I arrived at St. Lucia’s tiny airport knowing next to nothing about the island and needing a serious break from my hectic life in Miami.
Destination: Capella Marigot Bay Resort and Marina, a five-star enclave perched atop a steep forested hill. My personal concierge (that’s a thing there) sent a driver to greet me at Hewanorra International Airport and get me to the resort overlooking the western coast.
Winding, labyrinthine roads took us through the lush and relatively rugged landscape for about an hour and 15 minutes. I was grateful to see a cooler filled with Piton, a St. Lucian pilsner-style beer; it reminded me of Kalik in The Bahamas, but came with a little more hop to it. In any case, both are under the Heineken umbrella. I guzzled it while asking Donna Belony a million questions I should’ve researched before heading south to this West Indies hot spot.
We talked about my food writing and the cuisine on the island—predominantly Creole with French and West Indian influences—and a former Miami chef’s name came up. Scarpetta superstar and Top Chef fan favorite Nina Compton hails from St. Lucia, where she learned to cook by watching her family in the kitchen. No surprises here; however, she said that St. Lucians revere the Compton family for their contributions the country. She went on to explain that Nina’s pioneering father, Sir John Compton, negotiated the island’s independence from Great Britain in 1979, became the country’s first prime minister and served for three terms. I was royally embarrassed for not knowing the fascinating backstory of one of Miami’s most beloved chefs. I emailed Nina and her husband, Larry, who now live and work in New Orleans at their sophisticated one-year-old eatery, Compère Lapin. They were kind enough to share a few insider tips for my trip (i.e., hiking spots, thermal baths, restos).
It was hot. Hotter-than-Miami hot yet I opened the window to take in the fresh air and fend off a looming sensation of motion sickness. I’m truly at my most self-indulgent when I have the air conditioning on full blast with the windows down at the same time. (It’s the little things, right?)
The shoddy roads and the circuitous route through the mountains made it seem like my destination was very far from the airport back on the southern end. We drove north along the eastern coast, crossed over the island, and arrived at one of the most mesmerizing locations I’ve ever seen. The entire island is only 27 miles long and 14 miles wide so it’s definitely the terrain that makes it difficult to get around.
Capella Marigot Bay is built into the mountain in levels with the rooms towering over the grounds in an effort to make it easy to see the bay. Guests can choose from 57 suites (with their own hot tubs) and 67 deluxe rooms.
From the balcony of my massive one-bedroom suite, I watch the activity in the eco-friendly marina, where the world’s most luxurious super yachts dock. I see two stunning pools with decks and welcoming bars, and on the other side of the bay there’s a rain forest. I’m overwhelmed by the beauty of this place.
The suite is air-conditioned and equipped with a full kitchen, living room, master bedroom and an extra-large bathroom. It’s the kind of place you’re excited to come back to after a day in the sun. I felt comfortable like I do at home. Except a private chef service doesn’t come with my apartment!
I also appreciated the lack of pretense on the property. I felt like I could wear what I wanted and really relax, which can be difficult to do as a guest at a five-star hotel. There’s a decidedly Caribbean-casual thing going on at Capella Marigot Bay, and it pairs perfectly with vacation mode.
Capella Marigot Bay showcased what makes St. Lucia so special in an effortless way. From the fresh Golden Apple juice and cocoa tea at breakfast to the chicken roti or shrimp in creole sauce at lunch/dinner, it was an authentic taste of the island’s identity. It wasn’t like an Epcot experience, in which a country is put on display in a contrived setting. I found a nice mix of luxury and local.
The water was calm like it always is in Marigot Bay as Troy Blanchard and I hopped into a dinghy for a quick jaunt to see the island from the water. The austere volcanic rocks rise high above the water creating a cinematic backdrop. The whole scene reminds me how much I like mountains.
As Capella marina’s dock master, he’s responsible for helping yachts up to 250 feet get in and out without harm. There’s enough space to berth 42 yachts (28 at maximum yacht size) and provide 20 mooring locations anchored in the bay. He tells me Marigot is known in the boating world as “hurricane hole” because it’s surrounded by mountains and is subject to minimal tidal changes.
Later, Denis Marias welcomed me to the open-air Rum Cave for a deep dive into St. Lucian rum. Admiral Rodney, Chairman’s Reserve and the Rum Maestro’s personal infusion were on the docket for the evening. Denis guided me through a stellar selection of super-smooth and bold expressions in a space designed to harken back to Colonial Era Caribbean distilleries.
With the French territory of Martinique so close, I thought they would distill St. Lucian rum from sugar cane a la rhum agricole, but distilleries on this island use molasses in the same vein as traditional rum brands around the world. Nevertheless, the powerful profiles of their aged rums (ex-bourbon casks) can stand up to any top-notch dark spirit. If you’re inspired by the tasting, you can work with Denis to create your own rum with spices from a local market.
While I love geeking out on booze, the highlight of this solo trip was my visit to Auriga Signature Spa, which is aptly named after a constellation in the northern hemisphere.
Nestled within mangosteen trees, a sanctuary of West Indian huts pops up in place of standard treatment rooms. Time-honored practices inspired by the ancient cultures that shaped St. Lucia (English, French, Indian, Chinese, Africa) are kept alive here by the island’s latest generation of natural healers. A portion of Auriga’s menu is guided by the four phases of the moon and the lunar energies specific to each.
Darcel Beausoleil was my massage therapist. She sensed the tension locked deep inside the fibers of my body before we even got started. Her remedy? An indigenous potion her grandmother taught her to make that would heal just about any ailment. Darcel detailed the ingredients of Fiksyon Fwote’ before we committed to this particular massage.
The Creole potion popular in St. Lucian culture comprises coconut oil, cinnamon, nutmeg, red lavender, white lavender, soft candle and comfort. I spent about 10 minutes trying to figure out what “soft candle” and “comfort” referred to, but no dice. “Comfort” imparts a minty-menthol aroma and the closest association I could come up with was camphor essential oil. This was emphatically ruled out and I suppose it’s okay for some things to remain a mystery.
The 90-minute massage incorporated a fusion of traditional “rub” techniques using warm bamboo sticks and the Fiksyon salve. The bamboo was the perfect tool for rolling out the pain. I drifted off at some point to a very happy place due to the repetitive motions and calming aroma. I’m so grateful for experiencing something so unique to the people of St. Lucia. Darcel was extraordinary, and she took time after the treatment to chat, while making me promise to take better care of myself—physically and mentally. I’m working on it, girlfriend.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
If you dig adventure, your itinerary will be packed with diving, jungle biking, sailing, etc. Be sure to include these activities/places when you reach St. Lucia:
- Sulphur Springs in Soufrière (pictured above) and Piton Mountains, both within UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Fond Doux Holiday Plantation
- Diamond Botanical Gardens
- Ti Kaye Resort & Spa (pictured below)
In August, Chocolate Heritage Month takes over the island. The cocoa there is outrageously special and worthy of more mainstream recognition than it gets. I bought a huge stick at the market in Castries and I grate it into teas or water with spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla) and milk.
Capella Marigot Bay’s chocolates are derived from hand-selected Trinitario cocoa beans harvested from small plantation farms within the cocoa belt region of St. Lucia. This is prized by master chocolatiers, along with local spices and fruits. Other resorts make a big deal about chocolate, too. In fact, guests of Jade Mountain can explore the Chocolate Laboratory at the eco-friendly resort, where Emerald Estate Organic Chocolate is made in collaboration with veteran Miami chef and James Beard Award winner Allen Susser.
If you choose Capella, please mention me to receive a 25 percent discount on the regular rate and an upgrade to the next available category for all bookings through Dec. 17, 2016. Visit: capellahotels.com/saintlucia
My trip to St. Lucia was the first week of November 2015. I visited Capella Marigot Bay Resort and Marina by myself and then met up with a press trip organized by the St. Lucia Tourism Board.