Back to Nature . . .
St. Lucia is known for its Piton peaks and its active volcano, but there are many more natural wonders to enjoy on this lush island . . .
St. Lucia is a nature lover’s paradise. Its neighbours Martinique and Barbados may attract the jet set with glitzy hotels and gourmet restaurants, but it’s St. Lucia the second largest of the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles, that is top of the tree when it comes to flora and fauna.
Botanists will wax lyrical for hours about the island’s fertile volcanic soil that allows it to grow vast quantities of pretty much anything, including bananas, of which the island is one of the key exporters in the Caribbean.
Luckily, St. Lucia’s lush landscape is what has helped it to remain incredibly unspoilt, despite an increase in tourism over the decade. Nineteen thousand acres of rain-forest-covered mountains prevent motorways being carved out of a terrain that hasn’t changed since the French and British battled for occupation in the 18th century.
St. Lucia gained its independence in 1979, but there are European influences everywhere, from place names such as Gros Islet to the language; most St. Lucians are tri-lingual, switching effortlessly from French to English to a Creole French patois.
Exploration of this volcanic isle is best done by hire car, but be warned, sightseeing happens at a very gentle pace due to the winding hillside roads, in fact, it can take a day to drive around an island tat is only 27 miles long and 14 miles wide.
It’s tempting to head straight for one of the island’s hottest natural commodities, its beaches and spend a vacation soaking up the sun. While the stretches of sand are special, it’s peeling yourself off a sun lounger for a couple of days to seek out some of the amazing natural wonders that form the island.
For example, the Gros and Petit Piton peaks and drive-up volcano in the south of the island have recently been proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as has the nearby Diamond Falls and Mineral Baths, which cascade in six stages through sulphur springs changing the colour of the water to brilliant shades of yellow, green and purple.
Marigot Bay is one of the worlds stunning natural harbours that once provided a hideout for pirate ships and was also the setting for the film Dr Dolittle, while the Maria Islands Nature Reserve a scattering of tiny islands off southern St. Lucia, are home to rare wildlife, including several species of birds that don’t exist anywhere else in the world. Frigate Islands off the east coast of St. Lucia form another reserve where you get the chance to see majestic Frigate birds nesting.
The abundance of natural beauty isn’t just confined to land. St. Lucia is a magnet for divers due to the immaculate coral reefs that ring the island. Particularly good are the reef at Anse Chastanet on the west coast where you can catch a glimpse of tropical fish and rays, octopus and shark if you’re lucky.
Of course, there are other attractions on the island besides the jaw-dropping scenery and wildlife. The capital, Castries, is a hub of shops and restaurants and has a large working port frequented by cruise ships. There are some truly unique hotels to relax in that frequently pop up in lists of the worlds’ best and the yearly St. Lucia Jazz Festival has become on of the hottest festivals on the world’s music calendar.
Each year from the end of April to the first week of May the island rocks to the sound of cool Jazz from the likes of Pharaoh Sanders, Ravi Coltrane, the Isley Brothers and the Kevin Mahogany Quintet.
There’s so much to see and do in St. Lucia it’s hard to whittle down a definitive list of essential experiences.
In the northwest lies the capital Castries, a bustling, dusty city that’s home to around 50,000 of the island’s 150,000 population. Worth hunting out are the beautiful Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and the daily market that has been running for more than 100 years and where you can snap up fresh fruit and vegetables, spices and local crafts. It is especially lively on Saturday.
Take time out to visit Pigeon Island National Park, a 40-acre islet off the northwest coast that is linked to the mainland by a man made causeway. It’s a national landmark restored
By the St. Lucia National Trust (www.slunatrust.org) in the Seventies and includes two stunning beaches, remnants of an 18th century British naval garrison and Fort Rodney, a fortified hilltop. It costs US$4 entry and is open 365 days a year. Construction began last November of The Landings, a big commercial development around the causeway that will include leisure resort, private marina and spa.
Head down the coast to the south west of the island and you’ll soon reach the famous volcano and Piton Peaks. The volcano is marketed as the world’s only drive in volcano, but don’t expect giant craters and jets of molten lava. The reality is some pools of bubbling mud and a distinct whiff of rotten eggs caused by sulphur emissions. Far more fun can be had from a dip in the warm sulphur springs nearby, which many claims have therapeutic qualities. Also situated in the southwest is Soufriere, a picturesque fishing village with narrow streets of pastel coloured, balconied houses that was originally the island’s capital. Most tourists find the village by road, but those in the know arrive by boat. Mystic Man Tours, tel: + 758 459 7783; is a gem of a water taxi service operating from a hut right by the water front. You can hire boats to and from locations around the coast, including the Airport and Castries, or enjoy excursions from whale and dolphin watching to champagne sunset cruises.
Get right into the heart of St. Lucia’s rainforest by taking on e of the Forestry Department’s, tel: +758 450 2231; www.slumaffe.org, three hiking tours, which cost from US$25. The Barre de L’Isle Trail leads you through the centre of the island to top of Morne La Combe. Offering magnificent views of the island’s interior. The Des Cartiers Rain Forest Reserve provides the opportunity to see the rare St. Lucia parrot, plus exotic flora and fauna like giant ferns and orchids. The Edmond Rain Forest Reserve Trail passes through a dense plantation of Caribbean pine trees while offering a breathtaking view of Mount Gimie, St.Lucia’s highest mountain at 3,118ft.
Wine & Dine
St. Lucians make good use of the island’s natural bounty when it comes to cuisine. The national dish is green figs and salt fish, which you can pick up from many of the roadside huts around the island. Other specialities to try including leafy callaloo soup, mild curries, pepper pot stews and delicious fresh fruit like mangos, papayas, and pineapples and coconuts.
Fruit appears in lots of dishes as does fresh seafood, in particular dolphin fish (Dorado) and flying fish. The island also produces its own Piton beer, a cool bottle of which tastes great after a hard day sightseeing.
Dasheene, tel: + 758 459 7323; at Ladera Resort, is considered the best dining experience on the island by critics. Set 1,000ft above sea level with magnificent views of the Pitons and rain-forest, it’s the vista as well as the American and Creole fusion menu that gets you salivating.
Bang, tel: +758 459 7864; If you want views of the Piton Peaks while you eat without the hefty prices, then head here to a cool little restaurant and rum shop that lies on the waterfront between the mountains and has a Ye Old Jerk Pit offering delicious barbecue fodder for under US$10.
Hurricane Hole Restaurant, tel: +758 451 4357; A wonderful setting for romantic dining at the Mooring Marigot Resort, which has a great selection of fish and fabulous views of the island’s most beautiful bay.
If you want a less formal more fun dining experience, then head for Gros Islet in the north for ‘Jump Up’ on a Friday night. The weekly street party attracts lots of St. Lucians and smattering of tourists, all there to enjoy the live music and delicious barbecued chicken and rice from vendors. Another fab Friday night for foodies is the seafood fry street party in the village of Anse La Raye.
Where to Stay
Anse Chastanet, tel: +758 459 7000; set in 600 acres on the southwest coast, is the leading resort on the island in terms of exclusivity, location and accommodation, attracting stars like Britney Spears. It looks like it’ll be even more of a celebrity magnet since it unveiled its new infinity suites, which have private pools with views of the Pitons. All of the villas are scattered over a hillside, apart from 12 suites at beach level and the deluxe hillside suites have had their fourth wall removed so guests can enjoy Al Fresco living. There are also two gourmet restaurants, pool, tennis courts, marine nature reserve and waiter service on the beach (you order your drink by raising a flag)
Prices from US$225 per night.
Windjammer Landing Resort, tel: + 758 456 9000; in the northwest is St. Lucia’s most popular resort and frequently picks up awards for its family friendly facilities. There are 232 villa-style rooms spread over 60 acres, so guests zip around on golf buggies to get to and from the hub of the resort that overlooks Labrelotte Bay. It has the feel of a Mediterranean Village, complete with mini market, seven restaurants, water sports centre and spa. It’s also a quick 20-minute transfer from the international Airport, so popular with those who want to fly and flop.
Prices from US$165 per night.
Coco Palm on the north coast opened its brightly coloured doors in April 2005 and instantly became the island’s hippest resort for young travellers. There are iPod interfaces and plasma screen TV’s in the suites, swim-up rooms with patios to the edge of the pool, private roof decks and no front desk; you check in at your leisure from your room. The barefoot chic crowd it will inevitably attract can drink at the hotel’s Cuban bar and dine at the French Creole restaurant, but if they don’t amuse, there are 20 bars and restaurants within walking distance in Rodney Bay. It doesn’t boast a beach but Reduit, one of St. Lucia’s finest but busiest stretches of sand is 500 yards away.
Prices from US$81 per night.
La Port Eco-Lodge, tel: +758 450 2231; If you’re the adventurous type, eschew the island’s comfy hotels and opt instead for a full-on nature experience although it is very basic, it lies in dense rain-forest around 15 minutes from Micoud. You get to spend the night in the heart of the island’s jungle; just don’t forget your mosquito repellent and sleeping bag.
Prices from a modest US$10 per night.
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