Saint Lucia: A playground for families
Saint Lucia | March 22, 2018
There's a wealth of family activities on land and sea
The Caribbean isn’t only for couples – with countless activities on land and sea, it’s also a playground for families. Lucy Huxley reports
“I bet it’s Piton Lime!” “No, it’s definitely going to be Sugar Lady this morning.” “Or what about Papillon? We haven’t seen her since Tuesday!”
Guessing which brightly coloured tuk‑tuk would collect us from our secluded hideaway each morning and take us down the steep, winding pathways through the lush rainforest to breakfast, always ensured my children and I started our day with a smile. Then again, it’s impossible not to smile the moment you wake up and remember you’re in the sunny paradise of Saint Lucia.
The fun mode of transport, which collected us from our colonial-style suites complete with four-poster beds and plunge pools, and ferried us around the hillside resort, was just one of the many features and activities that thrilled and delighted my children (and us big kids) during a week-long stay at Viceroy’s Sugar Beach Resort with Kuoni.
Now, I’ve stayed in some of the most beautiful hotels and locations in the world, but none quite so geographically perfect as this. Nestled between the Unesco-listed Gros and Petit Pitons, the Caribbean island’s iconic rainforest-clad mountains that rise like arrowheads out of the azure-blue sea, the view delivers over and over again.
And it was this rich landscape that underpinned what turned out to be so much more than just a standard beach break in the Caribbean.
We continually hear how customers want authentic holiday experiences – to get under the skin of a country, and maybe learn a new skill, while spending quality family time in luxurious surroundings. Saint Lucia, and Sugar Beach Resort, tick all the boxes.
When we first received our itinerary for our family getaway, the fact that chocolate featured so highly on the agenda meant the trip instantly scored a thumbs up from my kids: eight-year-old Marijke and big brother Tom, 11.
And the experience itself certainly proved a winner. We spent one afternoon out of the Caribbean heat in the stainless-steel cool of the Sugar Beach kitchens for the resort’s Chef Owen Experience. We learned how to temper molten chocolate, shape and decorate it, and then eat it, of course – surely as close to heaven as it gets for kids!
Contrast this rather sticky and messy, albeit delicious, experience with a trip to the tranquil Sugar Beach Rainforest Spa – a network of wooden treatment rooms on stilts, connected by bridges over a babbling stream. Here, I opt for a deep‑tissue back massage. The children sample the full body chocolate wraps – and emerge giggling from the shadows, with yet another new experience under their belts.
But it was a trip to the Rabot Estate cocoa plantation that put everything into context.
Bought in 2006 by the Hotel Chocolat brand, the estate is just a 10 minute-drive from our home from home and offers visitors a chance to learn not only about the history of cocoa production on the island, but also an ethical model of sustainable cocoa production.
Guests can plant cocoa trees, dine in the Boucan restaurant or join the one‑hour interactive ‘Bean-to-Bar’ experience, as we did.
We were led through the plantation by our straight-talking guide, Merle, to a trestle table with a dozen settings laid out with pestles, mortars and ingredients.
“You’ve heard the expression ‘money doesn’t grow on trees’? Well it does here,” began our no-nonsense teacher, as she cracked open a cocoa pod and made us suck a slimy white bean from inside. Strange, but not altogether unpleasant, unlike tasting the raw cocoa nibs (chocolate in its purest form) before any butter or sugar is added – a tad on the bitter side for my tastebuds.
We soon discover making chocolate is not for the faint-hearted: about 40 minutes of pounding dried cocoa beans – and sweating – later, and we were all exhausted. But we each left, proudly clutching our very own bar of chocolate, made on site from the fruit of the land. Huge fun – and a great education for the kids.
A short drive away lie the Soufrière sulphur springs, which bring Saint Lucia’s volcanic landscape to life, as visitors bathe in the warm mineral pools and cover their skin in the smelly sludge. I can’t say my skin felt that much softer after the experience, but it had us all in hysterics. Advise your customers to wear old swimwear, though – the grey stains don’t come out!
For the more adventurous client, suggest a trip to Mourne Coubaril, again just a short drive from Sugar Beach. Here, you can spend the morning zip-lining through the rainforest canopy and the afternoon trekking by horseback across its rocky floor.
The series of eight high-wires connecting enormous banyon trees deliver the adrenaline-fuelled buzz many kids desire. It’s also one of the best ways to see the island – with some spectacular views as you zip along at height. By about line five or six, the guides had the children testing out who could scream the loudest, and then the ultimate thrill: ziplining upside down.
The horse riding sounded an altogether much gentler affair, but be warned, these horses aren’t riding-school ponies. I was allocated the guide’s own stallion – and was soon warned in no uncertain terms to keep him away from the two mares in the group “for my own good”. I didn’t need telling twice.
Safely back at Sugar Beach, the children enjoyed banana-boat rides, air hockey, a movie night, a themed party, hot chocolate and marshmallows, and an ‘It’s a Knockout’-style Family Olympics (pictured, above), complete with sack and egg-and-spoon races. Who says luxurious Caribbean resorts such as this are only for honeymooners?
And while the kids played with their new gang of friends, the parents sat back and relaxed on the beach with passion fruit mojitos in hand, enjoyed elaborate sushi in the Cane Club, and fine dining on the plantation-house style terrace of The Great Room restaurant overlooking the bay.
The last day of the trip pushed us all outside our comfort zone with an afternoon of ‘snuba’ – a combination of snorkelling and scuba.
After a briefing by instructor MacGyver, who taught us the hand signals for different fish and marine life, including a shark (cue panic-attack – luckily he was joking), we donned our flippers, weight belts and masks.
Then, in groups of four, we headed out into the bay right below the Gros Piton, each clinging on to the corner of a raft containing our oxygen. Unlike scuba, which can require training and certificates, anyone can give snuba a go, allowing them to dive up to 20 metres while tethered by the rubber oxygen pipe. It’s like scuba on a lead – a brilliant and safe introduction to the sport. And we weren’t disappointed with our first experience, spotting parrot fish, trumpet fish, sea urchins, eels and even a seahorse.
As experiential holidays go, our Kuoni trip to Saint Lucia had it all. We tried new things, had great fun and made lasting memories, all in the lap of laid-back, understated luxury, with the most personal and friendly of service. Oh, and of course, there was lots of chocolate. You can’t ask for much more than that.