Updated: 22/11/2011 14:55 | By Monica Stylli, MSN staff

St Lucia: the land, the people, the light

Marcel Proust once proclaimed, 'The only paradise is paradise lost'. He may not have been to a certain Caribbean island…

Smugglers Cove, Cap Estate, St Lucia (© Alamy)

Smugglers Cove, Cap Estate, St Lucia

Shortly after stepping off the plane at St Lucia, the first thing I can remember (other than the blistering heat), was how incredibly relaxed the St Lucians seemed to be.

There was no sense of urgency, despite us arriving a little later than expected, and throughout the rest of my trip it became apparent that the carefree attitude was one that the islanders and visitors alike had adopted.

The Cap Estate
The first leg of our journey took us an hour north of the airport to the luxury resort of Cap Maison. Set above the Smuggler's Cove beach, the Cap Estate was once a sugar plantation but is now a beautiful 1,500-acre site of rolling hills bordered by the tranquil Caribbean waters on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.

Cap Maison itself is set on a hilltop with breathtaking views across the ocean and surrounded by beds of tropical flora and fauna at its entrance. Most of the 49 rooms come equipped with secluded rooftop pools so you can enjoy the tranquillity that the setting has to offer without having to share it with other holidaymakers - this was a real plus point as I later found some of St Lucia's other resorts to be quite crowded and a lot less private.

When it comes to food, it has to be said that the Cliff at Cap Restaurant provided some of the best that we ate during our stay in St Lucia. The award-winning chefs were on hand to whip up several courses of contemporary cuisine incorporating French West Indian influences - the kobe beef, in particular, was sublime.

Volcanic mud pools around Soufrière (© Alamy-Nick Hanna)

Volcanic mud pools around Soufrière

Sulphur springs of Soufrière
Our journey continued with a visit to the island's original capital, Soufrière. Originally founded by the French, this west coast town is still populated by plantation owners of French origin, although these days it relies more heavily on tourism than agriculture.

Located within the caldera of the dormant Qualibou volcano, Soufrière is geothermally active and its sulphur springs attract a throng of tourists during the peak seasons. Until the mid-90s visitors were allowed to walk up to the edge of the tar pits, but following an accident where a local tour guide sustained third-degree burns, viewing is restricted to a platform a few feet away.

Visitors can also give themselves a mudbath downstream if they wish (or if they can bear the 45C heat) - freshwater showers are also available for the less tough. The water is said to have medical properties, allegedly exploited by King Louis XVI's troops among others.

Also located on the Soufrière Estate are the Diamond Botanical Gardens (also known as the St Lucia Botanical Gardens) - a six-acre area that is home to the Diamond Waterfall and a wide variety of unique tropical plant species, some of which can only be found here.

Carnival time in Castries (© Alamy-Peter Treanor)

Carnival time in Castries

Castries: the capital
One of the main tourist areas and a port of call for cruise ships, Castries is the island's capital and is home to some of the country's best markets.

We visited Castries' main market and found an array of tropical fruit and handmade items on sale - vendors allowed us to sample their foodstuffs and persuaded us to try banana ketchup, a local take on the Heinz classic. Locally made clothing and jewellery were also a delight - stall keepers were open to bartering, which contributed to the lively atmosphere.

Ladera and the Pitons
To conclude our stay in St Lucia we paid a visit to Ladera, an award-winning resort in the south-west of the island. Located in the rainforest a thousand feet above the Caribbean Sea, Ladera can only be described as a private retreat with unparalleled views.

There are only 23 suites at this tropical hideaway, each built without a fourth wall so that guests can experience the spectacular scenery below.

The two volcanic plugs, Gros Piton and Petit Piton, a Unesco world heritage site, rise from the sea at Piton Bay where sky and sea appear to meet. This ever-changing skyline can be seen from most rooms at Ladera and guests can enjoy their meals overlooking the bay.

When we visited the resort was full of honeymooners, but anyone wanting to experience true escapism would benefit from a trip to this tropical paradise.

Gros Piton and Petit Piton (© Turner Forte-Getty)

Sunset falls on Gros Piton and Petit Piton

Monica travelled to St Lucia with the aid of the St Lucia tourism board. St Lucia is situated in the eastern Caribbean and is the largest of the Windward Islands. It is easily accessed from the UK with eight weekly non-stop flights from London Gatwick to St Lucia's Hewanorra Airport operated by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. To order your island brochure or for further information, visit St Lucia Now or call 020 7341 7000.

Cap Maison (reservations@capmaison.com; + 1 758 457 8679). Prices start from $430 (£272) for a garden view room.

Ladera (reservations@ladera.com; + 1 758 459 6600). Prices start from $380 a night for a suite with a plunge pool. Romance and wedding packages are also available.

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