Tuesday, May 1, 2012
The beauty of St Lucia extends beyond its golden beaches, but when you settle into a secluded hotel it can be hard to draw yourself away
St Lucia was once described as the “Helen of the West Indies” largely because its strategic location, within easy reach of North America, meant it was frequently fought over by Britain and France.
But the tropical Caribbean island has another similarity with Helen of Troy. Its golden sands, palm fringed beaches and lush rainforests make it strikingly beautiful.
Compared with its island neighbours tourism has grown relatively slowly here, which has added to the island’s charm. Life remains laidback and relaxed, with fishermen bringing in their catch and families selling local produce from roadside stalls. But there are still plenty of luxury hotels if you want to indulge.
I discovered one of them at Choc Bay, on the northwest of the island, built by an Austrian called Konrad Wagner who, after years of working at Sandals Resorts in the West Indies, wanted to offer something small and exclusive, close to the sea.
Calabash Cove is a hotel that actually delivers on its promise of “ocean views” - and does so from every room; ours was a junior suite with a massive bed, an equally huge jacuzzi bath and a balcony overlooking the glittering waters of the Caribbean.
But it was the lobby and the open-sided dining room, a few steps below it, that offered the ultimate seascape: a panorama of turquoise sea, pale blue sky and a horizon dotted with yachts. It took my breath away the moment we arrived.
My husband and I never tired of the view. After taking it in at breakfast, we headed to the lobby for another dose mid-morning, curling up in a couple of cocoon-style swinging chairs with a basket of homemade melt-in-your-mouth pastries and an even greater expanse of Caribbean sea.
Calabash Cove has just 26 rooms including nine chalet-style cottages hidden in gardens of coconut palms and bourgainvillaea that slope down to the sea. Whenever we strolled to the beach we never met a soul. Of the 20 sun loungers I counted on the sand, no more than six were ever full.
It was as if we’d been invited to a weekend house party where, on arrival, our host requested we did as we pleased: sip cocktails, sunbathe, swim, snorkel or take a kayak and paddle round the bay.
But there wasn’t just the hotel to enjoy – there was the island to explore too.
One of the wonderful things about St Lucia (besides the beaches, the weather and the lushness of it all) is its size - at just 27 miles long and 14 miles wide, it’s easy to get around.
From a hill overlooking the town of Soufriere on the southwest coast, we took in the island’s iconic twin peaks, the Pitons. The volcanic mountains, which seem perfect triangles, surge straight out of the water and soar a staggering 3000 feet (around half a mile) above sea level.
Soufriere itself is famous for its sulphur springs where, beneath a hill that bubbled and belched, we slathered ourselves in mineral rich mud and baked on rocks in the sunshine.
For a taste of the rainforest (St Lucia has 19,000 acres of it) we headed north, to Babonneau, and took an open air cable ride through the canopy, our guide pointing out hummingbirds, butterflies, giant tree ferns and the local Calabash tree whose inedible round fruit is hollowed out and made into bowls.
There was also the delightful Pigeon Island, although it’s no longer technically such after a causeway was built in the 70s. This one-time pirate stronghold and former British garrison is St Lucia’s prime recreation spot, with lawns sloping down to small beaches, woodland and peaks.
We wandered round the crumbling remains of soldiers’ barracks and hiked to the hill top remains of Fort Rodney overlooking Rodney Bay.
And then it was back to the delights Calabash Cove - cocktails, the inifinity pool, prosecco in the afternoon and fine dining at night.
The menu offered international cuisine, and dishes with a local touch: ravioli de Choiseul with local pork and St Lucian crab backs with smoked mango mojo were among the starters, followed by dishes which included local red snapper and Jamaican delice of pork with Caribbean salsa. And for pudding? It had to be the sweet local bananas, flambéed in rum with coconut ice cream!
Our stay flew by. Before we knew it, it was time to leave. Below our balcony, beyond the frangipani and the palm trees, I took in the Caribbean for one last time. As we said goodbye to the staff in the lobby, I snatched a second glance.
The sunlight was dancing on the waves, and just like the day we’d arrived, it took my breath away.
Calabash Cove and Spa: www.calabashcove.com
St Lucia tourist board: www.stlucia.org