There's plenty more room at the inn for the Barmy Army
Cricket fans will find a bigger choice of hotels on St Lucia next spring, says Andrew Tong
Sunday 16 November 2008
St Lucia may be accustomed to big storms, but the tiny Caribbean island probably didn't know what hit it when it found itself sprawled across the British tabloid press 18 months ago. England's cricketers were based on the island for the 2007 World Cup and Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff had to be rescued from a pedalo that he had managed to steer into Rodney Bay in a drunken stupor.
Before then, St Lucia's claim to fame was that it had more Nobel Prize winners per capita than any other country in the world. The number is two, by the way: economist Sir Arthur Lewis and writer Derek Walcott. But the influx of some 10,000 fans from the UK on to St Lucia's 240 square miles for the showpiece sporting event has changed life on the island for ever. There are far more lucrative prizes up for grabs.
The island had been warned of the impending English invasion back in 2004, and several hotels went up, including the eco-resort Discovery at Marigot Bay and the boutique Jade Mountain at Anse Chastanet. But the shortfall in accommodation was still enormous, and a Home Hospitality Programme was set up to allow residents to let their homes to fans.
The "Barmy Army" will be back in April for the final match of England's tour of the Caribbean, a one-day international at the Beausejour stadium in Gros Islet, and they will find considerably more choice in terms of where to stay. But even though the cricket fans tend to spend thousands following the team around the world, they may blanch at the luxurious end of the market.
The Landings Rock Resort was in the vanguard of this cultural revolution. It went into construction in Rodney Bay, just down the beach from Gros Islet, two months after the World Cup. It was followed by Ritz-Carlton and Westin Le Paradis. Property is 40 per cent cheaper than in Barbados, and St Lucia is still building.
The Landings completed its second phase of development in September, and will ultimately offer 231 one- to three-bedroom suites, with the largest rooms on the island. Many look out on the clear bay beneath the old British fort at Pigeon Island, while the rest overlook an artificial lagoon which snakes through the hotel complex with the mountains of the rainforest clustering behind. The three-bedroom suites, all 2,300sq ft of them, have balconies 60ft wide and some have Jacuzzis on them just in case you can't make it the whole 20 yards to the warm waters of the Caribbean sea.
There is a deeply romantic Beach Club restaurant whose decks stretch out above the lapping waves, providing an unbeatable setting to sip cocktails as the sun sets over the Pigeon Island peninsula. A second, gourmet restaurant opened in September in the elegant four-storey pavilion that greets guests when they arrive. This is the architectural showpiece of the resort and home to some of the multimillion-pound suites that will crown the development.
The injection of capital has not pleased all its residents. Hendricks, who helps to run a catamaran service, is worried that the boom in tourism could be to the detriment of more traditional sources of income such as farming. Then there's Stella, who runs a Rastafarian roadside bar in Gros Islet. She worries about the threat to local traditions after she was forced to close down her nightclub because authorities deemed that it wasn't the right sort of place for the new St Lucia.
The Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed along the coast of St Lucia, and the ship used in the film now ferries tourists around Rodney Bay. As dusk settles over the Black Pearl, it's easy to think that there will be plenty more plundering of the island's resources during the next few years. For now, the richest treasures are on display.
How to get there
Return flights to St Lucia with Virgin Atlantic (08705 747 747; virgin-atlantic.com ) cost from £663 per person until 5 December and from 1 January to 31 March 2009.
The Landings St Lucia (0800 731 8137; rockresorts.com ) offers seven nights in a two-bedroom deluxe harbourfront villa from £1,009 for two people until 1 April 2009, including transfers, taxes and a resort fee which includes certain watersports and local transport.
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