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.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn