Escape to sun-drenched St LuciaPosted on: 14 December 2009 by Mark O'haire
Be enchanted by one of the jewels of the Caribbean.
St Lucia, the largest of the Windward Islands, is one of the most welcoming destinations in the Caribbean. Set between Martinique and St Vincent and dominated by the emblematic jungle-clad twin peaks known as the Pitons, the island offers many attractions. There are sandy beaches and bays, lovely little towns, lush volcanic mountains, tropical rain forests – and an abundance of friendly locals to 'lime' with (the local expression for 'hanging out').
Culturally, St Lucia is an engaging mix of Caribbean flair, French finesse and traditional British values. The island has changed hands 14 times, the Tricolour and the Union Jack alternating between 1650, when French settlers first landed, and 1814, when it became part of the British Empire. Granted independence in 1979, St Lucia remains part of the Commonwealth.
However, French influence remains evident in St Lucian music, dance and Creole art, while in the countryside people still converse in the local patois, a unique blend of French, African languages, English and Spanish.
Just 27 miles long and 14 wide, St Lucia has seen rapid development of its tourist industry over the past few years, with classy hotels springing up throughout the island.
- At St Lucia's northern tip is Rodney Bay, which has a marina, restaurants, luxury accommodation and the island's liveliest event every Friday night – the unforgettable 'Jump Up' when the whole town has a street party. Reduit Beach is a favourite spot with locals and visitors, famous for its attractive 1km of white coral sand and watersports facilities.
- Marigot Bay is a chic resort on the west coast and has many guesthouses and quiet hotels strung out along the north and south sides of the bay. In the marina, luxury yachts are moored. The bay was the principal location of the 1967 film Doctor Doolittle.
- Anse Chastanet Beach, north of Soufriere, is long and wide and one of the island’s finest stretches of pure white sand. It is a good spot for scuba excursions and snorkelling.
- Diamond Botanical Gardens - Part of the Soufriere Estate on the western tip of the island, it is filled with colourful tropical plants. A former sugar plantation dating from 1713, it has an interesting nature trail, an ornate water wheel, old mill and a waterfall. Visit early morning or late afternoon to avoid crowds. Open: Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; Sunday 10am-3pm.
- Pigeon Island - Strictly speaking, this is no longer an island because a causeway now links it to the mainland. There are 44 acres of National Park with a beach and 18th-century British fortifications which combine to make it one of St Lucia’s most popular places for a relaxing day out. An easy hike along a marked trail gives wonderful views out to sea. The Captain's Cellar restaurant and pub is popular, serving ice-cold beer and local specialities. Open: daily 9am-5pm.
Turtle watching - Heritage Tours organises an annual programme allowing visitors to experience the spectacle of leather-back turtles laying their eggs. The watches take place daily, mid-March to mid-July, and cost about US$65, including transport and food and an overnight stay in a tent.
Jazz Festival - The annual event kicks off this year on May 1 and runs for 10 days on Pigeon Island. It encompasses a range of acts from R&B and New Age jazz to fusion. It attracts international artists and there are many peripheral events across the island.
- Castries - Castries, the capital, has an unaffected charm, so keep a couple of hours free to visit during your stay. The town circles the deep harbour where hundreds of cruise ships dock each year to unload tourists for a day of duty-free shopping at the city's prosperous malls. Visit on a Friday or Saturday for a noisy and colourful West Indian market, where you will find rows of craft booths selling baskets, spices, T-shirts and fun straw hats. The fruit stalls are also very tempting.
- Soufriere - This is the oldest established town in St Lucia, dating from 1746, and was the island’s capital under French rule. Dominated by the Pitons, it has attracted film producers for years and was the backdrop for Superman II. The town can be explored by foot, so start at the pretty waterfront – a jumble of piers and boat slips where you'll also find a small fish market.
- Make for the fascinating seven-acre volcanic crater, La Soufriere Sulphur Spring (open daily 9am-5pm). No longer active, the volcano's sulphurous vapours are believed to help sinuses and the springs are said to have therapeutic value. That is debatable - the vile, rotten-egg smell of the gases is not to everyone's taste.
Food & Drink
One of the most attractive features of St Lucia is its cuisine. The fertile volcanic soil of the island yields an enormous supply of bananas, mangoes, papayas, pineapples, passion fruit and coconuts. Local chefs combine the island’s fresh produce with a wide variety of seafood to create curries and pepperpot stews.
There is a tradition of selling soft drinks at the roadside: a cup of crushed ice, topped with water, sweet fruit concentrate and a straw – delicious.
At your hotel, enjoy an eye-popping rum punch and sit back to enjoy some of the best sunsets in the Caribbean.
Tips and hints
- US dollars are acceptable throughout the island. All major credit cards are accepted and cash machines dispense local funds at favourable exchange rates.
- High season (and cost) for holidays to St Lucia runs from December to April.
- Although it is usually safe to drink tap water, bottled water is advisable.
- Do not travel without travel insurance. Doctors are widely available and hotels will be able to provide contact details. There are good hospitals and above-average medical facilities on the island.
- If renting a car a temporary driver's licence is required, purchased at the airport or car rental office. Driving is on the left and speed limit is 30mph. Payment for fuel by cash.
St Lucia Tourist Office 020 7341 7000
The AA Explorer Guide Caribbean, £12.99
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