St Lucia may be less glitzy than some of its Caribbean neighbours but its rainforest-cloaked hills and plunging coastline hide endless treasures for those in the know. Cécile Gauert rediscovers the island’s chartering charms on board Lady J
I have just touched the top of St Lucia’s vertiginous Petit Piton and I did not even break a sweat. There is more than one way to get up close to this iconic rock: the hard way, with hiking shoes and ropes; or the easy way. Fortunately, the captain of Lady J, on charter in the Caribbean, has arranged for his guests to try the latter.
After a fast, dry ride on Lady J’s 9.5 metre Intrepid tender to the pretty Sugar Beach, my companions and I, giddy from our first night aboard the 43 metre Palmer Johnson, pile into a van for the journey up the winding road that leads to the Tet Paul Nature Trail. Rufina, a native of the nearby village, guides us along the path, a young mother hen to a flock of tootling tourists. She rattles off the names of plants along the way: “This is the guigui tree, or porcupine tree. It is very spiky. Be careful as you are passing by.” Birds seem to chirp in response to her clear laugh.
My attention veers away from pineapples, sweet potatoes, bananas and jagged trees to the green hills that drop off into a purple horizon. Eventually, we walk far enough that the trail overlooks St Lucia’s famous landmark. “This is the only spot on the island where you can see the Pitons this far apart,” Rufina says. She asks if we want a photo and demonstrates how to create the illusion that her finger is touching the summit of the 730 metre Petit Piton. I follow suit – no sweat at all. Through some foliage, I spot Lady J, bobbing gently in the shade of the mountain. The yacht’s captain, Allan Rayner, later tells me what he likes about exploring St Lucia on a luxury yacht. “When you go on hikes you meet the locals and they explain everything to you. They are super friendly and happy just to chat.”
Early the next morning I spin away on an exercise bike the crew has set up on the yacht’s sundeck, watching wispy clouds wreathe the emerald slopes. We share the anchorage, in front of Sugar Beach, the Viceroy beach resort that was formerly the Jalousie Plantation, with only one other yacht. St Lucia, for all its beauty, numerous diving spots and two very good marinas, is not a magnet for superyachts, although the government is trying to change that by promoting the fairly liberal regulations relating to private and charter yachts. But it does take a bit more dedication to visit here than other traditional charter destinations. Getting to this island requires cruising through some deep water and winter winds can make passages rough. The famous breezes, great for regattas, are not always ideal for serene passages on superyachts. Our original charter plan followed Captain Rayner’s favourite itinerary, from St Lucia to Tobago Cay and the Grenadines, but the forecast forced him to reconsider and stick to a gorgeous stretch of St Lucia’s coast.
While other Caribbean islands including St Barths have carved a reputation as the place to see and be seen – any captain who’s tried to get a slip in Gustavia over the Christmas and New Year period knows this pain – St Lucia is more discreet. But that is part of the island’s charm and probably why it is a sought-after getaway spot for honeymooners, celebrities and charter guests who are looking for a different experience. “I think St Lucia attracts your most adventurous type,” says Rayner, “people who are into diving, hiking, and want to see the more rugged, authentic sort of Caribbean. The same goes for the Tobago Cays and the Grenadines. St Lucia is secluded. You do your own thing on the boat. And it’s just incredible; incredible anchorages.”
St Lucia is only the third largest of the five major Windward Islands and, at 238 square miles, it really is quite small. The longest distance as the crow flies from north to south is 27 miles, and from east to west is 14 miles. A few roads snake around big hills covered with thick jungle. It shares natural and topographical similarities with Martinique, the island 25 miles to the north, but St Lucia is ar less developed, particularly when it comes to its infrastructure. Thankfully, it was not affected by Hurricane Irma.
Its topography may be why the fierce Caribs fared better here than on other islands. But it did not prevent St Lucia from getting caught in the tug of war of imperialism, a history embedded in the culture.
The official language is English, which Derek Walcott, the late poet, playwright and the island’s Nobel laureate, used masterfully, but a colourful patois is also widely spoken, and French names pepper the map. The island’s beauty and natural volcanic treasures were also said to have attracted to St Lucia the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Empress Josephine, whose father had an estate here.
Alongside its adventure credentials and rich history, wellness is also very much at the heart of tourism and the island is dotted with resorts and spas offering treatments that incorporate local products. A tempting “sweet surrender” chocolate wrap is on the menu at laidback Ti Kaye Resort & Spa, which is one of the best Caribbean resorts to visit by superyacht and clings to the steep hill above Anse Cochon. More treats are on offer at Marigot Bay Resort and Marina, which Lady J often calls home when in St Lucia. One of the Caribbean’s prettiest bays, its deep water turns from jade to gold as the sun descends at the end of the afternoon, and the humming of motor boats is soon replaced with the sound of tree frogs and music ricocheting across the water from a casual bar named Doolittle’s. The Auriga Spa offers an enticing honey and nutmeg exfoliation treatment and traditional rub techniques, exclusive to St Lucia andinvolving bamboo sticks.
I decide to continue my exploration in wellbeing with a tasting of some of St Lucia’s molasses-based rums aged in Bourbon barrels at the resort’s rum cave. I have no trouble any evening falling asleep between recently refurbished Lady J’s silky sheets made from the finest long staple combed 100 per cent Egyptian cotton). Fortunately, it’s only a short walk to the dock from this rum haven.
If you don’t plan on being ￼safely tucked up in one of the five cabins by 10pm, you will need to head to the north-west end of the island, which is especially lively come the end of the week. Fish Fry Jump Up Fridays expunge the stresses of the working week with free- flowing Piton beer or spiced rum, served with fried fish or chicken, and music getting louder as the night advances. It is particularly lively in Castries near Rodney Bay, which is home to the island’s original superyacht marina, now part of the IGY marina network.
Our programme in St Lucia blends great onshore and onboard experiences. We are treated to lunch at Jade Mountain, Nick Troubetzkoy’s spectacular resort overlooking the Pitons. I sip green gazpacho and take in the view, one of St Lucia’s best. Next stop is the resort’s chocolate lab, where we are shown how to transform chocolate from the nearby Emerald Estate into fudge bars.
The chef on Lady J also uses the local chocolate to create sweets, truffles and other sinful treats. He sends these from the galley after each meal, no matter how elaborate and even after a seven course wine-pairing menu. My favourite among the delicious offerings this evening is the pairing of a Chilean pinot noir with forest mushroom and truffle risotto. Each meal is a surprise, with fresh edible flowers, purple candyfloss, homemade goat’s cheese with seawater, and sweet or savoury profiteroles, which the chef teaches us how to make in his galley.
No amount of jet skiing, swimming or paddleboarding – we did not have time to try any of the rainforest’s numerous zip lines – can offset these delightful culinary adventures. But who cares? The nightly note on my bedside table reads: “We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that death will tremble to take us.”
Lady J’s incursions into the picturesque bays of St Lucia’s west coast prove equally full of surprises. The crew organises a barbecue lunch on a small beach near the fishing village of Canaries, a place that is just as colourful as the birds of that name. The long table set on a narrow stretch of sand affords views of strewn driftwood, as if cast by an artist’s hand, against a backdrop of clear waves and deeper blues further out. A couple of villagers engage the crew in some banter for a while, but then leave us to enjoy a feast on their beach picnic spot.
We cruise just a few miles along the coast, from Marigot Bay to Rodney Bay and back, but it feels like we’ve travelled quite far and ventured way off the beaten path. St Lucia is still a pristine experience, a taste of the authentic Caribbean, a delicious blend of nature and laid-back luxury. I’d recommend that you go now while it still is a bit of a secret. Just make sure you don’t tell anyone else.
Lady J is available for charter with Churchill Yachts, from $109,000 per week, in the Bahamas and the Caribbean
All pictures courtesy of Quin Bisset / Yacht Lady J / Churchill Yacht Partners