Story and photography by Barbara Penny Angelakis
Photo of Mac courtesy of East Winds Inn
THREE FACES OF ST. LUCIA
On a recent whirlwind tour of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia I visited three distinct hotels, each one different from the others and each one imprinting its own unique face on the canvas of St. Lucia. The idea to investigate resort destinations around the island was inspired by JetBlue initiating direct service from New York City’s JFK to UVF-Hewanorra International Airport www.jetblue.com
St. Lucia, the largest of the Windward Islands has a varied topography with the east coast on the Atlantic Ocean and the west coast in the Caribbean Sea. Raised by volcanic activity from the ocean floor eons ago, it still seethes with underground thermal activity which provides tourists with a unique drive-in volcano complete with bubbling ash-mud pools and ribbons of hot steam blasts only minutes away from sandy beaches and lush tropical forests.
My first stop - Hotel Ladera - is on the southern Caribbean coast near the port town of Soufriére, in a colorful dense rain forest supporting every manner of tree, flower and bird. Perched high on a hill overlooking the Pitons – the two conical rocks elevated above the Caribbean Sea by volcanic upheaval and which are the defining dramatic silhouettes of the southwest coast of St. Lucia – stands the open walled Hotel Ladera.
Hotel Ladera prides itself on its authenticity… an authentic face of St. Lucia soaring 1,100 feet above the sea. The hotel follows the contours of the hillside out of which it grows like some huge tree, its branches winding pathways, its individual villas massive leaves sprouting colorful blossoms of décor and fantasy. Each of the 9 villas and 23 suites is unique but since each is birthed from the same tree they all have certain common traits such as interior private plunge pools with spectacular views of the World Heritage Pitons, the Caribbean Sea, and their own private expanse of sky.
Complementary services include a la carte breakfast; refrigerators daily stocked with cold beverages; the finest linens on comfortable four-poster beds draped with netting so that you can enjoy the open-air tree-house feeling even when asleep, without fear of pesky flying insects to disturb your rest; a selection of specialty pillows available on Ladera’s Dream Pillow menu; en-suite safe; shuttle service to the town of Soufriére and beaches; plus afternoon Breeze tea, to name but a few. The home away from home feeling of Ladera is due in good measure to the hands-on approach of General Manager Waddy Francis, as well as to the eco-lodge architectural styling. Constructed with Caribbean Greenheart timbers and with the ongoing input of local artisans like Mervin who designs intricate floral patterned tiles in the bath areas and throughout the property, and Boniface, whose complex wood carving on doors, posts, and furniture, add a luxury tree-house homey feeling, while every amenity is extended.
The Ti Kai Posé Spa or “little house of rest” offers an array of wellness treatments either in the spa or in the privacy of your villa/suite. I choose the spa because of its proximity to the black water mineral pools recently opened. After a de-stressing massage from Lindsy and his magic hands, I donned my bathing suit and headed the few feet to the sulfurous pools that draw their 104˚ F waters directly from the Diamond Mineral Baths near Soufriére (French for sulfur). Attractively positioned to flow from one “coppers” – old copper pots used to boil down sugar cane juice in the sugar mills – to another, and into a Jacuzzi style tile construct. The swirling “black” waters felt much better than they looked or smelled and it was difficult to exit after the recommended 20 minutes which seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, so enjoyable was my soak.
And Ladera is still growing, just recently adding 6 new luxurious, open-air Dream Suites. These suites offer the utmost in seclusion and are perfect for ultra-private escapes, and ideal for honeymooners. The Dream Suites also offer Ladera’s Above and Beyond VIP Service which expedites airport arrival – an absolute necessity when more than one international flights arrive and overwhelms Hewanorra Airport creating long, hot lines of impatient travelers. To accommodate ceremonies, receptions and weddings, Ladera is just completing its Paradise Pavilion, an open-air venue above the hotel with a spectacular panoramic view and a private connection to the ultimate secluded Dream Suite.
My description of Ladera would be incomplete without mentioning the Executive Chef Orlando Satchell and his “farm to table” concept for Dasheene Restaurant. Specializing in fresh, health-conscious meals, Chef Orlando draws on his native acumen paired with his classic training to develop a cuisine using fresh local products and Caribbean spices. One memorable meal began with an old favorite of mine, breaded and fried green tomatoes. Chef Orlando’s version layered the small firm rounds of fried tomatoes with a creamed cheese spread between the layers, and topped with shredded beets fresh from the garden. The main course was his award winning cascade of pan fried colossal shrimp resting on a thick slice of roasted beet over a Creole rice and bean ramekin, blended with local seasonings, herbs and peppers… yum. Ice of watermelon, mango and honeydew melon sitting on shredded ginger ended the meal. www.ladera.com
Leaving Ladera was only made more palatable by the prospect of driving up the entire west coast with its impossible winding roads and spectacular scenery. First stop was the town of Soufriére with its charming landmarked wooden houses, and then a visit to the Botanical Gardens with its amazing floral and fruit tree displays, sulfur springs and waterfalls, before continuing along the coast to Rodney Bay and East Winds Inn.
ORIGINAL EAST WINDS INN
So from Ladera at 1,100 feet above the sea in a dense rain forest we have descended to sea level and the East Winds Inn, an original style Caribbean resort set in 12-acres of fragrant botanical gardens, and bordered by La Brelotte Bay, with its wide golden sand beach, sparkling azure waters, and private reef perfect for snorkeling. Note the word “Inn” and you will have some idea of the charm of this resort, which consists of only 30 guest cottages trimmed in gingerbread fretwork and decorated in creamy white with ascents of verdant green, turquoise for the sea, blue for the sky, and pink/peach for the ubiquitous conch seashells. The air-conditioned rooms are spanking clean and inviting but the surprise is the bathroom with its recessed bath/shower surrounded by screened-in windows making you feel like you are bathing in the garden. The toilet is enclosed for privacy and there is a double sink/vanity with wall to wall mirror complete with amenity package. Each cottage has a porch with table and chairs along with a mini-fridge stocked with cold drinks. The beautifully tended gardens surround each cottage with trees and plants numbered for identification using the Garden Guide located in each room. Being allergic to mosquito bites, I appreciated that the garden is sprayed weekly with a non-toxic environmentally safe and effective cocktail to keep the bugs and mosquitoes at bay so that I could freely enjoy walking about. Guests are thoughtfully notified of the content of the cocktail and time of the spraying so that they can remain indoors for the brief period if they are concerned or allergic.
Situated on the private beach facing west allows for the most spectacular sunsets and its not unusual to see a group of people gather to watch and share the experience with perfect strangers who often times end up as best friends. I spoke to guests from Australia, England, South America, the U.S., and Canada, and all were beguiled by the charm of this gem of a resort and claimed they would return - thanks in part to the warm welcome from resort manager Gareth Leach and his exceptional staff.
East Winds Inn is an all-inclusive resort with an outstanding kitchen, unlimited cocktails and bottomless Champaign flutes, not to mention a variety of resort activities, including a glorious talking peacock-blue parrot named Eric and his less verbal but equally magnificent brilliant red sidekick Mac.
Executive Chef Didier Lagauzere oversees the kitchen and is responsible for a lunch and gourmet dinner menu that changes daily. Chef Didier is classically trained and incorporates West Indian fare into his sophisticated international cuisine. He is also responsible for an impressive 9,000 bottle wine cellar which allows him flexibility in pairing wines with dinner. Meals are served al fresco in the Flamboyant Room, a wallless thatched-roof room facing the beach and sea beyond. While the restaurants décor is simple, the shifting light creates an ever changing tableau so that at breakfast, the restaurant is ablaze with color, at lunchtime the light is warm and golden and the colors muted, and at dinner the sapphire sky and water merge into one enveloping cocoon where only the lyrical sounds emanating from the Steinway concert grand reverberate in the sultry air.
George and Marilyn Reti, owners of the Inn, are music lovers and flew the Steinway to the island where it is scrupulously maintained so that when the extremely talented Dien Thomas, a native St. Lucian that has been studying, writing and playing music since he was a child, sits down and places his hands on the keyboard, the resulting sound is pure magic and dinner made all the richer. But my favorite food experience at East Winds Inn was breakfast. An abundant spread is laid out and Paula who has been behind the griddle for 15 years, stands at the ready to prepare whatever suits your fancy. One morning I selected a Galette, a buckwheat flour crepe covered with cheese, ham, tomato, peppers, onion, bacon, mushrooms, smoked salmon, beans and whatever else Paula can put her hands on, and topped with sunny side-up egg (s)… what a marvelous concoction, as much fun to watch being put together as to eat… well, almost. www.eastwinds.com
TRENDY CAP MAISON
The third and final stop on my Saint Lucia odyssey was the recently opened luxury boutique hotel Cap Maison. Cap Maison introduced a new concept into Saint Lucia with its residential-style uber-lux beautifully appointed, air-conditioned guest rooms, villas, and suites. Spectacularly situated on a four-acre cliff-top facing the impossibly vibrant blue Caribbean Sea, trendy Cap Maison offers a tranquil hide-away complete with stunning views, private beach, and one of the best restaurants in the Caribbean. And if variety is your cup of tea, just a few minutes drive north is Rodney Bay, known for its restaurants, shopping and nightlife.
My stay while short was exceedingly sweet. I stayed in Suite #1 which is on the ground floor of a two story villa. The extremely generous sized suite included an entrance area with desk; spacious bedroom with large closet, flat screen TV, ceiling fans and air conditioning; bathroom with separate toilet, double sinks, oversized tub, and enclosed glass shower with built-in platform seat; fully equipped professional-grade kitchen with breakfast nook and laundry room; living and dining area with a table large enough to comfortably seat 8 guests; and louvered doors leading out to a tiled patio large enough to hold a table with 4 chairs and 2 chaise lounges plus its own infinity-edge swimming pool fronting an expanse of garden and lawn. Sitting on the edge of the pool I gazed across the carpet of sapphire blue sea until it ran into the paler blue of the sky awash with puffy while clouds. This being the Caribbean, occasionally the clouds darkened until, released of their burden of water, retreated once again to reveal the ever patient sun. When the light was just right, a rainbow raced across the sky with its prism of color blossoming and then slowly retreated, abandoning the blue sky once again to the sun to dry the remaining drops of water. The villa had a similarly set apartment and view, one flight up, with its own private roof top terrace and pool. There are a total of 22 villas offering combinations of 1, 2 and 3 bedroom suites.
Every amenity was considered when building and furnishing Cap Maison to provide the ultimate in luxury and functional security while still minimizing the impact on the fragile eco system of the area. The resort was specifically designed to limit its carbon footprint by harnessing solar energy to provide hot water; positioning windows to capture cooling trade winds; and using only natural materials during construction. But Cap Maison is not a process it’s a philosophy which continues by using recycled water to irrigate the gardens and lawns; centering the restaurant menu around local fish and seafood and cooking only with locally grown organic produce. And speaking of food, the kitchen at Cliff at Cap is overseen by Welsh born Executive Chef Craig Jones, a St. Lucian Chef of the Year recipient, who serves an inspired French West Indian contemporary menu.
Cap Maison would not be complete without a spa and Spa Maison is located in the reception building just past the library and complimentary computer room. Once I entered the spa I was struck with a sense of peace, maybe it was the aroma from freshly cut flower and herb infusions collected from the spa’s own Zen garden, or maybe it was the welcoming greeting from Julian, the therapist that was going to perform my “Peace of Senses” massage. This signature massage was created by Sothys, a Parisian health and beauty company that I was very familiar with. Sothys creates cosmetic products and procedures that can only be performed by professionals specifically trained by them and when Julian got to work on de-stressing my neck, I relaxed right into his healing hands.
Cap Maison has another singular treat and that is the resort-owned 46-foot yacht for the exclusive use of their guests. The yacht is available for island or sunset cruises, special event parties, or the ultimate overnight excursion to one or more of the nearby Windward Islands. The yacht is sleek and modern with a forward deck for sunbathing, polished teak interior cabins, two staterooms with private baths, a full galley with beige leather banquettes, and a skipper and chef. Cruises can be combined with a booking at Cap Maison and should be reserved well in advance. www.capmaison.com
The time had come to depart paradise but I am secure in the knowledge that the various resorts on Saint Lucia offer a mosaic of choice to the discriminating traveler.
© December 2009 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.