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Whether you're planning a honeymoon, a close encounter with Mother Nature or a family escape, St. Lucia has the resort that's right for you.

Whether you're planning a honeymoon, a close encounter with Mother Nature or a family escape, St. Lucia has the resort that's right for you.

Jade Mountain

Courtesy of Jade Mountain

Y

ou never forget your first glimpse of the Pitons, the wild and rugged signature peaks of St. Lucia. My husband and I were on a catamaran, cruising along the isle's undulating western coast, where colorful fishing villages tumble down to the shore, as if expelled from the forested hills above. Lulled into a vacation coma by the warmth of the sun, the rhythm of the waves -- and the proof of the captain's rum punch (emphasis on "punch") -- we were unprepared for the primordial drama of the Pitons.
Their massive, rocky bulk, partially robed in dense swaths of jungle, thrust nearly half a mile straight up out of the Caribbean Sea. With their steep slopes forming a pair of almost cartoonishly perfect cones, these pointed peaks framed a white crescent beach to create a scene that seemed cribbed from a computer-generated movie set, too ideal to be real.

Not surprisingly, St. Lucia is popular with eco-tourists intent on hiking Gros Piton, touring Soufrière's bubbling pit of sulfur billed as the world's only "drive-in volcano," and exploring the island's 19,000-square-miles of rainforest. It is also a favorite destination for honeymooners enchanted by the notion of escaping to a lush and largely undeveloped island. And now, with Cotton Bay Village, a new property offering multi-room villas, kiddie clubs and nanny service, this 238-square-mile isle is making a bid for families, as well.


Ladera: Honeymooners' Heaven

Ladera resort

Relaxing without the "fourth wall" at Ladera

The 21 suites and six villas that comprise this boutique property, perched on a mountain ridge at 1,100 feet between the Pitons, are most notable for what they lack -- namely, a fourth wall. All accommodations at Ladera have only three walls, providing a dramatic, open-air view of the mountains and the Caribbean Sea below. The innovative design, which incorporates tropical timbers, local stone, terracotta tiles, and whimsical touches like seashell-shaped sinks, makes each room feel a bit like a tree house -- but with plenty of grown-up amenities.

An intimate spa, Ti Kai Posé, offers treatments that range from a hot volcanic stone massage to reflexology, aromatherapy and traditional Swedish massage. And although the resort has no beach of its own, you can take a complimentary shuttle to a local beach.

Or opt to enjoy the resort's swimming pool next to a peaked roof complex housing Dasheene, Ladera's renowned restaurant, and the bar. Better yet, just slip out of bed and slide into your own private plunge pool, a popular feature in every guest room. In that case, no swimsuit, no problem. (Just don't forget the suntan lotion.)

Dasheene Restaurant at Ladera

The view from Dasheene Restaurant at Ladera

Ladera's prime location and unusual architecture have earned multiple accolades from Condé Nast Traveler. Readers voted it the "Best of the Best" in the world in 2005, and the resort garnered a perfect score in the categories of design, location, rooms, and food in the magazine's January 2006 "Gold List" issue.

When you're at Ladera, you're encouraged to abandon modern distractions and surrender to Mother Nature. There are no telephones, no televisions and no air-conditioning in the rooms, but there are plenty of insects, frogs and lizards to keep you company, especially at night (hence the netting that hangs from the beds). Of course, when you're on your honeymoon, scratching those hard to reach mosquito bites can be half the fun.

Rates from $340, double or single occupancy. No children allowed. (800) 738-4752; www.ladera.com


Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain: Exotic Eco-Adventure

An aerial view of Anse Chastanet

Courtesy of Anse Chastanet

An aerial view of Anse Chastanet

Just north of the Pitons, Anse Chastanet and its exclusive new "resort within a resort," Jade Mountain, combine an unplugged approach to relaxation (again, no phone, TV or AC) with an emphasis on exploring and honoring the environment. Not only is there plenty to do on this 600-acre estate, which features two beaches, two spas, water sports, tennis courts, guided walks, 12 miles of mountain biking trails, and a large diving operation, but the resort itself is an ode to its spectacular surroundings, thanks to architect/owner Nick Troubetzkoy.

Anse Chastanet encompasses a combination of beachfront rooms and hillside retreats, which are tucked into the dense foliage of Morne Anse Chastanet. No two rooms are exactly alike, although they combine elements such as tropical woods, hand-crafted teak and mahogany furnishings, and jalousie windows that welcome tropical breezes. Some of the resort's famous guests have included Harrison Ford, Jeff Bridges and Tyra Banks.


Jade Mountain Resort

Courtesy of Jade Mountain

A "sanctuary" at Jade Mountain Resort

But celebrity spotting aside, the biggest buzz lately has been about Jade Mountain, which opened in October 2006. Troubetzkoy took a more contemporary approach with this new development, incorporating concrete "Bridges to Infinity," which lead to the rooms, dubbed "sanctuaries." Each unique sanctuary boasts a private infinity edge pool, which is lined with jewel-toned recycled glass tiles. Rooms range from 1,400 square feet to more than 2,000 square feet, with the most spacious accommodations affording the most impressive views.

Like Ladera, a few of the 49 rooms at Anse Chastanet and all 24 luxury accommodations at Jade Mountain have foregone a fourth wall to create a space that opens to the elements. You'll actually pay a lower rate if you want a room with four walls. Sometimes, it seems, more is less.

Rates at Anse Chastanet from $280, double occupancy; $245 single. Only children 12 and older are allowed, (800) 223-1108; www.ansechastanet.com Rates at Jade Mountain from $800, double or single occupancy. Children must be 15 or older. (800) 223-1108; www.jademountainstlucia.com


Cotton Bay Village: Family FavoriteIf it takes a village to raise a child, then Cotton Bay, situated on St.Lucia's northeastern Atlantic Coast, is the village where I would want to be raised (even for a week) if I were a wee one. This new kid on the block, which officially opened at the end of January 2007, has a strong focus on families.

Accommodations include: pool apartments with one, two or three bedrooms; three-bedroom townhouses; three-bedroom beach villas; and the Osmond-sized, four-bedroom Cotton Houses, which come equipped with a private pool, housekeeping and butler service. The Cotton Houses sleep up to 10, so even the littlest kid brother can probably count on getting a bed instead of a sleeping bag. And every elegantly furnished accommodation features all the comforts of home, including a washer and dryer, microwave, cable TV, and DVD player.

The Hummingbird Children's Club and a daily program of activities for older kids and teens are designed to keep progeny of all ages amused -- or at least as amused as chronically jaded teenagers can allow themselves to appear. For an extra charge, the resort can provide nanny service, too.

Of course, you've got to feed a hungry family as well. Cotton Bay offers plenty of options, from an Italian-themed deli to a kids-only snack bar to a fine dining restaurant that serves up Italian, French and Californian fusion cuisine.

Work off those calories afterwards by arranging kite-boarding, kayaking, windsurfing, scuba diving, or horseback riding. There's also a nearby 18-hole championship golf course, and an ooh-la-la spa to rejuvenate.

The only drawback to such an ideal family vacation? The wailing and gnashing of teeth you'll have to endure when you round up your brood for the return flight home. And that's just dad we're talking about.

Rates from $375 per unit. Children of all ages are welcome. (800) 544-2883; www.cottonbaystlucia.com

IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE Most international flights arrive at St. Lucia's Hewanorra International Airport (UVF) in the southern village of Vieux Fort, but some airlines also service St. Lucia's George F.L. Charles Airport/Vigie Airport (SLU) in Castries.
HELICOPTER FLIGHTS Many visitors who fly into Hewanorra International Airport opt to take a helicopter ride from the airport for a bird's eye view of St. Lucia's stunning scenery -- and a quicker commute to their resort.
St. Lucia Helicopters Ltd., (758) 453-6950; www.stluciahelicopters.com

HIKING It is illegal to access trails without the permission of the Forest and Lands Department. Guided hikes can be arranged through many hotels, or by calling the Forest and Lands Department at (758) 450-2078. To arrange a guided hike of the Pitons, call the Piton's Tour Guide Association at (758) 459-9748. Note: Most hikers prefer to hike Gros Piton. Hiking on Petit Piton is not recommended.
MORE INFO St. Lucia Tourist Board, (888) 478-5824; www.stlucia.org


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