24-hour room service: The Hotel Chocolat, Saint Lucia

 

Angus Thirlwell has a Willy Wonka twinkle in his eye – or at least that's the impression I get from the photograph in the brochure of his latest venture, a hotel in Saint Lucia. Thirlwell is the British co-founder of Hotel Chocolat, the chain of grown-up chocolate shops found throughout the UK. With a name and an idyllic location already in place, a hotel was the next logical step: the Hotel Chocolat opened on Thirlwell's cacao plantation last spring.

The hotel is situated in a corner of the Rabot Estate, which has been in operation since 1745, in the south-west corner of Saint Lucia. The estate, the oldest on the island, had fallen on hard times when Thirlwell, who grew up in the Caribbean, and his business partner Peter Harris bought it in 2005 and set about transforming it into a viable cocoa-producing business. It now supplies the raw material for their top-end single-estate chocolate.

The hotel is a quietly luxurious place that makes the most of its surroundings. Checking in at reception, which doubles as the entrance to the restaurant, I took in the dramatic view of Gros Piton, one of the island's iconic twin peaks.

This year, the plan is to build a chocolate factory on the estate. I took a stroll up to the site – currently only a large clearing in the forest – past cacao trees bearing pendulous, green, red, yellow and purple pods, depending on their variety and ripeness. Now and then I'd catch the scent of something fruity – a fallen pod that had begun to ferment, which is how the Aztecs got the idea for xocolatl.

As dusk settled in, the air began to pulse with the tiny lights of fireflies and the chirp of tree frogs. Cocktails beckoned at the restaurant, Boucan, simply decorated in warm brown wood and open-air on four sides, with a view of Gros Piton silhouetted in the moonlight. Dinner is served here too. The menu uses cocoa in just about everything: from confit duck with orange and cocoa sauce and white chocolate mash to cacao-pulp sorbet. It's all surprisingly subtle, and delicious. Breakfasts are less choc-focused, but no less tasty – bittersweet green oranges, papayas, bananas, eggs and bacon, chocolate granola, "smudge" (posh Nutella), and Saint Lucian cocoa tea – an intense shot of ground cacao nibs, hot water and a splash of milk.

After this you can either laze by the small infinity pool, have a spa treatment or take the free shuttle down the forested hillside to Jalousie Beach, a long arc of imported white sand with clear, warm water and excellent snorkelling.

I toured the estate with Rabot's nursery supervisor, Cuthbert Monroque, who explained how their aim is to make cocoa a more viable crop for Saint Lucian farmers, who have historically relied heavily on banana production. While it takes six years for a new cacao plant to reach maturity, this can be shortened to 18 months by grafting on to root stock. I had a go at grafting – a surprisingly fiddly business. "Come back next season," said Cuthbert, "and perhaps you'll taste the chocolate from your tree." It was a tempting prospect.

Location

The Hotel Chocolat is close to the coast in the south-west of Saint Lucia, a 40-minute drive from Hewanorra airport. It's a quiet, rural area, mostly given over to forest with pockets of agriculture. Nearby are nature reserves and hill walks to explore and a tiny, active volcano. The nearest town, Soufrière, is about 20 minutes away.

Comfort

There are eight stilted wooden "cocoa pods" dotted around a courtyard; further up the terraced hillside stand six larger and more luxurious villas. Everything is decorated in the brown and cream livery of Hotel Chocolat's high-street shops, in a Caribbean plantation-meets-contemporary style. A bottle of prosecco and Kilner jars of cocoa butter-encrusted nuts and a selection of chocolates awaited in my pod. There was also free Wi-Fi and an iPod loaded with everything from rainforest sounds to Queen, but no TV or telephone to disturb the natural order of things. The glassless windows, narrow gaps in the floorboards and stilted position of the pods are designed to make the most of cooling breezes here, 300m above sea level. However, ventilation was sometimes an issue in my room. More refreshingly, the sleek bathroom featured a big open-air rain shower.

Hotel Chocolat, Rabot Estate, Soufrière, Saint Lucia (0844 544 1272; thehotelchocolat.com).

Rooms ***
Value ****
Service ****

Doubles start at $475 (£296), B&B.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...