Stairway to Heaven

St. Lucia
Kayaking to the Pitons. Photo: Anse Chastanet Resort

I’m dining with travelling companions under the stars on a terrace built into a mountainside at Stonefield Estate Resort in St. Lucia. Below, the Caribbean Sea shimmers in the moonlight and overhead we marvel at the International Space Station rocketing past at 25,000 km/h, its astronauts and cosmonauts looking down on us from Earth’s orbit.

“Who’s closer to heaven?” I wonder.

At the centre of the table is Cybelle Brown, our host whose Canadian family owns the resort. I know what her answer would be. She gets emotional telling us how she left behind a lucrative, but unrewarding career in cable television in New York to recover her health and spirit back in the Caribbean.

“I had an extremely stressful job and during that time, what I found was every day my personal life and health were always on the back burner,” says Brown, who manages the resort built by her father, an engineer from Quebec.

“When I was stressed out I would fly to St. Lucia. I felt relaxed, peaceful and so close to nature at Stonefield. It’s so serene you really get to think. There’s no TV, no telephone. It’s an escape from the rat race.”

St. Lucia is an island jewel caressed between the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and there actually is a Stairway to Heaven. You get there after a hike up the Tet Paul nature trail on the island’s west coast, a path carved into the forest seven years ago by 180 locals who have made building and operating it part of their livelihood and the island’s active tourism industry.

Atop the stairway, heaven is on display in a scene composed of the sentinel monoliths know as the Pitons, Gros and Petit, sister mountains that jut 2,600 feet from the Caribbean coast, their volcanic peaks dominating the landscape, blue waters as far west as you can see. The Pitons seem possessed with multiple personalities, standing tall as raw, rugged and beautiful landmarks, offering challenging peaks to climb, jungle trails to run, even lending their name to the local beer. All should be sampled when you visit St. Lucia.

With adventures on land and sea, St. Lucia has activities to challenge your heart and an atmosphere to soothe your soul, a place where you can get your sweat on and leave life’s knotted tensions behind. We spent time horseback riding through a banana plantation, kayaking from the still jungle waters of the Roseau River out to the open sea, meditated in a yoga studio and cobbled together poolside boot camps. Snorkelling was a perfect way to explore colourful reefs.

We hiked on beaches, to waterfalls along rainforest pathways filled with exotic flora and saw brave cyclists hurtling past on the narrow and curvy paved roads. We soaked in muddy sulphur baths (complete with rotten egg odours) where minerals oozed out from Soufriere (French for sulphur) volcano. St. Lucians have bathed in the waters for decades, ostensibly for its health benefits and now travellers also partake, lathering on the grey mud that produces baby-butt soft skin.

Mountain bikers have a network of dedicated trails to gobble up adjacent to the spectacular Jade Mountain and Anse Chastanet resorts, another property owned by Canadians. With trails for every level of rider, bikers can power up a boulder riddled 1,000-foot jungle climb where the reward is more spectacular views and the opportunity to ring Tinker’s Bell, named after pro rider Tinker Juarez, apparently the only person to ride to the bell without walking/falling off his bike. Budget an hour climb to the bell before an adrenaline eruption on the downhill that will take you less than 10 minutes and can wheel you right to the Caribbean for a refreshing dip in the sea. Most trails are rated for novice riders, rolling past a stone reservoir and historic ruins of an 1800s sugar and molasses plant.

Breathtaking accommodations are the dreamstate of this Caribbean wonderland. Stonefield is a boutique resort with sanctuaries secluded on a jungle hillside, each private, fenced villa with its own swimming pool for a few hundred dollars a night. Jade Mountain is a modern architectural wonder designed by owner Nick Troubetzkoy, an architect from Vancouver, and run by his German wife, Karolina and their son Yasha. Many suites have private infinity pools in stunning rooms where neither walls nor windows obscure Caribbean coastline vistas. Exclusive suites can price out at up to $3,000 a night.

Sugar Beach is a sprawling resort on a sugar plantation with old world British comforts and Capella Marigot Bay offers luxurious condo accommodations above an idyllic sailing harbour, where catamarans and cabin cruisers outnumber cars and trucks. No wonder, as with winding, twisty and pockmarked roads linking hillside towns and villages, boat is often the smoothest and most direct means of transport.

Whether you’re looking for a destination to get your sweat on or chill on a Caribbean beach, St. Lucia will fill the bill.

Explore St. Lucia

  • Location: Windward Islands of the Caribbean, northwest of Barbados
  • Population: 185,000
  • Languages: English, French, Creole
  • Average Temperature: 26C to 32C

Much like Canada, St. Lucia has been fought over 14 times by the French and British, beginning in the 1660s, with influences from both colonial nations embedded in its culture, economy and systems today.

The northern region of the 43K long island hosts a triathlon each November where you can leave the wetsuits at home for the swim in Rodney Bay. The course is mapped out to offer the unique race distances of 9.3K, 18.9K and 37.9K. In humid 30C conditions, that sounds like plenty.

5 Ways to Keep Your Fit-cation on Track

With ample fresh food and aged rum close at hand, indulging in excesses could cause a holiday hangover. IMPACT asked fitness pro Brent Bishop for some tips to stop your active holiday from falling off the rails.

    1. Hydrate. There’s nothing wrong with having some cocktails, but when you have sugars from alcohol – or even juices — in your system you can’t burn fat as effectively and could make you prone to dehydration, especially in sun destinations. Drink two tall glasses of water for each cocktail.
    2. Plan to do at least 30 minutes of something every day at higher intensity. Get your workout in first thing in the morning when it’s cooler. You’ll probably drink less and eat better.
    3. Eat smaller meals 4-5 times a day to help maintain your metabolism.
    4. You can’t separate mental and physical wellness. Take advantage of spa treatments: a massage overlooking the ocean, a mud bath, facials, pedicures, just pampering yourself will go miles toward burning off stress.
    5. Explore. Find out about local culture. You can measure up thousands of steps a day as you discover new people, new things and new places in exotic destinations around the world.