St Lucia's jagged peaks and Ayurvedic treats
Whether your taste is for adventure, luxury or a combination of the two, Saint Lucia is bursting with possibilities, says Tom Peck
"There are two types of snake down there," crackled the helicopter pilot's voice over the intercom as we flew high over the jagged jungle of Saint Lucia's mountainous interior. "The boa constrictor: he is big and lazy. The fer-de-lance: he is small and he moves very fast."
The boa constrictor set up home throughout the Caribbean long before its islands' tourist boards started seducing visitors of a similarly supine persuasion. Lying motionless in the sun for days on end, slowly digesting meals so large they require a flexible ligament jaw just to get them down, appeals not only to the heavy-bodied serpent.
But the nimble Saint Lucian fer-de-lance, meaning spearhead in French, is unique to these shores. And for the Caribbean traveller who can only stomach so much gentle repose, the little green pear drop of Saint Lucia, set in the electric blue of the Caribbean sea, is undoubtedly the place to go.
The helicopter was taking me from Hewanorra airport in the island's south-east corner to Cariblue Bay, a narrow beach 20 miles away at the north-west tip (though I would discover later that the views are far more spectacular from the winding mountain roads). Around its own private beach of imported white sand sits The BodyHoliday. There is nowhere like it.
This is an all-inclusive resort – though they prefer the term "prepaid" – and around the pool are the obligatory sun loungers complete with little red flags, to be pressed in the sand to indicate that refreshment is required. The resort's three restaurants, which range from a barbecue buffet to à la carte dining, also offer popular communal tables for single travellers who'd sooner eat in a group.
But neither of these advantages is the main attraction. Instead, people come here because there is a quite bewildering amount to do. Golf, scuba, fencing, archery, tennis, windsurfing, waterskiing, yoga, tai chi, spinning, pilates or Zumba on the beach as the sun drops into the sea like a fireball. It might – just – be feasible to do all these things in a single day here.
At the top of a set of steep steps with a stunning view over the bay is The BodyHoliday's main attraction, the thing that makes it marginally more popular with women than with men. The Wellness Centre's 44 spa treatment rooms are set around a little blue lap pool in a cool pink stone courtyard; an hour-long spa treatment is included for every day of your stay.
I was a spa virgin, a sceptic even, but the full body massages are supremely invigorating. Indeed, it is a far from uncommon occurrence, when guests inevitably gather at the clubhouse bar for sundowner cocktails, to overhear two gentlemen discussing in hushed but startled tones just how much they've enjoyed their Lucian Lime and Ginger Scrub or Ocean Wrap.
Lots of further treatments are available at extra cost; the Ayurvedic treatment centre is particularly popular. When I returned to lunch in an aromatherapy-oil-induced trance after a rather relaxing, hour-long, four-handed, synchronised Abhyanga massage, more than one person was keen to find out "either what you've just had done or what you've just smoked".
But, like no other island in the Caribbean, Saint Lucia rewards those who dare to step outside their resort. In the island's interior, dense rainforest covers a landscape uniquely mountainous for the region, with jagged peaks covered in bamboo, cedar, gommier and fern trees.
Not only do the mountains create activities for the adventurous traveller, but they limit how many resorts that can be built there compared with its flatter neighbours. It is largely Mother Nature's hand that has kept a brake on Saint Lucia's tourism industry, even now. It is only 18 years since Hurricane Debbie destroyed the banana crop, obliging the authorities to embrace tourism and develop the airport to allow direct flights from Europe and the US to land here.
The island's totem is the only Unesco world heritage site in the southern Caribbean, the majestic Pitons: Petit and Gros. (Their French names are among many reminders that the island changed hands 14 times between Britain and France after the French arrived in 1635.) Petit Piton and Gros Piton, in the island's south-west, shoot out of the sea like canine teeth almost half a mile into the sky. Oprah Winfrey once said the Pitons were "one of the top five places to see before you leave this great place called Earth".
As I struggled for two hours up the volcanic rock staircase of Gros Piton, the higher of the two but the easier climb, I did wonder whether the television presenter had ticked off the other four before trying it (she has, it transpired, only ever taken in the view from the sea). You have to leave very early in the morning, around 6.30am, or face the climb in the sweltering midday heat, but there's a breathtaking view over Petit Piton and back over the entire west coast of the island.
Back at sea level, at Anse des Pitons, a curving beach tucked between the two mountains, the view was no less extraordinary. The sea was the most intoxicating colour I have seen anywhere, and so clear and still that the reflections of the mountains seemed to shoot down into the ocean. Some natural wonders are so special that the locals name their beer after them. In Nepal they drink Everest; in Tanzania, Kilimanjaro. So sipping an ice-cold Piton here seemed utterly appropriate.
Several companies operate zip wires through the rainforest interior. I chose to go rappelling 120 feet from a decidedly rusty bridge down a deep ravine into the Dorée river. Only when I was harnessed up and ready to go did my guide explain that it is called The Devil's Bridge.
"The government don't have any record of who actually built it," he said. "No one knows how it got here. We think it must be the devil." The devil might need to be called back in – it is in dire need of repair – and as I clambered nervously over the wrong side of the bridge a 4x4 came round the corner and encountered my safety rope, completely blocking the road. It was 10 or 15 minutes before I was down and unharnessed. After a few more goes I was able to whizz down at some speed. The lengthy hike back, waist-deep through the river and up the steep, bamboo-covered bank, was just as exhilarating.
Some go to The BodyHoliday with specific targets, be they to lose weight, look younger or improve digestion or skin. The resort's specialists can produce bespoke training and nutrition schemes and act as mentors and personal trainers. During my stay the British decathlete Daley Thompson and the former Olympic pole-vaulter Kate Staples, better known as Zodiac from Gladiators, were running a gruelling boot camp daily at 7.30am.
"Give us your body for a week and we will give you back your mind," goes the promotional mantra. As I left for the airport, my body was mainly exhausted, and I realised I hadn't given myself even a moment's quiet reflection. Only when I was on the plane did I notice that I hadn't even read the first page of my holiday literature.
But there was no time for that either, nor for a second aerial glance at that hypnotic green, white and blue panorama. I was asleep before we left the Tarmac.
* The writer travelled as a guest of The BodyHoliday (0845 004 7553; thebodyholiday.com), which offers all inclusive double rooms from £480 per night, including a wide of range activities but excluding flights.
* British Airways (0844 493 0758; ba.com/thebodyholiday), flies from Gatwick. Alternatively Virgin Atlantic (0844 874 7747; virgin-atlantic.com) also flies from Gatwick.
* Saint Lucia Tourist Board: stlucianow.co.uk
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