Two enormous mountain peaks of lush jungle green plunge straight down into the Prussian Blue ocean, offering my first view of St. Lucia. Less than four hours before, I had been in the Charlotte, NC, airport awaiting a Saturday morning flight to what I was sure would be paradise. However, this dramatic aerial view of the Gros and Petit Pitons as we descended onto the island took my breath away, and I knew that every expectation I had was about to be completely surpassed.
After we landed, we walked through a small airport full of smiling faces and echoing voices speaking a mixture of French Creole and beautifully accented English. I climbed into a van with my two sisters and parents for the ride to Anse Chastanet, a resort consistently ranked among the top in the Caribbean and which resided at the other end of the island near the twin Pitons.
When we arrived at Anse Chastanet, we were immediately greeted with frozen fruit drinks and refreshingly cool, damp towels laced with peppermint oil. Our friendly hostess showed us out onto a balcony overlooking the beach from the mountainside and briefed us on our stay. Anse Chastanet is a 600-acre resort built on a mountainside that comes right down to the black beach, although silver may be a more accurate description of the shimmering colored sand. The architecture harmonizes with the natural setting so that it feels like walking through a cultivated jungle garden to ascend the winding stone steps from the beach and meander up through the resort. Bright colored tropical flowers burst open their blooms on every turn, and the mahogany banisters along the stairs are carved with the flora, fauna and birds that are found everywhere. The resort has the feel of an old European city set amid the tropics, with its narrow paved road winding up the mountain to the cottages and old stone steps that circle down the steep hill to the beach.
Both of our rooms were open air and were high up on the mountain overlooking the water, situated perfectly to catch a lovely ocean breeze. My sisters and I were stunned as we walked into our spacious balcony suite with its tall ceilings, red tile floors and lights hanging from upside-down wicker baskets. Our beds were canopied with four-poster mahogany wood and beautiful mosquito netting, and they also had ceiling fans installed in the top with the switch in one of the posters. The greatest surprise and delight, however, was finding that an enormous tree was growing in the shower with fern baskets hanging all over it and which ascended straight through the roof to rejoin its sylvan companions among the canopies. We had indeed finally found a magical tree house.
The winding pathways are constantly swept free of the ever-falling leaves of the jungle fauna, and although the buildings and rooms are open-air, they are kept impeccably spotless. The breezy open-air rooms strike a remarkable balance by blending the exotic jungle out of doors with the indoor luxury of a palace.
After unpacking our bags and enjoying some fruit from the beautiful basket left for us in our room, we set out for the beach, snorkels and masks in hand. Anse Chastanet is known for the remarkable reef right off its beach which is the perfect depth for snorkeling as well as scuba diving. We were amazed at the vivid colors and variety of fish that swam along the rocky edges of the cove so close to the beach. The water, always the perfect temperature, was crystal clear, giving the illusion that we were snorkeling in a pool.
That first evening we sauntered down the mountain in the pleasant sea air to the dining room, Trou au Diable, which is on the beach at the water’s edge. The walk into the restaurant is lined with tiki torches, which are also staked along the entire beach just off the surf every evening — perfect for an after-dinner barefoot walk. Dinner guests are entertained by different musicians playing varieties of island music late into the night. We chose our four-course meal from the ever-changing Tropical World Cuisine menu or the static Indian “Apsara” menu.
We ordered off the Tropical menu, and I selected a coconut and chayote tart with Malabar spinach, brie and shaved vegetables as my first course, and a watermelon and feta Greek salad for my second course. For my entrée, I selected the line-caught Mahi-Mahi filet with mashed coconut boniato, mango pepper coulis and Christophene chow. Lastly, and what soon became everyone’s favorite, I ordered a dessert of chocolate torte served with a scoop of the gelato of the day. After dinner, we pulled lounge chairs from underneath the huts and looked at the stars. The Milky Way was thick and bright, and shooting stars were in abundance.
On our second morning, we woke to singing birds and bright sunshine that let us know the day was ready to commence. We walked halfway down the mountain to the breakfast veranda, complete with white linen tablecloths and blue linen chair covers. As it too is open air and incorporated into its natural setting, various songbirds flit about and keep close company in hopes of a dropped morsel. The bountiful buffet consists of freshly sliced fruit, cold meats, cheese, cereal and milk, toast, croissants and other pastries. The variety of hot breakfast items change each day, except the omelet bar and pancakes, and consist of such repasts as eggs benedict, breakfast potatoes, sausage, baked tomatoes with herbs and, my personal favorite, banana French toast with cinnamon syrup.
After breakfast we strolled down the mountain to the beach. At the bottom of the steps we met Abo, who asked us how many chairs we would need. He then arranged five lounge chairs beneath two tiki huts that were ours for the whole day, and he gave us each a cover towel that fit over the plush cushions of the wicker lounge chairs along the silver sand, as well as a personal towel for swimming in the crystal clear ocean.
At 11 a.m. we went to the dive shop, where we were able to rent any scuba diving equipment we needed, and prepared for our morning checkout dive on Anse Chastanet Reef. Afterwards, we threw on our coverups and walked over to the Trou au Diable for lunch. We shared spicy plantain chips and sweet potato french-fries, which ranged from the typical orange color to a unique white/purple. I ordered the coconut shrimp salad, which was certainly one of the best salads I have ever had — it became a lunchtime favorite for all of us over the course of the week.
Later that afternoon we were back at the dive center and boarded the Scuba St. Lucia, which literally took us to Fairyland. Located just a short boat ride around the secluding peninsula that juts out on the end of Anse Chastanet’s beach, Fairyland is known for its steep wall that slopes from 40 to 60 feet and extraordinary visibility, due to its steady current. I felt like I was on the real-life set of the opening scene in Finding Nemo. The coral practically glitters amid the vibrant colors, and the Azure Vase Sponges glow in abundance. We also saw lots of different types of eels ranging from golden spotted to purple moray to sharp tail.
Being an enthusiastic diving family, we signed up to do a morning and an afternoon dive each of the six full days we were there. The dive masters became our buddies, joking with us before and after the dives and pointing out the most interesting details underwater that we otherwise would have missed. Errol and Kenton took us diving at Jalousie one day at the base of the Gros Piton Mountain where I saw two very unusual trigger fish that kept changing colors as well as many different parrotfish. The 100-foot visibility and the coral formations were remarkable, and we even saw a bright yellow seahorse. I also saw a beautiful peacock flounder and several arrowhead crabs.
One of the trips highlights was the morning Keither took us on the dive site aptly named “Superman’s Flight.” It’s off the 90 degree wall of the Petit Piton, which was used in filming Superman II. However, this is not the sole reason for the name. A strong current makes it a nice drift dive, and because the reef is so steep and the water so very clear, it truly felt as if I were flying! It was the most colorful and decorative coral of any dive I have ever done, and the fish were so numerous it felt like we were diving in an aquarium.
Although we spent the majority of our time at Anse Chastanet diving, many other activities are available on the resort and on the island, from mountain bikes on which guest can explore miles of trails through the jungle to free yoga sessions in the gazebo on the beach. There are also plenty of opportunities to take a boat ride over to the Pitons for a hike, or to experience the resort’s famous sulfuric mineral mud baths — the last visible remnants of former volcanic activity in the area — and shower off in a nearby waterfall afterwards.
My sisters and I enjoyed borrowing paddleboards from Oliver, who ran the water sports center on the beach and even showed us how to do full headstands on top of the boards. The water sports center became a favorite afternoon activity following our dives as a sunfish sailboat, paddleboards, sea kayaks and other fun water gear were available for all guests. One day we paddled around a rocky point to the next cove over and reached Anse Chastanet’s second beach — Anse Mamin — which has a restaurant as well, the Jungle Grill, and more lounge chairs and tiki huts. A canal runs out of the jungle to the edge of the beach, and we each put on brave faces as we waded into what looked like a scene from Dr. No or Crocodile Dundee.
In between our morning and afternoon dives, we often sat out on our lounge chairs on the beach and ordered lunch. Drink and food menus are provided on a table under each hut as well as a wooden stake with a yellow flag. If a guest would like to order anything from the restaurant to be brought out to the beach, the yellow flag need only be staked in the sand outside the tiki hut. I fell in love with their crab cakes that had hardly any breading, so full were they of crab meat, with a mango sauce drizzled on top. For a special treat, I tried their “coco loco” which was a delicious concoction that can best be described as a Kahlua milkshake.
Sipping my coco loco and reading under the tiki hut, I watched my mom sail around the cove in the sunfish, enjoying a trip down memory lane from her days as a sailing counselor at Greencove Camp. She frequently took us out to sail around the cove and beyond –– just far enough to where we could see the Pitons dramatically plunging down into the ocean across the water before “tacking” back in towards the shore with the waves lapping gently against our toes.
At 5 p.m. each day, tea is served overlooking the ocean from Trou au Diable. In addition to a wonderful tea selection, the menu is comprised of such delicacies as hot scones with house-flavored butter, freshly sliced fruit plates, salmon and cucumber sandwiches, miniature dessert cakes and ladyfingers.
For evening dinner, we decided our favorite was sitting at tables set out on the beach and lit by candlelight. Underneath the table, we all kicked off our shoes and enjoyed running our toes through the sand. A typical dinner from the Apsara menu consisted of delicious naan bread with an appetizer called the Apsara Jhinga — king prawns in a coconut, chadon benee and chickpea batter with a Caribbean mojo and roasted chili-onion pickle. The Island Cobb Salad, rich with sweet plantains, brie, black bean mango salsa, and topped off with a honey and lime vinaigrette was followed by an entrée of an Apricot Glazed Pork Tenderloin complete with a twice-baked bacon potato, grilled shallots and topped with peppercorn butter.
Later in the week, because we were signed up for the night dive later that evening, we did not do an afternoon dive. Instead, I arranged a massage at the Tara Ayurveda Spa. I chose the 120-minute Nirvana spa treatment, and Vernancia was my therapist. First they had me take a short survey in the Indian tradition to find out if I was most aligned with the elements of ether and air (Vata), fire and water (Pitta), or water and earth (Kapha). I tested to be Pitta, so Vernancia used oils that were most balancing to that type. The Nirvana consisted of a hot oil and herb detoxifying mixture applied to the body followed by a massage and then a facial. Lastly, she put an aperture above my face that let down a steady stream of oil onto my “third eye” in the middle of my forehead for several minutes. It was incredibly relaxing and felt wonderful, but I will admit it took a few days for all of that oil to work its way out of my hair!
Ready to commence the much anticipated night dive at the Anse Chastanet Reef, we walked into the water off the beach just after sunset. In addition to the simple adrenaline rush of descending 60 feet under water at night, the different variety of marine life that comes out at night makes diving in the dark fascinating! Flashlights in hand, we explored the nooks and crannies of the reef and saw many sleeping fish tucked back in their holes, tons of eels bedding down in the vase sponges as well as numerous large crabs out feeding. The sea urchins come out at night in full number, which made me very conscientious about maintaining neutral buoyancy. The highlight, however, was seeing an octopus sitting on the sandy bottom. When we shone our lights on it, it stretched out its tentacles in a stream-line fashion and darted away like a squid. We watched it swim for some time, and had I not begun to feel chilled, I think I could have watched it all night.
Friday morning was special because the Scuba St. Lucia took us farther around the island for a double dive, one of which was a shipwreck. We dove the wreck of the Lesleen M first, a 165-foot freighter that was sunk in 1986. Our next and last dive of the trip, was on the wall of Anse La Raye. This was definitely the steepest as at points the coral wall seemed to be at a completely vertical 90 degree angle. Once again, the current made the visibility incredibly clear, about 100 feet, and carried us along the wall at a pleasant pace.
That afternoon we spent relaxing under the tiki huts enjoying frozen drinks, soaking up every minute of our last full day. Watching the crystal clear waves gently roll in is hypnotizing, especially when the sun is setting in pastel colors over the water. That evening after one more delicious dinner by candlelight out on the beach, the waves kept crashing up upon the shore brightly glowing green phosphorous as we walked along, and I was utterly entranced.
We tried to enjoy our last moments at Anse Chastanet Saturday morning without thinking of flying back to reality that afternoon. We all were certain that St. Lucia was obviously where we were meant to live the rest of our lives, and we felt as if the congenial staff were, after one week, now lifelong friends. Not only had all staff members served us at every moment as if it were their utmost greatest pleasure, but their easygoing, cheerful manner and pleasant style of life hinted that they had a secret we Americans would do well to discover more fully.
With a smile as we left the beach, Abo wished us a safe journey and instructed us to take a little “Caribbean happiness” with us for the trip.
For more information or to book your own trip to this Caribbean paradise, visit www.ansechastanet.com or call 800-223-1108.