I’ve been warned: Martinique is off-limits. What Hawaii is to America, Martinique is to France, and several ferries shuttle tourists through the Caribbean Sea between that French isle and St. Lucia—my true vacation destination—several times a week. Martinique (population 386,000) sits directly south of St. Lucia (population 174,000), and the ferries don’t take long. The issue is, my lovely French flower of a wife was born in Fort-de-France, Martinique’s capital. We’ve never discovered the island together, and so if I hop a ferry to the island of her birth all by my lonesome, it’s curtains. As luck would have it, St. Lucia has more than enough beauty, stimulation and serenity for my typically American four-day stay away.
As we all know, Oprah Winfrey has long been legend enough to invent her own Seven Wonders of the World. She hasn’t committed to that quite yet, but she did stamp her approval on the two majestic Pitons mountains of St. Lucia island—“one of the top five places to see before you leave this great place called Earth,” she once asserted in O magazine. Kissing the heavens from Pitons Bay in southwest St. Lucia, the Gros Piton is the second highest peak (a soaring 2,530 feet) on the isle. Its nearby sister, the Petit Piton, is a volcanic landform about 90 feet shorter.
Both breathtaking Pitons come into view pulling into Sugar Beach, aesthetically one of the main luxuries the resort has to offer. There are many, and the property’s cheery director of public relations greets visitors off the jitney with cool damp washcloths before taking us through all the others. Organized hikes trail up the Gros Piton on a daily basis, but unless you’re especially athletic, nothing beats the view of both peaks from a plush recliner on a white sand beach.
Sugar Beach is owned by Roger Myers, former accountant to the Rolling Stones, which explains framed, signed artwork by the likes of John Lennon at the resort’s Late Night Bar. Matt Damon spent a million dollars renting out Sugar Beach to renew his marriage vows nearly two years ago, and a brief tour makes it plain why. Swinging daybeds, luxury cottages, hammocks, kayaks, a huge infinity pool… With the general beauty of St. Lucia itself, you could stay almost anywhere and feel totally blissed out. But Sugar Beach goes the extra mile to make themselves the destination spot.
A lifelong comics nerd, I can’t hear about sulfur without flashing back to the X-Men’s Nightcrawler. He’s the demonic-looking mutant superhero with furry blue skin who discharges a sulfur smell when he teleports (“bampf!”) from place to place. Our tour guide takes us through Soufrière (French for sulfur), the island’s original capital on the west coast of St. Lucia, to the sulphur springs. Billed as a “drive-through volcano,” the sulphur springs originate from a weak spot in the crust of a collapsed volcanic crater. The faint smell of rotten eggs lingers as tourists give themselves mud baths, wading in naturally warm waters. Then, bampf, we’re off to the capital of Castries for Windjammer Landing villa beach resort.
The truth is, flying to a Caribbean island for vacation means flying to a resort. Because chances are, you’ll never venture out beyond those comfortable confines to explore the culture or local folk born and raised wherever you’ve arrived for a five-day stay. So you might as well be comfortable. Spacious freestanding ocean-view villas, five restaurants, sunset cruises, pools and a pristine white-sand beach make Windjammer Landing decadently comfortable.
Wanderlust might bring you to St. Lucia to begin with, but worthwhile resorts make vacationers want to stay put, and that’s Windjammer in a nutshell. Its seductive, sparkling blue Labrelotte Bay is perfect for bathing suit frolics. Dining choices between Dragonfly, Papa Don’s Taverna, Embers, Upper Deck and Jammers mean that whatever your appetite wants, it gets—from buffets to BBQ, pizza to pasta, fresh seafood to island-style jerk chicken. (Room service is a given.) Top-shelf drinks are on tap nonstop, naturally.
Speaking of which, there’s something to be said about too much of a good thing. After a brief daytime visit to Caribelle Batik for some Indonesian-style hand-painted fabrics, this writer caught a sunset cruise aboard the Endless Summer and… perhaps indulged in one drink too many. Granted, if there’s ever a time for such shenanigans, it’s during a Caribbean retreat from the concrete jungle. The catamaran sails around St. Lucia, eventually pausing for the money shot of an incredible sun slowly dipping below the horizon, and the crowd goes wild with applause (and photographs).
But by our return to shore, the weekly Friday night street party in nearby Gros Islet was no longer exactly an option for yours truly. Calypso, zouk and reggae rhythms cascaded through cordoned off streets flush with dancing locals, tourists and street vendors, but I returned round-trip to Windjammer courtesy of one rum punch too many. Tomorrow was another day.
St. Lucia is full of former plantations, but the Pink Plantation House restaurant is worth a visit on a number of levels. So down-home that it doesn’t even have its own website, the charm of the rustic Pink Plantation House (literally an enormous 170-year-old, three-story house painted pink, with dining on its veranda) comes from its lush greenery, ever-present orchids and ceramics everywhere designed by the attractive owner, Michelle Elliot. The view spans the entire island, with Martinique in the far distance. Their accra, plantains and shrimp have to experienced. When told we were on our way to visit artist Llewellyn Xavier, Elliot conjured her ex-husband—the St. Lucian chef Xavier Ribot—making for some comical faux pas.
After a steep drive up another Piton-worthy mountain, we arrived at the gorgeous all-white studio/home of 68-year-old painter Llewellyn Xavier. And without a doubt, our stay was the highlight of the entire St. Lucia experience. Xavier immediately set to creating a fresh batch of delectable rum punch from his own recipe, and regaled us with charming stories. Inspired by the prison letters of Black Power revolutionary George Jackson back in 1971, Xavier created his first major exhibition. In the decades since, he’s had creative run-ins with the likes of James Baldwin, John Lennon and Jean Genet. Xavier was off to London to announce a St. Lucia sculpture park project, making the entire island into an open-air museum.
We didn’t want to leave, and promised to see him again one day.
Before heading to Hewanorra airport, we went searching in vain for some black sand beaches, eventually arriving for a pit-stop visit to Ladera resort. Based on Windjammer, Sugar Beach and Ladera alone, one can’t go wrong planning a luxurious stay on the island. The thing is, the amazing 32 suites of Ladera have no fourth wall. As in, nothing stands between vacationers and incredible views of the Pitons and the Caribbean Sea. Complete privacy is still maintained, with individual swimming pools and other amenities, but Ladera takes absolute advantage of the natural surroundings of its hillside paradise.
—Miles Marshall Lewis
Miles Marshall Lewis is the Arts & Culture Editor of EBONY.com. He’s also the Harlem-based author of Scars of the Soul Are Why Kids Wear Bandages When They Don’t Have Bruises, There’s a Riot Goin’ On and Irrésistible. Follow MML on Twitter and Instagram at @furthermucker, and visit his personal blog, Furthermucker.