When I was on Saint Lucia I stayed at the St James’s Club, Morgan Bay in the north of the island and at the Fond Doux Plantation and Resort in the south. My tour also included visits to several other hotels and their restaurants, namely Cap Maison and The Naked Fisherman; Ti Kaye and Kai Manje; Ladera and Dasheene; Boucan by Hotel Chocolat; as well as the Blue Olive and Orlando’s restaurants.
St James’s Club, Morgan Bay
St James’s Club is an all-inclusive beach resort with its own pretty beach, swimming pools, good choice of restaurants, plus an excellent spa and a wide choice of activities.
I loved my good-sized hillside room with its balcony from which I had a splendid view over the manicured grounds, to a palm-fringed beach and across the bay to where on the horizon I could see the cruise liners carrying their passengers to exotic destinations. There were some lovely sun-sets for me to watch too. A perfect place for a wedding I thought, and sure enough a couple of days later I watched as a young couple exchanged their vows.
From my well-appointed and comfortable room at the far end of the hotel it was admittedly quite a steep walk down to the main reception area and restaurants, but it was good exercise. However, I confess, once or twice I did ask for a buggy to come and pick me up.
Great coffee in the Choc Bay Café…
The staff in the hotel were lovely and on realising I was on my own would often down tools and come and chat if they weren’t too busy, or at very least give me a cheery wave and greeting as I walked by.
I quickly began to feel I was part of the community, which is exactly the sort of atmosphere that General Manager, Mark Grebby, has sought to achieve.
My preferred restaurant for breakfast was Bambou – chiefly because it was close to the beach and that lovely sea view!
But for lunch I seemed to gravitate to Palm so I could look out over the tropical grounds. Both restaurants offer different dinner menus.
Between breakfast and lunch I could be found in the Choc Bay Café (another of Mark Grebby’s innovative ideas) topping up my caffeine levels with one of their excellent coffees before heading off to the small, but well-appointed shop to stock up on whatever I had forgotten to put in my luggage!
… and good restaurants…
One night I ate in Morgan’s Bay Pier restaurant to the sound of the waves breaking onto the beach beneath me. The menu changes every three days.
However, my vote for the best meal has to go to Le Jardin, ok there was a surcharge for this restaurant but worth it for the top-notch service, menu choice and cooking. There were only two chefs on duty in the popular restaurant and once service had quietened down one of them came out of the kitchen to say hello.
Samantha James, is a petite young woman in her early 20s, who has been at Le Jardin for a year enthusiastically working her way through the kitchen sections. Maybe it is because her grandfather is a baker, but she is keenly interested in learning about patisserie; may be a name to watch out for in a few years’ time!
…plus lots of activities
If a change is needed from relaxing on a lounger by the pool or on the beach, the Club has an extensive listing of excursions on offer – anything from the likes of zipline adventures to hikes, jeep safaris, tours, or cruises can all be booked.
There is also a daily programme of on-site activities such as exercise and sports classes taken by well-trained staff, plus lots of fun-sounding programmes for children. Evening entertainment is catered for too. Be warned though, the sound of the music as it reverberates up the hillside in the evening is loud, but it stops at 11pm.
If you want to explore a bit further afield and don’t want to book a taxi – there is a local bus that stops virtually outside the Club’s gates. http://www.eliteislandresorts.co.uk/pages/resorts/st-jamess-club-morgan-bay
Fond Doux Plantation and Resort
The Fond Doux Plantation and Resort is on a 250-year old plantation of some 135 acres, and is made up of 15 French Colonial style cottages of varying sizes, a couple of restaurants, three small swimming pools, a small shop, a spa – and cocoa sheds!
It was dark when I arrived and all I was aware of was being guided up a steep pathway and stairs to my cottage by one of Fond Doux’s wonderful, kind and friendly staff. Not for nothing do some of the properties have the pre-fix Hillside to them.
Nevertheless once inside Hillside Guava I found a pleasant, good-sized, nicely-appointed room with an en- suite shower room. Next morning I opened the doors onto a balcony furnished with two comfy chairs and a table and a view out through and over the tree tops!
Occasional lizards wandered into my room from time to time. I quickly gave up trying to rescue them, they knew their way out. It was after all more their home than mine. And every now and then there would be a clatter on the roof as some ripe fruit fell from a tree. After all I was in the middle of a plantation.
Food is good and plentiful at Fond Doux a mixture of international and local Saint Lucian dishes. The breakfast buffet was always different and egg dishes cooked to order. I rapidly began to develop an addiction for Cocoa tea and Local bakes to say nothing of the lunchtime buffets which included dishes like Mama Una’s Peas and Plantation Chicken.
The next morning after breakfast I was taken for an introductory tour round part of the estate for an introduction to the local flora and fauna. Tracey showed me the two different types of cocoa beans, cutting open a pod so I could suck on the ‘Jungle M&Ms’ as they call the big black seeds.
I admired the mango and bread fruit trees and stopped beside the various plants that produce cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg and mace.
Much to my delight Tracey’s sharp eyes spotted what I had missed – three fruit bats hanging upside down having a nap.
Back in Fond Doux’s main courtyard there are the racks where the cocoa beans are dried and I met Clinton who performed the cocoa dance for me.
It looked, and presumably was, exhausting. Cocoa beans are poured into the bottom of a large cauldron-like basin along with some of the ‘slime’ from the flesh surrounding the beans.
Bare-footed Clinton climbed in and with his hands on the side of the basin swung his legs and feet round and round to polish the beans, evidently it improves the chocolate flavour.
A couple of nights later it wasn’t just Clinton who was ‘dancing’. By sheer happen-chance I was on Saint Lucia in October when the island commemorates its Creole heritage.
Eroline and Lyton Lamontagne, the charming owners of Fond Doux, hosted a terrific evening where local residents and guests joined together for a swinging party.
A Cricket and a Humming Bird
There are plenty of trails through the Plantation grounds and on one I bumped into Philip who also guides the estate tours.
He took me to see the fertile plot which produces the ‘plantation to plate’ vegetables.
It started to rain and we ran for shelter to the wedding pavilion where he found several 5” crickets for me to admire.
On one of my walks I stopped to rest in a small clearing and suddenly realised I was within four feet of a humming bird perched on what was obviously his favourite lookout perch.
Cap Maison and The Naked Fisherman Bar and Grill
Cap Maison is a five star luxury family-owned boutique hotel overlooking idyllic Smugglers Cove Beach on the Cap Estate (a former sugar plantation) not far from Rodney Bay. Entering the main reception building is rather like entering a charming, luxurious country house where guests are greeted with a tray bearing something delicious to drink, or they help themselves at the honesty bar.
Set in the immaculate grounds featuring fountains, large urns, arches, intricate tile-work and courtyards are two-storey Spanish style white villas. Inside the villas are beautifully furnished rooms and suites; some of the suites with their own pools or Jacuzzis.
I was shown round by General Manager Ross Stevenson who, having shown me the delightful Cliff at Cap Restaurant, pointed out to me another dining option. Far below accessed by a wooden staircase was a large fenced rock – Rock Maison, almost surrounded by sea, and on it a table and chairs: a perfect romantic dining experience with its own champagne zip line.
We headed down stairs leading to the pretty Smugglers Cove Beach and The Naked Fisherman Beach Bar and Grill. Why is it called The Naked Fisherman I wanted to know as I idly watched a small fishing boat go by. Apparently one of the men usually is – he dives naked into the water to herd the fish into the nets.
A beach side table, good company, a glass of crisp dry white wine and some delicious grilled spiny lobster tail equated to a stunning lunch. Under the direction of Executive Chef Craig Jones the hotel has gained a well-deserved reputation for great food. Cap Maison also holds cookery demonstrations and classes as well as wine tasting sessions. www.capmaison.com
Ti Kaye and the Kai Manje Restaurant
Ti Kaye Resort & Spa sits high above beautiful Anse Cochon bay and is made up of 33 hillside cottages set in some 15 acres of lovely grounds. (Incidentally ti kaye in Creole means ‘little house’.) Each well-appointed and charming little house boasts its own outdoor shower with views out over the ocean as well as a personal pool and good size balcony complete with double hammock.
The resort is also proud of its Kai Koko Spa with its stunning views over the Caribbean (the treatments feature local sourced natural ingredients and the island’s mineral rich waters) as well as a Dive Shop.
Anse Cochon is renowned on Saint Lucia for its diving opportunities which includes the Lesleen M wreck; a 165-foot freighter that was sunk in the bay in 1986. The Dive Shop offers training courses and speciality dives as well as a well-equipped shop.
Meals are memorable at Ti Kaye with the excellent Kai Manje Restaurant serving stunningly good international dishes with a delicious Creole twist. The restaurant’s bar has an astonishingly wide selection of Saint Lucian rums and thanks to Ti Kaye’s charming bar waiter I now have a small knowledge of the different varities on offer.
Ti Kaye is also home to the largest wine cellar on Saint Lucia. It is a fascinating room and has a staggering 650 bin collection of old and new world wines – bottles which made me sigh with envy. Apart from holding wine and dine wine pairing dinners Ti Kaye also holds informative wine tasting sessions partnered with a selection of tasty cheeses. www.tikaye.com
Ladera and the Dasheene Restaurant
Within a few minutes’ drive of Soufrière is Ladara. It was once part of the Rabot Estate – one of Soufrière’s most famous cocoa plantations – and is in one of the most idyllic locations imaginable. It nestles in luxuriant manicured, grounds above the tropical forest some 1000’ above the sea, between the two iconic cone shape peaks of the Pitons,
Constructed out of timber and stone Ladera has a rustic , yet sophisticated appearance. ‘Sophisticated’ also sums its skilfully crafted rooms. The bathroom walls are covered with intricate and imaginative mosaic tiles, and the furniture is beautifully hand carved.
In fact Ladera has its own team of skilled artisan workers and its own workshop. All the wood is locally sourced, cut and dried before being turned into highly desirable objects. Fall in love with a piece of furniture and the workshop will make a replica for you and even ship it anywhere in the world.
But there is something else rather special about the 37 rooms and suites – they have a wall missing. The fourth wall, opening out over that beautiful view, is not there. The rooms are so constructed as to be completely private. They also have a choice of plunge or waterfall pools.
Whilst it doesn’t have direct access to a beach, there is a complimentary shuttle service to one close by. Ladera offers a whole raft of activities including wood carving demonstrations and Saturday market visits followed by a cookery demonstration.
My visit coincided with the Sunday Creole Heritage Day celebrations and after a tour of the beautiful rooms I joined Olivier Bottois who is in charge of the hotel’s strategic development for lunch in the terrific Dasheene restaurant where we were soon joined by Executive Chef Nigel Mitchel.
Because it was a special day the usual popular Sunday Brunch had turned into a celebration of Creole dishes and Nigel who probably shouldn’t have left his kitchen for quite so long talked me through the wonderful array of stews, salads, bakes and desserts that were on offer encouraging me to try things. Most of the ingredients used are locally sourced, and the meal was fabulous. Dasheene also has a good and extensive wine selection. www.ladera.com
Boucan by Hotel Chocolat
Across the road from Ladera on another part of the Rabot Estate is Boucan by Hotel Chocolat. It is a modern hotel with a large, open style restaurant and kitchen plus 14 rooms – the expression a restaurant with rooms came to mind!
And the 14 modern rooms are rather special. They come in two categories: six reasonable-sized lodges on a lower level and eight large upper-level luxe lodges; all designed to blend in with the rainforest surrounding them and offering fabulous views.
They are incredibly stylish, smart rooms in restful chocolate shades of white, milk and dark; beautifully equipped too with large four poster beds and open sky rainforest showers.
Along with the usual toiletries, hairdryer, etc the rooms are generously equipped with welcome bottles of wine and rum; as well as a daily replenishment of freshly ground coffee, tea, freshly made chocolate cookies, chocolates, nuts and bottled water. The rooms also have an iPod and docking system, but no television.
Chocolate is very much the theme of Boucan by Hotel Chocolat and is used extensively in the food served in the open-plan restaurant. However I am still not convinced about adding white chocolate to mashed potato.
The hotel likes their guests to unwind and relax away from the stresses of everyday life. To aid relaxation there is a stunning black-quartz infinity pool and a spa that uses home-grown cocoa products. www.hotelchocolat.com/uk/boucan
Blue Olive Restaurant and Wine Bar – Rodney Bay
Set on the first floor of the Baywalk Shopping Mall in Rodney Bay is the Blue Olive Restaurant and Wine Bar. On a hot evening the balcony tables are not only a great place to pick up cooling breezes but also for people-watching. Should you not wish to be outside there is however an elegant air-conditioned dining room
Acclaimed chef Xavier Ribot along with wine specialist Bruno Galon opened Blue Olive some five years ago. Along with good, friendly service the restaurant offers international dishes with Caribbean twists plus an extensively impressive wine list –many of them by the glass too.
I was certainly not in need of comfort food, far from it, but the prospect of home-made pasta took my fancy. Blue Olive serves traditional pasta dishes, but I chose pasta with a spicy Creole sauce and very good it was too. But there are lots of other interesting looking dishes on the menu including some delicious sounding salads, fish and meat, to say nothing of a good choice of sweet treats. www.blueolivestlucia.com
Orlando’s Restaurant and Bar – Soufrière
I’m not sure which I loved most; the small, delightful courtyard garden, the stunning cooking or Orlando himself.
For sure Birmingham born and initially British trained Orlando Satchell knows how to cook. His work has taken him to kitchens around the world and eventually to Saint Lucia where for several years he was Executive Chef at Ladera’s acclaimed Dasheene Restaurant. However in 2012 he felt the time was right and opened his own eponymously named restaurant and bar in Bridge Street, Soufrière.
The restaurant serves ti manje – ‘small plates’ – usually menus of five courses which include the likes of dips, soup, salad, fish, meat and desserts all beautifully presented and each mouthful absolutely delicious; nice wine too!
Orlando’s moto is Share The Love. At first I thought it something of a gimmick, but no, he means it. As he says, when you share food you share love, the same with company – you share the love. He strongly believes in ‘community’ too, for not only does he support local suppliers he works with a local school encouraging youngsters to cook.
Whilst I was there a delivery of steak arrived. Orlando very much supports local farmers and fishermen using only locally produced and grown organic products in his campaign to promote Caribbean cuisine at its finest to the rest of the world. The steak was taken straight into the kitchen. Out he came again a few minutes later announcing that he was changing our meal – the steak looked so good it was going straight onto the menu. It was meltingly fabulous.
Orlando’s smile as I thanked him for a fantastic meal was one of sheer pleasure knowing as he did that he had achieved his aim in delighting me with his sophisticated Caribbean cuisine and that I too had Shared The Love. https://www.facebook.com/Orlandos.Restaurant.Soufriere.St.Lucia