The Helen of the West Indies, as they call this pearl shaped island in the eastern Caribbean, St. Lucia passed between the English and the French a rollicking 14 times. There was a time when the myth of oil wafted across this portion of the Lesser Antilles, prompting a hungrier interest. That was put to rest after failed attempts to find any, and these days, oil only sees St. Lucia for storage purposes on the Venezuela-U.S. route.
There is so much to do and see. Martinique is a hop, skip and jump away, Barbados a longer one. Banana plantations, stilted houses on hillsides and a plethora of resorts dot the landscape, which can be traversed in a matter of hours by car and in minutes by a helicopter. Cricket blares on television sets and rum bedecks beach side bars. The water is pristine, whether it is the Caribbean side or the slightly colder Atlantic brushing up against the idyllic beaches, complete with pretty coconut and palm trees draped along the coast.
So what did I choose on this quaint island paradise on a brief holiday? Here’s the best and worst of what I experienced, in 5 days.
- Mud baths near the sulphur springs. If you’re lucky, you’ll have the delectably silky mud all to yourself. Clean changing rooms and restrooms available. It’s a perfect natural spa experience for just a minimal amount of money.
- Dining at The Cliff at Cap, at the Cap Maison hotel. Look down at the mildly lapping waves from your table upon the cliff and consider ordering a second slice of the passionfruit cheesecake. Service is pleasant and the food is delicious, albeit erring on the side of blandness in its haute English-French avatar.
- Staying at the Cotton Bay Village. Friendly, exemplary service worthy of the Small Luxury Hotels brand it carries, a cottage to yourself, perfectly palatable lunches and dinners at 1461, the beach side restaurant, and the most tranquil of beaches with the occasional aloe seller-locally-known-as-crazy-Robert (for a reason – don’t get him talking – a good 30 minutes will go by with no semblance of logic). Go snorkelling, there are pretty fish to be seen. Kite surfing lessons can be taken at the beach. You can walk for a good distance beyond the beach and onto the hills, and even ride a horse along the way.
- Helicopter ride from Hewanorra International at Vieux Fort to the George Charles Airport near Castries. Very convenient if you’re staying in the northern part of the island and certainly, the best way to get a full sense of the island’s geography. Take in the rainforest below you, the postcard perfect Pitons standing tall, and colourful houses spread out across the hills.
- I could go on about this particular one, but stay clear of the Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort at Labrelotte Bay. Devious staff, downright tragic food, nauseatingly tacky decor, mosquitoes galore, and possibly the worst management I have ever come across. I checked out one night early after falling victim to false advertising and waited a solid week to get my promised refund. “We train our staff to treat guests as they would want to be treated when they travel,” explains the resort manager, at which addled philosophy I choke down my bubbling wrath. His deputy, meanwhile, felt no embarrassment whatsoever in sharing with us that “people have good and bad experiences here.” Beware, all ye who have taste and a desire for even the most basic of service. Actually, let's just make that a universal beware. I wish I were exaggerating.
- The sulphurous smell emanating from our lovely earth’s pores at the Soufrières volcano. The rote story of Gabriel the guide who plopped into the boiling smelly waters in a sprightly bout of showing off and suffered from second degree burns, as a result of which nobody can go on the fragile crater (if you're really aching to bounce around on the charred earth and tempted to peer into the boiling chalky black depths of the vile water - please note - don't).
- Obnoxious vendors demanding the purchase of substandard goods at the viewing platforms perched atop the many hills and scenic routes.
- Drought on the island. Brushfires pan out over the hilly slopes when it doesn’t rain enough, the poor palms curling over in dingy brown despair. All hail the rain, when it finally and condescendingly patters down on the parched vegetation.
- References to The Bachelor being filmed around the island in recent months. Because we are all supposed to care.
- Did I mention Windjammer already?
FOR THE EXAMINER’S LA READERS:
You’ll have to bear with a flight to Miami, New York, Atlanta or Charlotte, and catch a connection to Hewanorra International. Makes for a long journey, but the first glimpse of the island should cure your morose jet lagged self.
U.S. citizens don't require a tourist visa to enter the country.
LENS: First-time visitor, on holiday