As days shorten and we nervously eye our thermostats, over in St Lucia the Caribbean sun still bathes the beaches in glorious heat. And beyond the sand, the island is a joy to explore with its soaring volcanic peaks and a rainforest bursting with colourful wildlife, as well as lively bars, restaurants and a flourishing cultural scene.
Yet many visitors who don’t look beyond the big all-inclusive resorts miss out on the rich variety that St Lucia offers.
Now a new government-approved hotel scheme puts ‘little St Lucia’ on the map to allow visitors the opportunity to enjoy a more intimate Caribbean experience.
Collection De Pepites (meaning tiny gems) is an enticing selection of 250 small locally owned properties across the island. Prices run from £25 up to £2,000 a night, and the selection ranges from rainforest eco hotels and modern beachfront B&Bs to dazzling coastal villas and historic plantation houses.
Totally tropical: Jennifer Cox travelled to St Lucia (pictured) to explore some of the unique properties that fall under the island’s new hotel scheme, Collection De Pepites, which pools together 250 small, locally owned properties on the isle. ‘Many visitors who don’t look beyond the big all-inclusive resorts miss out on the rich variety that St Lucia offers,’ she says
What they all have in common is that they are unique properties, offering a gateway into the real character of the island.
We started our tour of some of these little gems in Rodney Bay, the entertainment district on St Lucia’s northern tip. This is where you’ll find the majority of the island’s hotels, restaurants, shops and nightlife, all centred on the swish Rodney Bay Marina.
Sol Sanctum Hotel feels a world away from all that activity, however, even though it’s just one street back from Rodney Bay’s popular Reduit Beach, a five-mile stretch of perfect sand which tapers into calm waters.
The eight-bedroom hotel, which opened in March, offers a haven for health-conscious guests – something co-founder Marise Skeete feels is more important now than ever, adding: ‘Since Covid, we’ve realised just how difficult people have found daily life. Our programmes help people unwind but also develop positive coping strategies for life back home.’
Sol Sanctum Hotel, pictured, offers a ‘haven for health-conscious guests’ with a menu of fresh vegetarian and vegan dishes and yoga classes
Sol Sanctum Hotel is one street back from Rodney Bay’s popular Reduit Beach, a five-mile stretch of perfect sand which tapers into calm waters
This is achieved through a menu of fresh vegetarian and vegan dishes, sourced partially from the kitchen garden, and classes that include yoga and meditation in a huge air-conditioned studio.
But don’t be put off if that sounds a bit worthy. The property is both welcoming and stylish, a perfect blend of designer chic and environmentally friendly locally sourced wood and frothy ferns – ‘chi-eco’, if you will. Downstairs the airy lobby melts into an equally airy dining room, and beyond, the garden is framed by a cascading water-wall and mango trees bursting with squabbling parrots.
Upstairs our room is equally ‘chi-eco’: the vaulted-ceiling bedroom and spacious bathroom with walk-in shower are a soothing mix of white and earth tones. There’s a huge deck, too, with spectacular views of the ocean and towering Mount Pimard.
We fully intended to climb the peak, but after an outdoor massage all we could manage was to laze in our robes, watching the sun melt into the sea.
The next morning, after a delicious breakfast of chickpea muffins with chef Delia’s spicy sauce, we joined one of the wellness instructors, Monique, on a hiking-yoga exploration of the little-known beaches along St Lucia’s wild Atlantic eastern side.
Monique was great company and shared useful tips: the best place to whale-watch (Top Of The World headland); buy ice cream (Elena’s); and eat – including Spinnakers, a picture-perfect Caribbean diner on Reduit Beach serving fresh seafood, creole dishes and cold beers.
B&B at Sol Sanctum costs from £160 a night, based on two people sharing (solsanctum.com).
On Reduit Beach (pictured above), dine at Spinnakers, a picture-perfect Caribbean diner that serves fresh seafood, creole dishes and cold beers
Another tip is to try The Golden Taste, a traditional St Lucia cafe in Gros Islet (pronounced growzelay), a sleepy fishing village of brightly coloured wooden buildings. Every Friday night Gros Islet morphs into a giant street party packed with DJs, bands and food stalls.
Friendly and no-frills with its menu chalked on a blackboard, food at The Golden Taste was simple and simply amazing: we polished off huge plates of spicy jerk chicken, rice and provisions (breadfruit, plantain and pumpkin) as owner Juliana looked on approvingly.
The island is a joy to explore with its soaring volcanic peaks and a rainforest bursting with colourful wildlife, as well as lively bars, restaurants and a flourishing cultural scene
St Lucia is a tiny island, just 27 miles long and 14 wide. As a rule of thumb, the north is dry and more developed, the south lush and laidback, with everything in between a dense tangle of tropical rainforest. Hire a car and you’ll find the roads are excellent but mountainous, like driving on a badly coiled hosepipe into the rainforest’s heart. We headed to the sprawling Castries Waterworks Reserve, eschewing the zipwires for a leisurely aerial tram ride on cable cars that are long and narrow, 600ft above the lush canopy of towering vanilla trees, giant vines and orchids.
In an old cocoa plantation nearby you’ll find the Pink Plantation House, an impossibly beautiful 150-year-old wooden house. Its sweeping verandas overlook two acres of coconut palms, ginger lilies and vivid red heliconia fussed over by hummingbirds, with views down to the lively capital, Castries. The vibrant plant life is captured in the ceramics of owner Michelle Elliot, an accomplished artist and chef.
Jennifer headed to the sprawling Castries Waterworks Reserve (pictured, file photo) for a leisurely aerial tram ride on cable cars that are 600ft above a lush canopy of towering vanilla trees, giant vines and orchids
Pink Plantation House (pictured) is an ‘impossibly beautiful’ 150-year-old wooden house in an old cocoa plantation
Pink Plantation House’s sweeping verandas overlook two acres of coconut palms, ginger lilies and vivid red heliconia fussed over by hummingbirds
You can stay in one of three beautifully appointed rooms and eat in the superb restaurant. B&B costs from £147 a night, based on two sharing (pinkplantationstlucia.com).
Head south along the west coast to Marigot Bay and a tropical cove with a charismatic cluster of beachfront shacks and fishing boats straight out of a Death In Paradise episode. Here, Chateau Mygo is made up of six gorgeous villas with decks and pools dotted around the marina and hillside. The bay is ideal for all kinds of watersports, or you can watch the world go by at the Chateau Mygo House Of Seafood: a delightful over-water diner.
Chateau Mygo costs from £124 a night for the Sunset Villa (chateaumygo.com/villas).
Take the coast road to St Lucia’s south-west corner, through buzzy colonial towns such as Anse La Raye and Soufriere, and the towering volcanic spires of the Gros and Petit Pitons loom into view. Wrapped by dense forest, rare tropical plants, waterfalls and wildlife, it’s no wonder that they have been Unesco-listed.
And offering stunning views of the Pitons and the sea is Tet Rouge Resort – an adults-only, six-room property in the artistic district of Choiseul.
It was the abundance of natural attractions that inspired owners Diana and Sorin Moldovan to build Tet Rouge in 2014, and it is now an invaluable community asset.
‘Ninety per cent of our staff are local, and most of them have been with us since the start,’ says Diana.
Tet Rouge Resort (pictured) is an adults-only, six-room property in the artistic district of Choiseul
‘Ninety per cent of our staff are local, and most of them have been with us since the start,’ Tet Rouge Resort’s owner tells Jennifer
B&B at Tet Rouge costs from £328 per night, based on two sharing (tetrouge.com).
That sense of community extends into surrounding Choiseul. At Diana’s suggestion, we track down septuagenarian artist Irene Alphonse, who makes incredible pottery in her remote off-grid studio.
And once a week Tet Rouge staff will drive guests to a neighbouring Collection De Pepites property, Balenbouche Plantation, for dinners on the dazzling 70-acre bohemian estate.
B&B at Balenbouche Estate costs from £124 per night, with a minimum three-night stay (balenbouche.com).
Jennifer explored the cocoa farm that adjoins Rabot Hotel From Hotel Chocolat, pictured above
During her stay at Rabot Hotel From Hotel Chocolat, Jennifer learned how to make her own chocolate – ‘delicious but surprisingly hard work’. Pictured right is an al fresco dinner at Rabot Hotel From Hotel Chocolat
Tet Rouge was the perfect base from which to explore the neighbouring cocoa farm – Rabot Hotel From Hotel Chocolat (it’s owned by the high-street chain) – where B&B costs from £553 a night, including chocolates (hotelchocolat.com/uk/rabothotel).
We toured the cocoa estates and made our own chocolate, which was delicious but surprisingly hard work.
After a 20-minute walk from Tet Rouge, through verdant canyons inaccessible by car, you’ll find Anse L’Ivrogne beach. We had the place to ourselves, and spent a glorious morning snorkelling over soft coral gardens popping with colourful fish.
But in truth we were just as happy to hang out at Tet Rouge.
Our huge suite, with a mezzanine kitchenette and Nespresso machine, and a bathroom with cute outdoor shower, had a large hammock-slung deck overlooking the 40ft pool.
The hotel’s outdoor bar was tiny, as was the open-air restaurant serving delicious just-caught seafood, but guests and staff chatted easily, sharing stories and tips – the kind of place you instantly feel at home.
‘It’s nice to be small,’ says Diana, and she’s right.
ONE THAT SPARKLES EXTRA BRIGHT
Luxury lounging: Villa Susanna is hard to beat for large groups who want their own space
For large groups who want their own space, say for a milestone party or family gathering, Villa Susanna is hard to beat.
Set high on the headland above Marigot Bay, it is so outrageously stylish that passing motorboats would slow down to try to get a better look.
Completely private in a three-acre garden, the villa comprises a 65ft pool, six two-bedroom suites and a one-bedroom apartment, all linked by wooden walkways snaking from the main building. Eyrie-like up a steep set of stairs from Marigot Bay, our suite offered incredible ocean views from the bed, the hot tub and even the shower, as the shutters and doors fully retract.
The villa comprises a 65ft pool (above), six two-bedroom suites and a one-bedroom apartment
The main building is similarly open to the elements, merging lush garden and hammock-slung verandas with a huge social space with vaulted ceilings, massive sofas and vast dining table. It also features a kitchen, where private chef Fabien Vigee rustled up traditional dishes with a twist – including green banana rosti with avocado and chicken smoked in coconut husks – using seasonal ingredients from his own farm.
Here, it’s easy to fall into a routine: pre-breakfast swim in the pool or head down the private trail to the beach, followed by ‘house chef’ Lucilla’s lunch of creole fish, salad, Caribbean flat bread and fresh pineapple in the gazebo, then an afternoon lazing in hammocks.
Villa Susanna, which sleeps up to 14, costs from £1,680 per night, or £120pp (blueskyluxury.com).