St Lucia and all that jazz

Catriona Lee fulfils her childhood dream and enjoys some Caribbean island luxuries.

When I was eight my grandparents moved to an apartment in Sussex called St Lucia, and every holiday I would fill my friends with envy by telling them I was off to St Lucia, despite not leaving the UK.

As nice as Bexhill is, it isn’t quite the same as the real St Lucia – any eight-year-old would tell you that.

But 24 years later, I realised my childhood dream as I flew out to visit the 20th St Lucia Jazz Festival on Pigeon Island.

We arrived at Hewanorra airport on the south of the island and started the trip with a 90-minute drive to the all-inclusive Smuggler’s Cove Resort and Spa, on Cap Estate in the north west.

And being in a group of girls we wasted no time trying out the spa treatments. Curiosity got the better of me and I opted for the bamboo massage.

Originating from Malaysia, with Tibetan and Polynesian influence, the masseuse assured me it was one of the most popular treatments they offered.

Varying sizes of bamboo are warmed and rolled over your body with massage oil, gliding over your skin but giving a nice deep massage for around £60.

After a long flight it felt like heaven. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Having been pampered we were prepared for dinner. We ordered some local rum punches to kick-start the evening, then headed to one of the four restaurants within the resort. Each has a different theme – Italian, Asian, buffet and, our choice, seafood at The Waterside Creole Grill.

We dined on a delicious mahi mahi fish baked in banana leaf, washed down with some chilled wine. Well, that was a highly productive first day.

I rose early the next morning to explore some of the 45-acre resort. After a brief dip in the warm Caribbean Sea, I joined the early morning walk with Wendall, my guide for the morning.

Three times a week a member of the activity staff takes early-bird holidaymakers on a one-hour nature walk around the complex.

Later that morning I headed into the island’s capital, Castries.

It’s a hive of activity with a market known for its spices and fruit. I was spellbound watching the St Lucian women breeze through the bustling crowds with baskets of fruit perfectly balanced on their heads.

Looking to snap up a few souvenirs, it was a joy not to be hassled by persistent vendors as St Lucians are incredibly friendly and laid-back and the stall holders seemed more interested in striking up a chat than actually selling you something.

That evening it was time for our first taste of the Jazz Festival (this year’s is May 5 to 13). Many big names have graced the stage over the years including Luther Vandross, Gladys Knight, Rihanna and Amy Winehouse.

I must admit that before this evening my interest in jazz was limited to a few Miles Davis numbers and little else – Take That dominates the CD player in my car.

I don’t know whether the festival atmosphere had taken control, or maybe I’d had a few too many cocktails, but the soulful music converted me into a jazz fan – for the evening at least.

Having boogied through an outstanding performance by Maceo Parker we were on to the headline act Trey Songz, an American singer who seemed to cause mild hysteria with all the girls in the audience.

The next morning we drove to the Rainforest Adventure Tranopy tour (costing £52) to try our hand at zip-lining.

We met our instructors and were given our harness, gloves and a fetching blue hair net to wear under the helmet. Once equipped, we boarded the aerial tramway that took us up the mountain and over the tree tops. The half-hour journey is well worth it just for the view.

There were 10 zip-lines, arranged in a horse-shoe shape, some long, some short.

The longest was about 500 metres and we all loved zipping through the trees and catching glimpses of the amazing scenery.

After dinner it was back to Pigeon Island for our last night of the Jazz Festival. We arrived to see Chuck Brown, who was still going strong.

We followed this with a drink in the 250-year-old Captain’s Cellar bar, in a perfect spot right next to the stage, before the finale.

John Legend was headlining in his second visit to the festival and, once again, we partied through to the small hours. I could definitely get into this jazz music.

It took me 24 years to get to the real St Lucia, but it was well worth the wait. I’ve even been playing some St Lucia Jazz Festival CDs in the car. So take that, Take That.

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