Travel: Saint Lucia still the spot for a heavenly holiday
Classic Caribbean winter sun destination Saint Lucia has lots of new treats in store, says Erin Cardiff
AS I zip up the man-made causeway joining Saint Lucia's mainland to Pigeon Island National Park, the pulsating bass cuts through the hum of the rainforest. It's Saturday night, and as the cotton candy sunset turns to dark, I'm on my way to the island's Roots and Soul Festival.
Hosted by Saint Lucia Tourism Authority (SLTA), the festival (tickets from $20/£15), now in its third year, sees both local artists and international stars take to the stage to perform reggae, hip hop, jazz, folk-rock and poetry.
This year, it's been extended to another site – Rodney Bay Ramp – which holds Friday night's stripped back answer to the high-octane Saturday and Sunday shows.
A far cry from the ankle-deep mud and warm cider that personifies British festivals, Roots and Soul has a decidedly more chilled vibe.
Here, there's no cramming into sweltering tents, no queueing for overpriced burgers.
Instead, you simply float around, sipping on rum punch, drinking in the sights (plush greenery) and smells (sizzling pork and fresh seafood) around you.
Saint Lucia may not be the first destination that springs to mind when you think of festivals. But things are changing. All over the island, new attractions – as well as new ways to take in the classic highlights – are springing up.
Four days earlier, I started my trip in Soufriere.
Home to the sulphur springs, Toraille waterfall and cinematic views of the famous Pitons, it is said that if you haven't seen Soufriere, you haven't seen Saint Lucia.
My home whilst there was the spectacular Jade Mountain – sister resort to Anse Chastanet.
After weaving through Soufriere's maze of corrugated iron roofs and pastel-coloured facades – via its new town square, just a stone's throw from the ocean – my driver turns to me. "Hold on," he says. "It's a rocky road up to Jade Mountain."
He's not wrong. For the next two miles, we bounce our way along a jagged track, climbing higher up the hillside. Then finally, the road smooths. We've reached paradise.
For me, that 20 minutes of off-roading perfectly sums up Saint Lucia. Blending chaos with calm, it's a place where the stormy Atlantic Sea meets the peaceful Caribbean waters, where remarkable beauty was born from a furious volcanic eruption, where the road to true tranquillity is rough and unpaved.
Designed and built by architect Nick Troubetzkoy, Jade Mountain opened its doors in 2006, and lies on the same 600-acre estate as Anse Chastanet, which Nick has owned with his wife Karolin since 1974.
Anse Chastanet celebrates rustic Caribbean charm - from the bespoke art adorning its walls to the locally sourced furniture; Jade Mountain is ultra-luxe - a futuristic design marvel.
I am staying in one of the property's 24 sanctuaries, with a private infinity pool and open fourth wall looking out over the ocean.
From jungle biking to snorkelling, morning yoga sessions to sunset sailing, there are plenty of ways to fill your day.
Guests can also sit down with a hiking concierge and explore a menu of unspoilt trails to find one that is tailored to them, as part of a hiking butler service, which launched earlier this year. (Guests are also given a champagne picnic to enjoy en route).
On day two, fuelled by avocado toast and iced coffee, I rise bright and early to head over to Soufriere's Sulphur Springs Park.
First opening its doors in the early-1980s, it now attracts more than 200,000 visitors a year, who pay $10/£8 each to soak in a pool of volcanic mud, as well as massages from $10/£8 and photoshoots from $50/£40.
The most Instagrammed spot on the island, it is hardly a hidden secret - but now, after undergoing a renovation project, three new mud pools have been constructed, meaning there is even more to see and snap.
One of the most remarkable things about the park, though, is that it lies in the very heart of a dormant volcano.
"That's right – you're now in the world's only drive-through volcano," my guide tells me, as we stand on a viewing platform overlooking the cauldron-like caldera, dotted with belching pools of mud.
After a tour, it's time for me to take a dip in one of the newly-built pools. Lowering myself into the warm black water, I eye the rugged landscape that towers over me and think once again about the wonderful contradiction that is Saint Lucia's blend of wildness and serenity.
Back at Jade Mountain, I enjoy dinner at Anse Chastanet's new vegan restaurant, Emerald.
As with all of the eateries on the estate, much of the organic produce served up comes from their very own Emerald Farm, in the nearby Soufriere hills.
Carefully curated by chefs James Beard, Allen Susser and Frank Faucher, the menu features delights like cauliflower tacos, freshly harvested vegetable soup, breadfruit gnocchi and grilled aubergine with braised black beans and salsa.
Before leaving Soufriere to head north, I make one last stop off – the new destination beach.
Following a major renovation project, Hummingbird Beach – which has an almost public resort feel to it thanks to the new on-site restaurant, spa, pizzeria, smoothie bar and souvenir shop – is already attracting its fair share of visitors.
And, with lush, tree-lined hills on one side, and the dramatic peaks of the Pitons on the other, it's easy to see why.
Next it's up to Castries, Saint Lucia's capital, which is now easier to explore than ever thanks to City Walkers' new range of walking tours, from $20/£15, where you can sample mouth-watering treats, walk the corridors of time through history-steeped streets and even get help picking out the ultimate souvenir.
I spend the remainder of my trip at East Winds, a tropical garden by the sea with its own spa, yoga pavilion, pool and swim-up bar, and secluded beach. Here, your time is yours. Hike the fitness trail, stroll around the on-site vegetable garden, take part in some watersports, or simply enjoy a cocktail as you watch the sun set – it's up to you.
As I prepare to head home, it seems fitting that one of the last things I pass before getting to the airport is the Royal Saint Lucia Turf Club's new horseracing track.
Officially opening in December 2019 to host the Pitons cup, and there are whispers all over the island of how it will transform the sporting scene, bringing a whole new wave of visitors flooding over.
Granted, a tiny island in the middle of the Caribbean isn't where you'd expect horsey crowds to head for race day. But that's the thing about Saint Lucia – it's full of surprises.
:: HOW TO PLAN YOUR TRIP
Tropical Sky (tropicalsky.co.uk; 01342 886 941) offers a 10-night twin centre in St Lucia from £3,199 per person, including five nights in a standard room at the four plus star Anse Chastanet and five nights in a superior cottage at the four star East Winds. Price based on two adults sharing on all-inclusive basis, travelling in June 2020 and including return flights from London Gatwick and transfers.
For more information on the island of Saint Lucia, visit Stlucia.org