By Melanie Reffes
West of Barbados and south of Martinique, St. Lucia is celebrated for its voluptuous natural beauty that includes the spectacular twin Piton Mountains, drive-in volcano, black sand beaches and a rainforest that teems with wild orchids and fragrant fruit trees. A five-hour flight from Toronto, the picturesque island is a hop away with easy connections from other cities.
“The Canadian market is very important to St. Lucia,” said Senator Allen Chastanet, minister of tourism. “The dollar is strong and we have seen an increase in arrivals to the Caribbean this year. Year-to-date, arrivals have grown 14.3 per cent over 2009, which is very encouraging. This can be attributed to the increased airlift from Air Canada and West Jet and a proactive advertising campaign launched in partnership with our travel partners to ensure that we keep the island top-of-mind year-round.”
The Big Sleep
The recipient of the prestigious AAA Five Diamond Rating for 2011, Jade Mountain is the fifth resort in the Caribbean to attain such honours after the Ritz Carlton resorts in Grand Cayman and Montego Bay, Tortuga Bay in the Dominican Republic and Sandy Lane in Barbados. “We do not only want to meet guest expectations with our service, we want to exceed them every step of the way,” said Karolin Troubetzkoy, co-owner and director of marketing. Adjacent to the Piton Mountains, the luxe resort was built by Russian-Canadian architect Nick Troubetzkoy who designed every suite with an open-plan concept that has no fourth wall between the room and the view.
Re-branded this month as The Tides Sugar Beach, the former Jalousie Plantation underwent a US $100 million enhancement that bought two new restaurants, villa suites, Cane Bar with rums chosen by a ‘rummelier’ and Rainforest Spa with tree house treatment rooms.
Beachfront on a sloping hillside, Calabash Cove tempts the winter weary with swim-up cottages on the water’s edge. Popular with families spending Christmas together, the resort offers meal plans, golf and an afternoon aboard the Brig Unicorn, a yacht featured in the Pirates of the Caribbean film.
In the heart of funky Rodney Bay, Bay Gardens Hotel, Bay Gardens Inn and Bay Gardens Beach Resort welcome families, couples and singles with comfy suites and rates starting at US $65 per night at the Hotel through December 15.
CAMFifteen minutes from the Hewanorra International Airport, Coconut Bay Beach is the best deal on the south coast with an all-inclusive plan, cabana beds in the sand , oceanview Kai-Mer Spa and ‘Splash’, the island’s largest water park with a Kidz Club, lazy river and paintball course. Couples can say, “I do” in the mountaintop lighthouse wedding gazebo with sweeping views of the sea and all details arranged by the resort’s expert team of wedding planners.
Iconic and statuesque, the twin peaks that rise out of the sea are the national symbols of the island and the most visited tourist attraction. Gros Piton (798 metres) and Petit Piton (750 metres), or the Piton Mountains, were formed of lava and rock and blanketed with rare plants seen only in this area. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, tours of the peaks are sold at most of the hotels and resorts. Next door, the Sulphur Springs – one of the world’s few drive-in volcanoes – is a rocky landscape of bubbling craters seething with sulphur and hissing with steam.
Cashing in on the image of the mountains, Heineken opened their first Caribbean brewery in St. Lucia and began production of Piton Beer more than 15 years ago. Today, the Windward and Leeward Brewery Company brew three kinds of beer: Piton lager has a floral aroma and an alcohol content of 5 per cent; Piton Malta packed with vitamins and no alcohol; and Piton Shandy, a blend of beer lemon, sorrel and ginger.
St Lucia Tourist BoardA Blue Streak
Beaches are open to the public with sun worshippers hunkering down on Reduit Beach, and Anse des Pitons where the sea is a feast of sparkling blues. Invitingly serene, the beach on Pigeon Island National Park is for sunning, swimming and a climb up to the Fort Rodney ruins for vistas of Martinique on a clear day.
Anse Chastanet is carpeted with sand that reflects the black volcanic origins of the island, while Jalousie Beach, between the Gros and Petit Piton peaks, welcomes with sugary white sand and waters as clear as high-octane rum.
The century-old market in the capital city of Castries dishes up a delectable array of local treats that range from chewy cassava bread speckled with cherries and nutmeg and rotis packed with spicy lamb and fresh mangoes, to papayas and coconuts from the tree.
Every Friday from 8 pm until the fun runs out, Anse-la-Raye, on the west coast, is all about seafood with sides of roasted corn, hot bakes and plenty of frosty Piton beer. The main road is a no-car zone with stalls hawking bubbling conch stew and lobsters by the pound.
For party people with an appetite, the Friday night Gros Islet Jump-Up is chockablock with barbecues grilling chicken, pork and fish. The island’s longest running street party keeps locals and tourists happy until the early morning hours. On the east coast, Dennery Fish Saturday salutes the sea with another spirited street party. The salty air mixes well with aromas of fresh fish while soca and calypso ignite the night air.
For more information, visit www.saintlucianow.com.