Measuring less than 400 square miles, St Lucia is known to discerning travellers as the Caribbean’s island of romance. In the 16th century the notorious privateer “Peg Leg” Francois le Clerc preyed on Spanish galleons from there, and for three centuries France and Britain fought over it, until it was established under the British crown in 1814. The island gained independence in the 1970s, and its buildings retain a colonial, old-world feel, which sits comfortably alongside its Afro-Caribbean culture.
The unspoilt lushness of St Lucia’s setting and the possibilities for adventure make it an attractive destination for couples as well as families with older children. It also enjoys a consistent climate and regular temperatures between 27 and 32 degrees. “It’s stunningly green all the year round because we have plenty of tropical rain,” says Judith Milne, Director of East Winds Hotel. “Fortunately, during the wet season it rains in short bursts, and usually at night. Local people call it ‘liquid sunshine’.”
East Winds was home to an American couple, Richard and Margaret Egerer, in the 1950s. Margaret, a botanist, fashioned the 12 acres of rainforest into a garden, which has changed little since their time. The compound now consists of 30 cottages, with a maximum of 61 guests at any one time, and an unusually high 4:3 staff-to-guest ratio.
Within East Winds’ beautifully maintained tropical garden, guests can mix with others, lose themselves in a hammock in a leafy corner around the grounds or find a shady spot on its tranquil white beach. “It’s a very safe place to swim,” says Judith. “And we also have two unspoilt coral reefs, which are teeming with fish.”
At East Winds, the all-inclusive room rate covers all food, drink and activities, including yoga and Pilates. There is a generous range of watersports equipment, including Hobie Cats, canoes and snorkelling gear. And happily, since nothing is motorized, there is no noise disturbance. “You could come with your teenagers, and they could have free sailing lessons all week while you take it easy on the beach,” says Judith.
Hiking up the island’s two majestic volcanic spires, the Pitons, is popular with more adventurous visitors, who are rewarded with a spectacular panoramic vista. “We organize excursions just for East Winds guests,” says Judith. “A special favourite is a day’s sail along the coast to see the Pitons, do some snorkelling and have a beach barbecue. It’s very relaxed.”
The hotel’s acclaimed menus fuse European and Caribbean cooking, and many of the fruits and vegetables brought to the table are grown in East Winds’ own kitchen garden. The head gardener, Sylvanus, is a herbalist who can dispense healing local remedies from his own produce.
By day the mood is casual; in the evenings, haute cuisine and silver service take over. “The environment is sophisticated and romantic, but fun,” says Judith. “It has the feeling of an elegant family house party.”
East Winds is committed to supporting the local economy. Most income is spent on the island and priority is given to hiring staff from within the community. St Lucian carpenters were recently commissioned to make new furniture from local wood, and a local potter has made washbasins in the bathrooms. “People cry when they leave,” says Judith. “One returning guest was so excited, she cried when she arrived!”