St. Lucia - the Caribbean island

Indagare editor Barkley Hickox just returned from a trip to St. Lucia, the Caribbean island that has seen a flurry of closings and openings, in part because the resort-heavy southern part was significantly damaged during Hurricane Tomas. Barkley stayed at the property that has garnered the most buzz: Jalousie, a venerable beach resort that is now run by Viceroy Hotels, the group known for stylish sunny getaways in Miami, Santa Monica and Palm Springs. "Jalousie has long enjoyed a unique and magical location in the Caribbean," writes Hickox. "Now the resort has the five-star accommodations to match.


Jalousie Plantation

Nestled in the valley between St. Lucia’s iconic Piton Mountains—the so-called “Val de Pitons”—the Jalousie Plantation enjoys the most picturesque and historically rich piece of real estate on St. Lucia, and perhaps in all of the Caribbean. Situated at the base of the island’s volcano, this UNESCO World Heritage site boasts over 100 acres of lush tropical rainforest and the only white sand beach in the surrounding area, bordered by a National Marine Preserve just offshore. I arrived via motorboat, which offered a spectacular vantage point from which to view the exotic topography. As I approached the appropriately named Sugar Beach, I was transported to a place reminiscent of the South Pacific or French Polynesia—a landscape I never imagined existed a four-hour flight from New York City.

Upon arrival, I was welcomed to the “land of the gods,” a site deemed sacred by the Amerindians who settled there nearly 2,000 years ago. My greeter proudly recounted the legend behind these natives, who believed that the gods of war and fertility inhabited the Gros and Petit Pitons and protected the neighboring land. Deeply rooted in its heritage, Jalousie evokes a dreamy, almost spiritual atmosphere unlike anything I have experienced in the Caribbean.

While still trying to maintain its sense of place, the resort is bursting onto the luxury travel scene thanks to a $100 million makeover, spearheaded by the Viceroy Hotel Group, known for chic beachside properties in Santa Monica, Mexico and Miami (the property will be re-branded as the Tides Sugar Beach later this fall). So far, the physical transformation has included a gut renovation of its villa accommodations, new entry-level Sugar Mill rooms and the construction of a brand-new destination-spa.

Clustered throughout the property, Jalousie’s plush new villas are designed in a minimalist style (think plantation-elegant-meets Southampton-cottage). Interiors are predominantly white but stylishly accented with dark hardwood floors and black-and-white photographs. The cloud-like four-poster beds are piled high with posturepedic pillow-top mattresses, down featherbeds and crisp 700-thread count Egyptian cotton linens. All rooms are outfitted with flat screen TVs, Nespresso coffee makers and free wireless internet, and feature deluxe amenities such as Victorian claw-footed bathtubs, plunge pools and outdoor deck furniture.

Superior and Grand Luxury Villas have the added benefit of a living room with a queen sleeper sofa, and a handful are equipped with half bathrooms. The resort’s Sugar Mill Rooms are housed in pink concrete buildings within close proximity of the hotel’s main facilities (pool, beach and restaurants). These rooms have the same décor as the Luxury Villas and include a small plunge pool and garden, while Superior Sugar Mill Rooms have the added benefit of a roof terrace.

The most recent addition to the Jalousie Plantation is a remarkable 9,427 square foot Rainforest Spa, completed in December 2010. Held in tree house gazebos built into the rainforest canopy, treatments incorporate the surrounding environment and all-natural rituals of the island’s first Amazonian inhabitants. Highlights include a Temascal, an earthen steam room warmed by volcanic spring water and once used for health and religious purposes, as well as an open-air relaxation gazebo, suspended over running water at the base of the Petit Piton. Many of the spa’s signature treatments incorporate locally sourced products such as sulfur straight from the volcanic springs, as well as fruit and herbs grown on the Jalousie estate. The spa also uses top of the line organic skin care products from Environ of South Africa and Academie France as well as anti-aging treatments from UK-based Caci. Jalousie’s Rainforest Spa is a destination in and of itself and a must-visit for any spa sophisticate.

Plans still call for the rebuilding of villas lost in the November hurricane, new tree house canopy and beachfront accommodations, a renovation of the pool area and a new kid’s club. Owner Roger Myer and the new Viceroy management hope the enhancement will launch Jalousie into the leagues of the Caribbean’s top luxury enclaves such as Jumby Bay, Cap Juluca and Sandy Lane. And with the recent appointment of General Manager Andre Boresma – whose resume includes stints at the One & Only Ocean Club, One & Only Palmilla and Rosewood’s Las Ventanas – this ambitious plan may well succeed.

In an effort to dispel rumors of bad service, management has made extra efforts to improve the guest experience in time for the resort’s rebranding this year. Aside from a few minor hiccups, overall I felt pampered of during my stay. As soon as I disembarked, I was greeted by a team of friendly bellboys who handed me a freshly made mojito (a specialty of the hotel’s hip new Cane Bar), and whisked me up the hill to my Grand Luxury Villa. A smiling young staff member, introduced to me as my personal butler, took my bags, unpacked my luggage and handed me a designated butler cell phone to use should I have any needs during my stay. While I barely used my phone over the course of my stay – there were few things I needed or wanted that were not already available to me – whenever I did, my butler picked up on the first ring eager to help. Luxuries such as these reflect Boersma’s golden touch, unmistakably transported from his prior tenure at resorts made famous for their level of service.

Jalousie has long enjoyed one of the most unique and magical locations in all of the Caribbean. Now, the resort has the five-star accommodations to match, and if it can maintain the attentive level of service I experienced during my stay, it may well transform into one of the most appealing, easy-to-get-to beach retreats for East Coast travelers. Rooms from $500.

Who it’s right for: Jalousie is best suited for nature enthusiasts. The resort is a 5-minute drive from the island’s main attractions, which include a drive-in volcano, botanical gardens, zip lining, waterfalls and sulfur springs. On property, guests can participate in sea kayaking, snorkeling, sailing, windsurfing and scuba diving in the National Marine Reserve, just steps from the beach. The resort is well suited for families but can work for couples provided they can snag a highly coveted and uber romantic ocean view villa.

Who it’s wrong for: Those who want to step out of their villa and onto a beach. Almost all accommodations are located up a nearly vertical hill, a laborious shuttle drive from the resort’s main facilities. Shuttles must be called in advance to take guests anywhere on the property – a true inconvenience for those who want to fall out of bed and onto the beach, as is characteristic of most top Caribbean. Guests should also take into account that Jalousie is still working out some kinks in the service department.

Rooms to get: While inconvenient to reach, Luxury Villas are the largest and most desirable accommodations. Most are set back on the hill and offer views of the surrounding foliage and mountainside – ocean views are available on request but cannot be guaranteed. Each villa cluster has very distinct characteristics, some are best for families with children, others for couples who want privacy, so make sure to be specific about your needs when booking. Sugar Mill Rooms are the smallest and least expensive accommodations. None of them connect so are not ideal for families. Additionally, the buildings are a bit of an eyesore and none have views of the ocean.

How to get there: Located on the southwestern side of St. Lucia, Jalousie is just three miles from the historic town of Soufriere and a 45-minute drive from Hewannorra International Airport. There are nonstop flights to Hewannorra from New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Toronto, Montreal and London.

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