|St. Lucia is to the nature lover what Florence is to the arthound, retaining much of the wild splendor that has bowed to unbridled tourism elsewhere in the Caribbean. No one's denying the presence of several luxury hotels and spas, plus a Club Med and the occasional golf course, but St. Lucia (pronounced St. LOO-sha) still bases its livelihood on bananas, not bikinis, so development has been relatively slow. Then, too, the sort of travelers who choose St. Lucia prefer birdwatching to blackjack (in fact, it's an ornithological gold mine). |
The beaches, ranging from granite-gray to coconut-white, are all exquisite, sloping down on the west to gentle turquoise seas and, on the east, to the rigorous indigo surf of the Atlantic. Breathtaking Marigot Bay is a favorite secluded stopover for roving yachtfolk, who trade tales in its breezy bars, while nearby bungalow getaways welcome families in search of a club-like aquatic vacation.
It would be a shame, though, to come here for beach-basking alone. At least one foray inland is de rigueur: St. Lucia's benignly smoking volcano, Mt. Soufriere, is wonderfully accessible: visitors can drive up and tour its seething craters, then venture down for a sulphuric soak at the local hot springs, long reputed to cure every ill from arthritis to urban depression. But for sheer visual drama, Soufriere is overshadowed by the towering Pitons, whose steep slopes - a rewarding challenge to hikers - nurture bamboo forests and groves of giant ferns, populated with hummingbirds, parrots, and eccentrically varicolored reptiles.
St. Lucia is an independent state of the British Commonwealth, but for three centuries its ownership was fervently disputed by the French and English. As a result, today's culture is a congenial melange of French, British, and West Indian customs. The dominant cuisine is Creole, the street language patois, the driving is on the left (that is, when the roads are two lanes wide). The capital, Castries, is a friendly, vivacious town but lacks the colonial veneer of other Caribbean ports.
On St. Lucia, neckties are seen about as often as snow, so leave the crown jewels at home. All you will need - besides a bathing suit, flippers, and camera - is a love of earthly beauty and a longing for simple relaxation.