The late Colin Tennant, aka Lord Glenconner, first spotted the potential of the Jalousie plantation 30 years ago. Disenchanted with Mustique, the Grenadine island that he turned into the Caribbean home of the jet set, he headed north to Saint Lucia in 1981 to create a new playground for the rich.
He found the ideal spot in a rainforest cradled by the Pitons, the two volcanic spires that rise out of the blue depths of the Caribbean on the island’s south-west coast. Within it stood a plantation house, built by early French settlers in the mid-1700s, where sugar was once produced – the ruins of the original mill can still be seen in the gardens. After the abolition of slavery its purpose was turned to copra, cocoa and coffee production, but it fell into disrepair until Tennant’s arrival.
The plan to open a hotel here was controversial. Tennant met fierce opposition to his all-inclusive project because of concerns about its environmental impact and whether it would benefit the local economy. But he got the green light, and in 1992 opened his luxury hotel. By 1996, the project had failed and its doors shut, only to reopen the following year with Hilton at the helm.
Fast-forward to 2005 and enter the current owner Roger Myers, accountant to the megastars. In 2008, he invited the Viceroy Hotel Group to manage the 100-acre resort and wrote a US$100m cheque to lift the place out of the doldrums. The final touches were made last month with the official rebranding of the Jalousie Plantation hotel to Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort.
The transformation has been thorough. Where once stood Tennant’s gingerbread cottages, now 59 clapboard villas cling to the hillside jungle; eight beachfront bungalows rest on the sands; 11 refurbished original suites peek out of the undergrowth around the plantation house; and six two- to five-bedroom residences (three are still being built) sit above the waves.
Sugar Beach now offers a spa within tree houses, three restaurants including a new open-walled ocean-side bistro, two bars, a children’s club, boutique, business centre, gym and tennis courts. The swimming pool has been resculpted and the watersports centre upgraded. But most impressive is the designers’ wish to let the house glory in its architectural heritage, yet add striking references to the modern age such as works by the Puerto Rican photographer Carlos Mercado that hang on the restaurant walls in the Great Room.
There’s a lot going on in this tangle of rainforest, yet nature, and the colonial house in its embrace, continue to shine through.
Sugar Beach is a 45-minute drive north-west of Hewanorra airport, in a luxury enclave on the south-west coast. Local attractions include taking a mud bath at the Sulphur Springs (001 758 495 5212; soufrierefoundation.org; EC$12.50/£3), and climbing Gros Piton with the help of a guide from the Interpretive Centre at Fond Gens (001 758 459 3965; soufrierefoundation.org; US$30/£20). The old French capital Soufrière is a short drive away, while Anse La Raye, site of the island’s weekly Fish Fry, is closer to today’s capital, Castries, which is an hour or so to the north by road.
All the accommodation pales against the landscape, purposefully. White is the dominant tone, from the walls to the voiles draped over the four-poster beds – better to appreciate nature’s blues and greens beyond – with the only strong contrast provided by the dark wood floors. The feel is colonial Caribbean: louvred doors, balustraded terraces, basket-work chairs. The Luxury Villas on the hillside are spectacular, not least for the mesmeric views they offer of the Pitons from their wraparound terraces and infinity plunge pools. The interiors of the one- and two-bedroom villas comprise sitting room, bedroom, dressing room, bathroom and shower room. The interiors of the thatched one- and two-bedroom Luxury Beachfront Bungalows and the one-bedroom Luxury Guest Rooms in the gardens are similarly configured, though on a smaller scale. The Luxury Beachfront Bungalows have terraces with outdoor shower and Jacuzzi, while the Luxury Guest Rooms have a walled garden, patio, plunge pool and private rooftop terrace. All rooms come with free Wi-Fi access, iPod docking station, flat-screen TV and mini-bar and are attended by butlers.
Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort, Val des Pitons, Soufrière, Saint Lucia (001 758 456 8000; sugarbeachaviceroyresort.com).
Doubles start at £594, room only.