There are so many gorgeous spots to experience in the Caribbean, but until this past Christmas, I hadn't been down to this part of the world in decades. (Living in Italy allowed me to travel to many places proximate to Europe, but I tended to ignore "The Americas," as it were, during that time). Having worked my tuchus off during the holiday season this year, combined with wanting to be anywhere-but-here for the anniversary of my dear friend's passing, my friend Helen and I decided to escape to somewhere warm and wonderful. Helen was coming in from London so our selection of islands was narrowed according to what Sir Richard Branson had on offer for Virgin Airlines miles-holders. And then it was decided: St. Lucia.
This lush, verdant island closer to Venezuela than Miami, is nestled north of Barbados and south of Martinique along the southern end of the chain of islands in the Caribbean Sea. Its pedigree is multi-ethnic, and though discovered some time soon after 1492 during the time of the Columbus expedition, St. Lucia's first official European colonizers were the French, in 1643. The island then passed between the French and British 14 times before it fell definitively into British hands in 1814. Much later, in 1979, St. Lucia became an independent state of the Commonwealth of Nations (associated with the UK) -- and they've been celebrating ever since.
The island's topography is different from so many other Caribbean islands, which can be arid and rocky. St. Lucia is incredibly green and lushly tropical. Its "silhouette" is a very-recognizable pair of volcanic mountains called the Pitons, the triangular forms which also grace the island's national flag. These mountains are scalable, though it can be a tough feat. We preferred to view them from out at sea, where you can get some perspective and see the sinking sun cast shadows across the island.
We also loved taking in the Pitons from the beach at Jalousie between the two peaks, one of the most beautiful spots on the island. The pristine white sand beaches here abut waters that provide great snorkeling and allow a glimpse at local colorful underwater life. It's also a prime spot for a sunset cocktail. With the breeze blowing through one's hair and a strong rum drink in hand, it's hard to be anything but content. And things only get better when you follow Jalousie Beach cocktails with a delicious dining experience up above that beach, among the trees with a hilltop view of the valley between the Pitons at the restaurant Dasheene at the Ladera Resort.
Dasheene has a magical feel -- the whole resort does -- as a sort of luxe Robinson Crusoe-meets-Serengeti chic outpost, seemingly suspended on the precipice of a cliff overlooking Jalousie beach and the Pitons. The best tables in the house look directly over the railing down to the water below, and at night it's a twinkling sea of ship lights scattered across an onyx bay. It can be incredibly romantic (I imagine, anyway). But the menu is beautifully eclectic and the food too good to be overlooked by starry-eyed lovers anxious to get beyond the meal and back to their honeymoon suites.
Both because it was the holiday season, and because being on a tropical vacation makes you feel festive, we accompanied most of our meals with bubbly -- mostly crisp bottles of prosecco. This accompanied our courses, often heavy on the local catch, quite well, from starters through to dessert. Starters we enjoyed included a local fish ceviche, served beautifully on a banana leaf tucked into an iced bowl, and eggplant fritters with a carrot-curry sauce.
We moved on to the next course with a lobster risotto topped with a seared scallop -- a little taste of Italy in the Caribbean, but sauced with spice and fruit that said West Indies. Then we moved on to main courses. I enjoyed a gorgeous mixed grill, which included both meat (local chicken and lamb) and seafood (sugarcane shrimp and fish from the waters we were looking out upon), brought together with a tangy tamarind sauce. There was also a simple, perfectly-cooked grilled Mahi-mahi with a citrus lime butter. All the ingredients at Dasheene are locally sourced, many grown specifically for the resort's use. The servers at the bar and the restaurant itself were beyond charming, the views were breathtaking, and the presentation of the dishes was always artful. And most importantly, the meal was delicious.
We had to finish it off with something sweet, of course. So we chose some real local flavor in the chocolate rum mousse with a coconut tuile -- all cleverly served in the hollowed-out cocoa pod from the trees we'd viewed earlier in the day (more on that in Part 2). After dinner, the ride back to the far northern side of the island where we were staying, was literally a long and windy road. Our new local friends drove us back and blasted their reggae favorites in the car and we zig-zagged and hugged the cliffs and descended down into the capital port city of Castries, and then back up again. And we laughed and shared stories and made it back in time for a strong rum drink nightcap in Rodney Bay. Then we strolled out into the night, a light rain clearing the way for another sunny day: tomorrow, our island trip by boat awaited us.
To be continued...