When In Aroma: Cap Maison, St Lucia
‘If it doesn’t smell, you’re going to die.’ Warming words from our guide at Sulphur Springs, the world’s only drive-in volcano. If you can’t smell something unpleasant at this UNESCO World Heritage site, it means the concentration of brimstone in the air is too high, and you’re shortly to meet your maker. Today, with nostrils full of egg, I’m safe. Safe enough, in fact, to take my clothes off and cover myself in volcanic mud. It’s the done thing. Knee deep in hot grey stream water, I claw mineral slop from the bed and slap it on. Further up, an eyesome couple are busy working each other’s limbs with a paste that’s far whiter than mine. When I’m done ogling, I enquire. Their’s is the ‘good stuff’, richer still in skin-friendly sediment. Kindly, they share their derma gold, and I begin to wonder whether I’ll be the recipient of a double-headed magma frotting.
St Lucia, last autumn: I stayed at Cap Maison, one of the island’s five-star hotels. Found on the northern tip of this verdant Caribbean comma, its cliff-top location and Spanish Indies-style architecture is a luxury proposition I’ve not seen elsewhere. It was within its grounds that I had my first chance to meet a few indigenous St Lucians. Idiosyncratic and invariably affable, they’re an interesting people. The island’s rich, often chequered history – the Brits and the French fought over it for 200 years – goes in some way to explain a culture rooted in the colourful creole tongue.
Cap Maison’s executive chef Craig Jones (ex-Manoir, no less) is a Welsh, body-building Rastafarian. We first met at Cap’s beach-side bar and restaurant, the Naked Fisherman – so named because of a still-operative rod wielder who favours working in his birthday suit, nearby. Of note, the sweet soy razor clams – not to be missed. I got to know him a little better the next day when he guided us around the capital’s age-old market, which has been selling and smelling – thickly of savouries, spice and fresh flesh – since the days of French rule in the early 1800s. Later, his light-hearted cookery class (my tongue still swims for his jerk lobster pumpkin salad) held in one of the hotel’s larger suites, confirmed the calibre of his character.
Seafood dominates the hotel’s offering; the fine wine that marries with it is not in short supply, either. Oenophiles should corner the hotel’s new number two – and resident wine maven – Jasper, who invited us for an evening of sniffing and sipping in the wine cellar. Five Old Worlders concluded with a fantastic Austrian dessert wine from Krachen. I suggested Pétrus next – they were all out. Later, a group of us (five girls and your intrepid reporter) attended a street party – or ‘jump up’ – in neighbouring Gros Islet. We warmed to our driver Charlie immediately. St Lucia’s number one squash player, he was grumpy in an avuncular way, making no bones about where was safe to go and what time we should be back. The main street (veered from at your own risk) was a colourful accident of worn-wood houses made noisy by stalls selling hand-made jewellery, just-hewn straw hats and piles of fried food.
It was Piton beer (the island’s own brew) and Caribbean-coloured music, blasting from stacked sound systems, that fuelled an evening of alfresco bump and grind – R Kelly would have been proud. Though, should you have a demure demoiselle in tow, it’d be wise not to leave her soloing for too long: the local lads were quick to swarm my gaggle when I left for more Piton. Inevitably, we were late back to the bus; the banging tunes distracting our otherwise exemplary time keeping. Charlie’s rather stern admonishments only slightly masked our drunken giggles.
The island presented itself to me, properly, on two occasions. First, from Cap Maison’s speed boat, which we took in consummate comfort to Soufrière and that neighbouring volcano. Onboard was where I made my mind up that, to look at, St Lucia was far more interesting than its sister islands: rugged, verdant and volcanic. It juts and jags its way out of the perfect blue. A point best illustrated near Soufrière at the Pitons – also protected by UNESCO, because of their awe-inspiring beauty. Arriving, as we did, by boat, I felt like Kevin Costner’s character at the end of Water World: rock, soil and flora as I had never seen before. I don’t have gills, though. Not yet, anyway.
Our final excursion was a trip around nearby Pigeon Island, a national park comprising two grassy hills and an old British fort. The summit offered the trip’s best views, with lines of sight all the way to Martinique. My lasting memory, though, will be with our masseur/tour guide Julian. ‘Look at my eyes,’ the island’s Casanova said, entering the ticket office. Whatever issue the female attendant had soon evaporated into lust. ‘What am I going to get out of this,’ she said. ‘Whatever you desire,’ he aptly returned. For the first 15 minutes of our walk I begged him to teach me everything he knew. I got his dreamy stare and little else. On the walk back, we all took a dip in the sea; Julian took phone numbers.
After lunch, we saw the other side of our tour guide’s skill set – his hands. As if another person, his professional head was zen-emitting and only interested in knots. Quite possibly the best massage I’ve ever had, and a totally child-friendly happy ending. An elevated wooden deck, lapping waves beneath, lightning forks on the horizon and a beautiful St Lucian woman: sounds like a Davidoff advert. But it was the scene of our last night. Rock Maison is Cap’s best dining option, holding only a handful of guests. With spirits high, conversation, as it sometimes does, turned to the pros and cons of atheism. At the same time we tried to open a bottle of wine with a shoe. When we called for more, it arrived tout de suite via the ‘champagne zip line’ – naturally. The girl? Sadly I didn’t emit the suave tang of Davidoff… ‘What is that smell? Oh yeah. Egg.’
A garden view room at Cap Maison starts at £275 per night on a B&B basis. Visit www.capmaison.com for more information or call reservations on +44(0)20 8977 6099.