St.Lucia, the very name evokes images of gorgeous balmy beaches, lush green rainforests and warm and friendly locals where the rich and the famous come to holiday.
As a travel writer, I had always dreamt of someday basking under the Caribbean sun, sail on an exclusive yacht and indulge in the choicest champagne on a secluded beach. In fact, as a child, I grew up watching the West Indian cricket team dominate world cricket – Clive Lyod Viv Richards and the battery of fast bowlers – Marshall, Holding, Garner and company... and the manner in which they celebrated their superiority – that trademark “High Five” victorious lap every time a wicket fell, is forever etched in my memory.
It took me two decades to fulfil my dream of visiting the Caribbean island and that too courtesy a chance encounter with a West Indian cricketer – Darren Sammy who put me in touch with St.Lucia Tourism authority while on an assignment for a UK based travel publication. By the way, Sammy I am told was the first St.Lucian cricketer to play for the West Indies. Thanks to his kind patronage, I was offered an all expenses paid trip to St.Lucia by the St.Lucia Tourism authority. And can anyone measure my excitement? Wow! That trip to the Caribbean island in the summer of 2015 was absolutely mesmerising.
This bewitching island is strategically located on the Caribbean Sea (East) and is positioned to the northwest of Barbados and just south of Martinique, with its capital at Castries. The first colonists were the French who occupied St.Lucia in the year 1660. Thereafter, it was the British who took possession of the island from 1663 and ruled this island until 1667. In subsequent years that followed, the British were engaged in war with France and this picturesque island went through a turbulent period of internecine warfare. Stability was restored in the year 1814 when the British took the ultimate upper hand over the French armada. In those days of one-upmanship between the British and French armies, St.Lucia was popularly referred to as the “Helen” of the Caribbean.
The first proper government rule took place in the year 1840 and from 1958 St.Lucia was an integral part of the West Indies Federation. The D-Day came about on 22nd February, 1979, when St.Lucia was declared an independent island state of Commonwealth of Nations. Ever since its independence, St. Lucia has carved a niche for itself as a much sought after tropical island destination. Primarily, there are two distinct seasons - the Dry season (December to May) and a Wet season from June to November. Being in close proximity to the Equator, temperature fluctuations are minimal with average daytime temperature hovering around 29 degree C and night time temperature around 18 degree C, which makes it an ideal year round tourist destination.
In this era of exclusivity, there are enough escape routes in this island of paradise. Be it the Sulphur Springs or the surreal setting of the Diamond Falls, there are a plethora of surprises awaiting the visitors. St.Lucia is renowned all over the world for being the home to the world’s only Drive-in volcano. Many visitors, who are taken aback by the sheer beauty of natural panorama, opt for driving across the island to discover the hidden treasures of this island.
The word “tropical” takes on a new meaning at the Diamond Falls and Botanical Gardens. I was stupefied by the sheer diversity of flora and fauna at this world famous botanical garden. The garden landscape has been so ingeniously laid out that the entire array of of St.Lucia’s bio diversity attractions can be savoured in its pristine beauty at this one-of-its-kind garden. I was told that once upon a time, this garden used to be the site of a cocoa plantation and the island’s oldest agriculture and farming zone, which is at par with the best botanical gardens of the world. Here as you stroll leisurely along the garden pathways, a sense of rejuvenation engulfs you.
Visitors to St.Lucia make it a point to immerse themselves in the curative properties of the Sulphur Springs, which is located in the Soufriere neighbourhood of the island. The Sulphur Springs are an integral part of Caribbean folklore and the Qualibu Caldera offers an irresistible aura when viewed from the top. Geologists are of the opinion that these Springs release a lot of Subterranean pressure thereby maintaining the fragile geo-spatial balance of the island. Islanders believe that the amazing mud underneath the springs makes one feel rejuvenated and re-energised.
On the advice of my local guide, provided by the St.Lucia Tourism authority, I ventured on a solo drive along the curvaceous mountain roads as St.Lucia is blessed with one of the most mountainous topography in the whole of Caribbean. The panoramic vistas from the summit of Mount Gimie, which is all of 3,120 feet above sea level was absolutely breathtaking. Other mountain routes worth venturing to are the Pitons – World Heritage Site and Choiseul that lie to the west of St.Lucia.
Caribbeans are by nature fun loving and St.Lucia isn’t short of festivals. I was fortunate enough to soak myself in the festive spirit of the annual Saint Lucia Jazz Festival, which is held in the month of May. The Festival is well spread out and multiple venues play host to Jazz musicians who converge from all over the world to take part in this quintessential Caribbean festival. The festival reaches its crescendo at the picturesque Pigeon Island, which is ideally located to the north of the island.
Other festivals worth savouring are the “La Rose” and La Marguerite”, both of which draws record crowds. The colourful Caribbean people have bestowed humanity with one of the most exciting modes of celebrating life – The “Carnival” and St.Lucia is no exception. Previously, St.Lucia celebrated the Carnival before “Lent”, just like other Caribbean nations. However, since 1999, the government of St.Lucia decided to celebrate the carnival in the month of July, primarily with a view to avoid convergence of the festival with neighbouring Trinidad & Tobago.
If you are a sailing enthusiast, one of the best time to visit St.Lucia is during the annual Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, which is usually held in the month of November. This sailing race has been held for the past 31 years and its one race that attracts thousands of sailing aficionados who sail across from the Atlantic to the Caribbean.
Bengalis by nature are gastronomy freaks and I am no exception. Out here in far-away St.Lucia, the cuisine is a splendid mix of African, Anglo-French and East Indian. Some of the outstanding dishes I can recommend are the Stew Chicken, Macaroni Pie, Fish Broth. The local islanders use a lot of potatoes, onions, coconut milk, flour and cornmeal in their preparations.
I found out that most meat and seafood products are stewed and are gravy rich. The Fried Dough or the “Johnny Cake” is to good to be missed. There are various types of bakes ranging from – saltfish, green peppers and onions. Some bakes are also served with specially stewed chicken or even beef on demand. St.Lucians, take tremendous delight on the dessert called “Turnover”. This unique pastry is made with a fine blend of sweetened coconut and spices. It is oven baked until the colour attains a brownish hue.
For those Indian’s who swear by Indian food, no matter where on earth you place them, there is great gastronomy treats awaiting their taste buds - courtesy the fine blend of “Indo-Caribbean” cuisine that is readily available in St.Lucia, due largely to the small but thriving Indian community. The quintessential Indian curry is much sought after. However, the curry has a unique Caribbean flavour. Roti is a popular fast food item which can go well with vegetables like chickpeas and potatoes, seafoods and meats.
Night life and the party scene in St.Lucia is nothing short of extravagant. The Gros Islet party scene in particular has carved a niche for itself as one of the world’s most preferred partying hotspots. In local parlance, partying is referred to as “Jump Up” and Gros Islet comes alive on Fridays with their trademark barbecues, tabletop bars, food vendors and DJs taking centre stage. Apart from music, the cuisine too is varied, ranging from the traditional “Lambi” on the seaside to seafood specialities like lobster Spiny and Whelks being the perennial favourites.
I was recommended a visit to the Anse La Raye that offered the quintessential Caribbean village beach revelry. Set in a picturesque village surrounding, Anse La Raye comes alive on Fridays with not just footloose music, but also an authentic slice of village life in this part of the Caribbean. I stood witness to the “Pirogues” (local fishing boats) set sail and come back laden with assortment of sea fishes like Tunas, Barracuda, Snappers etc... that were fried with traditional Caribbean spices and offered at the beachfront tables. How is that for authenticity?
Travelers’ Fact File
As far as the accommodation in St.Lucia is concerned, some of the world’s best tropical hideaways have been discretely designed to offer true indulgence to the contemporary new age traveller on the lookout for that rare element called “EXOTICISM”. Some of the most sought after properties that are high on opulence are – Anse Chastanet Resort, Body Holiday, Marigot Bay Resort Landings Resort & Spa to name just a few.
Hewanorra International Airport (UVF) located in Vieux Fort is just 40 miles south of Castries, the capital of St.Lucia, which is well connected by some of the world’s most preferred airlines. By Air from North America St.Lucia is connected by American Airlines, JetBlue, Delta and United Airlines. From UK and Germany by British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Fly Thomas Cook & Condor.
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