The Caribbeans in 70 days: Part Five

The Pitons, St Lucia Arriving at St Lucia truly marks one’s entrance into the tropics – the other Caribbean islands have a sort of tropical atmosphere and humidity to them, but it is on St Lucia that the rainforests and somewhat alien landscape appear. This volcanic island has only a 40% ratio of flat, useable… Continue reading The Caribbeans in 70 days: Part Five

jade mountain

The Pitons, St Lucia

Arriving at St Lucia truly marks one’s entrance into the tropics – the other Caribbean islands have a sort of tropical atmosphere and humidity to them, but it is on St Lucia that the rainforests and somewhat alien landscape appear. This volcanic island has only a 40% ratio of flat, useable land; but just from looking out of the window, this seems a bit generous. Towns such as Castries lie along the coastline; sometimes a massive valley allows an inland outpost where you will find massive banana plantations, a forest of palms and fronds and houses that can shelter below the lips of the basin.

Beyond and between these settlements are the mountains, hills and enormous spikes of rock that thrust upwards from the cataclysmic powers deep in the crust, uplifting St Lucia like a sea urchin that finds itself on dry sand. Getting along the western coastline means driving through roads that snake around the narrow gaps in the long faces of rock and claw their way up mountains only to fall down along the other side. The bright sun becomes a white stream of light as it is quickly cropped by the jungle that creeps up and down the rock – giant fern trees, hanging vines and unfamiliar trees, looming inwards as if the entire slope has been frozen in that split second between losing its hold on the mountain sides and being in a state of free-fall.

Away from the hairpin bends you will see breath-taking coasts of cliffs and bays on a massive scale quite unlike anywhere else in the Caribbean. The Pitons themselves are beyond description – any words would simply diminish their stunning, dramatic power. Just behind the town of Soufriere, on a luscious hillside all of its own, stands a twin-resort, the visions of a man come to life in titanic fashion.

Anse Chastanet

jade mountain

Making your way through Soufriere, away from the Pitons, your taxi (automatically arranged for your arrival at the airport) will find its way along a slightly beaten, quieter path and up a series of hills to reach the secluded Anse Chastanet. The first sight one has is of the open timber frames, nothing more than a roof and the barebones structure, eagerly welcoming you into this Eden. Be greeted by all the staff as you wander in, settle down and take a welcome drink which, after the early morning flight, seems like the elixir of life to me. Then, after receiving the personal and total attention to detail that one quickly realises as a hallmark of Anse Chastanet/Jade Mountain, take a shuttle up to your room. On behalf of B Beyond this fortunate writer stayed at the very best that Anse Chastanet has to offer – one of the premium hillside suites. From here, with the fourth wall left open to the air, one has a near-perfect view of the Pitons at daybreak, a picturesque image that turns one to thoughts about the beauty of life on St Lucia.

Jeff Morgan, the general manager for both Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain, sits down with me for dinner and reveals much about the spirit in which the resort project was started and has continued throughout its lifespan. For example, both Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain were built by St Lucians, and almost completely by hand. They still re-member the top man with a wheelbarrow, living nearby on the island. This commitment to low impact sustain-ability is also evident at the Emeralds Estate, an organic farm which supplies many of its ingredients around the two estates.

Another aspect of the authentic St Lucia that has also been preserved is the islanders’ warmth and hospitality, which has been fostered among the staff. There is a sense of camaraderie among the staff and their hospi-tality, to the point that there is a genuine level of caring and attention, can be a little disarming for those used to a more formal style. Anse Chastanet as a whole is a departure from the typical, strongly influenced by tradition Caribbean culture and reinterpreted through a modern hotel.

Much of Anse Chastanet’s life is centered on the beach, an intimate little cove that basks in sunlight through most of the day. From here one can scuba and snorkel at the marine preserve, small but immediately recognisable from the shore by its vibrant colour. Sail and kayak along St Lucia’s inspiring coastline, or take a mountain bicycle through the hallowed forest of the estate, along ruddy earthen paths among the sun-dappled shrubbery and past babbling streams and eddies. Or, if one is of the more sedate persuasion, sunbathe in one of the palm-covered huts (made for two), whiling away in paradise and occasionally ordering drinks to your lounger.

Anse Chastanet’s main restaurant is named the Treehouse, so called because it is nestled among the high-rise trees, marking the beginning of the forest right in front of you. The morning breakfast, already a rich and wholesome beginning to the day, is made all the more sweet by the songs of the birds and hum of their wings as they wheel and swirl around you. If the carved wooden totem in the middle of the restaurant and the arboreal architecture are any indication, Anse Chastanet draws from traditional spiritualism to emphasise the role and importance of nature. The Treehouse has a traditional, fine-dining format but with truly tropical creations and in a candlelit, natural setting free of any distractions. Everything here has that fuller, more intense flavour that comes from the organic method, adding that little something to an already special evening. The main bar has a great variety of freshly made daiquiris, the mango competing very closely with the classic strawberry flavour; and on certain evenings is the scene for a band, usually country (experiencing a popular revival, especially among the younger generation), playing everything from the jumping and tumbling classics of Cash and Garth Brooks to the slow, sensitive serenades. From my voyeur’s smoking seat at the bar, it is the warm scene for each of the partners to show off their twirls. Even the staff find it impossible to not respond to the electric rhythm and practically dance their way to and fro across the floor; and even the most wooden of guests (read: this writer) shows off their own moves, and is tempted to join in with a little American whooping and hollering.

Trou-Au-Diable, the beach restaurant has a lighter lunching menu, although even here one can get the catch of the day in a hotpot and other Creole specialities. The Trou-Au-Diable remains the best place to sample the resort’s imaginative cocktails. Anse Chastanet also has the Emeralds restaurant, strictly vegetarian (although considering the high quality of produce here, that is hardly detraction) and the Apsara for Caribbean-Indian cusine – once you learn that there has been a long-established Indian presence on the island, you will no longer think it strange here.

Jade Mountain

jade mountain

Jade Mountain – the name itself has  a certain totemic awe. It is a kind of enigma that fills me with curiosity while staying at Anse Chastanet yet, at the same time, prevents me from investigating further until the very last minute for the ultimate dénouement. If staying at Anse Chastanet is akin to an enlightening experience, then the iconic Jade Mountain is the high temple – and to stay at its top suites is a higher state  of being altogether. After ascending from the ebon-wood reception, Jade Mountain first looms in front of you like a sun-gold monolith, a gigantic carved-stone structure that, one might imagine, stands testament to humanity’s fervour and passion. As you rise up on this grand stairway to heaven, you recognise it for what it really is: an imperial complex of terraces and tiers, floating walk-ways and etheric spires. Walk among the cloud-seeking columns in the grandeur of a mandarin and spot the undulating pools of koi-carp among the care-fully positioned trees and ferns. Jade Mountain is an extraordinary achievement of Nick Troubetzkoy’s, its architect and owner. The inspiration for the resort was the carved jade mountains of Chinese traditional sculpture; and the resort itself epitomises this synthesis of natural and man-made beauty.

The Jade Mountain resort is an experience designed primarily for couples, although anyone can feel and understand the absolute magnificence that abounds here. It is a place that arrests you with sheer wonderment at the power of the universe and of the people in it. Simply put, Jade Mountain provides the perfect setting for the sort of emotional response that is said to be a form of enlightenment in itself.

The Jade Mountain Resort is already luxury beyond your wildest expectations, but as per B Beyond’s search for quality beyond luxury this writer is hosted in the Galaxy Suite, one of a pair of ‘rooms’ on the penultimate floor of the complex. And the high-minded name is fully deserved. Half open to the elements (with the zephyr sent to chill the rooms as welcome – if not more so – than the sun’s rays), one only has to look over the edge of the Suite’s peerless parapet to realise this. Opposite the hotel, beyond the now-invisible town of Soufriere, are the volcanic Pitons overlooking a sapphire bay; it is a stunning sight even for just a few seconds, yet a perennial one for the near-gods atop Jade Mountain. Below and all around are the lands and forests of St Lucia, a viridian sea lapping at the oceans around the bays of the Pitons and the Anse Chastanet beach. At sundown, when the shadowy volcanoes loom out of the distant darkness and the sky is made of diamonds, one can feel the world – the galaxy – pulsating all around; and one realises that, despite the pessimism of ‘our lonely planet’, at this moment one really is the centre of it all, in this time and in this space of glorious mysticism. All this is, of course, coming from hours of lounging and floating on the signature infinity pool that covers up to a third of one’s (still very, very large) suite. The whirlpool bath, while a delightful possibility in itself, seemed to me to pale in comparison next to this sun-speckled pool of iridescent glass tiles.

Looking outwards, one has the visual effect of the pool’s waters sliding over the sides, while the more distant seas themselves slide into the infinite horizon. As with any truly luxury hotel of today, the pool uses an ozone filtration system so that one can enjoy an unadulterated, pure bathing experience. At night, when the water finally be-come a little too chilly for comfort, step back onto the coral, stone and hard-wood floor – a marriage of design – and slip under your bed covers, drifting off to the soothing medley of open space…

Waking up in the morning means a pleasant breakfast of light and airy touches. The mélange-like cocoa tea, despite its initially strange flavour, is an easily acquired taste and instills in one a heavenly sense of well-being that lasts throughout the day (I am later told that the drink is used locally as an aphrodisiac). Dining at Jade Mountain is also a truly B Beyond experience – beyond luxury, beyond the Caribbeans, beyond any mundane conception of ‘haute cuisine’ that you might hold. Aided by one of the most famous New World chefs, Allen Susser, the Jade Mountain kitchen is a paragon of tropical and Far- Eastern styles, both of which are fused to create some of the most exciting, one-of-a kind dishes I have ever tasted. Over the course of a few days, you might well experience most of the world through your taste-buds; and over the course of a single meal you will definitely discover a multitude of totally new flavours and sensations that you have never felt before. It is a testament to the staff at Jade Mountain that they have adapted to the fickle supply from the resort’s organic farm, the Emerald Estate (despite all the associated logistical problems), and have used its superlative produce to create a world-class gastronomy which will surprise you every single day and night. Personal highlights include the succulent sashimi (prepared on-site by the hotel’s sushi-chefs of course); the unsurpassable blue marlin steak, impossibly full of flavour and the melt-in-your-mouth wagyu flat-iron steak. But whether it is the main course or the intermezzo, expect the superb.

The setting is cool: coral stone floor and pillars, the small moonlit pool in the centre and the potted palm fronds transport you to a world of exotic divinity. The sea breeze caresses the warm candle on the table. The staff, in sable uniforms, are courteous but quick to fade from your presence.

Each of the couples dining here impeccably dressed and as dreamily perfect as the hotel itself, shine in their own, intimate limelight. This, the fairytale love story, is the power of Jade Mountain, the effortless grace to bring two people together; after all, how many of the best stories end with the lovers in each others’ arms?

It was on one of these evenings at the Jade Mountain restaurant, somewhat livelier with the addition of a local saxophonist, that I had the opportunity to sit down with Nick and Karolin Troubetzkoy themselves. In addition, there was also renowned British artist Peter Newman, known for his Skystation sculptures. The most interesting topics of discussion focused on the possibility of a Sky-station installation on the Celestial Terrace (a roof terrace with similar views as the Galaxy suite, only on an all-encompassing 360 degree field of vision and an even greater height from which to marvel at; the most romantic setting that you could pos-sibly find in the Caribbean, if not on Earth). The Troubetzkoys and I were also particularly interested to hear of Peter’s new project: sky photography in and around human environments and using a fisheye lens (Metropoly); and also to see one of the initial photographs taken from the Celestial Terrace using a large, vintage 270 degree lens (this essentially allows the shot to curve a little behind the camera).

Inevitably Nick, the luminary behind the two resorts, leads the night with gusto. His laid back, joie-de-vivre approach belies a formidable intellect and wit that, with a single piece of particularly insightful commentary or a solitary turn of phrase, can send the entire table into fits of laughter. Karolin is no less adroit, and indeed much of the night is carried by the back-and- forth between these two great characters.

There are innumerable other superlatives that exist at Jade Mountain, about which I have not fully elaborated: the majordomo assigned to each room with a pager system for immediate contact; the efficiency of the staff as a whole (irreproachable in their quality of service); music at the Jade Mountain restaurant, involving local virtuosos who create a thrilling atmosphere; the Celestial Terrace at the very top of Jade Mountain which holds the very best, most majestic views of all. These are, however, just the tip of the iceberg – the best way to understand that is to go to Jade Mountain and experience the romance for yourself.