St Lucia feels like a tropical island plucked from the South Pacific and set down in the Caribbean. Its dramatic twin coastal peaks, the Pitons, soar 2,000 feet up from the sea and are flanked by lush rain forests where wild orchids, giant ferns and brilliantly-plumed birds of paradise flourish. Tourism is the country’s main industry, but banana exports also play a key role, as do sugar cane and crops like mangoes.
The island’s capital, Castries, is a bustling centre with a vibrant waterfront and a pretty French Square. The town is home to several historic sites including Fort Rodney, which was a former British colonial fort and now houses the national museum. Nearby is Soufriere, a picturesque village with the Diamond Mineral Baths and the volcanic Qualibou where bubbling sulphur springs emerge from the lava flows.
Saint Lucia’s dazzling natural beauty has long attracted visitors, who have helped the economy to thrive. Although the visitor influx is growing, bananas still make up the largest source of foreign currency.
Like many other Caribbean nations, the island has a rich melting pot of cultures, reflecting the Arawak and Carib Indian heritage and the customs and traditions of African, French and English settlers. Many Saint Lucians are descendants of slaves who were brought to the island in the 19th Century to work on the sugar plantations. These days most Saint Lucians are Christians, with the majority identifying as Roman Catholics, while a small percentage belong to the Rastafari movement.
Food is a big part of the island’s culture and the cuisine is influenced by both European and West Indian influences. In the markets you’ll find fresh local produce and in restaurants there is a great mixture of traditional Creole cooking and high-end techniques. Chef Craig Jones, who trained in Michelin-starred kitchens in the UK, is a good example of this. At Cap Maison he has created a menu which blends local ingredients with his own contemporary flair, while maintaining a focus on traditional Creole dishes.
We visited during Creole Heritage Month in October, when the country’s Arawak, Carib, African and French-influenced culture is celebrated with street festivals and concerts. There’s a chance to see the traditional practice of “bamboo bursting” – in which a length of bamboo is transformed into an air cannon – and try the nation’s favourite dish, green figs and saltfish.
Other classics to try include bouyon, a savoury stew of saltfish and smoked herring, which is often served with cooked breadfruit and cucumber salad. Another popular option is the local delicacy of savory conch, which is eaten grilled with a sauce made from tomato, onions and herbs. It’s the ideal meal to soak up a little Caribbean sunshine.