Gabrielle Mullarkey explains why St Lucia is ideal Caribbean island

St Lucia

As masseuse Belinda spread warm lavender oil across my back with a bamboo roller, her expert hands kneading jet-lagged tissues, I felt my cares drift off like a frigate bird through coconut palms.

It was just what I needed after the hour-long drive from the airport, travelling north around hairpin bends that offer spectacular views of St Lucia, a Caribbean island just 14 miles wide by 27 long, lushly green and craggy with volcanic rock.

My partner and I had chosen The Rendezvous, the island’s oldest hotel. It was hard to imagine a more storybook picture of paradise than our cottage on Malabar Beach, yards from turquoise sea and swaying palms.

Lulled to sleep by a symphony of crickets, tree frogs and waves, we rose to share pastries on the porch with an Antillean bullfinch, jet-black with blossom-red throat, then watched a shimmering green-and-purple hummingbird flit in out and out of heliconia.

Chilled to perfection

The Rendezvous is an all-inclusive, couples-only boutique resort. Given the fact that the other half and I would have to compile a pros and cons list before giving each other our last Rolo, I was steeling myself for lots of gooey-eyed soulmates sipping from the same curly straw.

Luckily, the vibe was more laid-back than overtly loved-up – although my partner did look wonderfully panicked when invited to a ‘Learn to massage each other’ session at the spa! Instead, I settled for the soothing touch of Belinda.

Set in sprawling gardens, the resort never felt crowded, its three restaurants ranging from fine dining to al fresco on the beach, wiggling toes in cool sand while sampling fried plantain and grilled dorado, a local fish (there’s plenty for veggies, too).

We joined a sunrise stroll to Vigie lighthouse, perched on a hill overlooking the island’s capital, Castries. Actually, it was more of a vigorous jaunt past pistachio-coloured villas tickled by palms – a much-needed workout after gorging on pastries at afternoon tea the day before.

Branching out

While many tourists head for the waterfall at Soufrière, we took a tour to Chassin, enjoying a ride through the rainforest canopy (rainforestadventure.com/st-lucia). As an open gondola rose into the treetops, our guide Anna pointed out chicken hawks, herons and bananaquits flitting elusively among creepers and almond trees.

The gondola does a U-turn at the topmost platform for a panoramic glide downwards, but there’s the option of a zip-wire descent for the adventurous. Back on terra firma, we visited the hummingbird garden.

Later, it was back to working our way through the hotel cocktail menu at a barbecue, serenaded by a steel band. Since all beaches are public, you’ll meet local entrepreneurs such as the origami artist who crafted us grasshoppers from a coconut palm. With
a coat of clear nail varnish, he assured us they’d last for ages.

Did we do anything romantic? Well, we sipped champagne on the beach at sunset, snuggling up on blankets while a saxophonist floated tunes on the dusk air.

We topped that with a sunset cruise for two around the coast, although, as this was a speedboat cruise, the highlight was taking the helm and giving it some welly!

Incidentally, with our beachfront cottage furthest from the poolside bars, we reckon staff must have had binoculars to arrive with uncanny timing each time we needed a top-up. My favourite was the spiced rum – especially welcome after getting caught in a tropical downpour on nearby Pigeon Island.

Bird’s- eye view

A 44-acre national park off the north coast, the ‘island’ was joined to the mainland by a causeway in 1972, its rusting cannons and hilltop fort recalling skirmishes between French and British colonisers that happened over the span of 150 years.

Climbing Signal Peak offers spectacular views over Rodney Bay, its marina fronted by pastel-coloured restaurants and trendy shops. This is where the super-rich moor their yachts and party till dawn. Sadly, my invites from Bill Gates and Oprah must have got lost in the post!

St Lucia owes much of its lushness to heavy, short showers, and we did get drenched climbing (or sliding) down pebbly scree in the wake of our mountain-goat guide Marshall – but it’s rain that leaves you feeling rinsed by a warm bath. As well as offering the perfect excuse for spiced rum…

Great for spirited adventurers

Take a guided hike up Gros Piton, one of the island’s iconic twin peaks. For more on hiring a local guide, visit grospiton.com/faqs. While the Pitons are the island’s most famous peaks, its highest is Mt Gimie. If observing the marine life tickles your fancy, try snuba,
a cross between snorkelling and scuba diving (islandroutes.com/caribbean-tours/st-lucia/10/castries/144/st-lucia-snuba-tour/).

Great for food lovers

Dip into fish creole at Spinnakers in Rodney Bay (spinnakersbeachbar.com); while at the Rainforest Hideaway in Marigot Bay (rainforesthideawaystlucia.com), tuck into grouper with fruit salsa while listening to live jazz. Friday on the island is ‘fish fry’ night.

Great for tranquil travellers

Check out the historic plantation at Diamond Falls, south of Soufrière, complete with 18th-century mineral baths, nature trail and the waterfall itself (diamondstlucia.com).

Getting there

Seven nights all-inclusive at the Rendezvous in June 2017 costs from £1,837pp, travelling from London Gatwick with Hayes & Jarvis (hayesandjarvis.co.uk). Other tour operators include Virgin Holidays (virginholidays.co.uk) and First Choice (firstchoice.co.uk).

You can also book your holiday independently at theromanticholiday.com, arranging your flight through British Airways (flights to St Lucia start from £540 in May 2017 – visit britishairways.com) or Virgin (flights to St Lucia start from £525 in
June 2017 – visit virgin-atlantic.com).

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