Snuggled between the two talismanic Piton mountains of St Lucia on a UNESCO World Heritage site, surveying the gentle breaths of the Caribbean Sea, rests the world-renowned Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort. I visited, and experienced some of the most authentically delivered and luxuriously-crafted Caribbean hospitality, punctuated by some seriously demanding and gritty fitness activities. This destination was host to a unique and unforgettable Active Escape involving ocean swims, boot camp classes, morning yoga, a bamboo massage, and a brutal hike up (& down) the larger Piton mountain. Click more to see and evaluate it for yourself!
For some years now, word-of-mouth and Chinese Whispers have brought Sugar Beach to my attention. The destination seems to enjoy its own guest-led marketing such that people go, and are enamored; they tell their friends, and they, in turn, tell acquaintances. When I had the opportunity to book in my own stay, I jumped at the chance, as the Caribbean tends to hold a special magic in people’s hearts. That was certainly the case for Roger Myers (the restauranteur of Cafe Rouge fame) who spied this jewel of a location on a passing boat trip, fell in love and devoted years to developing it into one of the foremost luxury destinations in the Caribbean. It’s operated by the Viceroy Group who have brought a suite of superb group standards which work seamlessly alongside the location.
Under the auspices of executive chef Jaques Chretien, the resort draws heavily on the concept of local freshness. This is a big culinary strength, as being located at the intersection of the Atlantic (cold) and Caribbean (warm) bodies of water, the surrounding seas are teeming with marine treasure. Mahi Mahi, tuna, bass, red snapper and sole are in plentiful supply here, and the menu makes inventive (and extensive) use of them all fusing West Indian, African and French flavours; the result is entertaining dishes which deliver a nutritionally balanced experience and which don’t leave you with fish fatigue by the end of the trip! Think creole fish stews, green bananas, salt fish, cassava bread and crab back.
There’s also a great daily continental breakfast spread on The Terrace with healthy options that hit the ‘current trend’ nail right on the head (think kale and coconut juice with a delicious bowl of quinoa soya porridge, etc). If banana bread and waffles are more your things, they’ve got you covered too.
At lunchtime, the Bayside Restaurant is set right on the white sands of the bay and really delivers exactly what you’d imagine from such a resort – casual, relaxed, fresh and locally-inspired dishes, freshly caught fish, local fruits and vegetables… They also delivered a mean BBQ on my second night!
I enjoyed a superb evening of beautifully executed sushi at the Cane Bar too, infused with just a hint of Latin spice. It’s an excellent space with a feel that’s more contemporary and light-hearted, complete with wacky artwork, funky Snooker room and a sumptuous velvet oriental lounge.
The Great Room is classically colonial in style; at night it completely comes alive with warm lighting, soft tones, and wooden panelling, eliciting the sensation of a different era of travel.
There are a host of ways to stay active here. I tried many, but didn’t exhaust the options by any means. Here’s a flavour:
- Morning Yoga
- Water sports
- Waterfront walks
- Scuba Diving around the National Marine Reserve
- Cliff Diving
- Tennis Courts
- Laps in the private pools
- Even croquet!
THE PITON HIKE!
Since the Pitons are right there, and form such a defining part of this resort- no, this island – it would be a shame not to tackle them! There are two versions to choose from; there’s the Gros Piton hike, and the Petit Piton expedition. Petit means ‘little’ in French which sounds as if it’s the easier option, but since it mostly demands mountaineering skills, involving sheer faces and rappelling with harnesses (not my niche), I chose Gros Piton.
Nonetheless, the staff warned it would be difficult. When you casually mention that you’re going to be hiking, they shoot you a look that silently declares ‘good luck, you’ll need it’. But then, people always do that, and it’s part of the charm, right? Well, no. Heed their warnings, for this was the most challenging hike I’ve ever undertaken. In 90pct humidity and 90-degree heat, you commence a 5-hour epic pilgrimage there and back, scaling an unending jungle, regularly ascending at 50 degrees of elevation, with perilous ledges everywhere, and mostly loose rocks (and tarantulas) underfoot. Then there’s the journey down; after the quadriceps have shakily delivered you the vertical ascent, they don’t care much for cushioning the weight of your descent, and 50 degrees back down can be quite unnerving.
Hours of unbroken and tiring mental focus are required whilst you survey each of your 13,000 steps, evaluating the solidity of the ground, trying to avoid ankle sprain or a slip; that tunnel-vision-style concentration on a small square at your feet is exhausting, especially when combined with the challenging ambient conditions. I’m quite fit, but I found this a totally shattering experience, and as soon as I returned to the hotel, my body gasped for rest and I was fast asleep!
At the summit though, you’re effectively at the highest point on the island and the tropical panorama over the Val des Pitons, and beyond, is sublime – even heavenly.
Every time you look back up at the Piton thereafter on your holiday, you feel a sense of accomplishment. You recall the views from the top. You reminded of the friends you made on the journey.
Perched one hundred meters up on the hillside which surveys Jalousie Bay, my home away from home is a ‘Grand Luxury Villa’ enrobed in lush tropical vegetation, lending a discreet privacy to the living quarters.
The colour scheme is stark white with dark wooden floors and a minimal French colonial feel to the decorative style. A vast bed sits high, under a four poster mosquito net (broadly redundant, the resort is fumigated twice weekly and I sustained almost no bites) and delivers me a sublime and unconstrained night’s sleep. Magic.
The bathroom houses *literally* a double shower, with two identical faucets at either end the sizeable wet-room. Everything enjoys a superb view, day or night. The butler ensures your fridge is constantly stocked with gratis amenities (bottled water for me – home-brewed Piton beer for you?). Fluffy towels aplenty, local beauty products, fresh-baked viennoiseries by the bed at night and free clothes pressing every day – little luxurious details are clearly part of the fabric.
Through all my worldly travels, the service ethic in the Caribbean remains unique; a singular approach which combines affable interaction, languid delivery, heaps of personality, and often a charming and unexpected result. It isn’t the prompt, stuffy immediacy that Londoners or New Yorkers have come to expect from service in their home cities, but it’s not meant to be so, and that would even feel quite out of place here. Instead, it causes a degree of introspection in the traveler, asking her/him to challenge the unnecessary, panicked urgency that’s invaded their psyche. The pace of Sugar Beach invites you to slow yourself down, to couple with the natural rhythm of the destination!
To help you unwind, each room is assigned a butler (a total novelty for me – the dream team of Sherman, Mackenzie, and Keitha were assigned to me) who’s an amazing whirlwind of both the traditional and the contemporary at the same time. They help unpack your bags, arrange dinner plans, book the hike then secure your bamboo massage at the Rainforest Spa (to work out the kinks), and – my personal favourite unique touch – they arrange for all your dirty laundry to be done, folded, pressed and ready to go into your suitcase fresh for when you arrive home, all as part of the room deal I was on.
Then there’s a charming fleet of Tuk Tuks, three-wheeled motorized transports crafted bespoke in Thailand in an array of fun colours, just to ferry you around the resort. They just make you smile every time.
Typically these types of resorts are for the more mature traveler, but Sugar Beach enjoyed a predominantly young-to-middle-aged clientele and felt buzzy even though it’s not high season. That led to a pretty lively energy, as you could imagine. There are many Caribbean islands to choose from but St Lucia is really quite special, every morning you wake up to a lush and verdant view over a prehistoric landscape, straight out of Jurassic Park, and unlike anything I’ve seen before. It’s naturally beautiful, sublimely relaxing, peppered with idiosyncratic charm, and is just a bucket of good, old-fashioned, escapist fun!