Susannah Taylor visited St Lucia on holiday with her family for a sensorial experience of a lifetime
As with many Caribbean islands, St Lucia is a dichotomy of two halves. One is the true essence of the island with its spirited, colourful, laid back locals, and the other is an extremely luxurious tourist industry with a high attention to detail. We had a taste of the real St Lucia in our car journeys to and from our destination. A volcanic island, part covered by rain forest, St Lucia is luscious and green due to vast amounts of sun and intermittent rainfall (the rainiest season is July - Sept, we went in February).
As we drove through the many villages and past many banana plantations en route to our hotel on the west of the island, I was fascinated by the multi-coloured wooden houses, many built on stilts because of the hilly landscape. Pink, green, yellow, orange - many had a veranda where owners would sit and watch the world going by. “What are they up to?” we asked our taxi driver pointing to people sitting on the sides of the road; “Just chillin’,” he would reply. The pace of life had suddenly slowed to an almost standstill.
It took about an hour in the car (children asking every five minutes ‘How long mummy?’) to reach our final destination - The Capella at Marigot Bay - and it was well worth the wait. Recently refurbished, the Capella is nestled on a hillside among the palm trees in a very lush, emerald green bay. Modern and clean without being overly uninvitingly stark, with a taste of the Caribbean, the accommodation consists of smart dark wooden rooms set into the hillside. We had an incredible suite consisting of three parts - our bedroom with a beautiful kingsize bed, a room for the children with single beds and then a lounging area, all furnished with white linen, big mosquito nets and bright tropical coloured cushions. Outside, on our balcony, and much to the kids' delight was a hot tub which was as hot as a warm bath, day and night. Just thinking about it makes we want to dive in.
My favourite part of the day (as is often normal for me on holiday) was breakfast which was a veritable Caribbean feast – trays of fresh coconuts with straws, passion fruits the size of mangos, fruits I’d never even set eyes on before - like the Love Fruit – banana jam, honey with thyme and every type of omelette you could wish for. Our children filled their plates with sticky banana bread and pancakes.
Our days were spent lazing by the pool on mammoth white day beds where we made friends with the so-laid-back-they-were-almost-horizontal staff (don’t expect anything to happen too fast around here) especially Soraya who adored our kids and would bring them fruit juices in the shade. Every few hours someone would walk round with a taster of the latest fruit cocktail from the menu. At lunch we ate amazing sushi or fresh fish cerviche while the kids tucked into multi-coloured Bento boxes – three tiers of foodie delights… crudités on the first with honey dip, spaghetti bolognaise in the middle and chocolate chip biscuits in the bottom. They loved it. If I had one complaint it would be the restaurant at night which was badly lit (to the point you couldn’t see your food) and while the slow service was fine in the day it was difficult at night with two ravenous children in tow.
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Then there was the Auriga spa – situated on the shoreline, nestled between lush tropical foliage and the waters of Marigot Bay, it’s an indoor/outdoor refuge of aromatherapy infused relaxation. There were many different Caribbean inspired treatments to choose from, from a deeply spiritual set of different treatments inspired by the phases of the moon to deeply restore body and mind, to Fiksyon Fwote, a rub massage that uses traditional rub techniques and warm bamboo to relax the muscular system, and Volcanic Energy Therapy which uses traditional stones and sulphur minerals to rebalance energy levels. There were also Organic Pharmacy facials. I opted for the the Volcanic massage, which was an hour of pure deep muscular relaxing bliss – this cemented by belief that the best massages ever are always abroad.
Eat, sleep, lounge, swim, drink cocktails, repeat… this was how we spent our days at The Capella. We didn’t leave the hotel or change out of beach clothes and kaftans the whole time we were there. We were meant to leave the hotel once to go Scuba Snorkelling, but unfortunately we’d been told the wrong day. One night we felt so lazy we got room service.
Before we knew it, it was time to leave - all of us saying we’d love to come back. But before going, there was one last pitstop to be made en route to the airport – The Boucan Restaurant . As you enter this restaurant, set above the spectacular rainforest in the Rabot cocoa plantation at the foot of the Pitons (the mountainous big volcanic rocks St Lucia is famous for), you have a sense that you have arrived in a very special place. Statuesque wooden pillars and the sharp linear design of the restaurant are a dramatic and exciting juxtaposition against the lush green rainforest outside. With no windows or walls, there is a feeling you are very much drinking the St Lucia landscape in.
Actually owned by the chocolate company Hotel Chocolat, this is a cacao cuisine restaurant extraordinaire, meaning nearly everything contains some element of the healthy basics of chocolate. Now this might sound gross (and I’m no Giles Coren) but it was actually sensational. I learnt how cacao can be used as a subtle spice, or sometimes a delicate flavour. Pre-meal nibbles consisted of dipping cracked pepper bread into walnut pesto, chocolate butter or cacao and balsamic dip. Wow. My starter was Kingfish fillet cooked in cacao pulp, coconut milk, chilli and lime pickle. Amazing. Then for my main course I had the Boucanier Salad of local tuna, seared with green leaves, herbs, cacao pesto, green figs, eggs, tomatoes and Gruyère cheese. Our children had the Cacao Pod Hamburger – beef with a twist of cacao, gruyere cheese and bacon – the cacao adding a warm twist. Of course there were also chocolate mousses, cheesecakes and gooey bombs galore, but we had to dash for our flight.
I said to one of the founders of Hotel Chocolat (who happened to be staying there at the time): "This is a destination restaurant I feel people have to see in their lifetime." He replied, "Many of the other people here today have travelled from all round the world to get here." An experience of a lifetime that I hope I get to do twice.
Follow Susannah at @STaylorGTG