Mr Smith’s obsession with the cocoa bean and all it yields is superseded only by my own. So, it’s little surprise that the prospect of staying on a cocoa plantation at the sweetly named Boucan by Hotel Chocolat in St Lucia – a mere four-hour flight from New York City – resulted in our quickest travel consensus, ever.
The leisurely-paced 40-minute taxi ride from the airport allowed us to take in the rainforest-clad volcanic landscape. Smiling locals waved at us as we rolled through the multi-colored villages, and we were warmly greeted by more of the same at the hotel.
Bags whisked away, we were immediately led to the seductively lit bar adjacent to the restaurant and offered a welcome cocktail by Judy, an exuberant ex-pat who revived this 140-acre estate along with her design-minded husband Phil. ‘May I recommend our signature drinks: the cacao Bellini or cacao martini? Although they do get me a bit giggly,' she smirked.
Giggle-inducing and chocolate-tinged seemed like a winning mix, so I opted for the martini. Mr Smith kicked things off with the 40 per cent proof Captain’s punch, a heady hotel specialty (you’ll find your own secret swig bottle in your room). Cool drinks in hand, we sink into the comfortable seats, and soak up the intoxicating view of one of the two proud Pitons, the volcanic mountains that magnificently dominate the landscape .
Not at all a cartoonish confectionery theme park, the hotel is a sophisticated homage to chocolate: all dark wood, with an infinity pool that looks like cocoa and ceramic soap dishes the shape of cocoa pods which are cheeky, but not kitsch. The decor is tasteful and minimalist – fabrics are natural and muted, wooden structures form walls of geometric pattern – yet it eschews the coldness that style can sometimes bring.
Pulling ourselves away from the bar, we followed a path paved with stone slabs flanked by gardens thick with tropical trees and splashes of vibrant floral to our room. It was in a clutch of six smaller lodges (still more sprawling than a studio apartment) built to resemble the plantation’s original buildings.
The open-plan lodge with lofted ceilings was styled with a modern take on classic Caribbean mahogany furniture, and the four-poster bed draped in white mosquito netting would have been the most tempting thing if it weren’t for the massive walk-in shower with a view of the stars. Mr Smith took a peek inside the fridge that was well stocked with home made cookies, nuts, water and bubbly all free for the taking. Don’t mind if we do…
We knew not to spoil our appetites, though. Locals and tourists from all over the island travel to the hotel’s buzzy restaurant for the exquisite farm-to-table fare. The cocoa theme prevails, of course: organic leaf salad with white chocolate and coconut dressing and cacao-nib croutons, coconut chicken curry with chocolate-flecked flatbread and poached kingfish in a cacao nib escabeche bouillon. Chocolate addicts will definitely be sated, but there’s enough variety to please all palates.
Each day began with a sumptuous spread of fruit, smoothies, home-made muffins, bread with chocolate ‘smudge’, eggs, bacon and porridge. Coffee is my morning medicine, but the high-octane cocoa tea served here is just as effective. Discovered by the Mayans, a king reportedly swallowed 25 stamina-boosting cups a day – helpful with the demands of his twelve wives, we’re told.
The king would have approved of the sultry Tuesday night barbecue here, I’m sure. The entertaining evening started with a laid-back buffet-style affair before two handsome, semi-naked men sprang forth in the center of the room and proceeded to gyrate, dance, perform balancing acts and swallow fire to the beat of pumping tunes.
As the night progressed, nearly all of the guests were lured out on the floor to limbo. A born spectator, this would usually fill me with horror, but somehow, the magic of this place (and its martinis) melted those inhibitions away.
One could certainly be content lounging by the hotel's placid pool all day, but there is a bus that shuttles guests to and from the nearby town of Soufrière twice daily. There are several adventures to be had once in town, but we hopped on board the hotel’s private boat and jetted around the bay to the aptly named Sugar Beach, a breath-stealing swath of white sand set smack-dab between the two Piton spires. There was an abundance of watersports on offer, but we were content to lounge in the hammocks, drink cocktails and listen to the surf.
Back at the hotel, a plantation tour and chocolate-making lesson, led by the charismatic nursery director, Cuthbert Monroque, is a must. Mr Smith and I thought we had a thing for chocolate – until this passionate local led us through the thick fruit groves on the tree-to-bar experience.
He helped us to pluck pods right from the cacao trees, and we then grafted two different kinds of cocoa plant, to ensure optimum taste and hardiness, which would be planted on the property when ready, bearing our names. They’d later be harvested, ground into cocoa nibs and made into a trademark bar.
It's sugary shenanigans such as that that had us happily collapsing into bed each night. Lulled by the sound of the surrounding wildlife (this must be where they recorded the ‘tropical rainforest’ setting on the sleep machine), we'd drift off with visions of chocolate everything dancing in our heads… Sweet dreams, is right.