Sit down. Close your eyes. And picture the scene.
The air is warm, a light breeze is blowing and a brief, barely there, shower is lightly refreshing your senses as you jig slowly to the beat.
In one hand you hold a glass of finest St Lucian rum – while you wave the other in the air like you just don’t care.
On stage, Caribbean music legend Gregory Isaacs performs his signature song “Nightnurse”, up close and personal as the appreciative crowd whoops in delight.
And as the balmy evening turns to night, you lazily return to your four-star, all inclusive luxury pad.
Glastonbury, this is not.
This is music St Lucian style. And it’s not just the lack of mud and tents that make it special.
I was visiting the Kalalu music festival, the highlight of what turned out to be a memorable tour of the island, and I’m not just talking about the banana rum.
This was my first trip to the Caribbean and I was expecting golden beaches, crystal clear waters sun and gently swaying palms. These, naturally, the island has in spades but my first impressions were of a gloriously green oasis in parched Caribbean sun.
Unlike near neighbour Barbados, there is nothing flat about St Lucia. With the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, it rises to volcanic twin peaks with the imposing Piton mountains and undulates with waterfall-strewn rainforest in the national forest reserve.
We stayed at two locations, both four star premium all-inclusive hotels with the Almond hotel chain.
First stop was the luxurious Almond Morgan Bay beach resorts at Choc bay, at Gros Islet. After a slightly wearing minibus ride from the Hewanorra International airport we arrived in darkness, stepping out of the chilly air conditioning into the warmth of Caribbean evening.
Immediately we were put at our ease and sitting down with a drink, before being shown to our room. Check in is a casual affair – you have 24 hours to fill in a brief form – refreshing in itself. My Superior Deluxe Beachfront room was large, well equipped and airy but I had little time to inspect before I rushed off for a much needed dinner reservation at one of the hotel’s four restaurants – Bambou ((corr)). Here my travel-tired tastebuds were re-awakened with a fusion of Asian and Caribbean delicacies that left my appetite sated and slightly surprised, I had expected less of all-inclusive somehow.
But this no ordinary all-inclusive and when I rose the next I saw what I had missed the night before. Stepping out of the back door of my ground floor room, I found myself on palm fringed grass leading on to a glorious sandy beach – and – at last – the heavenly Caribbean with all its sun-basted glory.
But after a hearty breakfast (the buffet has to be seen to be believed – but waiter service is also available) we eschewed the many delights of the resort for adventure.
First, St Lucian’s main town Castries, where we sampled the sights, sounds, smells and shocks of the market (we spotted sliced up Dolphin for sale)
We gazed up in awe at the huge Cruise ship dominating the harbour and spilling its contents of American tourists. We slipped quietly in the main church, where hundreds of candles lit up the gloomy interior to reveal an incredible hand carved and painted wooden ceiling.
Next St Lucia’s heartlands and a visit to Fond Latislab, one of the island’s working plantations, where with incredible backdrop of the rainforest we heard Kweyol (St Lucia’s second language) and a traditional chak chak band, consisting of the plantation workers.
Then from the green, luscious interior to the coast – where I shook off my fears and lack of horse riding skills – for a ride to the beach with the International Pony Club. After a canter (well, plod) across the golden sands, we ditched the saddles and rode bareback into the waves. This is the stuff that memories are made of.
Later slightly saddle sore – we made the first of several trips – to the Kalalu festival at Gros Islet, where we soon soothed away any worries with music and rum.
Our next hotel stop was the Almond Smugglers Cove, located on the Northwest coast of St Lucia on Cap estate. The 60 acre tropical plot boasts lush tropical gardens, its own secluded beach and bay.
As in Morgan Bay, watersports are on tap – and so are the drinks, and with four restaurants and five bars, including a swim-up pool bar, we were never stuck for choice – or refreshment.
My room – a one bedroom garden view suite – was huge and open plan, the perfect escape from the heat of the day.
I can’t mention the Caribbean without mentioning pirates – or boats anyway.
First we motored to Soufriere, where we stopped off for a quick encounter with an ominously bubbling volcano and a hot date with a deeply whiffy sulphurous spring, where bravery is rewarded with a deep sense of relaxation. A
fter a swift lunch, back to the boat for an afternoon relaxing on board, drinking beer, snorkelling and sunbathing.
And when we broke down and were left floating in the sea, circled by the coastguard helicopter, the boat staff just smiled and arranged for a quick rescue.
This is St Lucia, where you relax to the Caribbean beat.
* Nicola stayed at the four-star premium all-inclusive Almond Smugglers Cove and the four star premium all-inclusive Almond Morgan Bay on St Lucia travelling with Virgin Holidays and LIAT as part of a press package
This review first appeared in the Lancashire Evening Post