Anse Chastanet

This is jungle luxe

Petit Piton looms as Anse Chastanet's yacht heads out for a day at sea.     Photo: Douglas Friedman

MY FIRST DAWN on St. Lucia, a big teardrop of an island wedged between Martinique and St. Vincent in the Lesser Antilles, was disappointing. I'd flown in on the dark of the moon and arrived at Anse Chastanet, a 600-acre resort perched on the rugged southwestern shore, too late to see anything but a macrodome of stars. The next morning, I awoke to warblers singing in the cedars and the scent of begonia shifting in the trade wind. My villa-size room, I realized, barely had walls. Wait, it gets worse. Below was a bay so clear, the coral shimmered like a field of wildflowers. Twin peaks spired out of the forest. The rockier one, 2,461-foot Petit Piton, was unavoidably phallic. Gros Piton, at 2,619 feet, was more rounded and feminine. I looked from the Pitons to the beach, then at my empty bed. What a blunder! Here I was in the most achingly romantic setting in all my years ... and I was alone.

The Good Life // I didn't feel weepy for long. The resort has a five-star list of activities to match the cuisine (spiced-carrot-and-coconut soup, grilled dorado, mango trifle), an attentive 250-person staff (serving no more than 100 guests), and pleasantly esoteric options at the Kai Belté spa. (Try a wosh cho hot-stone massage.) Trou au Diable, a thatch-roofed bistro, sits on a half-mile of secluded beach, while the Piton Restaurant is set among the 49 villas up the hill. My Hillside Deluxe room, with its louvered doors and green heartwood furniture, was like a tree house built by Swiss castaways. Very rich Swiss castaways. But considering the absence of phones or TVs, they didn't seem to mind being stranded on St. Lucia.

Jaw Dropper // Tucking into a plate of locally raised lamb and fresh snapper cooked under the stars by chef Jon Bentham on an antique cane-sugar pot the size of a kettledrum.

Sports on-Site // Anse Chastanet is famous for spectacular diving; there's a Platinum/PADI Scuba and Water Sports Center, and boats ferry you out to several world-class dive sites along the Pinnacles reef. But I chose to explore a lesser-known offering: 12 miles of mountain-bike trails winding through the ruins of a 19th-century French sugarcane-and-cocoa plantation next door. Full disclosure: I expected crappy equipment but a fun ride. What I got was a first-class trail system partially designed by NORBA phenom Tinker Juarez and my choice of 50 Cannondale F800s, all fitted with hydraulic shocks and brakes. The ride, over rolling jungle paths, was excellent—I broke a sweat but still had time to stop and pick wild avocados, bananas, and guavas.

Beyond the Sand // Ever bagged a Piton? Me neither. The climbs are notoriously steep and muddy, but if you're game, the front desk recommends a guide named Meneau Herman ($50 a person for the day). For the rest of us, there are ample opportunities to explore St. Lucia via horse or sea kayak. On my last day, I hit the water with Xavier Vernantius, the head kayak guide. Born on St. Lucia, Xavier, 33, knew all the secret caves to explore. As we paddled around a rocky outcropping called Fairyland, the view of the Pitons in the distance left me speechless. "I grew up here, and I still find them beautiful," Xavier said.

The Fine Print // US Airways (800-622-1015, www.usairways.com) flies to St. Lucia from New York City for about $700, from Chicago for $760. From December 20 to April 7, a double at Anse Chastanet (758-459-7000, www.ansechastanet.com) costs $455 per night, including breakfast and dinner ($220 per night in the off-season, not including meals). The spa and scuba diving are extra.

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