In July this year, our Head of Product, Carolyn headed out on a late summer break to the Caribbean with her young family. Looking for a destination that offers a serene atmosphere, but with enough activities to keep her children entertained is not always an easy task. St Lucia and Mustique, however, offered itself as the perfect location.
Four nights on St Lucia staying at Marigot Bay (Capella Marigot Bay) and Pitons Bay (Viceroy Sugar Beach) followed by 2 nights on Mustique at The Cotton House.
Exiting an airplane into the open air (as you do in St Lucia) always has an air of old-world romance; visions of sixties jet-setters spring to mind. If only I were wearing vintage Chanel the scene would be complete.
The drive across the island is long and winding. Some Caribbean islands have high-rise hotels cheek-by-jowl with nary a patch of green, but St Lucia is clearly large and lush enough to sustain an economy beyond bars and beach clubs. Banana plantations line the road and mongoose and goats scurry across the tarmac. Candy-coloured houses with gingerbread trim mingle with fruit stalls, churches, and the occasional ramshackle bar. All around there is a feeling of rich green pierced by tantalizing glimpses of sea.
Two hours later I’m holed up in a dark rum cave at Capella Marigot Bay doing a guided tasting. We’re reminded of the history of sugar cultivation as the lifeblood of the West Indies in the 17th & 18th centuries – and its intrinsic & tragic dependency on the slave trade. Easy to forget that dark history when you are holed up in such luxurious & serene surrounds.
Morning yoga clears the head. Beyond the dock, catamarans and dinghies chortle past on their way to refuel, re-provision and strike out for their next ports.
Unlike so many isolated Caribbean hotel resorts, Capella is nestled in a tiny but lively village. Effortlessly cool dreadlocked guys play backgammon in the shade of a rum shack. A long-limbed sundress-clad teenager minds a beach shop with a bored gaze. Sailors wander in and out of the Customs house.
This evening, we board a catamaran for a sunset cruise – abundant canapes, copious bubbly, dancing with wild abandon, ludicrous stargazing.
On our final morning at Capella we travel across the bay to the opposite shore on a rickety launch, then proceed up into the jungly hills. It’s more of a scramble than we’d envisioned, grabbing onto branches and hoisting ourselves over patches of leaves. But the view from above is impressive and we return feeling we’ve earned the breakfast of salt fish and fresh fruit that awaits us.
Then it’s off to our next stop, Viceroy Sugar Beach – nestled between St Lucia’s iconic Pitons in a former sugar plantation an hour’s drive down the coast. The setting is incredible, and the details are enchanting – from pineapple motifs in the picket fences to the tropical rainbow of tuk tuks that ferry the guests about.
Dinner tonight is served steps from the beach – I’m instantly addicted to salty green stew called Callaloo that tastes as though it were concocted by a kindly gourmet sea witch. Must hunt down the recipe. Paces away, couples lounge on beach bags watching a film projected al fresco on the lawn.
Shoulder season in the Caribbean is the ultimate travel hack – the rates are lower, the staff are less rushed and there’s no undignified scrum for sunbeds. Time it right, and you might have the pool or sea to yourself, as I do this morning after breakfast.
The rain descends at mid-day; we take refuge in the spa and by the time we re-emerge so has the sun. After dark, there’s a 9-course tasting menu on an impossibly atmospheric veranda overlooking the gardens.
A 30 minute flight in a 16-seater prop plane takes us from St Lucia to Mustique this morning. We land on a weensy runway and are escorted into the bamboo-lined tiki-inflected airport. Gilligan’s Island metaphors come to mind.
It’s cloudy so we spend the afternoon exploring the island in a mule – a high-powered golf cart ubiquitous on Mustique. At one beach stop, I spy a baby tortoise who’s lost his way and wandered down onto the beach – we take him back to the grass before the waves can carry him away. It’s the first of dozens we come upon; they are everywhere, and there’s even a cheeky sculpture of mating tortoises donated by a former resident, installed on a spot that’s now known as Tortoise Corner.
Mustique is tiny but there’s more to it than I expected – a colourful fishing village, a primary school, a clutch of shops. Knowing it’s a microcosm of Caribbean life concocted for the rich does have a little of Marie Antoinette playing farm on the grounds of Versailles, but somehow it avoids descending into kitsch.
The atmosphere as night falls in the tropics is always entrancing, nowhere moreso than at the Cotton House where the great room comes to life after dark. Candles flicker, breezes blow, champagne corks pop. An unforgettable tinge of yesteryear suffuses the scene.
The sun is out again the morning and Mustique finally reveals her astonishing beauty. Lightless and foreboding yesterday, the sea is a confounding neon shade of turquoise.
We have a nosy visit around Princess Margaret’s atmospheric former villa Les Jolies Eaux, and gaze down at Gelliceaux beach.
Our final meal – and it’s the best among some tough competition – is a gourmet beach picnic (de rigueur on an island with barely any restaurants), punctuated by cooling splashes in the sea.
And then it’s agonizingly time to go – back to the tiki airport, into the prop plane, the ‘big’ terminal on St Lucia, a red eye back to London.
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