St Lucia – where time stands still

Beautiful beach in Saint Lucia, Caribbean Islands

DON’T bother taking a watch with you to St Lucia. Time is never an issue in this laid-back paradise.

With lovely little towns, beautiful beaches and bays, mineral baths, and banana plantations, you won’t tire of exploring St. Lucia. You can even visit a volcano. If you feel like it.

The capital city of Castries is in the heart of the now extinct volcano. It’s a thriving hub of St Lucia island life, which means the pace occasionally threatens to shift out of first gear. But only threatens. And not for long.

One of the capital’s highlights is Derek Walcott Square, a beautiful green rectangle that’s bordered with, among others, the public library and the island’s most visible Catholic church, the Cathedral .

The square is named after the author who won a Nobel Prize for literature and who was born on the island in 1930.

A few steps away is a plaque commemorating another celebrated island-born figure, Sir William Arthur Lewis, winner of a Nobel Prize for economics, and whose face appears on some of the nation’s $100 bills.

One of the most important French-built religious buildings in the West Indies is the Cathedral, immediately to the edge of the park. Built during the 19th century, it is packed with splendid examples of local craftsmanship and iconic sculptures.

To the south of Castries is Morne Fortune, the scene of some of the most savage Caribbean battles between the French and the British in the 18th century as the two countries fought for the valuable and fertile lands.

You can visit the military cemetery there, a small museum, the old powder magazine, and the Four Apostles Battery (a quartet of grim muzzle-loading cannons).

Government House, now the official residence of the governor-general of St. Lucia, is worth a visit if only for a sight of the private gardens.

The view of the harbour of Castries is one of the best in the Caribbean – you can see north to Pigeon Island or south to the Pitons and on a clear day (which is most days), you may even spot Martinique.

St. Lucia’s first national park on Pigeon Island is joined to the mainland by a causeway. On its west coast are two white-sand beaches and a restaurant, Jambe de Bois, named after a wooden-legged pirate who once used the island as a hideout.

Pick of the bays on St Lucia is Rodney Bay, a 15-minute drive north of Castries.

Set on a man-made lagoon, it has become a chic center for nightlife, hotels, and restaurants — in fact, it’s the most active place on the island at night.

Its marina is one of the top watersports centres in the Caribbean, and a destination every December for the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, when giant yachts make a spectacular sight as they approach from across the Atlantic to meet up and celebrate a life on the ocean wave.

SHOPPING IN ST LUCIA

Most of the shopping is in Castries, mainly in William Peter Boulevard and Bridge Street. Many stores will sell you goods at duty-free prices (providing you don’t take the merchandise with you, but have it delivered to the airport or cruise dock). There are some good (but not remarkable) buys in bone china, jewellery, perfume, watches, liquor, and crystal.

Built for the cruise-ship passenger, Pointe Seraphine, in Castries, has the most comprehensive collection of shops on the island. You have to show a cruise pass or airline ticket to get in but it’s worth it to browse round and pick up bargains. Again, alcohol and tobacco purchases must not be taken away but delivered to the airport or cruise ship to pick up when you leave the island.

On Gros Islet Highway, about two miles north of Castries, Gablewoods Mall has one of the island’s densest concentrations of shops.

NIGHTLIFE IN ST LUCIA

Friday-night “jump-ups” are weekly street parties where islanders let their hair down. They offer a real opportunity to get out and mix with the locals. Rum and reggae flow from about 6pm to midnight and beyond.

Stalls along the Anse la Raye waterfront often sell fresher and better seafood than you get in the upmarket dining rooms of the all-inclusives — conch, lobster, mahimahi, and even “potfish”.

Shamrocks Pub, on Rodney Bay, is a good place to kick off your evening. This Irish-style pub is especially popular among boaters and gets really lively on weekends.

At Marigot Bay, where the 1967 version of Doctor Doolittle, starring Rex Harrison, was filmed, the memory is perpetuated at Doolittle’s, part of the Marigot Beach Club Hotel about nine miles south of Castries.

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