Sitting at the end of a long curve of islands in the Caribbean and off the coast from Venezuela, lies St Lucia. It’s a slip of an island, only 27 miles by 14 miles and easily traversable in a day (though expect a bumpy journey). The main airport, Hewanorra International Airport, is on the southern tip but the majority of the island’s tourism centres on the Pitons – two dramatic, lush-green peaks that rise out the western central coastline in a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This is an island that offers the classic luxury Caribbean escape: idyllic beaches, sparkling bays and fiery sunsets. But it also has a rugged, adventurous side, with a volcano and accompanying bubbling pools, zip-lining and dense forests criss-crossed with walking and bike trails.
Where to stay
Overlooking the Pitons from your private infinity pool while your personal butler serves you champagne – you can only be at Jade Mountain, a glorious feat of architecture near Soufriere on the west coast. Each ‘sanctuary’ has its own private pool, lounge area and sun terrace (above). Clever design and landscaping has been utilised to allow the front of the open-plan suites to be exposed to the outside, while maintaining complete privacy. Guests are assigned a butler on arrival and each suite comes with a mobile phone on which to phone them. Not that you’ll need or want much assistance – it’s all helpfully laid out for you. The fridge is stocked with a bento box, petit fours (which are made on the Jade Mountain estate) and drinks. The wet room is filled with Molton Brown toiletries plus lots of other thoughtful extras: eye masks and ear plugs for light sleepers, multiple towels in different sizes for bathing and swimming and bath salts for the spa bath.
If you make it out of your sanctuary, you can dine and drink in the restaurant, which spans two stories. The first floor, again open-fronted, has tables plotted around an infinity pool. Upstairs, the Celestial Terrace (above) is available for private hire (a popular spot for proposals and anniversaries). A private shuttle will take you to the silvery 150 metre beach (presided over by Jade Mountain’s sister resort, Anse Chastanet), where you only need to raise a flag to order cocktails from one of the four bar/restaurants.
St Lucia's top 3 water sports
- Sailing: Jus’ Sail is run by British couple Pepsi and James Crockett. You might recognise Pepsi: she was one half of Eighties pop duo Pepsi and Shirli. Now, she and her husband host sailing trips, running from two hours to a full day, with a maximum eight people. The itineraries are varied but always relaxed, with opportunities for snorkelling, swimming and sunbathing. Dolphins are regularly seen.
- Diving: Anse Chastanet is regarded by many divers as the best dive spot in St Lucia. Scuba St Lucia, based on the beach at Anse Chastanet, organises dives to 13 sites. The reserve has over 150 species of fish, plus green and hawksbill turtles. Wreck diving is available to the sunken Lesleen M, a boat 30ft down, and the company also takes out night dives.
- Kayaking: Kayaking is good way to explore St Lucia’s coastline, much of which is lined with pretty forest or resorts, which provide good stop-off points. Kayak St Lucia organises guided group and private tours around Soufriere Bay and the Pitons, plus beach tours and bird-watching excursions.
Food and drink
St Lucia is lush and St Lucians are rightly proud of the produce grown on the island. Expect to eat lots of snapper and cod, plantain, breadfruit and figs (which are actually green bananas). The island’s national dish is stewed green bananas and salt cod, often served for breakfast.
Other dishes to look out for, especially on national holidays and festivals: Johnny cakes – a fried bread also popular in the US – and bouillon, a stew of fish, chicken or meat with yams, plantains, dasheen (a knobbly root vegetable also known as taro), banana and dumplings.
Hotels will serve familiar cocktails but a traditional drink to try – or at least buy the ingredients to make at home - is cocoa tea, a warm breakfast drink made from cocoa, milk, vanilla and cinnamon. For top-quality St Lucian cocoa, pay a visit to Hotel Chocolat, which has a plantation on the south-west of the island.
Things to see and do
First up: beaches. St Lucia’s beaches are public, meaning you don’t have to pay to use them but access can be tricky to some, so you may want to hire a boat (your hotel can arrange this or go to the port in Soufriere - some even come with an on-board band). The best beaches lie on the western side of the island – they are calmer, they have the best snorkelling sites and you can catch the island’s dramatic sunsets. Head to Anse Chastanet; it’s small, quiet and has brilliant snorkelling. The bumpy journey to get here puts off a lot of day trippers so despite being backed by a hotel, it rarely feels over-crowded and maintains the peaceful ambience you expect on a Caribbean getaway.
The beach-side watersports centre hires out snorkelling gear and organises diving excursions. You can also take out paddle boards and kayaks, which is a lot of fun on the still, deep waters. You can take a boat from here to Anse Mamin plantation, where you can eat terrific burgers and plantain chips, before heading off for a guided tour of the surrounding forest to learn about St Lucia’s flora (including its many medicinal botanicals). This is also a good spot to hire bikes and whizz along the many trails.
There’s a lot more than idyllic beaches to St Lucia and with a car or taxi you can get about easily in a day. There are several zip-lining centres on the island – try Morne Coubaril Estate zip-lining, where, harnessed to cables, with guidance of instructors, you can fly between platforms high up in the trees. Another interesting (and relaxing) trip is to the whiffy Sulphur Springs Park, which is heated by the island’s volcano, and the well-maintained Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens (pictured below - worth it for the towering waterfall alone).
St Lucia: know before you go
- The official currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar and US Dollars are readily accepted in most hotels and restaurants
- The island's main language is English but St. Lucian Kwéyòl, a French-based creole, is widely spoken as well
- It has a population of 174,000 and is an independent member of the British Commonwealth, meaning you don't need a visa if you're visiting from Britain (or the US, or other Commonwealth countries)
- The hurricane season in the Caribbean normally runs from June to November
- The book: St Lucia & Dominica Footprint Focus Guide by Sarah Cameron, out this month
- The app: Saint Lucia Island Tour, 69p, from Crazy Apps for iPhone and iPad
Getting there and away
George Charles (Vigie) Airport is based in the north of the island, or the larger Hewanorra International Airport is on its southern tip. Virgin Atlantic and British Airways run daily flights. Or if you're in the area already, you can arrive in style by grabbing a ferry from nearby islands including Martinique, Dominica, or Guadeloupe.
Nightly rates at Anse Chastanet start from US $330 per night in a standard room based on two sharing. Nightly rates at Jade Mountain start at US$ 1,275 per Sanctuary. Price is based on two persons sharing a Sky, Star, Moon, Sun or Galaxy Jacuzzi Suite. All rates are subject to 8% tax and 10% service charges. To book contact: Luxury Worldwide Collection; 020 8421 7090.
Words: Mollie McGuigan, Images: Charlotte Rous and Rex Features