By Dave E. Leiberman & Laini Miranda
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
When we thought about our ideal honeymoon, all we knew is that after extensive planning for our DIY destination wedding in New Orleans, we (1) wanted to be on a tropical beach with beautiful scenery and spectacular lodging in which we wouldn’t typically indulge, where we could decompress and just be together, and (2) didn’t want to do much planning. We had heard that Saint Lucia had some of the most unusual scenery of the Caribbean Islands (mountains, jungle, volcanoes), and that if we were going there, we had to stay at Anse Chastanet. We didn’t know it when we boarded the plane in New Orleans, but we were on our way to a honeymoon that would truly redefine our notions of a romantic luxury beach vacation.
A slow, adrenaline-pumping car ride up two miles of rocky terrain brings us to Anse Chastanet and its even more exclusive sister resort, Jade Mountain, nestled at the westernmost point of the island of Saint Lucia. The first thing we notice from the top of the mountain is the breathtaking view from every angle: the grand Pitons to our left, the Caribbean straight ahead, and lush jungle to our right. We find ourselves in a World Heritage Site anchored by the twin peaks and the resort’s two bays which are part of a designated marine reserve protecting miles of coral reefs. Both of these ultra-luxury eco-resorts are the creations of a young Nick Troubetzkoy, who straight out of architecture school discovered 600 acres of virgin jungle and had a vision for a resort designed to honor the boundless nature surrounding it.
The entire resort is seamlessly built into the oceanside mountain. The architecture highlights the views, camouflages walls, and celebrates natural touches of luxury like the soaring peaked ceilings in each room, the iridescent recycled glass tiles in each private pool of Jade’s residences, and the koi ponds dotting the layout of Jade’s open courtyard. There is no all-encompassing “roof” to the resort. The refrain we heard from a few of the staff there seemed to perfectly characterize Troubetzkoy’s vision: “Above Anse Chastanet is Jade Mountain, and above Jade is the sky.”
We will remember the details of our honeymoon at Anse Chastanet forever — falling asleep and waking up to the lulling lap of the ocean and peaceful chirps of the birds, our only visible and audible neighbors; epic buffet breakfasts overlooking the blue ocean horizon; red snapper and coconut ceviche lunch on the adjacent Anse Mamin beach, and the most flavorful jerk chicken we’ve ever had. During daylight hours we mountain-biked through the jungle on the property, snorkeled around the reef whenever we felt like it, had delicious tropical cocktails on both beaches (we recommend the St. Lucian Banana Daiquiri), and got amazing massages at the resort’s Kai Belté Spa. In the evenings we sipped champagne on our wrap-around terrace before strolling down to dinner, which one night featured a private, five-course Lionfish dinner served to us under a candlelit canopy on the sand (more on that later)! We couldn’t have dreamed for a more ideal honeymoon.
The rooms at Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain are masterfully designed to avoid two things: (1) artificial air conditioning and (2) the traditionally conceived concept of a roof, or more generally of an enclosed space. Each has its own unique features: one room at Anse Chastanet has a swing and a jungle tree running through it to the sky; one suite at Jade, named best room in the world by Condé Nast in 2016, is around 2000 square feet and features a lit mini-stairway to the bath area, a jacuzzi for exactly two people, and a freshwater infinity pool made of one-of-a-kind, hand-made iridescent recycled glass tiles, that overlooks the ocean and the Pitons (there are 3 Galaxy Sanctuaries with similar features at Jade Mountain).
The private infinity pools in Jade’s rooms range from 450 to over 900 square feet, with a private walkway leading up to the room (your privacy begins well outside your door). Jade’s rooms all come with a personal butler service of Major Domos trained by the British Guild of Butlers. While Jade Mountain reserves exclusive access to guests with rooms on this part of the resort, we were treated to a visit one afternoon.
There is, of course, no such thing as a room with a bad view at either luxury resort. Some rooms at Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain have the fourth wall missing entirely, while others have wooden louvre walls that open to balconies or patios. There is also the The Piton Pool Suite, tucked away in a private hillside setting, and the Beach House, a stand-alone house with a 1600 square foot patio, secluded amidst its own landscaped grounds with a private gated entrance from the beach (this house is fully air conditioned). There are no TVs, radios, or telephones in the rooms, “so that the outside world cannot intrude”. All of the rooms have original art on the walls created by artists who were invited to stay in the room while they made the artwork inspired by the space itself.
Without hyperbole, “Passion Flower” at Anse Chastanet is the most spectacular “room” we have ever stayed in. Calling any suite at Anse Chastanet a “room” is misleading for so many reasons; they would be more accurately described as exquisitely crafted sanctuaries integrated into the mountain, magically extending each space for miles. Passion Flower is a particularly spectacular suite because of its prized location at the top of Anse Chastanet, offering a panorama view of the Pitons to the left and the expansive Caribbean sweeping across the center and to the right. With multiple seating areas across the wrap-around terrace, this 900ish square-foot space is one of those that lacks a fourth wall, instead letting the room open up to the views and fresh air. Sliding mahogany doors of wooden jalousie louver (slat) windows allow great cross ventilation and let you move the “walls” to enable any palatial configuration you desire, while still keeping the light out in the early morning. The ceiling fan above the bed keeps the temperature perfect while you sleep. The long, warmly-lit bathroom with Matisse-like blue figures painted on the white wall, features a double vanity and an open-floor shower the size of a New York City bedroom.
There are so many thoughtful touches in the room that make our stay even more special, from the homemade banana bread and glasses of St. Lucian rum left on our dresser to accompany the fresh lime juice waiting for us in our mini fridge, to the amazing scent of the incense (or mosquito repellent coil) to which we would return each night after dinner, to the turn-down service while we were out that left a card on our bed with a new fun fact about St. Lucia each night.
The food at Anse Chastanet is an incredible (delectable) surprise. We travel by food, letting interesting culinary experiences and unique tastes influence much of how we move through the world. The chefs at Anse are on an entirely different level, each meal a culinary sensation more impressive than the last. Part of this must be due to the Emerald Estate farm where the resort grows its own organic produce, and to the talent and creativity of an all-star culinary team.
Breakfast is served in the gorgeous mountain-top veranda nestled within the treetops of the jungle below. In keeping with the Anse way, there are no walls in any of the dining areas, so you are always surrounded by nature–they even have cute little whale squirt guns to shoo off the birds who visit your breakfast table, though they too are more of a treat than a nuisance. You can opt for the buffet or choose from an impressive menu that will please the health-conscious and the vacationing glutton alike (we tend more towards the latter on this trip). The breakfast buffet alone could satisfy most: cereal bar with home-made granola and all the fixings, English muffins and other fresh baked goods with a selection of lox, ham, various cheeses, homemade jams, seasonal fruits, a fresh juice bar, coffee, tea, and on special occasions hot cocoa from their own estate cacao beans. You can pair the buffet with made-to-order eggs, benedicts, or any number of brunch items from the menu.
For lunch you’d be hard-pressed to do better than a fresh burger cooked right behind you (on the large clay coal pot leftover from Anse Mamin Plantation) while you enjoy an island cocktail with your feet in the sand at Anse Mamin, the smaller beach just next to Anse Chastanet with a castaway island vibe. Take the quick complimentary boat ride or five-minute walk to Anse Mamin for jungle to one side and water on the other. The excellent Jungle Grill and Bar will keep you content all day with several variations of loaded burgers and one of the best ceviches we’ve ever had. Full disclosure: we will try ceviche whenever it’s on a menu and its preparation is often how we rate restaurants (and of course had it at our own wedding). This Signature Coconut Ceviche was out of this world: red snapper with flavors of coconut, lime, chili, and lemongrass served in a coconut bowl with fresh baked plantain chips. Laini doesn’t like to share ceviche, but this bowl had so much fish in it she didn’t even get too anxious when Dave tried to steal it for a few minutes. The Caribbean Slaw with Jerk Chicken is another favorite–the chicken has a slight tandoori flavor to it, which we love. The Green Fig and Saltfish Burger (a popular local dish-turned-burger) is huge and all it’s cracked up to be. We also heard great things about the Jungle Beef Burger, so we’ll have to come back to try that next time. You can enjoy your lunch from your ocean-side chaise, picnic benches under some shade, or bistro tables.
Each dinner we have is more spectacular than the last so it’s honestly hard to recommend one over another. Apsara is the ocean-front Indian fusion restaurant with romantic warm lighting and incredibly inventive dishes. We eat here twice during our four nights, and we have many great martinis and other cocktails here. It seems like everything they make just tastes better than anywhere else we’ve tried it before. Their fire roasted lamb chops, king prawns, and chicken tikka are unbelievable. The catch of the day marinated in ginger and chili served with pumpkin and mint crush and yogurt sauce is particularly interesting and delicious. The Sticky Toffee Pudding with cashew ice cream and caramel popcorn is so rich and flavorful it’s now become the standard off which we measure other desserts. Just thinking about Apsara’s menu makes us want to return to Anse Chastanet immediately.
Another highlight is the five-course lionfish dinner prepared for us by the Apsara chef as a private oceanside dinner with feet in the sand surrounded by lanterns and a romantic white canopy. An invasive species common in the Caribbean, Anse uses this lionfish dinner as a brilliant way to “eat them to beat them.” It would take way too many pages to properly describe each creative course, but suffice it to say each dish is something we have never seen before and we are amazed by how many tastes the chef is able to incorporate into dishes that work so well together. The final course (before a reprise of the sticky toffee pudding, of course) features a pork belly skewer topped with baked lionfish filet, with Malabar spinach purée and a side of lionfish egg sushi, just to give you a sense.
In addition to the special dinners all guests are able to book (such as the lionfish menu, private oceanside dinner, sunset celebration, and private dinner at Anse Mamin), there are also weekly culinary events including Monday Gourmet Dinner and Wine pairing, an Emerald Estate Cacao Plantation Tour and Chocolate Tasting, Tandoori Cooking Class, Chocolate and Wine tasting, and the Sunday Saint Lucian Rum Mixology class.
The service throughout the meals and overall hospitality at Anse Chastanet are exceptional. We feel we get to know each server, who always refers to us by name, and everyone is exceedingly helpful with everything from choosing dishes to arranging activities.
Of the many activities and “extras” available, we experience their snorkeling, mountain biking in the Anse Mamin jungle, and a couples’ spa treatment at Kai Belté.
Snorkeling on the side of the main beach area is very rewarding. Sign out the complimentary equipment at Scuba Center and with such clear water you’ll immediately find tons of tropical fish even close to the shore. We even see a little octopus! A first for us. A complimentary boat takes guests to other snorkel and dive spots for those who want to go out a bit further. While we are not divers, Anse Chastanet is known for their world-class diving, as the entire region surrounding the resort’s waters is an award winning marine reserve (SMMA) which has protected St. Lucia’s spectacular coral reefs since 1995. Beginning just 10 yards from the water’s edge, the Anse Chastanet reef is home to over 150 different species of fish. Scuba St. Lucia, the resort’s PADI 5 Star Dive Operations and DAN (Divers Alert Network) partnership facility offers both beach and boat instructor-led dives, night diving, scuba courses, and dive packages. Their state of the art compressor and filtration system is the first and only of its kind on the island, so if you’re a diver, Anse Chastanet is the place you want to be.
As land creatures, we opt for the mountain bike jungle tour rather than the dive experience. The mountain bikes let us explore more of the beautiful jungle grounds of Anse Chastanet that would have been a shame to miss, and our friendly guide leads us around the eight miles of exclusive trails and teaches us about the many different species of plants, trees, and fruits that grow in the area. We ride top-of-the-line Cannondale F800 mountain bikes, and even though it is a little scary to bike over tree roots and rocks, between our guide and the stability of the bikes, we never feel in danger.
Our “Romance Ritual” massage begins with an incredible chocolate platter from Anse Chastanet’s very own Emerald Estate Farms, followed by an aromatherapy foot soak, dry body brush to remove dead skin, and a candle-lit 60-minute couple’s massage. The spa facility sits next to Apsara by the shore so we are able to let our relaxing treatment continue to soak in on the oceanside lounge chairs afterwards.
We are faced with a difficult decision to make on our last full day at Anse Chastanet: whether to venture over to explore the closest town of Soufriere, known as the heart and soul of St. Lucia, or to lie on the beach at the resort and enjoy cocktails and another delicious grilled lunch. We are fortunate to have had four nights at Anse Chastanet, and having taken a tour the day before to the Soufriere Saint Vincent Volcano, and nearby Diamond Falls Botanical Garden and Mineral Baths, we just crave more beach time and opt for lavishing in leisure.
Anse Chastanet is the perfect place to treat yourself to a honeymoon paradise, even if you didn’t just get married. Our main advice once you’ve made the smart decision to visit: stay one night more than you think!
Complimentary Offerings at Anse Chastanet:
* Anse Chastanet beach with beach chairs and beach towels
* Complimentary use of non-motorized water sports including snorkel gear, windsurfers, sit on top kayaks, Sunfish sailing, Paddle boarding
* Complimentary use of tennis court and equipment
* Complimentary tennis clinic Monday and Wednesday from 9.00 – 9.30 a.m.
* Resort shuttle boat, Jungle Express to beach at Anse Mamin daily for Jungle Beach Bar & Grill, beach activities, jogging and hiking
* Select Guided Walks and Hikes on 600 acre estate with Meno – learn about history and botany
* Yoga daily 8.30 a.m. – 9.30 a.m. and 5.00 – 6.00 p.m. in the beach yoga gazebo
* Paddle board yoga demonstration in the Anse Chastanet bay every Tuesday from 12.15 p.m.
* Creole History Class in the Beach Bar Friday 11.30 a.m.
* Daily Live Entertainment in the Piton Bar except Tuesdays when entertainment takes place in the beach bar
* Library located in the Piton Bar with WiFi internet connection and complimentary guest computer
* Manager’s Cocktail Reception,Tuesdays from 6.30 – 7.30 p.m. in the beach bar
* Underwater Slideshow at the Scuba center, Tuesday 6.00 p.m.
* History, benefits and uses of Aromatherapy presented by Spa Manager, Tuesdays from 5.30 p.m.
* Chocolate Sensory Tasting at Emerald Restaurant, Tuesdays from 10.00 – 10.30 a.m.
* Saint Lucian Rum Mixology Class, Sundays 4:30 – 5:30 p.m.
* Anse Mamin Plantation Walk with Meno, Monday – Saturday from 1:45 p.m.
Anse Chastanet Resort, Soufriere, St. Lucia, 800-223-1108, www.ansechastanet.com; Jade Mountain, 758-459-4000, [email protected], www.jademountain.com.
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