Pencil-in a spot of snorkelling: Peter Guttridge joined hassled high-fliers for a schedule of stress-relief and pampering on St Lucia
The Caribbean island of St Lucia is full of hotels that offer all-inclusive holidays with scuba diving, water skiing, snorkelling, tennis and golf. Le Sport goes one better. It provides all this plus a water treatment and fitness centre, the Oasis, on a hilltop above Cariblue Bay. Le Sport is not cheap: a 14-day stay arranged through Thomson costs about pounds 1,800 - worth it if you feel like blowing your savings on healthy self-indulgence. An unexpected legacy funded me and my partner.
The only real drawback is getting there. Although our flight time is supposed to be nine hours, we arrive in St Lucia some 15 hours after we left home. The resort is still 90 minutes away. That is 90 minutes in a cramped minibus along the island's potholed road - and the scenic potential of this tour is lost on us since it is already dark.
Also in our minibus are Charles and Robert, two young investment bankers. Charles is here to play tennis; Robert, on his third visit, has come for the treatments. They chat enthusiastically to Claire, a senior executive with a media company, here for a major de-stress.
Despite the fact that Le Sport claims to be the last word in stress management holidays, our arrival is hardly a soothing experience. We get there at nine in the evening - with our body clocks at 1am - and find no food left at the barbecue and the lift to our fourth-floor room not working (it rarely is). The next day can only be better.
In the morning we walk down to the beach through bougainvillaea, ylang ylang, gardenias and hibiscus. We see a humming-bird hovering on a blur of wings. Floating in the warm water, rain suddenly hisses down and, as abruptly, stops.
Other birds are very tame. They come on to the tables in the open-air restaurant. They come into your room and leave droppings on any clothes lying around. You can, if you are that sort of person, buy a carving of three birds in a birdbath made from a coconut. You can buy a hat made from plaited leaves which has a long feather with a bird fashioned out of the end. A depressing number of people do buy, but daytime sartorial elegance is not a priority here. People who attend the fitness classes wear what they feel comfortable in. But there are inevitably a number of fashion victims. Thankfully, though, there is no need to feel self-conscious if you are not in great or even good shape. Most people are not. In fact, the fitness classes attract only about 40 people each day - exercise is by no means compulsory.
Despite all the talk about stress management, there are only a couple of de-stress classes, and they involve little more than breathing exercises. I find our teacher is tolerant, if slightly unreliable. Indeed, her late arrival actually causes stress among some class members - although not as much as on the day when she does not arrive at all.
There are 100 steep steps up to the Oasis. On the first morning we count them. Once there a nurse checks us out and gives us a timetable of treatments and classes. For a couple of days it is just like being at work: you need a diary to schedule it all in, from foot massage to fencing.
In addition to three or four daily treatments, we eventually settle on two classes a day: a yoga or stretch class first thing and an exercise class before lunch, with an occasional half-hour in the gym or the pool. That leaves the afternoon free for snoozing, snorkelling (well worth it), waterskiing and sailing.
On the third morning we notice Claire and Charles strolling along the beach, with Robert hobbling forlornly on crutches some 20 yards behind. He went to a street party the night before in the local village and twisted his ankle slipping off a kerb stone. Charles has given up on the treatments or, rather, they have given up on him. Young women administer the massages and Charles, a good-looking but rather stiff type, has been unable to relax sufficiently to make them worthwhile. The last time, his body remained so rigid the masseuse walked out in despair.
If we can stay awake in the evenings, we make for the restaurant and piano bar and join the mix of people staying here: mainly Britons, Germans and Americans. There are many well-off people in their 50s, but the average age is late 30s. Women do not mind coming here by themselves because they feel they will not be hassled: in addition to Claire, we meet a film editor, a photographer, a television producer and a magazine editor, all enjoying being on their own. During our stay, a pride of loud-mouthed vets arrive from New York and take over the piano bar. Every night one of them plays the piano and sings, badly.
Entertainment in the beachside bar is even less upmarket. The worrying thing is that after a few days we do not notice. How else can I explain the humiliating fact that my partner and I win the twist competition? Or that two nights later we lead the conga through the restaurant? Solicitous friends lock us in our room on karaoke night.
Le Sport has romance if you want it. Indeed, one of the most popular activities seems to be getting married. Not, Las Vegas-style, to someone you have just met, but to someone you have brought with you - along with mum and dad and the in- laws. There are two weddings a day, small beer compared to Club St Lucia, round the headland, which handles more than 1,000 a year.
We watch Darrell and Hilary's wedding. They have flown in with about 12 family members. Fine for the wedding, but a little restricting for the honeymoon. The wedding is short on ceremony and long on photography. The finale is a walk into the sunset, hand in hand along the water's edge. Hilary looks radiant in a long silk frock. Darrell looks hot and uncomfortable in his suit - until the pair of them are drenched by an unexpected high wave.
Getting there: British Airways (0345 222111) has flights from Gatwick to St Lucia on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The lowest official fare is pounds 903, but Trailfinders (071-937 5400) has a fare of pounds 425 until 27 November.
Red tape: British citizens need only a passport for a stay of up to six months. Further information: St Lucia Tourist Board, 421a Finchley Road, London NW3 6HJ (071-431 3675).
(Photograph and map omitted)
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