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Mud, massages, mousse on St. Lucia

Rendezvous, a couples-only resort situated on a 2-mile stretch of beach in St. Lucia, offers cabanas for two.

Diane Bair for The Boston Globe

Rendezvous, a couples-only resort situated on a 2-mile stretch of beach in St. Lucia, offers cabanas for two.

CASTRIES, St. Lucia — We had only been at Rendezvous, our “couples” resort, for an hour, and we were flunking Romance 101. Maybe it had been a mistake to book the romantic candlelight dinner on the beach for our first evening here. The wind kept blowing out our candles so it was too dark to read the menus. Plus, we were famished — all we’d had to eat all day were airplane snacks.

Just a few yards away, the other hotel guests — those who hadn’t opted for private dinners — were filling up plates with smoked ribs and chicken at the buffet. It smelled heavenly.

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My ravenous husband, Paul, disappeared for a moment, and came back with a telltale smear of barbecue sauce on his chin. Settling back into his chair, he flipped over backward and toppled onto the sand, sending a rib bone flying. I was still laughing when our server arrived with the champagne. She gave me a nasty look that said, “You’re not getting this concept, sweetie.”

Romance and St. Lucia are hopelessly entangled. Even the Poconos, with their heart-shaped tubs, can’t hold a candle to this island when it comes to all things mushy. Set in the Lesser Antilles, in the windward islands of the Eastern Caribbean, this outrageously lush islet has won a slew of awards for “most romantic destination” and “best honeymoon locale,” garnering every gooey endorsement short of the seal of approval from Cupid himself.

What does this Caribbean island have that the others don’t? Is there something in St. Lucia’s pointy, emerald-green Pitons — its signature mountains — that inspires ardor? As a married couple juggling careers and kids, we put it to the test: Would the island cast its spell on post-post-honeymooners like us?

At the marine reserve in St. Lucia's Soufriere Bay, you can snorkel in clear water between the twin peaks of the Pitons.

Diane Bair

At the marine reserve in St. Lucia's Soufriere Bay, you can snorkel in clear water between the twin peaks of the Pitons.

Hedging our bets, we chose Rendezvous, an all-inclusive couples-only resort. Paul was a tad skeptical. “I’m picturing vibrating beds and serenading waiters,” he said on the flight from Boston. Not to worry — this 100-room resort is chic, not cheesy, set in tropical foliage along a 2-mile stretch of Malabar Beach. Its idea of romance is pretty agreeable: hammocks and beach cabanas built for two, and complimentary water sports like kayaking, sailing, and diving, great for active couples like us. What you won’t find: TVs. “TVs are true romance-killers, no?” a hotel staffer commented. We noticed something else unusual: Nobody was tapping away on smartphones. Couples were focused on each other, not on tiny screens. Was romance in the air, or was something else going on (crummy reception)? Either way, we liked it. And, yes, we did kind of like the rose petals strewn on our (non-vibrating) bed.

They say you will extend your life if you bathe in a sulfurous volcano mud bath at Sulphur Springs Park. We say your life will only seem longer as you stew in the smelly ooze. Yes, it’s sort of interesting to walk the boardwalk past the steaming caldera, but it is way stinky, like all volcanoes. That said, if you can stand the smell, soak away — “Soufrieans have the softest skin!” because of this, our taxi driver told us.

What could be more romantic than a massage-for-two? Well, the great thing about a massage is closing your eyes and zoning out, as expert hands work their magic on your muscles. With the two massage tables placed side by side, our masseuses kept bumping into each other and apologizing. And it was rather disconcerting to hear my husband moan as a lovely St. Lucian woman rubbed oil on him. For his part, Paul worried that the cranial massage was giving him hedgehog hair — and hoped he wouldn’t fall asleep and snore. (Yes and yes.) Later, we both agreed: Massage is a wonderful thing, but sharing it is weirdly unromantic.

We were clutching each other as we traveled to the rain forest, but it wasn’t about romance: We were trying to stay inside our cab as it barreled along the island’s twisty, turning roadway. But, if your eyes aren’t clamped shut in terror, the drive along the west coast of the island is gorgeous. Deep green hillsides, dotted with red ginger and neon-orange Flamboyant trees, plunge to turquoise seas where the Atlantic and the Caribbean meet. “This rivals the Hana Highway [in Maui],” Paul said, as we swerved to miss a cow.

We met our guide, Smith Philip, at the trail head at Enbas Saut (hiking with a guide is required here). The Central Rainforest Reserve covers 19,000 acres, and this is no wimpy nature walk: The trail descends about 1,000 feet, amid air so damp you could drink it. We were lucky enough to see the rare St. Lucian parrot, the national bird — and luckier still when we reached towering waterfalls, where we could cool off with a swim. Even though we were dirty, sweaty, and not alone, this was romantic. And it got sweeter still: Philip handed us “good luck seeds” that he’d found on the trail, half red and half black. “If you keep it, your mate will stay true,” he said.

Couples disagree sometimes, but Paul and I are in total synch regarding chocolate: It’s a gift from the gods, and one of the four major food groups. So we were the perfect demographic for Boucan, the restaurant at Hotel Chocolat (related to the chocolate shop on Newbury Street, but with a key difference: It’s an actual hotel). Set within a cocoa plantation, Boucan offers the incredible option of chocolate dishes in all three courses of your meal. (They use cacao as a subtle infusion in many dishes, so everything doesn’t taste like dessert.) Perhaps a citrus salad with white chocolate dressing, followed by cacao-marinated red snapper, and doesn’t a beef rib eye with dark chocolate port wine sauce sound lovely? And for that happy ending — would milady prefer the native chocolate tart or espresso and dark chocolate mousse?

Feeding each other bites of these dishes, we were quiet for a moment. “Listen,” Paul said. “Do you hear what I’m hearing?” It was a chorus of moans and murmurs coming from other tables, as the other diners enjoyed their meals. On the way out, we asked another couple what they thought of the food. “Better than sex!” the woman said in a British accent.

To fully immerse oneself in St. Lucia’s glories, a snorkel or dive trip to the marine reserve in Soufriere Bay is a must do. You get great views of the island’s shoreline as the boat skims along, and then you’re deposited in gin-clear waters between the twin peaks of the Pitons. Outfitters offer boat dives to the walls beneath the Pitons, where coral gardens and shipwrecks await, and snorkeling trips to the reef that lies just off the beach. Holding hands, we hovered amid a whirl of tropical fish — St. Lucia is home to more than 150 species — and enjoyed our first-ever seahorse sighting. On the way back, there was music playing and local beer (Piton) flowing, capping an amazing day. And you know what they say about the couple that plays together.

Some hits, some misses, but one thing was clear: St. Lucia had worked its magic. We definitely felt that romantic buzz — even back home, cuddled up on the couch watching the Celtics on TV.

Diane Bair can be reached at bairwright@earthlink.net.
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