The Escape Artist
In St. Lucia, it’s love at first bite.
“You should see the mangos in St. Lucia,” said the cab driver on the way to Logan Airport. “The juice just drips down your hands.”
St. Lucia, nicknamed the Helen of the West Indies, is a 27-mile-long island of mountainous rain forest, with the pair of lush twin Pitons acting as the destination’s gateway. Though it’s praised as one of the world’s top locations for honeymooners, the real passion here is in how the St. Lucians feel about their food, culture and the Jurassic Park-type scenery that can’t be captured by a Canon. Hotels and restaurants obsessively incorporate the natural surroundings into their architecture and cuisine, turning themselves into vessels for the tourism board. Even if mangos aren’t on the menu, you can taste a clear sense of place.
St. Lucia is the product of a drawn out tug-of-war between the French and British. The natives speak fluent English, but also a Creole mixture of broken French called Patois. There’s a lot of English influence at Boucan by Hotel Chocolat, located on the outskirts of Soufrière (a French name, of course). The hotel, which started as a chain of chocolate shops in the United Kingdom that now stretches all the way to Newbury Street, is built on a 268-year-old 140-acre cocoa plantation called the Rabot Estate. The décor is the exact opposite of what you’d imagine if Wonka or Hershey owned a tropical resort. Here, rooms are polished in understated, rich cacao tones, and the entire space is open to the outdoors, most noticeably in the open-sky rainforest shower made with slabs of rock and small stones. The lobby itself acts as merely a frame for the Petit Piton, the steeper of the two prominent mountains.
There’s chocolate in literally every dish on the menu, complete with a grinder full of cocoa nibs on each table, but the best way to attain death by chocolate is the hotel’s Tree to Bar experience. Like something out of a Kashi commercial, guests chop down their own cocoa pods with long-stemmed machetes before sampling the mucous-like seeds inside, which surprisingly taste like lychee. The next stop is the greenhouse-style nursery where the cocoa ferments, dries and roasts. Guests also graft their own cocoa trees, which are identified, so the staff can find the exact plant on a return trip. Later, the hotel’s chef demonstrates how to make 65 percent dark chocolate by grinding cocoa nibs, cocoa butter and powdered sugar with a mortar and pestle. After some not so sweet, sweat-inducing labor, guests leave with a bar of their own creation.
The St. Lucian landscape resembles the verdant, volcanic terrain of Hawaii more than it does the surrounding Caribbean islands. Roads are carved precariously into the banana-leaf lined mountains, so the easiest (and safest) way to admire the jungle is on Rain Forest Adventures’ open-air tram. Set up like an amusement park ride, the tram glides through all four densely covered layers of the forest and reaches more than 1,400 feet above sea level. If you’re more comfortable below the canopies, try the Rainforest Spa at Sugar Beach. Wedged between the two Pitons, this resort is made up of seven tree house treatment rooms built into the forest at varying heights above a small stream. The miniature log cabins feel like the inside of a tree trunk, and the services include all natural elements from the island, such as bananas, coconuts and even mud from the nearby sulfur springs.
Castries, the capital port city in the north, is the most metropolitan part of the island with a population of 65,000 (a number inflated by tourists). Most towns and villages have a Saturday market—Castries’ is open everyday except Sundays. Even though the pavilion is clogged with cruise shippers, it’s worth merging with the masses to find vendors selling indigenous fruits that they’ll gladly slice open at their stands. Try the skull-sized avocados, the boiled red nuts and the soursop, an island fruit with a prickly green surface and a cream-colored fibrous center. Orange-yellow coconuts, purchased from the trunks of trucks, are whacked with machetes so customers can gulp down the water inside.
With its poetic greenery and simple, savory flavors, St. Lucia is a powerful aphrodisiac. Here, the honeymoon stage never really ends.
- There are only two main roads through St. Lucia, one on the west and one on the east. Some hotels can pick passengers up from the airport via helicopter to shorten the trip.
- Due to the open layout, Boucan by Hotel Chocolat provides mosquito net bedding and complimentary insect repellent.
Boucan by Hotel Chocolat
The Rabot Estate, Soufrière | 800-757-7132 | thehotelchocolat.com
Rain Forest Adventures
Chassin, Babonneau | 866-759-8726 | rainforestadventures.com
Val des Pitons, Soufrière | 758-456-8000 | viceroyhotelsandresorts.com
Bistrot Castries Market
Jeremie St. and Peynier St., Castries