Magazine article The Spectator

La Belle Hélène

Magazine article The Spectator

La Belle Hélène

Article excerpt

A rain-sodden July break in Ireland's Dingle Peninsula hadn't quite measured up.

Thus it was that Mrs Ray and I felt obliged to take a November holiday in St Lucia, sans kids.

We planned to lie on a beach all day reading books and to sit on a barstool all night drinking rum. And we did. To our surprise, though, we ended up doing a whole lot else and had an absolute hoot.

St Lucia is known as La Belle Hélène or Helen of the West Indies because, like Helen of Troy, it was furiously fought over by two great powers. Indeed, it switched between French and English control a dizzying 14 times between 1635 and 1814. As a result, the island is somewhat confused. The towns and villages all have French names, but the St Lucians drive on the left (most of the time) and the education and legal systems are English. So, too, is the official language, although the local patois is a mixture.

We based ourselves near the capital, Castries, in the north-west of the island. East Winds Inn is small but perfectly formed, comprising a few cottages set in 12 acres of beautiful tropical gardens, with an elegant open-plan club house slap bang on a palmfringed beach. Its prices are all-inclusive which meant we drank far more than was good for us, the devilishly good-looking barman, Titus, plying me and Marina (especially Marina) with an endless supply of astonishingly fine cocktails. The food could perhaps have been better, but the hooch, service and location were unbeatable.

Marina spent the first morning sitting in the sun outside our cottage just beaming from ear to ear. Hummingbirds and love doves fluttered about, and she laid out crumbs of banana bread to entice the shyer exotic birds.

Foolishly, she also befriended Tom, the East Winds cat, who, the moment St Marina of Assisi's back was turned, pounced on the prettiest crumb-munching birdie and scoffed it whole. It took three of Titus's exquisite creations for Marina to recover.

Equilibrium restored, we spent the next couple of days idling, or swimming, snorkelling and kayaking in the wonderfully calm, cliché-blue sea. It was tempting not to stray from East Winds at all, so comforting and all-embracing was it, but eventually we decided to sample life outside our cocoon. …

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