Volcanic sand beaches, rainforest-clad mountains, secluded waterfalls and Creole cuisine. Nick Boulos spills the beans on why St. Lucia tops his list of Caribbean islands.
Caribbean islands. They're all the same, right? Well, not quite. Many of them may share some common delights – fruity rum cocktails, hip-swaying reggae and cooling palm trees – but each has its own distinctive personality.
So, when it comes to booking a much-needed fly-and-flop getaway to this part of the world it pays to give your island of choice some serious thought. Want culture? It's got to be Cuba. Picture perfect beaches? Look no further than Tobago. Fine food? Book Barbados. But why choose between any of those glorious things when you can have it all?
St. Lucia, sitting in the middle of a Martinique and St. Vincent sandwich, is the most versatile of islands; a wild and untamed isle of volcanic sand beaches and rainforest-clad mountains, a place that delivers highly on both luxury, adventure and everything in between. And while it may be home to some of the Caribbean's very best hotels (Sugar Beach and Jade Mountain chief amongst them), it's the stop-in-your-tracks scenery that will leave the biggest impression. The vista that graces every postcard –and even bottles of the island's beer – is that of the Pitons, the mighty twin peaks that soar from the sea on St. Lucia's southwestern tip in what is arguably the single most dramatic slice of scenery in all the Caribbean.
But the Pitons are more than just pleasing to look at. One of St. Lucia's most interesting chapters of history played out amongst these revered rainforest-clad summits that were formed around 260,000 years ago. During the mid-1700s, when the island's plantations were tendered to 'masters' and 'slaves', a band of freedom fighters broke away and fled to the largely impenetrable peaks of the Pitons.They may have escaped a life of gruelling hardship but their new home wasn't one without its problems. Unable to recapture their slaves, the masters set about releasing poisonous snakes in the foothills of the Pitons.
Thankfully you're unlikely to come across any of them these days and climbing Gros Piton (2,579ft) is a rite of passage for many visiting the island. It's not an easy climb - a steep and sweaty ascent of around four hours - but the views from the top make every challenging step worthwhile.
Of course, you can experience the Pitons in more ways than one. Down at sea level, there's a new and rather novel approach offered by Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort. As the only property to enjoy a privileged location between the two pointy peaks, it delivers unrivalled up close and personal views but that's not all. It has also recently become the only hotel in the world to offers guests access to Schiller 'water bikes', pioneering contraptions that are part bicycle and part catamaran. Take one out for a spin and enjoy the unusual sensation of pedallingon water across the sparkling waters of Anse des Pitons, the bay that separates the mountains.
Things are no less memorable elsewhere on the island. Wallow in the sulphuric mud pools at the world's only 'drive-in' volcano, hike to secluded waterfalls or horse ride through forests and across blissful bays on the northern coast. Or swing from the treetops on a high-octane zip-wire course through the jungle canopies.
There's a strong culinary scene, too. Learn the secrets of Creole cuisine at Spices cookery school, run by Jenni Killam from her home in the hills around Rodney Bay. If that sounds like too much hard work, let someone else rustle up tasty treats at the island's diverse and plentiful eateries, from home-cooked grub to fine dining feasts. Rustic meals of Creole chicken, perfectly pan-fried mahi-mahi, breadfruit balls and baked plantain are served up at Martha's Tables, a family run restaurant on the quiet outskirts of Soufriere.
Craving something more sophisticated? Then book the most sought after table in the Caribbean. Picture the scene: a solitary table for two perched on a piece of decking just off-shore, surrounded by crashing waves and illuminated by candles and ethereal moonlight. That's what awaits at Rock Maison, part of the Cap Maison resort in the north. The food (freshly caught scallops and lobster served with pumpkin and mango shavings) is without fault and washed down with champagne that is delivered by zip-line. What could be better?
A 7-night break at Sugar Beach costs from £1,865 per person including flights with British Airways, private transfers and accommodation in a Sugar Mill Luxury Room.