Oprah Goggles: LUSSO in St Lucia
“God did it.” The opening line of the Jalousie Plantation’s brochure walks the fine line between theological absolutism and categorical exceptionalism. Which is quite a feat in a brochure. However, when your resort sits in 100 acres of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is considered the Number One location to see before you die by Oprah Winfrey (Mrs. God, herself), then one feels submissively compelled to let it stand.
Having visited, I’m loathe to contradict. There’s natural beauty and then there’s the Val des Pitons on St. Lucia’s south west, Caribbean coast.
Unlike some of her other flatter, less volcanic sister islands, St. Lucia is voluptuous, geographically dense and fascinating. The serrated twin Piton mountains form a dramatic cleft to view deep azure waters, near the town of Soufriere. Lush tree-furred, basalt shark’s teeth guarding a pristine rain forest, forming a deep valley. Nestled within this tropical mouth, the resort starts at the beach and climbs all the way up. A wonderful example of snow-white, net-drapped plantation chic, set against a primitive green landscape, it boasts 59 luxury villas, 8 new beachfront bungalows One imagines pulling up a sun lounger, Dark ‘n’ Misty in hand, to spy King Kong wooing Fay Wray, all over again. Well, THAT relationship will never work…
First, there’s getting there. And the good news is British Airways flies you there direct in First Class. Regular Lusso readers will know our affection for this product. It’s the best of the European and possibly even certain Asian and Middle Eastern carriers (other than Singapore Airline’s A380 full private cabin). The personal space is luxurious, the extra wide seat/bed not merely a pimped business class number and the details are, indeed, devilish. The old school Pullmanesque train-style aesthetic – double window, with venetian blind, the deco reading lamp, the full-length closet – works to make you deeply content and removed from the drag of modern air travel. Low lighting and attentive service married with a very good menu meant I landed at Hewanorra International Airport in damn fine spirits. A 45-minute winding journey in Jalousie’s air conditioned luxury carrier was further enhanced by a frothy, road stop Piton Beer, the island’s rightly-famed brew.
Upon arriving, I am informed that I’m being gifted with Room 905. This is the prime spot that TV producers clamber to film in. TV audiences (of a certain demographic) will recognise it as the suite where The Bachelor woos all those befuddled, shiny-lipped ladies. Set at the top of the steep hill, you wouldn’t want to walk it in the heat. Mercifully, a short buggy ride from the lobby at the bottom whisks me up. At the courtyard, I meet my butler, Montgomery, who offers me a cocktail. I politely accept. Inside the villa, I do not find puddles of tears, left by bereft female rejects, just cool colonial interiors, claw foot and chandelier-laden bathroom and, thankfully, much mosquito netting. Monty opens up the patio doors onto my veranda. Boom. Yes, this is a cinematographer’s picture of a view. Breath finally retrieved, I take my punch (rum-based, of course) and hit the dipping pool. Hard. I allow myself a brief fantasy of owning an 18th Century Sugar Plantation. I could never hack it in those layers of linen. So I don shorts and head for dinner, hosted in a new private dining cabana by Jalousie’s super friendly General Manager, Andre Boersma and charming Director of PR, Molly McDaniel. A mosquito-free night in the infinitely deep, four-poster bed sets me up for the next day’s stimulating ingredient – theobromine.
Hotel Chocolat is beginning to become quite a high street fixture in Britain, a high-end boutique offering the sensual efficacies of a Molton Brown or Coco de Mer. The epicentre of their empire is 15 minutes from Jalousie – a complex of raised villas (the actual ‘hotel’), the eco-friendly barn-style Boucan restaurant and the original plantation house. Here, on the veranda, I am given a brisk lesson in making chocolate from scratch. Whilst wanting to remain demur without self-incrimination, it seems I have the requisite ‘strong wrist’ for the task. Roasted cocoa beans and smashed into nibs. Then, merely by intense pestle and mortaring, their temperature is raised to 54 degrees C. This is when the cocoa butter inside melts and you have a smooth paste. Add some more cocoa butter. Bit of icing sugar. Pour into a mould – bingo, you done made chocolate. 89% pure, no less. Boucan itself utilises the brown stuff in everything. With an adventurous and fresh menu, cacao and chocolate makes it into, amongst other things, a sublime chicken liver parfait, a zingy gazpacho and a citrus salad with white chocolate dressing. The views of the Piton are perfect, too, since in this part of the world, most of the buildings are open-fronted or only semi-walled, for pressure equalisation during hurricanes. The best way to stop a building collapsing during a severe storm is to stop building it, halfway through its construction.
This principle is taken to architectural limits just up along the coast at Jade Mountain. Designed and built by owner Nick Troubetzkoy and very much in harmony with its Caribbean setting, the architecture can best be described as bold. Rising up from the cove of the Anse Chastanet resort on the beach, the property is a remarkable fusion of brutal modernism and Inca temple. The Thamesmead estate meets Machu Pichu, if you will. Stone towers serving no function (other than to appease a pantheon of gods) juxtapose individual bridges that lead to exceptional infinity pool sanctuaries. No one may cross the threshold of these bridges, save for the lucky residents. Inside, the entire sanctuary has no windows – it’s you, the sea and the dappled horizon. You’d almost wish for a squall, a visit from the primal forces that the building seems intent on summoning. It is – in a truly anthropological sense – one of the sexiest places I’ve ever visited. A place where your inner shaman can get a spa session and five-star service.
Lusso will be back.
The Jalousie’s main complex is a beautiful marble-floored plantation house two level that contains the lobby, the chic Cane Bar, a late night lounge replete with pools tables and board games, a classic palm court with very seductive day beds and the Great Room restaurant. The next day, we are treated to Jalousie’s Farm to Table tour with the Great Room’s chef, Cupertino Ortiz. A stoic Mexican with a distinguished career in the kitchens of some of the best resorts in Mexico including the highly acclaimed, five-star One & Only Palmilla resort, Ortiz drives us some 10 miles to the nurseries where they are growing organic herbs and salads. Afterwards a brief detour to meet the unofficial ambassador for St. Lucia, gentleman farmer Compton Francois, whose produce is considered the finest on the island and sits on an idyllic plot next with the Pitons and the sea in view. Apparently, I need to get my hands dirty (and pricked) so I pick a black Antiguan pineapple, at great personal expense to my delicate mitts. Cupertino thinks it too green to eat on it’s own, but perfect for something he has in mind.
Armed with the most sublime mangoes I’ve ever sniffed, we head to Soufriere’s fish market. This is a visceral experience. I have a theory. There’s two types of people – those that love looking at dissected fish and those that shrink away from a bit of gastronomic gore. The latter are scared of the flesh and are never that great in bed. Proving the theory, I am VERY happy amongst the freshly extracted gills and bisected heads, battered by cheery machete blows between the jokes and ribbing of splattered fisherman. We pick out gleaming tuna and a massive shiny-eyed Mahi mahi and we hit the Grand Room’s kitchen.
Armed with a full-size 12 inch Chef’s knife, the pineapple is expertly sectioned by yours truly (the watching sous chef was obviously wincing at something else), then blitzed with yoghurt, lime juice, St. Lucian hot pepper sauce and cucumber. Et ouila – a sublime pineapple gazpacho, topped with a prawn salsa. Ortiz swiftly sections the Mahi into steaks serves them grilled with confit new potatoes and a mouth-slapping caper and garlic dressing. Delicious. The mangoes get pan-fried in caramel and cinnamon. That night, just to help all that go down, I take on Chef Cupertino’s wonderful degustation menu. Even though I’m stuffed, I am powerless to not finish every mouthful. A bucket with an egg on top, indeed.
Next day, Mr Creosote hasn’t exploded in the night. So, surprisingly, I eschew a hike up Gros Piton and add ballast to the Serendipity, a catamaran run by Soufriere operators, Mystic Man, for a morning’s champagne breakfast pootle around the bay. Well, it was that or the Murray vs Federer final at Wimbledon. I made the right choice. Back on dry land, a relaxing face peel and massage at the hotel’s Rainbow Spa is highly recommended. Especially if you can secure the talents of Lucita, an earthy but sensitive local lady with magic hands. A few years ago she was working at a nearby factory making thermostats. Gas central heating’s loss is the Rainbow Spa’s gain. Built in a series of fantastical jungle tree houses, connected by bridges, it perfectly evokes the Ewok Village. I am too polite to enquire whether they perform expert fur removal, too. The sounds of running water and real forest outside create a wonderful ambience (as does Lucita’s infectious dirty laugh) and their steam room utilises water, heated by the nearby volcanic spring. Called a Temascal, this earth and stone dome was used by the original Amerindians for, it is assumed, health-based purposes. No sacrifices need be made.
This year Jalousie will become the Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort, but what’s in a name? Unless they plan to pull down the Pitons, drain the azure-blue bay or banish the lovely, earthy population, the place will certainly retain its aura of sublime relaxation. Anyway, there’s only one supernatural omnipotent deity who could do any of that. And she’s got a chat show to host. Amen.
British Airways offer seven nights at the 5* Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort from £1,369 per person, based on two people sharing, for travel in October. The price includes return British Airways flights in economy from Gatwick and room only accommodation. The same package with British Airways’ First class flights costs from £5,099 per person. Visit ba.com/stlucia or call +44 (0)844 4930758.