St Lucia


Published in The Sunday Telegraph in 2008

The cricket World Cup earlier this year wasn’t quite the money-spinner St Lucia had hoped for. But the prospect of hosting the world did at least kick-start a programme of much-needed infrastructural development: the roads may be awful, but they’re a lot less awful than they used to be. Something else has changed, too. Visitor accommodation used to be mainly all-inclusive beach resorts and three-star hotels. Nothing wrong with that, except they don’t bring in the big spenders. So over the past few years, St Lucia has been building or renovating hotels likely to appeal to those looking for something a little more luxurious; both Raffles and Ritz-Carlton plan to open resorts here within the next couple of years.

So, is St Lucia destined to be the next Barbados? I hope not. Who wants to see another beautiful coastline blocked by development? Passionate environmentalist Judith Verity, who with her husband recently opened Discovery at Marigot Bay (see opposite page), believes that St Lucians are beginning to appreciate the natural beauty of their island and are making efforts to preserve it. Below is my guide to the best of St Lucia; hotels are arranged in geographical order, from the south and nearest to the international airport. See map for exact locations.

Jalousie Plantation, on the coast west of Ladera, used to be the best resort on the island. Alas, not any more, though it does still have the best location (pictured above), tucked between the Pitons. Accommodation is mostly in gingerbread-style villas – many with private plunge pools – scattered over 192 acres of rainforest. The beach and pool area are both lovely and the food (breakfast apart) isn’t bad.

The trouble is that, with the exception of the spa, the whole resort needs updating (and replumbing: I had to get maintenance to come and turn my shower off) and the only way of getting around is by shuttle bus, which is tedious. The good news is that its new owners are planning a programme of renovation, and in the meantime, rates will remain low. So go if your budget won’t stretch to the pricier resorts reviewed here – just don’t expect the Shangri-la promised by the brochure. 2013 Update: this hotel was rebuilt in 2012 and is now a Viceroy Resort called Sugar Beach

Ladera presents two problems: it’s not on the coast (guests are currently shuttled to beaches at Anse Chastenet or Jalousie, though the hotel will have its “own” beach, with full service, next year); and it wins so many awards it can be difficult to get into. But it’s well worth the effort – it’s one of the most romantic little hotels in the Caribbean. Each of the 21 suites and six villa suites has a private plunge pool and three walls, the better to appreciate the hotel’s stunningly beautiful location, 1,100ft up in the rainforest, with views towards the twin Pitons.

There’s a fabulous restaurant and a chic pool; there’s also a hot tub filled with black mineral water and a tiny spa. Ladera is secluded perfection but because it doesn’t have a beach, I think four days to a week is about the right amount of time to spend here, before moving on to somewhere like East Winds Inn (see below) or Discovery at Marigot Bay.

Anse Chastenet/Jade Mountain  describes itself as “What Caribbean hotels [were] like before trade winds were replaced by blasts of air-conditioning, when morning exercise was a walk on the beach… and when you sat watching the sunset instead of cable TV.”

I’d describe it as rustic luxury – lots of tropical hardwoods and local stone, no in-room technology (mobile phone reception isn’t great either), no swimming pool, no gym – and perfect for anyone who wants to stop the world and get off for a few days.

There are 12 rooms, a small spa and a restaurant at beach level but the majority of the resort is about 100 steps higher up the bluff, where there are two restaurants and bar, 14 fairly traditional white-washed cottages with wraparound balconies and, higher still, a handful of deluxe suites with three walls and fabulous views of the Pitons or the rainforest.

Good food, superb diving and snorkelling and particularly lovely staff – but think twice if you can’t manage steep slopes or steps. Jade Mountain opened late last year in the grounds of Anse Chastenet and it’s quite something.

Each of the simple but ultra-luxurious rooms – or sanctuaries, as they are known – has three walls, with an infinity pool and a staggering view of the Pitons where the fourth wall should be. Jade Mountain has its own restaurant and fabulous open roof-top “club” area, but guests can also use Anse Chastenet’s facilities. The place is a tribute to owner Nick Troubetzkoy’s bold architectural vision.

Some of the common parts looked a bit bleak to me, though to be fair, landscaping wasn’t complete when I visited. However, it also presents a dichotomy: the sanctuaries are so glorious – and expensive – it seems a shame to leave them; but there’s only so long you can sit in a plunge pool, sipping cocktails and admiring the view. So maybe the ideal would be to spend most of your stay at livelier Anse Chastenet then hole up in Jade Mountain for a couple of nights.

Discovery at Marigot Bay is cut into a gentle hillside on the edge of the island’s prettiest bay. Opened late last year, it successfully combines sustainable, low-impact design with the last word in resort chic. There are 57 two-room suites (which can be split into single units), with kitchenettes, fabulous bathrooms and sea-facing balconies, housed in what look like giant treehouses.

The ground-floor suites have private plunge pools but the resort’s main pool and terrace infinity pool are so glorious, you don’t really need your own. There’s an almost East Coast America feel about Discovery, with its smart boardwalk leading from the resort, past the moorings, to a charming little marina shopping mall, though the glittering, palm-fringed bay couldn’t be anywhere but the Caribbean.

Service at Discovery is excellent, food is fantastic, the “wild garden” landscaping by Veronica Shingleton-Smith is terrific – in fact, the only thing that might bother beach-lovers is that it isn’t quite on the beach (it only takes a couple of minutes to get to the one just across the bay). I loved this resort and plan to write more about it in coming months. 2013 update: this hotel is now the Capella Marigot Bay Hotel

East Winds Inn, recently bought by a Canadian couple, is one of the oldest resorts on St Lucia and certainly one of the most traditional. It’s sold on an all-inclusive basis but prefers to describe itself as “full board with complimentary drinks and wines”.

On the island’s north-west coast, between Rodney Bay and Castries, it has 32 rooms, the majority in semi-detached thatched cottages, set among the trees skirting the white-sand beach. It’s all fairly low-tech – ceiling fans rather than air-conditioning – though guests are permitted to remain in telephone contact with the outside world. There’s a lovely free-form swimming pool, an open-air restaurant and old-style bar though no spa (yet).

It’s not terribly smart or self-conciously chic, but it does have an old-fashioned glamour. It will be even nicer when the new owners have spent some money on it, though there’s little they can do about the racket from the nearby Windjammer resort that drifts across the bay some evenings.

LeSport  When I last visited LeSport was in need of some TLC. A renovation programme is already under way but it won’t be finished until next summer, so the hotel is offering low rates at the moment. LeSport invented the BodyHoliday concept – “Give us your body for a week and we’ll give you back your mind” goes its slogan – and the price includes a daily treatment at the resort’s comprehensive spa. It’s great for singles (it has 27 really nice single rooms and communal tables for singles in the restaurants) and has the best programme of sporting activities in St Lucia.

And don’t worry that fellow guests will make you feel out of shape: most are too busy tucking into the bread-and-butter pudding and profiteroles on the lunch buffet to worry too much about the body beautiful.

Cap Maison is one to watch. It is currently being built by the Gobat family on the site of their old family home above a pretty cove on the northern tip of the island. There will be 22 one-, two- and three-bedroom villas, all with a garden or roof terrace and private plunge pool and Veronica Shingleton-Smith is doing the landscaping. It promises to blend the best of traditional Caribbean and contemporary design. 2013 update: Cap Maison is now one of the finest hotels on the island

Cotton Bay is a gated village-style development, with 74 luxurious suites, town houses and villas, on the north-east coast. It opened earlier this year, but when I stayed in May, only the beach restaurant was up and running, with no sign of the promised main restaurant, Champagne piano bar or boutique or gift shop.

No sign, either, of my butler – butler service is supposed to be all part of the package – or many other guests, which gave it a rather forlorn feel. But it’s close to the new golf club (via a partially unmade road at the moment), and if the food and service in the beach restaurant is anything to go by, it could work well when it’s fully open. It’s worth going now if you can get a good rate.