ONE OF THE remaining signs of St Lucia’s colonial past (and Commonwealth present) is the fact that, by law, the first 40 feet inland of every stretch of coastline belongs to the Queen. That doesn’t mean sunbathing is restricted to Her Maj and Philip, should they deign to drop anchor in these parts, but it does mean you can’t have private beaches. Even the most exclusive resorts have to open their stretches of sand to all and anyone, and you’re welcome to pass an afternoon on any isolated little patch accessible to the water taxis that will whizz you up and down the coast.
What some of those remote inlets will look like in a decade is an interesting question. St Lucia’s tourist boom came later than many of its Caribbean neighbours, after EU Fair Trade laws wiped out its banana-growing economy in the 90s. Since then, the north of the island has become crowded with luxury-by-numbers resorts, but the tourist infrastructure is spreading gradually south, towards the lush coves and creeks of the island’s volcanic western coastline. But it’s hard to think any new arrivals will be able to match the resort that has quietly set standards in this area since long before the tourist boom, and where a recently-opened hotel extension has placed it at the very top tier of luxury travel in the world.
If you were skimming north up the coast from St Lucia’s second town, Soufriere, you could easily miss Anse Chastanet, a cluster of sumptuous bungalows, suites and restaurants that nestle in the trees spreading down to a gorgeous little beach (“Anse” means beach in Creole). This location’s particularly magnificent trump card is that it not only sits in its own filmic cove, but looks south across a bay to the Pitons, the two volcanic mountains that surge out of the ocean at dramatically sheer angles. As Caribbean views go, it’s pretty much unbeatable.
RAISING THE BAR FOR CARIBBEAN LUXURY
The resort has been bagging awards ever since it was founded by architect Nick Troubetskoy in 1974, but it was more recently that the Canadian really raised the bar for Caribbean luxury. In 2006 he opened Jade Mountain, a one-of-a-kind hotel higher up the rainforest slopes overlooking Anse Chastanet. Here, every room is more like a vast private balcony, open to the elements – and each designed around its own shimmering infinity pool. You can roll out of your four-poster bed, splosh directly into the pool, swim to the edge where the water cascades away, and watch yachts pass the Pitons across the bay. It beats downing a raw egg as a hangover cure.
As an engineering feat alone, Jade Mountain is something else – it perches dramatically against the rainforest-covered cliff overlooking Anse Chastanet, its stone tiers rising above the tree-line like a huge wedding cake. You move around the place via a series of stone bridges that criss-cross at angles, each room accessible only via its own private bridge.
I’m sorry, did I say room? “Room” and “suite” are actually dirty words here – just so you know quite how different an experience you’re in for, the word used at Jade Mountain is “sanctuary”. Pretentious? It may seem so, until you cross your bridge and pass through the vast door that seals each sanctuary from the outside world. Honestly, it’s like stepping into a screensaver – it’s utterly, mesmerically transporting.
First it’s that mouth-watering view which hits you: a panorama of the Pitons, the glistening sea of the Anse Chastanet cove below, and a vast sweep of Caribbean sky that melts into the marine horizon. Then there’s the sensual curve of the pool that stretches deep into the room, the water at the far end edging over a vanishing point and seeming to merge with the ocean beyond. Around it, sun loungers point out to sea, sofa areas lurk around stony pillars, and the huge bed is draped with nets to keep mosquitoes at bay. As if your private pool wasn’t enough, a raised level houses an open-air bathroom zone with a huge, circular whirlpool tub from which you can raise a glass of champagne as you watch the blood-red sun dissolve into the ocean.
It’s all absurdly dramatic, and as sexually charged as a hormonal teenage boy. As you’d expect, it’s particularly popular with honeymooners, and it’s a wonder any of them ever emerge from their sanctuaries (an American couple holds the record for five days without stepping outside, apparently). Meals, cocktails, massage treatments and anything else you need can be arranged to be brought to you via your personal concierge – and you’re even given your own little mobile phone to call them on. Other than some state-of-the-art lighting, it’s the only technology you come near. Frankly, you’re doing something wrong if you find yourself hankering after TV in a place as remarkable as this, but you might want to consider bringing an iPod with some travel speakers.
When you do drag yourself away from your sanctuary, there’s a private club on the top deck known as the Celestial Terrace, where you can sip daiquiris under the stars before nipping to the gourmet restaurant below, where fish pulled from the sea that afternoon is served with ingredients produced in the resort’s own organic plantation. Jade Mountain has its own spa, and you can also use the larger spa at Anse Chastanet below. There are three more restaurants down there too, a couple overlooking the beautiful beach, and one sitting upon the sands, the Beach Grill, which becomes atmospherically illuminated at night. The beach also hosts a diving centre where snorkelling outings and scuba trips can be arranged.
There’s one thing about Jade Mountain that’s appalling. The road to get up here is a broken, pockmarked horror that carves upwards at terrifyingly steep angles – you’ll need a lie-down after the fright of the taxi journey from the airport, and it’s a blessing that it’s the best lie-down you’ll ever have. But that dreadful, hair-raising track is actually favourable for the resort – for as long as this undulating, jungle-covered coastline remains tricky to access, Jade Mountain retains its seclusion and prestige in this area. But even when those stretches do get developed, you get a feeling Jade Mountain will retain its pre-eminence – not just in the area, not just in St Lucia, but in the Caribbean.
JADE MOUNTAIN DETAILS
Jade Mountain has five levels of sanctuary, which are named Sky, Star, Moon, Sun and Galaxy, and prices vary accordingly. For for information on the resort visit www.jademountain.com.
Kuoni Travel offers seven nights at the five star hotel in a Star infinty pool sanctuary with breakfast, including flights with British Airways from Gatwick, use of the UK airport lounge and private transfers to the resort. Prices start from £3208 per person based on two sharing (this price is based on an October departure).
Kuoni: 01306 747008