There is a space between the Piton Mountains that, depending on where you're sitting, reveals a rainforest that spills into a seemingly endless ocean. Somewhere in this vastness of pristine water, wildlife and a few persistent birds, I discovered peace. Because St. Lucia's beauty speaks for itself, you will not find overwhelming tourist slogans, cheesy souvenir shops and street vendors, particularly on the southern side of the island. What you will find is a wide range of tranquility and brotherhood, an undying love for country and smiles from nearly every resident that you pass.
"I love St. Lucia," our taxi driver says as we ride through the town of Laborie. "I've never been anywhere else, and I would never leave."
This is a declaration that will be affirmed by nearly every St. Lucian I meet: They have never left the island and have no desire to do so.
During our drive from the airport, we pass cocoa plants that produce the chocolate that has become a well-known culinary treat and export on the island. Kwéyòl, the local dialect, can be heard in the distance. The lingering effects of French and British colonization are apparent, but so is the spirit of the people who have strived to create their own identity. We pass through Choiseul, considered the heart of the arts-and-crafts industry on the island. Each town has its own unique feel, its own history and pride. A St. Lucian woman will later share with me that in Choiseul, neighbors will sing door-to-door carols during Christmas time. They will feed those without food and enjoy a drink or two. This is the kind of camaraderie that is so apparent across the island.
When we arrive in the town of Soufriere, our room at Ladera Resort awaits us. In its space, I will recall for the first time in many months what it means to stop and just breathe. I have been transported from sitting in front of a computer all day back in New York to a sweeping villa with a private plunge pool, canopy bed and an open-air view of the Atlantic Ocean, Piton mountains and a sky that looks like a painted prop.
Ladera provides a majestic simplicity that I have never experienced. This is not the resort for those looking for over-the-top amenities. It is a serene, slightly solitary experience that puts you directly in touch with not only nature, but also your thoughts. The heightening of your senses is provided by a chorus of frogs and birds, a sunset that puts on a show right in front of your bed, rolling hills of green that remind one that life doesn't have to be so damn hard all the time if you just stop and take a look at all the beauty that surrounds you every day.
Just down the hill, about 15 minutes away, sits The Rainforest Spa at the stunning Sugar Beach Resort (formerly Jalousie Plantation). It is here that I received quite possibly one of the best massages of my life, with the sound of running streams just outside in the background. The beach on the grounds, which offers unobstructed views of the Piton mountains and an abundance of colorful sea life and coral for snorkelers, is also another natural beauty well worth a visit.
A trip to St. Lucia would not be complete without dipping in the 100-degree-plus sulphur hot water baths. A favorite of local and tourists, the baths are the result of a now dormant volcano. Sulphur is said to have numerous healing properties, and in my case, even cured a hangover. There's no better way to experience the rainforests, of which St. Lucia has 19,000 acres, than with a quick zipline through the trees, over streams and pointing passersby. It also serves as a great reminder of just how unspoiled the island really is.
Friday night's fish fry in the village of Anse le Raye is also not to be missed. Locals gather to provide a wide range of the island's seafood offerings: from snapper to whole lobsters. There is also a wide range of special drinks, from rum punch to the locals' favorite, simply called "spice." After a few of these drinks, locals and tourists alike gather in the street to dance and even sing karaoke. Further up the coast in the north, the infamous Gros Islet "jump up" also occurs in the streets, where folks gather to dance until the wee hours of the morning.
On the drive to the northern part of the island, the tranquility of the south slowly gives way to a slightly more buzzing, cosmopolitan scene. For accommodations, Cap Maison in Gros Islet is the perfect honeymoon getaway, complete with its own secluded beach and breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea from the villas.
In just a 15-minute drive, you can reach Rodney Bay, where the marina and a great number of nightlife and restaurant options can be found. Spice of India is one such restaurant that has received great accolades, and for good reason: It is Indian food that stays true to the authentic flavors of the chef's own mother's recipes. And it was, in a word, magnificent. Flavours of the Grill is another standout restaurant in Gros Islet. Owned by former hotel chef O'Nell Daly and his fiancée, Flavours offers a straightforward menu with wildly distinct tastes, from the jerk chicken wings to impossibly tender lamb. A view from the restaurant's patio provides the perfect entertainment of the street life for the evening.
I have traveled to many islands, but have never experienced the kind of tranquility and kindness I did in St. Lucia. It is an island full of people and the kind of closeness to nature that I will not soon forget.
Spice of India
Flavours of the Grill