A Relaxing Escape to St. Lucia
By Paul Mermelstein
When traveling abroad, it's easy to forget everything back home. Nowhere is this truer than in the Caribbean as I recently discovered at the Royal by Rex Resorts.
The upscale resort hotel is set on Reduit Beach, a mile-long stretch of St. Lucia sandy white beaches. Rex Resorts is part of a global resort company based in the U.K., offering Caribbean destinations Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia and Tobago.
The Royal, as the name implies, offers the "royal treatment" as a luxury all-suites resort, and is one of the most popular hotels in St. Lucia. The entrance is decorated to reflect a royal ambiance with marble floors and a red carpet going up a grand staircase. The grounds are covered in vibrant flowers and well-manicured greens. Ocean-view rooms look out on a perfect blue bay filled with sailboats.
When I didn't feel like venturing too far out, the Royal has both a wonderful pool bar and the French restaurant Chic!. The pool bar has fresh, innovative drinks, great bartenders and a fun crowd. On Tuesdays and Thursdays Virgin Air flight crews come in... a hip, young, good-looking group that brings a different vibe to the place. They all know that happy hour is 5-6 and they clear out afterward to get ready for dinner.
Chatty and friendly bartenders mix up bar recipes like "BBC" Banana Coconut Cream, Baileys and milk, and "007" Bounty rum, lime and Orange Imperial. I was offered a reminder of life on the mainland: The Obama, made with Carolans Irish Cream, Banana Coconut Cream and a shot of strong rum.
St. Lucia has two airports. Hewanorra International Airport is on the south end of the island from the Royal. The other smaller airport is Vigie, officially named the George F. L. Charles Airport, in Castries. Much of St. Lucia's local nightlife and tourist destinations are concentrated near Vigie. The airport is smaller, and less commercialized. If you have a long wait here, you can walk around the area and check out the authentic snacks and crafts offered by local vendors.
Ben's Taxi and Jeep Rental arranged for a driver to meet me as I exited Customs. The 90-minute drive north to Reduit Beach was a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the small fishing villages and banana plantations along the eastern shore of St. Lucia. If you are looking to explore this area deeper, the island offers an outstanding array of activity tours like Island AVT, French mountain biking and kayaking.
My driver was eager to educate me on the island's rich history and commercial industries: tourism, fishing and agriculture. He offered up tidbits on banana trees maturation times, stating factually that banana trees take only nine months from planting to produce and then trees are chopped down and new ones planted.
St. Lucia was originally colonized by both Britain and France, changing hands many times. The cities and villages retain many their French sounding names, like Soufriere, a city located at the foot of a volcano, and Vieux Fort, "the old fort," where a popular lighthouse overlooks the bay. Vieux Fort city is very modern, but if you wander into Old Town, historic colonial houses still line Clark Street and the side streets.
If you're an active and adventurous traveler, St. Lucia is abundant in aquatic sports and opportunities for outdoor entertainment in the lush paradise. The Royal's helpful staff can arrange for tours or other St. Lucia activities.
Right Away Watersports, in front of the Royal on Reduit Beach, has a young, energetic staff that offers a wide range of aquatic sporting rentals and trips. You can rent Hobie sailboats, gliders and paddleboats, or sign-up for snorkeling trips, banana boat rides and waterskiing.
When I rented a Hobiecat here, the wind was always blowing, and the equipment was in great condition. I also took a snorkeling trip to the other side of the bay. You can snorkel for a few hours or make it a half-day trip. There is a small beachfront bar and restaurant not far from the snorkeling reef, if you want to end with dinner or just take a midday break. The warm, clear waters surrounding St. Lucia make are ideal for snorkeling and supports a healthy coral and marine ecosystem. The island's volcano history has created a maze of underwater gullies, trenches, caverns, arches, and grottoes to explore.
For eating out, the Castries area offers numerous elegant restaurants near the Royal. My first foray into the island's eclectic cuisine was The Edge Restaurant. The Edge is an international restaurant, started by Bobo Bergstrom, a world traveler in his own right. Bergstrom served as a chef at hotels across Sweden and the Caribbean, and has done cooking demonstrations in New York and Toronto. In 2005 he was featured on CBC "Caribbean Dueling Chefs" reality special.
The Edge offers what Bergstrom calls "Eurobbean," a fusion of classic European and Caribbean cuisines. There is high infusion of Asian cuisine as well, including a full sushi menu. Much of the menu draws from the surrounding area to offer fresh seafood dishes like blackened shrimp in Creole sauce ($28) and baked oysters with a Caesar salad ($16).
Elaborate Old World delicacies are enhanced with local flavors, including foie gras and salted pork with a chili-wine jelly and a Calypso marinated rack of lamb with a Papaya confit. I especially enjoyed the lobster bisque and puff pastry, which I was told were several days in the making. Two persons, with drinks, can eat for under $100. If it seems pricey, keep in mind the menu is in E. Caribbean dollars, not U.S.!
For dinner at the Royal, restaurant Chic! has a beautiful lounge area. The service is beyond par -- everyone waiting is served a glass of champagne while they are relaxing in the contemporary lounge with parquet flooring. After a few minutes menus are distributed and the order is taken from the lounge, prior to seating in the dining room.
I tried the wild mushroom linguini with spaghetti zucchini appetizer. On the suggestion of a Chic! regular who'd been raving about it during our wait in the lounge, I ordered an herb-crusted rack of lamb, stuffed with Provencal potatoes.
The highlight of my meal came with the traditional wine sommelier, bald and regal like he'd walked out of a James Bond classic. He offered up his French wine a in a deep, deep voice, complete with the sommelier tasting cup, the "tastevin."
The Royal's superb service, combined with the best beach on St. Lucia at its doorstep, a fine restaurant Chic! and great pool bar made it easy for me to understand why so many guests return to this property. St. Lucia is definitely somewhere you'll want to travel to, again and again.