans so pure they’re called the ‘champagne of the confectionery world’.
I hadn’t been to St Lucia before and my adventure started when I stepped off the British Airways plane after a pleasant 8 ½ hour flight in World Traveller Plus. The service, food and leg room were well worth the upgrade from the standard cabin. When flying long haul it certainly makes a difference.
George, my taxi driver, was waiting to meet me after I cleared customs. “There are no straight roads in St Lucia,” he told me carefully stowing my luggage in the car boot, “so be prepared for twists and turns as we head north to your hotel.” I soon discovered he wasn’t wrong but besides no straight roads, at times the bone shaking drive proved there are no smooth roads either. On the plus side though, they do drive on the left, a result of being a former British colony. We bounced along past slightly ramshackle settlements, coconut palms, white milkwood trees and plants heavy with bananas, George chatting amiably about his island and giving me advice on what to see while I was there. Although the distance from the airport to my hotel isn’t that far in miles – St Lucia is only a small island around the size of the Isle of Wight – those narrow, windy roads, traffic clogged in stretches, meant it took us an hour and a half to get there.
During my time on this beautiful mango shaped island – apt really because that just happens to be one of the island’s favourite fruits – I stayed at Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort which features gorgeous beachfront rooms and luxurious hillside villas with their own plunge pool. I was allocated villa 501 way at the top of the hill. Well, what can I say except it was fabulous. In case anyone wonders, you don’t have to climb the hill to get to your accommodation, the hotel has shuttle buses with unfailingly friendly drivers to convey guests up and down the steep – almost vertical in fact – roads that link the villas to the hotel’s restaurants and public areas.
My St Lucian must-sees started off at the Lushan Country Life trail. Walking round, my guide James pointed out herbs and plants explaining their medicinal and culinary uses. “That one there, that’s cinnamon,” he said. “Great for asthma and helping reduce the pain of rheumatism. Over here is the aloe vera plant, we use it for burns and skin problems. This one is nutmeg, an aphrodisiac.” Then he plucked a leaf, crushed it and held it under my nose. The intense smell of lemon balm was glorious.
As we progressed along the trail, we drank coconut water and ate slices of mango picked straight from the trees. “There are around 40 different varieties of mangoes grown in St Lucia,” James told me. “The one you’re eating is called Mango Julie.” It was deliciously sweet. About half an hour later, we arrived at a clearing in the trail at a hut called ‘Mama’s Kitchen’. We stopped for a break to listen to stories of what life used to be like here and sampled finger food, homemade treats of fishcakes and bakes cooked in a coalpot, the traditional way.
Another day George drove me to Sulphur Springs near Soufriere to visit the world’s only ‘drive-in volcano’. At first sight you could be forgiven for thinking you’d landed on the surface of the moon. Pools of bubbling, boiling hot mud and swathes of steam is probably not what springs to mind when you picture a Caribbean attraction, but this is exactly what you get here. For a small fee, visitors can have a mud bath in a natural hot-water pool, they say it makes you look and feel 12 years younger. Well, maybe, maybe not. You get used to the sulphur ‘rotten egg’ smell quickly though.
Since a tropical rainforest covers much of the mountainous interior, I wanted to experience it up close. Rainforest Adventures offer visitors the opportunity to make like Tarzan and zoom high above the ancient undergrowth on a zip line, follow a nature trail with a knowledgeable guide or glide gently up towards the clouds above the abundant tropical foliage on an aerial gondola ride. I could have spent all day there instead of a couple of hours, it was so tranquil. My guide pointed out giant palm fronds, magnificent heliconia flowers, colourful orchids and huge gaudy butterflies but try as I might to spot the island’s national bird, the chatty, colourful parrot, I wasn’t successful. I did see several tiny hummingbirds though and enjoyed a symphony of birdsong.
For those thinking about visiting St Lucia, the island has a year-round calendar of events. The two most popular are the St Lucia Jazz Festival in May and the month-long Saint Lucia Carnival in June/July.
Then well fed, well exercised, well relaxed, but all too soon, my time in the West Indies had come to an end. If you’re hankering after a holiday to a laid-back tropical island, St Lucia may well be just the place you’re looking for. You will enjoy it, I promise!
For more information on St Lucia, visit stlucia.org.