St Lucia’s LITTLE GEMS

Jennifer Cox discovers a treasure trove of boutique hotels on the dazzling Caribbean island, from a ‘chi-eco’ health resort to a beautiful art-filled plantation house

2022-11-20T08:00:00.0000000Z

2022-11-20T08:00:00.0000000Z

dmg media (UK)

https://mailonline.pressreader.com/article/282742000798244

Holidays

AS DAYS shorten and we nervously eye our thermostats, over in St Lucia the Caribbean sun still bathes the beaches in glorious heat. And beyond the sand, the island is a joy to explore with its soaring volcanic peaks and a rainforest bursting with colourful wildlife, as well as lively bars, restaurants and a flourishing cultural scene. Yet many visitors who don’t look beyond the big all-inclusive resorts miss out on the rich variety that St Lucia offers. Now a new government-approved hotel scheme puts ‘little St Lucia’ on the map to allow visitors the opportunity to enjoy a more intimate Caribbean experience. Collection De Pepites (meaning tiny gems) is an enticing selection of 250 small locally owned properties across the island. Prices run from £25 up to £2,000 a night, and the selection ranges from rainforest eco hotels and modern beachfront B&Bs to dazzling coastal villas and historic plantation houses. What they all have in common is that they are unique properties, offering a gateway into the real character of the island. We started our tour of some of these little gems in Rodney Bay, the entertainment district on St Lucia’s northern tip. This is where you’ll find the majority of the island’s hotels, restaurants, shops and nightlife, all centred on the swish Rodney Bay Marina. Sol Sanctum Hotel feels a world away from all that activity, however, even though it’s just one street back from Rodney Bay’s popular Reduit Beach, a five-mile stretch of perfect sand which tapers into calm waters. The eight-bedroom hotel, which opened in March, offers a haven for health-conscious guests – something co-founder Marise Skeete feels is more important now than ever, adding: ‘Since Covid, we’ve realised just how difficult people have found daily life. Our programmes help people unwind but also develop positive coping strategies for life back home.’ THIS is achieved through a menu of fresh vegetarian and vegan dishes, sourced partially from the kitchen garden, and classes that include yoga and meditation in a huge airconditioned studio. But don’t be put off if that sounds a bit worthy. The property is both welcoming and stylish, a perfect blend of designer chic and environmentally friendly locally sourced wood and frothy ferns – ‘chi-eco’, if you will. Downstairs the airy lobby melts into an equally airy dining room, and beyond, the garden is framed by a cascading water-wall and mango trees bursting with squabbling parrots. Upstairs our room is equally ‘chi-eco’: the vaulted-ceiling bedroom and spacious bathroom with walk-in shower are a soothing mix of white and earth tones. There’s a huge deck, too, with spectacular views of the ocean and towering Mount Pimard. We fully intended to climb the peak, but after an outdoor massage all we could manage was to laze in our robes, watching the sun melt into the sea. The next morning, after a delicious breakfast of chickpea muffins with chef Delia’s spicy sauce, we joined one of the wellness instructors, Monique, on a hiking-yoga exploration of the little-known beaches along St Lucia’s wild Atlantic eastern side. Monique was great company and shared useful tips: the best place to whale-watch (Top Of The World headland); buy ice cream (Elena’s); and eat – including Spinnakers, a picture-perfect Caribbean diner on Reduit Beach serving fresh seafood, creole dishes and cold beers. B&B at Sol Sanctum costs from £160 a night, based on two people sharing (solsanctum.com). Another tip is to try The Golden Taste, a traditional St Lucia cafe in Gros Islet (pronounced growzelay), a sleepy fishing village of brightly coloured wooden buildings. Every Friday night Gros Islet morphs into a giant street party packed with DJs, bands and food stalls. Friendly and no-frills with its menu chalked on a blackboard, food at The Golden Taste was simple and simply amazing: we polished off huge plates of spicy jerk chicken, rice and provisions (breadfruit, plantain and pumpkin) as owner Juliana looked on approvingly. St Lucia is a tiny island, just 27 miles long and 14 wide. As a rule of thumb, the north is dry and more developed, the south lush and laidback, with everything in between a dense tangle of tropical rainforest. Hire a car and you’ll find the roads are excellent but mountainous, like driving on a badly coiled hosepipe into the rainforest’s heart. We headed to the sprawling Castries Waterworks Reserve, eschewing the zipwires for a leisurely aerial tram ride on cable cars that are long and narrow, 600ft above the lush canopy of towering vanilla trees, giant vines and orchids. In an old cocoa plantation nearby you’ll find the Pink Plantation House, an impossibly beautiful 150-year-old wooden house. Its sweeping verandas overlook two acres of coconut palms, ginger lilies and vivid red heliconia fussed over by hummingbirds, with views down to the lively capital, Castries. The vibrant plant life is captured in the ceramics of owner Michelle Elliot, an accomplished artist and chef. You can stay in one of three beautifully appointed rooms and eat in the superb restaurant. B&B costs from £147 a night, based on two sharing (pinkplantationstlucia.com). Head south along the west coast to Marigot Bay and a tropical cove with a charismatic cluster of beachfront shacks and fishing boats straight out of a Death In Paradise episode. Here, Chateau Mygo is made up of six gorgeous villas with decks and pools dotted around the marina and hillside. The bay is ideal for all kinds of watersports, or you can watch the world go by at the Chateau Mygo House Of Seafood: a delightful over-water diner. Chateau Mygo costs from £124 a night for the Sunset Villa (chateau mygo.com/villas). Take the coast road to St Lucia’s south-west corner, through buzzy colonial towns such as Anse La Raye and Soufriere, and the towering volcanic spires of the Gros and Petit Pitons loom into view. Wrapped by dense forest, rare tropical plants, waterfalls and wildlife, it’s no wonder that they have been Unesco-listed. And offering stunning views of the Pitons and the sea is Tet Rouge Resort – an adults-only, six-room property in the artistic district of Choiseul. It was the abundance of natural attractions that inspired owners Diana and Sorin Moldovan to build Tet Rouge in 2014, and it is now an invaluable community asset. ‘Ninety per cent of our staff are local, and most of them have been with us since the start,’ says Diana. B&B at Tet Rouge costs from £328 per night, based on two sharing (tetrouge.com). That sense of community extends into

en-gb