July 2004 -- Greetings! This has been a round-the-world whirlwind week for me (literally) -- but there's so much to say, I'll have to explain next time. However, I will give you a hint: Next week I'll be 8,950 miles away from St. Lucia. Any ideas? How about they don't speak much English, yet they air every Yankee game? That's too easy, I know.
For now let's get back to where we left off last week. We just touched down on the beautiful island of St. Lucia, and arrived at our awesome resort just as the sun was setting around 6:30.
We were staying at Le Sport: The BodyHoliday. Their brochure tag line reads: "Give us your body for a week and we'll give you back your mind!" Sounds interesting, but not very relaxing, right? Wrong! This place is what every person needs for a week. You can do as much or as little as you like -- and Amber Airplane and I did both.
To begin with, the location of this place is ideal (despite the fact that most guests spend 90 minutes getting there). It's on 15 acres of the northern tip of the island, and is so remote that none of the locals come to the 300 yards of beach (every beach in St. Lucia is open to the public). The resort is a perfect size: 154 rooms, 279 guests and 350 staff members. More staff than guests is always a good thing! The rooms are in several connected buildings, none higher than four stories, and most have ocean views. You also have to love a place that does not charge extra for single travelers. They have 29 dedicated single rooms.
When we arrived a bellman took our bags, handed us a tall glass of champagne and briefed us about the hotel. After hearing the five-minute description you realize why this place has won numerous awards, including Condé Nast Traveler's Top Ten of the Best of the Best in Travel.
The BodyHoliday is an all-inclusive resort -- even tips. (Actually, a few things are not included -- I'll get to that later.) The list of inclusions is even more than I imagined. The resort offers a huge variety of sports: sailing, kayaking, waterskiing, tubing, windsurfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, beach volleyball, tennis, Ping-Pong, bicycling, fencing, archery, aerobics, water aerobics, yoga, tai chi, Pilates, meditation, even dance.
They provide instructors for everything, and every day they have a huge list of activities. They also have a golf clinic. It's a perfect place for free lessons, before taking a short drive to a championship 18-hole course at the Cap Estate Country Club, where greens fees are included. How sweet is that! Oh yeah, they even have personal trainers in the gym, at no extra charge. Now I just need to get my butt in the weight room.
It gets even better! Guess what else is included? Spa treatments! Guests get one free treatment a day (except day of arrival and departure). You can choose from eight different types of massage, and a variety of body treatments like facials and scrubs.
When we got to our sweet room (a junior suite), I thought Amber Airplane was going to need a tranquilizer. She literally jumped up and down with joy. (Now if only I could have that effect on her!). She loved the king-size bed and tile bathroom, but most of all the spa treatments and activities. The first thing she did was grab a highlighter from my bag and mark off what she was going to do for the week. And she did almost everything: she took archery, fencing, dance. She had golf and sailing lessons. She also did some kind of really hard yoga. No class had more than three people, except yoga -- she said it was packed.
I, on the other hand brought a ton of magazines and books to read. I just wanted to relax and take part in a few of the activities. Doing as much or as little as you want even extends to eating. Unfortunately it wasn't really a body holiday for me. Not only did I not partake in many of the classes, but I pigged out on the tasty food.
Most dishes are healthy and prepared with light ingredients, but The BodyHoliday also offers not-so-healthy dishes for people who want to indulge. That would be me.
The resort has five places to eat. One is in your room (continental breakfast only). The others are in open-air restaurants overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style in the Cariblue room. A deli, open from 11a.m. to 4 p.m., serves very light and healthy foods (sandwiches, salads, soups and incredible smoothies and fresh fruit juices). The latter is why I frequented this place (the apple carrot juice was divine).
They have a club room, where the main bar and only TV is located (it was rarely on, except for soccer matches). All beverages are free -- including alcohol. At 4 p.m. they serve tea. I didn't care for a spot of tea, but did I eat the finger sandwiches and go off on their incredible desserts. My favorite were the crepes (the banana and chocolate was sooo good)!. The club room is also open for casual dinner. In fact, it's the only place you can wear shorts at dinner (the other places require pants, but not jackets or ties). Every night the club room has a barbecue. One night I had the chicken satay and a bowl of minestrone soup (of course, I also sampled all the desserts).
Another choice for dinner, the Cariblue Room, has a set menu -- except Wednesday nights. That's when they have their Caribbean night buffet, which was my favorite! They had all kinds of food I really love -- and of course a selection of desserts that could make anyone fall off a diet.
The last place for dinner is Tao. It's one of the island's best restaurants, which is why non-guests eat here too. My advice is to make a reservation as soon as you arrive. Tao is an East/West fusion restaurant. The food is really good, and the atmosphere is very relaxing. I started with Thai lakso soup (spicy Thai-style soup flavored with coconut milk with chicken breast, rice stick noodles, vegetable threads and bean sprouts). My main entrée was macchi tandoori chicken (marinated in tandoori spices, served with an onion bhaji and cucumber riata).
The coolest item on the menu was the gazpacho. It came with a scoop of tomato and ginger sorbet on top of chilled tomato and cucumber. Then they poured watermelon tea over it. Pretty cool, huh? Don't even bother asking about the desserts -- they were not only delicious, but works of art as well.
Actually, there is another place to eat, though not that many guests know about it. You can drive (or take a $20 taxi) to their sister property called Rendezvous. This is nothing like the Body Holiday. In fact, it's a solid star below. Rendezvous' 100 rooms looked nice, and so did the beach, but it wasn't for me. It's also not for children, singles or gay couples. It's for heterosexual couples only, which I don't think would fly in the U.S. Rendezvous is for couples looking for a cheaper alternative to Sandals Resorts. The guests all looked very happy, and seemed to be having fun. Rendezvous has a nice restaurant called Tryst. We ate one night in their classical colonial-style dining room with the managers. The food was good and the managers were very cool. Rendezvous, Malabar Beach, Around the Island Tel: 800/544-2883
Back to the Body Holiday. The great news is that you do not have to carry any money with you -- nor do you have to wear an annoying bracelet, as at other resorts. You don't even have to worry about spending extra money, unless you want special spa treatments like acupuncture or reflexology... They do, however, charge for use of the internet on one of their two dial-up computers ($5 for 30 minutes).
Although all meals and drinks are included, a few dishes have surcharges. Take a look at the menu for Tao. The dishes with prices next to them are the ones with surcharges. As you can see, it's not that many. Don't be alarmed: The prices are quoted in EC dollars (1 East Caribbean Dollar = 0.37 U.S. Dollars).
Besides getting rid of the minor surcharge, one other area I felt the resort needed to improve was getting their staff (especially the maids) to be a bit more friendly. Maybe it's a culture thing, but when I walk by a staff member I like to be looked at, smiled at and greeted. Here they just keep to themselves. They're not unfriendly; they just don't go out of their way to make you feel welcome. (Note: The instructors are super friendly).
I also didn't like being unable to open the windows in our room. Most guests don't care because they like the AC, but I love falling asleep to the sound of waves. We could have left the door open to our balcony, but there are no screen doors and the mosquitoes would've eaten us alive. Make sure to bring your bug repellant!
I spoke to a couple dozen guests. None complained about any of these things, except the mosquitoes. In fact, every single one LOVED the place. Most were returning visitors. I have never been to a place where most guests were returnees. I even met a woman from London who has been there eight times -- three times since January!
The place has a huge British influx. About 70% of the guests are from England. The rest come mostly from the U.S. and Canada. I met a few from other parts of Europe, and one lady from Sydney, Australia. Sure, this place is beautiful, but that's a long way to come -- especially since Sydneysiders have the Great Barrier Reef, the islands of Fiji and French Polynesia all within reach by a single flight.
When we arrived we were handed our therapy schedules. Normally guests get only one treatment a day, but because we were there for "work" (we were touring the island), some days we had more than one, and others none.
After quickly unpacking and showering we went down to the piano bar to meet our hosts and the other writers. The woman pictured next to Andrew, Alexia Brue, just wrote a book called Cathedrals of the Flesh. Alexia and the other writers were very nice, and we all got along great.
What is really cool about the piano bar is that it stays open all night (as long as there are guests there). We didn't test them on it, however, and after a drink or two we went to the Cariblue room for dinner. I had a nice French onion soup, chicken papaya salad, and fresh fruit for dessert (okay, I also had a scoop of cherry sorbet and a piece of chocolate cake).
Breakfast the next morning had everything you could possibly want: oatmeal, porridge, pancakes, French toast, baked beans, muffins, croissants, bagels, fresh exotic fruit, juices, cereal, potatoes? you name it. One of the calmest chefs I've ever seen would make any kind of eggs you like, without forgetting what you asked for or sweating. I don't know how he did it. I would've been a wreck back there.
Of course the first couple days were rainy (as you know we always bring bad weather). That did not stop us from touring the property. By far the coolest building was the Oasis, where all the treatments take place. There are 50 treatment rooms, in a gorgeous mix of Roman and Far Eastern architecture. I loved the columns with the pagoda and temple on either side of the pool. They also had feng shui glass vases filled with water and pink plumerias. Make sure you climb three stories to the top floor, because the Oasis is on a hill overlooking the Caribbean Sea. It's very relaxing. I should mention that the top deck includes a clothing-optional sun deck. (Speaking of no clothes, the beach is topless -- that's why I don't have many pictures of it. I didn't want to look like a perv with my camera!)
After the tour we had lunch, and then our first treatments. Amber will tell you all about hers in her newsletter. My first one, a Swedish massage, felt oh so good! Then I had a body scrub -- my first one ever. The therapist rubbed a salt concoction all over my naked body (well, almost all over). I then washed it off in the shower without soap (she stepped out of the room). She handed me a robe, and I walked to another private room with a Jacuzzi. I lay there for 20 minutes. When I got out I saw the dirty water and did a double take. It looked like Pig Pen had just taken a bath. The therapist laughed and told me it was just the seaweed bubble bath. Phew!
The next day was raining, so we toured the island. The drive was crazy. Just writing about these roads make me feel woozy. We had to stop an hour into the trip so no one would get sick (ahem, Amber Airplane). Fortunately it was a nice place to stop. We got a good view of the Pitons -- one of the places we were headed.
Much of the island is very rural. We passed by a few coastal fishing villages, and drove through steep valleys without guardrails. The second stop was at Toraille Waterfall, near the town of Soufriere. It's very lush and tropical, but the highlight is the 50-foot waterfall. We walked around in the tropical setting for about thirty minutes admiring the colorful flowers and plants. Then I bought some hot sauce from this cool lady who was cooking out front. I didn't try her food, though, because we had to get back on the road.
Our next stop was a short drive to La Soufrière Sulphur Springs. Forty thousand years ago it was a volcano; then it erupted and collapsed into itself. Supposedly it can erupt any time, but that is highly unlikely. Today it emits only gases and vapors, not lava. With a temperature of 171°F, no wonder this place is smoking. It was raining too hard for a tour, so instead we visited the free museum at the top. A five-minute movie explains not only the history of the place, but also describes everything that is made from sulfur. Who knew that tires, dish washing soap and many other things were made from Sulfur? Not me!
We then drove up a crazy potholed road to the Ladera Resort for lunch. This place has the most incredible views in all of St. Lucia. It's 1,100 feet above sea level, and sits right between the Pitons. If you can't afford to stay here (rooms range from $240-$820 a night), or if it is too quiet for you (the beach is 20 minutes away), at least have lunch. It's worth the drive. The food is good, and the view is one of the nicest I have ever seen. Really.
The hotel has only 25 rooms. And although there is not much to do but stay in your room, the one we saw you wouldn't want to leave. Not only did they not have any windows on one side of the room but there was no wall at all. The side overlooking the Pitons was completely open. It was amazing. The rooms are made of tropical hardwoods, stone and tile, and are furnished with 19th-century French furniture, wicker and accessories built by local craftspeople. The sinks and showers are works of art as well. The four-poster queen-size bed came complete with mosquito netting. All the rooms are completely private; they even have an indoor plunge pool. The next time I come to St. Lucia I would like to stay there for two nights (especially if I was on a romantic holiday). Then I would go to the Body Holiday for the rest of the time. Ladera Resort; tel.: 800-738-4752.
When we got back to the hotel we went up to the Body Holiday's owner's house for drinks (and to admire his home and the views). Then we all dined at Tao. The following day the sun was out (finally!), and it was hot. We headed into Castries, the capital of St. Lucia and only a 20-minute, non-woozy drive.
Castries, where cruise ships dock, is famous for its market. You have to spend at least an hour or two here. Several markets are right next to each other. There are all kinds of souvenirs, and everyone is eager to sell you something. Make sure to bargain (but not too much because prices are already pretty low). Knock a dollar or two off. The best part was checking out all the fresh fruits, vegetables and spices (this is what nutmeg looks like).
Castries also has a park named after writer Derek Walcott. St. Lucians love this man. He was born in Castries in 1930, and still has a house on the island. He's famous for winning the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature.
The next day I went to the beach, and had a couple more treatments. First was a chair massage outside in the temple. Because my neck and shoulder always hurt from lugging my bags all around, it felt so good. Then I had a facial -- my first since I was 17, when my sister Carol worked at a salon. She insisted on giving me one. Three days later I had two huge volcano-like marks on my face. Since then I haven't even washed my face with soap. It's true -- and so is the fact that I haven't had a pimple since. Naturally I was wary about getting another facial, but I did. It not only made my face nice and smooth, but it felt really good! They even give me a mini-neck and scalp massage. The whole treatment took 80 minutes. l I felt so relaxed, I woke up with the loudest snort ever. How embarrassing? Luckily, the massage therapist thought it was funny.
The BodyHoliday has all kinds of specialist in holistic medicine too. These specialists cost extra, but they are so incredible the money is well worth it. I even tried acupuncture for the first time. It was quite an experience. Dr. Manoj Babu is from India, and very impressive. He stared into my eyes, and told me I was stressed. Then he said I need to stop eating so much red meat and processed foods. He also said I shouldn't drink liquids 20 minutes before and 40 minutes after eating, to help with digestion.
Next he put me on the table and treated me like a pin cushion. He stuck me with 18 needles, from my head to my ankles. Then he hooked up an electrical contraption, and turned it on till I twitched uncontrollably. I felt like Sylvester Stallone in "Rambo" when he was getting tortured. Forty minutes later he pulled out the needles, and guess what? My neck and shoulder felt better than ever!
Later that evening the resort invited our group, along with their returnee guests for a sunset cruise on a huge catamaran. Everyone had a good time drinking and dancing. My favorite moment was seeing the Brig Unicorn pull up near us and fire its cannon. That scared the hell out of everyone. I think this picture might be one of my best. (If this boat looks familiar, that's because it was used in the movies "Roots" and "Pirates of the Caribbean." The Brig Unicorn ( tel. 758-452-8491) is available for nightly sunset cruises.
One thing I liked to have done but didn't was to go see leatherback turtles lay their eggs. The hotel offers overnight camping trips twice a week. You stay up all night watching these monster turtles that literally travel around the world, yet always come back to the beach they were born on to lay their eggs.
When we weren't touring the island, I mostly lay on the beach. I spent one fun day tubing with Amber Airplane. We also went swimming and snorkeling right off the beach. The reef is so good in front of the hotel that Sandals Resorts brings their divers here by boat. I didn't want to get out of the water, because the temperature was a perfect 82 degrees. Another day I got motivated to wake up early and take part in the 7 a.m. walk to Pigeon Island (a 44-acre island reserve). Although we didn't go to the top, the walk still took 90 minutes.
The last night we had dinner as a group at Tao. We all agreed that this is an amazing getaway. There is so much to do -- and so much not to. It's hard to decide if you want to lie on the beach, get a massage or work out. But at least at the Body Holiday, you can do any or all of those things.
The BodyHoliday Reservations: P.O. Box 437, Castries, St. Lucia, West Indies; tel.: 800-544-2883.
Links for St. Lucia
The Body Holiday
Air Jamaica (tel. 800/523-5585)
St. Lucia Jazz Fesitval
St. Lucia Portal
St. Lucia Carnival
- St. Lucia Information
The St. Lucia Tourist Board
In the United States tel. 800/456-3984
United Kingdom tel. 0870/900-7697
In Canada, tel. 416/362-4242
On the island. tel. 758/452-4094 or 758/459-7419
Frommer's Caribbean 2004 ($15.39)
Frommer's Jamaica, 2nd Edition ($11.19)
The Color Midnight Made by Andrew Winer
- Cathedrals of the Flesh by Alexia Brue
John E. DiScala (aka Johnny Jet), is the founder of www.JohnnyJet.com, the ultimate travel website and weekly newsletter. He logs over 150,000 miles a year, has been featured in over 400 articles (including Frommers.com, USA Today, Time, Fortune, the New York Times, CNBC and MSNBC), and has recently published his first book: You Are Here Traveling With JohnnyJet.com.
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