Escape to St. Lucia
The Land of the Light
By Sophie Ball
They call St Lucia ‘Land of the Light’, although there was little trace of that light when we landed at Hewanorra airport. Instead, we were met with grey skies and a languid, muggy, heat that threatened to betray the superlatives usually attached to the island. The next day the clouds gave way to rain, but not UK rain - the kind of endless drizzle that dampens your soul. This was tropical rain: abandoned, prodigious, and exhilarating in its intensity. This was the kind of rain that allows an island, which rarely sees temperatures below 25c, to boast of some of the most verdant vegetation in the world.
The next day the sun pushed through the clouds, and for my British, city-dwelling self, it was like waking up to the world in HD. Plants were greener, the sand was whiter, and voices were louder. There is a kind of steamy, sensual promise to St Lucia, it has an unbridled fertility that is apparent in everything, from the variety of the vegetation: 60 different types of mango grow here, to the dancing at Jump Up - a weekly street party held at Gros Islet. They say desperation breeds discontent and on an island where “anything grows” and you have “poverty but not starvation”, there is no trace of that desperation. In its place are a curiosity and inherent optimism that breathes credence into that very Caribbean idiom tings b’riite.
It’s an interesting and revealing attitude when you take into account the history of St Lucia. In 1778, the British successfully invaded the island and established naval bases at Gros Islet and Pigeon Island which they used as staging grounds for attacks on the French islands to the north. For the next few decades, possession of the island seesawed between the British and the French. In 1814 the Treaty of Paris finally ceded the island to the British, ending 150 years of conflict during which St Lucia changed flags 14 times.
Culturally, the British were slow in replacing French customs, and it wasn’t until 1842 that English nudged out French as St Lucia’s official language. Other customs linger, and to this day the majority of people speak a French-based patois among themselves, attend Catholic services and live in villages with French names. In 1979, St Lucia gained full independence, as a member of the Commonwealth. Its main export is the banana, but the recent downturn in that industry has meant that diversification is vital. As such, the island is slowly but surely moving its focus towards tourism, sleepily waking up to the possibilities in that. You can feel the grounds shifting, but more importantly, you can sense that change is nothing here and that overwhelmingly tings b’riite.
Ostensibly we had come here to visit the annual St Lucia Jazz Festival which had, according to the website, recently been ‘revamped and redesigned with a broader artistic direction’. As we only managed to attend for one day, I’m not sure what that broader artistic direction meant in the grand sense. What it meant for us was Shaggy. Yep the inimitable Mr. Bombastic, he of the thrusting pelvis and 90’s pop fame, was our headliner and we had front of stage seats.
In line with the St Lucian approach to scheduling in general, information about artists and set times were a little hard to navigate on the Jazz Festival website so we weren’t actually sure who we were seeing until the day of. Upon hearing the news that Shaggy was the main bill, my music aficionado boyfriend, who has only recently forgiven me for inadvertently Shazzaming a James Blunt song, threatened not to go – he had come for ‘music’ he implored, real Caribbean calypso or R&B, none of this manufactured pop nonsense.
Fast-forward 2 hours and we are hand in hand, ‘dutty wining’ with the best of them and laughing our heads off. It may be pop but my God it was great. St Lucia has a knack of doing that to you; it demands that you leave all your preconceptions at the door and that you embrace its very own brand of pure, unadulterated fun. But there’s a lot more to ‘Jazz’ as the locals call it than Shaggy. The festival runs over 8 days and has featured artists as diverse as Herbie Hancock, Amy Winehouse, Rihanna, Luther Vandross and Smokey Robinson. It’s as an important export culturally as ‘The Drive in Volcano’, the ‘Banana Rum’ and the white, white sand. We loved it.
One of the reasons we hadn’t managed more of the Jazz, had everything to do with our hotel or, more, specifically our reluctance to leave it. We were staying at the Rendezvous, the first “boutique” couples- only all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean. Situated within a seven-acre tropical garden on St Lucia’s Northwest Island and on the island’s longest white sand beach Rendezvous is owned and operated by the Barnard family who opened their St Lucian family home as a hotel nearly 50 years ago – as such, it retains its community spirit. All of the staff have worked there for years and they all talk of themselves as a family.
It’s a popular resort for young honeymooners but the size of the hotel, a maximum of 200 guests and all couples, allows an intimacy that’s not possible in larger resorts. Days can be spent either lounging by the swim up bar or steadily working your way through the excellent spa menu. I mostly alternated between water-skiing and eating. The hotel has 3 restaurants and a constant variety of cuisine on offer; I was only able to fit in my clothes when I returned because of all that water-skiing - the food is delicious here. The more adventurous amongst you can purchase day tickets to its sister hotel The Body Holiday which enjoys a reputation as one of the best ‘wellness’ retreats in the world, popular with the fashion set.
The island is small so we used the resort as a base for day trips. We took in “The Pitons” two mountainous volcanic plugs that rise dramatically straight from the sea, the “Drive in Volcano” and a day at Rainforest Adventure, where you can catch an Arial Tram and zip line your way through the forest canopy. While doing so I thought of the National anthem and its poignant reference to Helen of Troy. Gone the times when nations battled for this ‘Helen of the West’. I felt for the first time, a true sense of the place: St Lucia, beautiful exotic and fought over. I’d recommend it in a heartbeat.
Rules of the Road
- Rates at Rendezvous start from $341 per person, per night, all- inclusive
- British Airways flies daily from Gatwick to St. Lucia
- St. Lucia Jazz Festival: http://stluciajazz.org/
- St. Lucia Tourist Board: http://saintluciauk.org/
- Rendezvouz: https://theromanticholiday.com/
- Zip lining at Rainforest Adventure costs from £75 per person
- The Rainforest Aerial Tram at Rainforest Adventures St. Lucia starts from £55 per person.
Photos © Tom Hardy, St. Lucia Tourism