St Lucia, Saint Lucia
‘Banana ketchup… It’s delicious!’
Yesterday we were slaves to work, stressed out and shivering. Today we’ve arrived in St Lucia and, as we’re taken by car to Jade Mountain, our driver Junior is listing the reasons why he has never felt the need to leave his native island.
‘The most delicious fish in the sea… the sweetest fresh fruit you can imagine. And all of this…’ he gestures majestically to the fecund landscape that surrounds us.
We traverse the island from Hewannorra International airport in the south to the western coastline. As we precariously rise and descend the many mountainous peaks, I am reminded of being spun blindfolded by two cruel brothers as a child. Mrs Smith has fallen silent and is looking decidedly peaky. But her ashen cheeks suddenly blush rouge with excitement as we turn a corner and are met by the dramatic vista of the two world heritage-listed ‘Piton’ mountains, an iconic image of St Lucia. The volcanic peaks are breathtaking – a Jurassic-era image that evokes unexplored adventure. Junior is nodding. Another one to add to his list…
After an hour we arrive at the foot of Anse Chastanet mountain. Perched on the top, like a spaceship from a galaxy far, far away, is the somewhat incongruous Jade Mountain hotel – a labyrinthine industrial structure of cast cement and boiled sweet-coloured glass.
Being avid but sensible sun worshipers, we are relieved to see a lovely volcanic beach within easy reach of the hotel. We say goodbye to Junior and are taken to the hotel reception via shuttle bus. Ushered into a cool, understated room we are introduced to Cherie. In Jade Mountain you have to adjust your lexicon – hotel staff are ‘domos’ and your hotel room is a ‘sanctuary’ – but don’t be fooled by the ethereal language; the staff are polished professionals trained to cater to your needs by the prestigious Guild of Professional English Butlers.
Even as she runs through the complimentary yoga and fitness activities that evening, Cherie, I sense, is itching with excitement to show us to our rooms. This is no ordinary, by-numbers hotel. We are told that the hotel was the dream of Nick Troubetzkoy, a conceptualist, architect and designer, who personally oversaw the entire building process. I find myself envisaging a Fitzcarraldo-type ordeal; one man’s back-breaking vision implemented at all costs.
Each of the 24 ‘sanctuaries’ has its own ‘sky path’, an individual bridge suspended from a network of columns. Our domo opens the huge 13ft dark tropical-wood door and we enter our vast refuge.
‘Where’s the wall?’ I ask dumbly. Our domo smiles – she’s heard this question before. ‘But there’s nothing between us and the elements,’ I continue. ‘What if a vulture flies in?’ Our domo’s look to Mrs Smith says it all. OK, so vultures aren’t habitual to St Lucia and, granted, being 14 degrees north of the equator does afford the island a clement climate – but surely I have a point?
One of the obvious benefits of not having a wall is that Mrs Smith and I are blessed with the best view that we’ve ever had from a hotel room. Outside, an infinity pool diaphanously glitters like a butterfly’s wings, and seems to cry out for me to jump in and ripple the waters with my messy front crawl. Beyond, the two Piton mountains loom, and we find ourselves rendered speechless by the sheer impact of the view.
Our domo obviously senses this, and breaks the silence by guiding us up to the mezzanine level and instructing us on the workings of the tastefully decorated open bathroom.
‘Here’s the chromotherapy Jacuzzi and here’s the multi-level power shower,’ she says. The former is a light-based bubble pit that looks like a miniature version of our infinity pool; the latter a sophisticated gizmo that requires a PhD to operate it. Mrs Smith’s eyes widen. I follow her sightline to the toilet, which also seems to be lacking a wall. Have we reached a stage in our relationship where we are comfortable to cross the last bastion of privacy? Her dilating pupils tell me otherwise. OK, we’re going to have to organise some kind of surreptitious sign language to get the other to vacate the room.
It’s a shame, because it’s not a space that anyone would want to leave in a hurry. The overall vibe here is relaxed but smart – interior walls are clad in crushed blush-toned coral plaster, quarried from nearby Barbados, and more than 20 locally sourced tropical hardwoods can be seen in everything from the Venetian blinds to the chunky furniture. The whole room manages to be homely without ever losing its boutique charm.
We do get out though, as we’re keen to get our bearings and see what else the hotel has to offer. Mrs Smith persuades me to join her in a climb up to Jade Mountain’s ‘celestial terrace’, a buttock-hardening ascent that’s rewarded with a magnificent 360-degree panoramic encompassing ocean, beach and mountain. Two rum-based cocktails arrive as if scripted. We sit down to enjoy them as the sun sinks into the sea, and reflect on our day. If the rest of our short break at Jade Mountain proves to be even half as blissful, then we’re in for a stay to remember.
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Smith extra at Jade Mountain
A free one-hour spa treatment for each guest (if staying three nights or more)