Almost exactly ten years ago Amy Winehouse spent 3 months in St Lucia to escape the chaos of London and to record new music for an album that was sadly never finished. She fell head over heels in love with its special Caribbean pulse and finished her trip with a now infamous headline performance on Pigeon Island at the long-standing and highly respected St Lucia International Jazz Festival.
Now I’m here in 2019 to attend the Festival and visit a selection of local essential St Lucian destinations. I’m also interested to discover what makes this small avocado shaped island currently the most popular honeymoon destination for UK newly weds. But first there is Jazz to be heard…
St Lucia Jazz Festival 2019
A new partnership with the Jazz at Lincoln centre in New York has given the 2019 St Lucia Jazz Festival a full fat shot of adrenaline, attracting big names such as Gregory Porter and Yolanda Brown, together with cool cats like trumpeter Etienne Charles and the wonderful Africa Tinged, New York, Soul-Jazz Diva, Somi (below bottom).
Gregory Porter (below left) came in and nailed it, delivering a smooth, but delicious set at The Ramp in Rodney Bay that shows just how far he’s come on in the last few years as both a performer and a superstar. There are too many highlights to list them all, but a personal standout for me was a solo set by Ledisi performing a magical tribute to Nina Simone with a buzzing New Orleans Jazz Orchestra in support. Channeling her inner fragility (and strength) through an incredible vocal performance Ledisi mixed Simone numbers with her own material seamlessly.
Meanwhile, elsewhere at the festival, Etienne Charles (above right) seemed to pop up all over the place performing with several acts including double bass legend Christian McBride’s awesome band, Inside Straight. Another performance that left a big impression was the smooth, silky, sensual jazz of The Baylor Project (top above) who closed the festival at a fantastic brunch party at the Shangri-La Estate.
Each night after the big shows there were open sessions where the stars mingled and jammed late into the night with local jazz artists. These impromptu un-rehearsed gigs added another dimension to the festival and for me the St Lucian hospitality, warm weather and cool drinks amplified the live jazz buzz into something extra special.
If you visit the festival in 2010, for the ultimate St Lucia musical experience mix things up and check out the totally hyper regular Friday night “Jump Up” street party in Gros Islet where the sound systems take it up a notch playing dub swing and reggae that rattles your ribcage and where the booty bouncing knows no bounds. The party goes on late into the night and is a popular friendly destination with locals and tourists alike.
Where to stay
WindJammer Landing Resort
The first breathe of Caribbean air as I walk from the plane is almost as intoxicating as the first drop of Rum Punch that touches my lips when we arrive at the WindJammer Landing resort in Labrelotte Bay on the North West coast of the island an hour or so later.
The windy road on the way dips me head-first into the islands ways and glimpses of ocean are interwind with creaky wooden shacks sat next to grand colonial style houses, lush plantations and roadside jerk chicken shacks.
WindJammer Landing is a luxury holiday resort spread over 64 acres and has accommodation for 600 guests. There is a range of properties available, from a double Ocean View Guest Room to Luxury Self-Contained 3 Bedroom Villas stretching back up the hill. I’m staying in a Self-Contained apartment with kitchen and lounge and it’s a really nice space with a big comfy bed and a jacuzzi on my balcony. I think all properties here have (amazing) Ocean views and many have their own infinity pools. Obviously prices vary depending on when you come (the high season is over Christmas and up to Easter) and if you really like it you can even invest in you very own place on the resort. For more info visit www.windjammer-landing.com
Tying the Knot – Getting Married at WindJammer Landing
Forget Las Vegas, for adventurous lovers St Lucia has to be the best place to get married abroad and at Windjammer Landing they can fix everything to make it something to really cherish. There is only ever one wedding performed per day and the spot used for the ceremony overlooks the ocean and is very (very) romantic. They can’t guarantee eternal happiness, but it’s a fabulous place to get the ball rolling on a new adventure and sure beats a wet Thursday at Croydon Registry Office.
There are tons of facilities at WindJammer Landing and the Spa and fitness centre is modern and welcoming and an indulgent massage or beauty treatment from their extensive range will leave you feeling fresh and reinvigorated. There are four excellent restaurants to choose from, three of which are literally on the beachfront. In addition to the menus there are always daily specials to be had, make sure you try the amazingly fresh and meaty Mahi Mahi (sometimes called Doplhin or Durado fish too) there is live music entertainment most nights and if you just want to relax, then watch the stars shimmer through the palm trees over the ocean in the warm evening Caribbean air from your table.
All-inclusive and B&B options are available at WindJammer Landing and there is a wonderful buffet breakfast space, complete with Caribbean delicacies to kick start your day. In St Lucia, doing nothing is doing something and lying on the beach in-between visits to the bar can be a full time pastime if you choose. If you want to get active the hotel can organise anything from charter fishing trips to boat cruises, to zip wire adventures, helicopters, bike riding and the list goes on. As a base from which to explore the island either by car or by boat it’s perfect and talking of boats, no trip to St Lucia is complete without seeing the world famous Piton Mountains.
Twin Peaks – The Piton Mountains
A designated World UNESCO heritage site of outstanding natural beauty the Pitons are two enormous mountainous volcanic plugs (gross Piton (798m high) and Petit Piton (743m high) and we take a glorious 90 minute trip by boat south from WindJammer Landing skimming the coastline to see them up-close. When the peaks do come into view it’s impossible not to be impressed by their sheer lush dramatic beauty. You can hike up and down Gross Piton in a couple of hours, but in the midday heat we decide to disembark close by at Soufrière and head towards the Sulphur Springs, the worlds only drive-in Volcano.
Ok, time for a very quick history/science lesson. Around 410,000 years ago a weak spot in a collapsed crater at Sulphur Springs caused an upheaval of lava and naturally hot springs occurred in the area. A high content of sulphur and iron with large deposits of copper, iron oxide, alkaline lead, calcium oxide, and carbon created the mud baths and now approx 409,950 years later they’re a successful tourist attraction with supposed medicinal and health benefits.
Strip off to your swimsuit, relax in the hot water, cover yourself in the mud (or get someone else to do it) and relax. Be warned the Sulphur stinks at first, but it’s really good fun and I actually did feel nicely invigorated from the mud. All that rubbing and rinsing does give you an appetite though, luckily we had a lunch date somewhere very special. Mud Baths
Your table Mr Bond…. Jade Mountain
For those with big pockets, or at least a huge amount of followers on Instagram, the Jade Mountain resort in St Lucia is the sort of James Bond fantasy destination that Blofeld might have dreamt up had he been a lover, not a fighter. Jade Mountain was designed by owner, Trailblazer and Architect Nick Troubetzkoy and the sprawling property (which also includes Anse Chastanet further down the mountain) is, to put it simply, breathtaking.
A Special Sanctuary
There are 24 ‘Sanctuaries’ (they’re much too cool to be called just rooms) all of which overlook the stunning twin Pitons and are constructed with the finest local sustainable wood and recycled materials. With large infinity pools, 15ft high ceilings and an open fourth wall the sanctuaries are part of an ultimate 6-star destination experience which can be tailored to your every whim and desire.
Interestingly there is no wi-fi or TV’s in the rooms, neither are there any telephones or clocks, which made me wonder how you called your personal 24hr butler when the champagne runs dry. Actually, they’re so attentive they probably just sense when you need something and magically appear like the mysterious shopkeeper from Mr Ben.
I’m lucky enough to eat at the award winning chef Allen Susser’s Restaurant on the resort, which nestles below the incredible 360˚ panoramic Celestial Terrace. Jade Mountain is very popular with celebs and recent visitors include rapper Ludacris and Ellie Goulding. But if it is privacy you’re after, don’t worry the staff are sworn to confidentiality. Plus, if you need to arrive shaken not stirred there’s also a handy helipad on the roof. Naturally. Jade Mountain
A (very) brief history of St Lucia
In past times the English and the French wrestled over the 238 square miles of St Lucia like a wet soap in the shower and the Island changed hands between the two 14 times between 1660 and 1814. At the last attempt, the English won and possibly, as a result, English is the main language, however Kreole (a variation of French) is also widely spoken by many. There is a causal relaxed attitude across the island, for instance, the Prime Minister mingles with his wife at the Jazz Festival with no security at all. St Lucia is a friendly and safe place to visit as a tourist and the locals seem to have a genuine affinity towards the British especially.
The Capital of St Lucia, Castries is situated fairly close to WindJammer in the North of the Island and despite being where the cruise ships dock in St Lucia it still retains a certain ramshackled Caribbean charm. The Harbour is very pretty and there is a great market where all kinds of cool local, reasonably priced produce can be bought. Worth visiting too are Rodney Bay and the beautiful Pigeon Island with its wonderful views over St Lucia.
Food is definitely a big part of St Lucian culture, however as I really want to go back again and discover it fully for myself I’d rather not say too much about it this time. I will say that pretty much everything I ate in my time on St Lucia was fantastic, from the freshly caught Fish to the Spicy Jerk Chicken, to the Fruit Breads and Roast Plantains. Green figs and Salt Fish, I even had some fabulous Okra (something I never thought I’d say). The local beer, conveniently named Piton (after the mountains) served cold is really good too.
Cocoa Beans grow in large areas of St Lucia and if you are a chocolate lover a great way to spend a couple of hours is to visit the Howelton Estate and have a go at making your own chocolate bar. On the Estate there are several independent traders with small shops using traditional methods to produce a range of different products. One of them specialises in Batik, a technique which involves using wax and wax resistant dyes to make unique hand printed fabric. It’s very cool actually and the style fits perfectly with the gorgeous Sunny St Lucian weather. Howelton Estate
If you like lunch dates, lazy days and summer breezes, visit…
The Pink Plantation
If you haven’t filled up on chocolate another cool place to visit in St Lucia, not too far from the Howelton Estate is the Pink Plantation on Morne Fortune in the mountains just above Castries. It’s like a gentle step back into history and the Plantation house itself is over 150 years old. Before that in less peaceful times the site was used as a vantage point to spot enemy ships approaching by the famous master English Naval strategist Admiral George B Rodney. He was so popular they even named a rum after him.
The restaurant is open everyday for lunch (and for dinner on Fridays by arrangement) and is the labour of love of Michelle Elliot a St Lucian born artist. Michelle renovated the property several years ago, maintaining its original structural character and delicately adding a new layer of her artistic flair into the house and wonderful gardens. Recently they’ve renovated some of the spaces upstairs into very cool up-cycled Hotel rooms with doors as bedheads and hip corrugated iron showers. You don’t need a widescreen TV when you are staying somewhere with this much character and love applied to it. Pink Plantation
Take Lunch out on the Veranda, enjoy the cool breeze and welcome shade the overhanging palm tress afford and soak up the panoramic views over the bay. It’s a beautiful way to unwind and slow down your pace of life to St Lucia time. The food is excellent too, with daily specials (I had the Pink House Salad, – Salt Cod Salad with Avacado, Tomato and Plantain) and if it’s not too early there’s cocktails too.
Incidentally aside from the other activities, Bird watching is a very popular pastime on the island and there are several endemic species to look out for if you go on one of the many Bird Watching tours available. Even if you don’t go looking for them chances are you’ll stumble across a tiny captivating Humming bird dancing from flowers to flower, or even a beautiful pair of Brown Boobies on the beach.
If you’re travelling alone visit…
If you’re looking to stay somewhere in St Lucia that offers a slightly different angle on a regular type Spa resort break then BodyHoliday could be just what you need. It’s billed as the ‘Ultimate holiday for body and mind’ and the company has built up a strong reputation over recent times for fine-tuning holidays to suit a particular customers preferences. Careful planning and consultation happens before you arrive, but it’s not so much a workout schedule or fitness regime, for many BodyHoliday is a place to take stock of things and yoga, massages and Mindfulness are just as popular as windsurfing and cycling. All guests to the resort receive one complimentary treatment/activity per day of their stay and there’s too many to choose from.
Farm to Table
One of the really cool things I heard about is an Organic farm to table experience, where you can go out and pick produce from the BodyHoliday gardens (they grow a lot of their restaurant food) and then help to prepare what you have foraged for your lunch or dinner. It’s a wonderful way to get back to basics and destress from all that running around we do on an average day back at home. What’s also good about Bodyholiday is that a high percentage of the guests are single travellers, so you can meet new friends, without feeling like a spare part.
I was lucky enough to eat in their fusion Restaurant Tao and was really blown away by the food and cool ambiance (try the Seafood Laksa) and it made for a real five-star experience. www.thebodyholiday.com
My visit to St Lucia over 4 days was limited and I only really had time to enjoy the Jazz Festival and scratch the surface. There is a lot more to enjoy on this beautiful Island. With a flight time of just over 8.5 hours from the UK ( I travelled with British Airways) and a 5 hour time difference, leaving Gatwick at 10am gives you a pretty long first day on the island and for a real holiday you need to come for at least a week.
What I did see was enough to catch the pulse of St Lucia and it’s somewhere I will be definitely coming back to. For a romantic wedding location that has a real ‘wow’ factor, it fits the bill perfectly. As for Jazz, well there will another St Lucia Jazz festival in 2020. Watch this space!
For information on Windjammer Landing visit www.windjammer-landing.com/. To find out more about SaintLucia go to www.stlucia.org. British Airways flies from London to St Lucia from £465 return including taxes/fees/carrier charges. To book please visit www.ba.com/stlucia or call 0344 493 0120.