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

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
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
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

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

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

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

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering