PUBLISHED: 12:03 23 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:20 20 February 2013
Eileen Wise beats the winter blues with a Caribbean dream come true - a trip to the beautiful, lush and typically tropical islands of St Lucia, Mustique and Canouan
Eileen Wise beats the winter blues with a Caribbean dream come true a trip to the beautiful, lush and typically tropical islands of St Lucia, Mustique and Canouan
It must be everyones dream on a cold, wet miserable day in the middle of the British winter to pack your bags and fly off to the Caribbean. Well, Rogers and mine came true as we stepped on to a British Airways flight from Gatwick to St Lucia.
The first surprise about St Lucia is that its home to not one, but two Nobel laureates Derek Walcott, considered the Caribbeans foremost playwright and poet, and Sir William Arthur Lewis, an economist. For an island shaped like a mango and just 27 miles long and 14 miles wide thats a mighty impressive achievement. The inhabitants, clearly bright folk, speak English and a French-based Creole, the result of their dual British-French heritage.
After an eight-hour flight we walked down the steps on to the runway at St Lucias small Hewanorra Airport into the fragrant sunshine with its restorative Caribbean warmth.
We were met by a friendly driver from Jade Mountain Hotel, our first destination, only an hours drive heading north. At the time of our visit, St Lucia and all the Grenadine islands had suffered a four-month drought, but despite that the countryside appeared lush and green. Along the way we saw small colourful houses, often with ponies tethered outside, mingling with goats grazing at the side of the road.
To start with our drive was flat but as we headed north it became more and more and hilly. Pretty fishing villages glistening in the sunshine put us in a wonderful mood for the days ahead. On reaching the small coastal village of Soufriere we thought we had arrived but oh no! we found ourselves climbing up a very bumpy, steep, single-track road with a huge drop alongside into the ocean. Passing oncoming cars was a rather scary experience! After 10 minutes of holding our breath we arrived at the stunning five star Jade Mountain Hotel.
Its a very impressive modern development perched on the side of a steep mountain a criss cross of futuristic looking stone bridges and walkways. In some ways it has a metropolitan feel about it, but it also has a tranquil beauty, being so close to nature. Jade Mountain was the dream of owner Nick Troubetzkoy who spent years thinking about how to turn his vision into reality. But its certainly worth the wait for the discerning guests that choose to stay there.
To reach our room we crossed our own 30 ft private bridge! And what a room. To start with it was huge, having its own infinity pool looking out over the stunning Piton mountains (a UNESCO World Heritage site), the most famous landmark on the island. The room had three walls with the fourth open, looking out to sea. This is a lovely concept and wonderful in the balmy climate. Given the peace and comfort of the room it was very tempting not to stray far from this very private and comfortable haven (in fact the staff told us that one honeymooning couple had stayed in the room for five days before surfacing!).
One important thing to mention is that this hotel is not for the unfit or the very elderly, because from our room to the beach we had to climb 300 steep steps, very exhausting in the hot temperature.
Jades food was delicious, a mixture of fusion with some Creole influences, and the service was impeccable.
Theres a peaceful and relaxing spa at the hotel with friendly, expert therapists ready to massage all your worries away, leaving you relaxed and happy.
Lovely as Jade Mountain is, it is cut off from the outside world up its long steep road, so we decided to brave it and hire a four-wheel drive jeep to explore the rest of the island. Driving down that road for the first time was something of a nail biting experience! St Lucia is a beautiful island to drive around but as a great deal of it is up and down very steep roads it is not for the nervous driver you would be better off hiring a local taxi.
In one we met a lovely old boy in a friendly local bar, who we bought a glass of the islands famed white rum while he regaled us with tales of his past cricketing career. He claimed to be a devilish leg-spinner, with best figures of 7-28 but then again, it might just have been the drink talking!
We headed north to Castries, the colourful capital, passing through lots of little fishing villages on the way. In one we met a lovely old boy in a friendly local bar, who we bought a glass of the islands famed white rum while he regaled us with tales of his past cricketing career. He claimed to be a devilish leg-spinner, with best figures of 7-28 but then again, it might just have been the drink talking!
Castries was about the size of a small Suffolk market town with a busy port and lively covered market, which had over 300 vendors selling fresh local produce and spices, some of which we bought to take home. We ate a delicious meal of Creole chicken curry in an alley way within the market. St Lucians are gregarious, warm-hearted people, and we enjoyed sitting with them watching the world drift by, all the while reggae music playing gently in the background.
After six days in St Lucia it was time to continue on our Caribbean adventure by flying to the small exclusive island of Mustique somewhere Ive read about since the 1970s and always wanted to visit. Its really not that far away from St Lucia but even so we had to take two small planes via Barbados on to St Vincent and finally on a Mustique Airways small private plane. Island hopping is great fun and the views you get in a small plane are amazing.
After landing on Mustiques very short runway we were whisked off to the Cotton House Hotel. This impressive establishment was built by Colin Tennant (Lord Glenconner) back in the 1970s after he bought the island. Mustique soon became popular with the rich and famous after Lord Glenconner gave Princess Margaret a house for a wedding present, and soon the likes of Mick Jagger bought homes too, making it a sought after destination for people who could afford the prices.
Mustique is now owned and run by The Mustique Company which oversees all of the 139 multi-million pound properties scattered across the island which is just three miles long and under a mile wide. These magnificent homes vary from two bedroomed villas up to mansions reputed to belong to heads of state, royalty, celebrities and just incredibly well off people. Out of the 139 properties about three-quarters of them are for hire with pricing ranging from 5,000 to 50,000 per week.
Andreas Pade, the manager of Cotton House, told us that the hotel is the central point for socialising, as each week it hosts a cocktail party for both the residents and also everyone from all the island homes. Cotton House is without doubt one of most splendid hotels we have ever stayed in. Beautifully furnished by Oliver Messel, a designer and friend of Lord Glenconner, it is tastefully decorated with some stunningly original pieces of furniture.
We stayed in a charming seaside cottage, with a lovely veranda and small plunge pool only yards from the lapping waves of the calm light blue sea. Like all the rooms and common parts of the hotel, ours was tastefully and stylishly decorated and the huge bed was one of the most comfortable we have slept in anywhere.
As you would expect from an island inhabited by the very wealthy, it is beautifully kept, and we found some quiet, rugged beaches, most of them empty, which is just the way we like them total peace and quiet.
The spa offers some relaxing treatments for the weary traveller and we both slept well after a dreamy aromatherapy massage.
There are only two other places for entertainment on the island. One is the renowned Basils Bar, run not surprisingly by a big friendly man of the same name who many years ago worked for Princess Margaret, before deciding to set up his own business. The other one is Firefly, a small 12 roomed boutique hotel perched on the mountainside.
The highlight of my visit to Mustique was going to the Sunday morning service at the little village church. I joined about 100 locals to sing my heart out to the most glorious and spiritually upraising gospel songs, complete with rhythmic swaying and lots of hallelujahs!
Three days were not nearly long enough to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the place. If we ever went back Id love to gallop along the long deserted beaches, taking a swim in the sea whilst clinging to my horse, as I saw some lucky people doing.
So after a sad farewell we were off on the last leg of our island hopping, flying for 20 minutes to the island of Canouan. Its a tiny island with a village, a small hotel and the huge Raffles Resort with a Trump International Golf Course designed by Jim Fazio. The course covers 150 undulating acres of dramatic hills and seashore boasting the most amazing views.
The hotel is set on a hillside. All the rooms are designed as very comfortable apartments, each with a sitting room, bedroom(s) and ours had a lovely garden terrace with a plunge pool looking out over the golf course and the sea.
Roger was keen to conquer the course and reported back that it was a long and challenging one to play. While he tackled the 18 holes, I enjoyed a relaxing read by the pool, which they told me is the largest in the Caribbean.
The hotel has five restaurants, all pretty fancy apart from the one by the pool where you have breakfast each day. We were there for three nights, and in that time we also sampled a French restaurant in a very over-the-top mansion and casino, perched on the highest hill which took nearly 10 minutes to reach by car. We also dined in the hotels Italian restaurant where the food was delicious. On the last night we ventured out to a charming little restaurant just down the road in a small hotel, where we had a simple but delicious meal of local fish sitting a few yards from the sea.
Raffles is a great resort for families with its huge pool and numerous water sport activities. It has a thriving childrens club so that parents can relax on their own or get away to play golf without worrying about the little ones.
I experienced one of the most unusual and enjoyable massages I have ever had which took place out at sea! They picked me up in a little motor boat and we chugged out to a bamboo hut on stilts with a glass bottom so during my massage I was able to glance down at the sea below and watch the fish swim by. Sublime!
We thoroughly enjoyed our Caribbean holiday and flew home relaxed, tanned and very happy. A holiday experience be it for couples, friends or families that we would highly recommend to all.
Caribtours (0207 751 0660: www.caribtours.co.uk) offers 7 nights at Jade Mountain, Saint Lucia from 2,850 per person staying in a Sky Jacuzzi Suite including Breakfast. Price includes return scheduled flights with British Airways and transfers.
Stay 7 nights at the Cotton House, Mustique from 1,910pp. Includes a complimentary upgrade to a superior room, breakfast, return flights from Gatwick with British Airways, onward shared charter flight to Mustique island and transfers. Includes a free mule (their name for a golf buggy) for a day, 3 course dinner and welcome wine in the room.
For reservations and further information please call Carrier on 0161 491 7620 or visit www.carrier.co.uk View the hotel at www.cottonhouse.