The Caribbean island of St Lucia is relaxed, friendly and full of natural wonders, finds Victoria Purcell. And its gastronomic scene is on the up…
St Lucia is, as you would expect. exotic and beautiful. But it’s also a place that will grant you unforgettable experiences without really trying. A hummingbird, deftly hovering about the plants early in a morning, naked fishermen stalking their prey on a rock at dawn, taxi drivers who are so proud of their country that they will pull over at the side of the road to fill you in on the intricacies of banana cultivation. You can also wander about inside a volcano, bathe in its mineral-rich muds, snorkel and paddleboard to your heart’s content, and even have a fine Caribbean feast prepared for you by a Welsh Rastafarian in your own luxury villa.
St Lucian Chef of the Year
Well, that last one is the reserve of guests at Cap Maison, a beautiful, lush resort near Gros Islet to the north of the island. Executive Chef Craig Jones – the Welsh Rasta who was perhaps destined to end up in the Caribbean – is friendly, chatty and very humble in his work. Despite earning the title of St Lucian Chef of the Year and receiving a AAA Four Diamond Award (he has also worked at the famed Michelin-two star restaurant, Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, under Raymond Blanc), he still hits the kitchen in his blue apron, because he is ‘always learning’.
His French West Indian-inspired menu takes its lead from his ‘locavore’ philosophy, that is, sourcing food as locally as possible. He’ll even take you on a trip to the food market in the nearby town of Castries if you’re keen to learn more about the local cuisine. Here you can immerse yourself in exotic fruit and veg, bottles filled with herbs and spices that will infuse your rum beautifully, homemade hot sauces, coconut oil, colourful little bags of safron, cumin and tumeric, and even a little friendly banter with the locals. Combine your shopping trip with a private cooking class, where Craig will guide you through dishes like his delectable jerk lobster with pumpkin, mango and fennel salad.
But hey, it’s hot out there, so you may wish to keep well away from the kitchen and instead dine at one of the resort’s many coveted hotspots. For a relaxed Caribbean beach bar experience, head down to Smugglers Cove, the secluded beach adjacent to the hotel (none of St Lucia’s beaches are private, but here it’s as good as), and enjoy the sea breeze down at the recently opened The Naked Fisherman. Named for the aforementioned locals who often fish naked off the rocks – we’re not sure why, but I suppose it saves on laundry – this place offers simply prepared grilled food and salads with flair – crispy calamari with chilli salsa, grilled island catch, pumpkin and coconut curry, Wagyu burgers, seafood platters… Try the BBQ tasting menu on Thursday evenings, where treats like ceviche of dorado, grilled razor clams, jerk chicken satay and aged New York strip steak will leave you in raptures. And do try the (rather potent) rum punch.
The most sought after table on the island
For a more formal dining experience, The Cliff at Cap restaurant was hailed by The New York Times as one of the most highly sought after tables on the island. It offers spectacular views over the ocean towards Martinique, which twinkles at dusk, and offers up sunsets to end all sunsets. Savour creations such as butter-poached lobster with mascarpone enriched gnocchi, roulade of jerk chicken breast with caramelised plantain and passion fruit soufflé.
You should also treat yourself to the sight of the Pitons – the island’s famous mountainous volcanic plugs. The hotel can arrange a boat trip with a gourmet picnic (the highlight of which is the tuna poke – poh-kay – a Hawaiian-Asian dish of deliciousness with tuna sashimi, soy sauce, ginger and seaweed) and the chance to snorkel in a quiet bay. The magnificent sight of the Pitons, a World Heritage Site, as you approach by boat (preferably while lounging, bikini-clad, on the deck with a bottle of Piton lager) is truly astonishing – lush and unspoiled. Disembark at Soufrière to explore the volcano and bathe in its volcanic muds.
This truly is paradise. A place for romance, fine dining and exploration. Just try not to get too attached to the wonderfully friendly, characterful staff at Cap Maison – I’m telling you, there’ll be tears when it’s time to head home…
A garden view room at Cap Maison starts from £275 per night on a B&B basis. An ocean view villa suite with pool starts from £565 per night on a B&B basis (for further details see capmaison.com; 020 8977 6099). Virgin Atlantic flies from London Gatwick to St Lucia, see virgin-atlantic.com. Transfers can be arranged with the hotel.