1. Where to Stay
Splurge on a newly renovated villa at the Jalousie Plantation (from $300), a 320-acre estate with thatched-roof cabanas and a water-sports center. All the villas are lavishly outfitted with iPod docks, free Wi-Fi, a private plunge pool, and a personal butler.
Climb into a tree house at Crystals (from $200), a romantic hillside retreat just minutes from the town of Soufriere, where six cottages offer kitchens, mountain and sea views, and bedrooms featuring exotic furnishings from around the world. Personal touches include a bottle of Champagne and fresh fruit on arrival, free shuttles to the beach, and breakfast brought to your door.
Step off the beaten path at the ecominded Balenbouche Estate (from $110), where the owner and her two daughters grow organic mangoes, papayas, avocados, and baby greens, and raise about a dozen beef cattle along with horses, cats, and dogs. Of the four rustic cottages on this relatively remote spot, the sun-filled Almond, with its natural stone outdoor shower, is a guest favorite. For a closer look at life here, ask about volunteer opportunities; between August and November, skilled professionals are offered the chance to help out in exchange for room and board.
2. Where to Eat
Indulge your chocoholic side at Boucan, where everything on the menu features cocoa paired with fruits and vegetables grown on the surrounding cocoa plantation. Take your pick from a fresh cacao bellini ($12), citrus salad with white chocolate dressing ($9), cacao-butter-roasted seasonal fish ($24), and a trademark dessert called The Story of Chocolate in Ice ($9).
Settle into an upstairs table before dark at local favorite Gee’s Bon Manje to sip rum punch ($8) as the sun sets over Soufriere, the Pitons, and the Caribbean Sea. Once night falls, dig into some hearty Lucian-style Caribbean cuisine made with locally grown ingredients, like a bowl of creamy pumpkin soup ($8) and home-cooked mahi-mahi in a coconut-ginger sauce ($24).
Chow down on fresh seafood at the communal Friday night fish fry in Anse-la-Raye, a small village that comes alive around 6:30 p.m., when calypso music starts blaring, fish and lobster sizzle on grills, and flavorful conch stews boil away ($2–$30). Be sure to scope out all the options, ask for prices, and chat up other diners to find out what dishes they like before ordering.
3. What to Do
Scale Gros Piton, the larger but less technically challenging of St. Lucia’s two volcanic mountains. To reach its 2,619-foot peak by midday, arrive around 8 a.m. at the small village of Fond Gens Libre, where you can hire a local guide (758-572-9277; $30 per person) who will lead you on a round-trip hike that takes about three to four hours. The ascent, scrambling up steep and rocky staircases, isn’t easy, but on clear days, you can see as far as Martinique and St. Vincent.
Get a quick adrenaline rush and a bird’s-eye view of the Pitons at Morne Coubaril Estate. Glide across eight zip lines ($69 per person for an hour), soaring between banyan trees, over a gorge, and through the rainforest canopy. Don’t leave without taking the estate’s 30-minute tour, during which you’ll learn how a sugar mill works and get a taste of fresh cane juice.
Skip the crowds in Castries to shop in Soufriere, where the local produce markets are best on Saturday mornings (around the town square near the church). Then load up on inexpensive souvenirs ($2–$20) like bars of sulphur soap, rag dolls, and wooden jewelry at Debbie’s. For a special find, take a short drive outside of town to Simon Gajadhar’s art studio Zaka, where you can choose your favorite piece from his striking collection of brightly painted wooden masks (from $20).
4. Insider’s Tip
St. Lucia has no shortage of high-end spas and restaurants, but they’re not cheap. For a day of relaxation that won’t stress your wallet, spend the morning at the Sulphur Springs, nestled at the bottom of the Pitons, where access to the warm pools of muddy water, springs, and freshwater showers costs just $5 per person. Remember to wear a dark-colored bathing suit, however, as light colors will stain.
5. Oddball Day
Explore the island’s cocoa plantations, which are among the most famous in the world. After breakfast—maybe a chocolate croissant at your hotel—spend the morning learning about how the super-food cacao is grown, harvested, and consumed during the three-hour tree-to-bar tour at Hotel Chocolat ($65 per person; make reservations in advance). You’ll explore the nursery, learn how seeds are planted, cut your own cacao pods off the tree, and finally, craft your own chocolate bars. Next, treat yourself to a wood-fired pizza ($12) on the beach at the Jalousie Plantation’s open-air restaurant, Bayside before enjoying an 80-minute chocolate body scrub and back massage ($170) at the resort’s new Rainforest Spa. Revitalized, head out for a late-afternoon 40-minute tour of Fond Doux ($10), a small ecoresort and 250-year-old working cocoa plantation that sells its beans to famous chocolatiers including Hershey’s. Stick around for dinner at Jardin Cocoa Restaurant, where standout Caribbean-style dishes include Lamontagne’s Sous Kaye ($20), a fresh fish in broth with organic vegetables cultivated on the estate’s farm. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a chocolate-laced nightcap, like a Ponche Cocoa ($7), made with vodka, crème de cacao, amaretto, and chocolate ice cream.
Peruse the comprehensive website from St. Lucia’s tourism board for detailed listings of the island’s accommodations, restaurants, upcoming events, weather, and travel-related news.
Get an inside look at the island’s southern half from the Soufriere Regional Development Foundation.
Stay up-to-date on who’s playing at the 21st St. Lucia Jazz Festival in May 2012.