nyc to st. lucia

every year i look forward to our first vacation. work tends to be quite busy from october through march, so i usually start going a little stir crazy come the beginning of the year.  this year we decided to do a long weekend trip to the caribbean island of st. lucia, which is a small volcanic island toward the southern part of the caribbean.  i’d heard of st. lucia after seeing pictures of jade mountain on jetsetter and lusting after the beautiful views of the pitons. needless to say, we didn’t have the budget to stay at jade mountain (rooms start at over $1,200 per night), but after doing some research on hotels in soufriere, we settled on hotel chocolat, a cute boutique hotel located in the rain forest on st. lucia’s oldest cocoa plantation, rabot estate.

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we booked a luxe lodge, which was about $250 more expensive than the standard room, but once we arrived it quickly became apparent that the extra money was well worth it.  set slightly higher on the hill and equipped with sliding shuttered doors that open completely to reveal a beautiful balcony with a stunning view of the petit piton.IMG_2376from the balcony, you really couldn’t get a better view of the petit piton, which is so steep that you can only climb it with rock climbing gear.  this almost-perfect triangle mountain was really quite breathtaking.

IMG_2340like many other hotels in soufriere, the rooms are open to the elements.  besides the open balcony, the peaked roof had open slats.  in order to protect from mosquitos, the four-poster bed was enclosed with a bright white mosquito net, which was actually quite charming. rooms are minimalistic with no tv and very spotty wifi.  at night we ended up playing connect 4 on the ipad in order to entertain ourselves.  kinda funny, looking back now!IMG_2382one of my favorite parts of the room was the outdoor rain shower, which is lined with pebble rock and has to be one of the coolest showers i’ve ever been in.  easily big enough to fit two people, this is rain shower to the max

IMG_2608one of the reasons we decided on hotel chocolat was due to the tripadvisor reviews of the food.  i’d read that they use cocoa nibs in pretty much all of their dishes and was a little worried that it would be chocolate overload.  this was definitely not the case.  the food was fantastic!  the menu isn’t huge, but it was perfect for a 4-night trip (we tried almost every entree and dessert in this amount of time).  in order to add to the cocoa experience, they had salt, pepper AND cocoa nibs as condiments, which i thought was really cute.  i actually ended up buying one of the shakers and bringing it back home with me

IMG_2606the bread was also amazing, and came served before lunch and dinner.  dipping sauces included oil, cocoa nib butter, and a yummy chocolate sauce – super rich, but actually quite good on the cocoa nib bread.

IMG_2402day 2 of our trip and well-rested, we decided to venture outside of our hotel and spend a much-needed relaxing day at the beach.  a 10 minute steep, curvy drive later and we were at sugar beach, an absolutely breathtaking resort/beach nestled between the grand and petit pitons.
IMG_2405with pretty blue-green water, this was the perfect place to spend the afternoon.  for $100 (including a $50 beverage/food credit) we were able to rent a couple beach loungers and zone out to the sounds of the tide.  i especially liked that the beach wasn’t too crowded and you could wade in the lovely water.  one of my favorite moments of the entire trip was spending time in the water by myself, enveloped by the beauty of the natural surroundings.

IMG_2424while researching hotels in st. lucia, i had considered sugar beach, but the resort was sold out and was quite a bit more expensive per night (by about $200).  if we ever did go back to st. lucia (which i hope we do), i would definitely consider staying here.
IMG_2444 back at the hotel later on day two, we were graced with a stunning sunset.IMG_2462

i must have taken at least 10 pictures of the sky this night – it was so pretty.IMG_2467day 3 of the trip we decided to do some hiking.  though i really wanted to hike the grand piton, we ultimately decided against it and instead wandered around some of the many hiking trails within walking distance of the hotel.  the first trail we explored was the extremely steep ‘big nature’ trail.  according to the hotel, this brings to you to one of the most picturesque views of the island.  IMG_2471

though we were a little disappointed with the actual trail — it was mostly up a paved street and brought us to a gated house which i’m still not sure we should have gone through — the view did turn out to be lovely and i was able to get both pitons in one picture, which i had been striving for since we arrived.IMG_2483after getting a bit lost at the end of the trail (and seeing what seemed to me to be a very unhappy cow), we decided to hike ‘old french road’ trail, which was a much prettier trail than the first.
IMG_2485there were all kinds of tropical fruit along the trail, including bananas.

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though we didn’t end up completing the entire trail since we only had our flip flops to carry us and the path was much steeper than anticipated, we did get to a nice clearing and were able to see the rolling hills in the other direction.IMG_0291back at the hotel and sufficiently worn out, we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the pool.  situated under the restaurant, the pool had the same stunning view of the piton. though the infinity pool was a bit cold and not huge, there weren’t too many other couples out and it was very peaceful to sit and relax.  the coconut water (right out of the coconut!) was also pretty cool.

IMG_2528for dinner we felt it was time to try something different and leave the yummy hotel food for something in town.  based on tripadvisor reviews (i love trip advisor!), we decided to go to the #1 restaurant in the area, orlando’s.  set on the edge of town near the water, orlando’s definitely seems to be supported mostly by tourists, but this didn’t deter us at all, and the food was absolutely wonderful.  i thought it was really nice that orlando himself came out to the restaurant to greet us and wish us well.  having previously worked at ladera (the hotel right in front of ours, but much more expensive) for 13 years, orlando had always dreamed of opening his own restaurant, and this place certainly did not disappoint.

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we had the tasting menu and every single course was delicious.  the ambiance was really charming with flowers and tropical plans in the restaurant; the only downside was the occasional mosquito.  if i could have done it again, i would have worn some bug spray!

IMG_2547day 4 was the much anticipated ‘tree to bar’ chocolate tour.  here we got to learn all about the glorious cocoa bean and the differences among the varieties found on the estate.
IMG_2572 in addition, we also had the opportunity to see the facility and perform ‘surgery’ on the plant (which basically means splicing it together so it grows faster).IMG_2576my favorite part of the tour, however, was when we made a chocolate bar.  we had to grind the cocoa nibs, butter, and sugar together in an ancient-looking mortar.  i brought my bar home and actually had it last night.  it was good, but definitely a bit gritty – i think i needed a bit more elbow grease!
IMG_2665so much fun and our trip was almost over.  on our last day before going to the airport, we hired the driver who originally drove us to the hotel and had him drive us around the island for a bit of site seeing.  it was here that i finally got a good picture of both pitons, from high up on a hill on the other side of soufriere.

IMG_2683he then drove us to the botanical gardens, which had a tiny waterfall and some really pretty tropical plants.

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our last stop was the ‘drive-in volcano’, where there are literally people on the side of the road bathing in the mud.  very strange, but interesting to see nonetheless.  it was here that our relaxing trip ended and we had to say goodbye to the beautiful island of st. lucia.

i would definitely recommend the island to anyone wanting beautiful natural surroundings and a relaxing island vibe.  soufriere isn’t a party town by any means, but it is the perfect place to go with your honey to enjoy some time together.  and at only 4 1/2 hours from nyc, its extremely easy to get to.  definitely recommended.

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