Heaven on earth in St Lucia


Last updated at 17:51 26 November 2008

More geographically varied than Antigua, less crowded than Barbados, St Lucia remains one of my favourite Caribbean destinations, even a decade after I first visited.

Of course, since then much has changed. Roads have been properly surfaced, the volcano fitted with safety barriers after one guide fell in and nearly died, and there are splendid new hotels making the island a place for those who want to relax as well as for those of a more adventurous spirit.

Every visitor's first soothing introduction is the warm wind that wraps round you as you step off your flight into the Caribbean night. Next morning there's a view that never tires: blue seas, emerald vegetation and ever-changing skies.

I couldn't wait to run across the landscaped lawns outside the recently opened Hyatt Regency hotel straight into the healing sea for an hour's gentle acclimatisation before breakfast.

The Hyatt has bagged one of the most delightful spots on the island on a little spit of land between the Caribbean sea and the Atlantic with views of wild ocean breakers on one side and sailing boats calmly at anchor on the other.

The history and scenery of St Lucia is such that no one can sit on a beach there for long without wondering what lies behind the banana-fronded hills.

One of my favourite spots is Anse Chastenet, a little hideaway hotel about an hour-and-a-half by road from the capital, near the twin peaks that are on the island's flag.

Here, many a British honeymooner has spent a blissful wedding night in a suite favoured by the actor Harrison Ford. With one side of the room completely open to the rainforest, even the bathroom enjoys what must be one of the best views in the world.

If you are not already married when you arrive, the local notary will conduct a wedding on the beach below, under a garlanded gazebo, to the beguiling tune of a local band.

As I snorkelled on the reef - the hotel boasts one of the best dive centres in the Caribbean - I surfaced to witness a bride from Texas in full white dress, cheeks blushing pink thanks to the occasion and the heat, take her vows in front of her family who had flown in for the ceremony.

Just round the headland is Joyce's Humming Bird Inn - a tiny hotel for the more adventurous, since the garden opens directly on to the dark volcanic sand of Soufriere beach which lies just below the famed twin peaks.

The town of Soufriere, with its little church square and fishing quarter, is almost completely unspoiled, giving an insight into real life in the Caribbean.

Strafed by hurricanes, which can toss the gingerbread buildings into the sea, it can still be hard for those trying to make a traditional living.

So desperate are the young boys for U.S. dollars that they swim out to between the hulls of each visiting catarmaran, dodging propellers as they go.

The most curious of St Lucia's attractions is the volcano, which has given its name to the town Soufriere - it means sulphur.

All that remains of this volcano is the collapsed crater with its pockmarked lunar landscape of boiling holes belching sulphur-smelling steam, said to be good for asthma and arthritis.

Locals say that while it is steaming it will not erupt, and they will invite you to bathe in a spring of hot, black, health-giving volcanic mud where Elton John and David Hockney have dipped their toes. It is also a popular place for local hawkers.

It was here I stumbled on a magnificent 18 inch-high hawk, carved from a knot of cedar wood by a Rastafarian called Matthew Joseph from the nearby village of Choiseul.

After a little haggling I paid about £13, persuaded both by the bird's magnificent talons and its Creole patois name, Mal Fini, which means 'a sticky end' - for whatever small animal the hawk intended on catching for dinner.

Nearby is the moody mountain-top plantation house of Morne Coubaril where you get a glimpse of life in colonial times and the long-winded processing of coconut, cocoa and sugar-cane products that sustained it.

Here you are also handily poised to visit Princess Margaret's old friend Lord Glenconner in his waterside restaurant Bang Between The Pitons. Glenconner will cook for you and try to sell you one of the loose shirts he wears, complete with the logo of his ancestral coronet.

I make the trip to Soufriere every time I come to St Lucia, happy to note that it has lost none of its informality.

Meanwhile, the capital, Castries, to which I returned this time through shoals of flying fish at sunset on a deep sea fishing boat, is becoming so sophisticated that you might be in Florida. I have always been fascinated by this tiny place that has engendered not one Nobel Prize winner but two - first the 1979 winner in economics, second the poet Derek Walcott in 1992.

Tourism is bringing increasing prosperity. One can only pray with Walcott, who keeps a home here and is fiercely involved with island history and culture, that it does not destroy its tight-knit society or its heritage.

Travel Facts:

Details from British Airways Holidays on 0870 24 24 245.

Sorry we are not currently accepting comments on this article.