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TRAVEL

Welcome to the Island of Love, St. Lucia

If this lush and luscious island could cast its spell on an accidental singleton, surely it would make couples swoon.

The mountains of St. Lucia are gorgeous against the sea.Christopher Muther/Globe staff/file

How to feel like the biggest loser in the game of love? Go to a couple’s resort on an island famed for honeymoons. Alone.

“Will it be just the one of you, then? Only you?” every server will ask, with just a tinge of pity. Yep. Only me. Clear away that extra wine glass.

Chalk it up to the Age of COVID, when uncertainty reigns: Will the PCR tests be negative? Was I exposed to a Covidian co-worker? And so it was that Diane landed on St. Lucia alone, to check out its romantic charms. If this lush and luscious island could cast its spell on an accidental singleton, surely it would make couples swoon.

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In terms of street cred, St. Lucia has won the World Travel Award’s “leading honeymoon destination” for 12 years — every year since 2009 (except for 2013, when the island lost, inexplicably, to Antigua/Barbuda). They won again this past October, receiving the lion’s share of 2 million votes. Look at any “most romantic” travel list and you’ll find St. Lucia. What is it about this place that makes it tops in the lovey-dovey travel category? Is it marketing, or is it the real deal? Here’s what our intrepid reporter discovered as she boldly went solo into the land of love.

’The Bachelor’-esque dream date setting

Swilling champagne in an infinity pool overlooking the sea is the stuff of dating reality shows. On St. Lucia, it’s an everyday occurrence. Mother Nature provides a dramatic backdrop for romance. In fact, the island has served as the setting for “The Bachelor: UK” and “Married at First Sight: Honeymoon Island,” among other shows. Two green-drenched peaks, the Pitons, are the island’s hallmark feature, lapped by turquoise waters and a ring of pearly sand aptly-named Sugar Beach. Hillsides are a tumble of pink and red wild ginger, dotted with gemstone-colored homes and buildings.

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Apparently, nothing says “romance” like slathering each other with sulfurous gray ooze — what else would explain the appeal of the mud baths at Sulphur Springs, a beloved tourist hotspot? Most couples stay just long enough to grab some goofy selfies for Instagram; it’s pretty stinky. The island even offers up a perfect place for a proposal: sparkly Diamond Falls, at Diamond Falls Botanical Garden. The waterfalls change color throughout the year, due to the mix of rainwater and volcanic material, but they’re always enchanting.

The waterfall at Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens in St. Lucia.

A loaf of cassava bread, a jug of rum

Does a sunset picnic on the beach ring your romantic chimes? St. Lucia can definitely deliver the goods. Vendors sell fresh mangoes and other delicious things from the open-air stalls at Castries Central Market. Chocolate? They grow cocoa here, so it’s easy to find a fabulous bar or truffle, if that’s the way to your beloved’s heart. Everyone’s buzzing about Cacao Saint Lucie in Canaries, owned by pastry chef Maria Jackson. In addition to selling toothsome European-style chocolates, they offer a chocolate-making workshop, a fun activity for couples who share a sweet tooth. In the adult beverage category, there’s Piton Beer (and a craft brewery), but tourists go for the rum every time; the ones to try in St. Lucia are Bounty and Chairman’s Reserve. These days, dining out is complicated because of COVID, so most travelers stick to their resorts, grab takeout, or get dinner at an outdoor eatery. (A local favorite to try: The Coal Pot, overlooking Vigie Cove; www.coalpotrestaurant.com.) For a taste of the West Indies, order dorado (a.k.a. mahi-mahi, fabulous with mango hot sauce), green fig (green bananas) and saltfish (St. Lucia’s national dish), cassava bread (best from a roadside bakery), and callaloo soup.

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The couple that plays together…

On St. Lucia, even a hiking excursion can be a heady experience. Trek under a canopy of giant-size ferns and ropy vines in an emerald green, richly scented rain forest, such as the Edmund Forest Reserve or Tet Paul Nature Trail. Is a brisk hike up a mountain your idea of a perfect, relaxing Sunday? Take on Gros Piton, the tallest of the twin peaks. It takes some effort, especially the last straight-up bit, but the views are worth every bead of sweat. You’ll need a local guide to take you up (the same rule applies at most major trails), but he or she will discreetly pretend to examine a native plant if you want to celebrate with a “we made it!” smooch at the summit. Rather get wet? A snorkeling excursion in the bay between the Pitons — one of the most beautiful spots on the planet — is the ultimate St. Lucia experience.

Basically, any outdoor activity your hearts might desire is available on St. Lucia. But you’ll need a strategy for getting around. Renting a car is a hair-raising proposition on these twisty, often rough, two-lane roads. Hiring a taxi is the way to go; most drivers double as tour guides. Taxi companies have set rates for the major attractions, but they’ll follow your itinerary at an agreed-upon price. And it’s a lot cheaper to DIY than to arrange excursions through your hotel. Reliable companies to try include Holiday Taxi Company (www.holidaytaxis.com ) and St. Lucia Taxi Service (www.realsaintluciatours.com).

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(Coco)nuts and bolts

St. Lucia can be pricey. Chat with your significant other about how you’ll spend your precious vacay time before you book lodgings. If lounging at poolside is your M.O., choose a place like the Green Fig Resort (www.greenfigresort.com; from $247 in high season) in Soufriere. You can walk to town and the beach from this hillside resort (views of the Pitons!); the property has three pools and twenty West Indies-style guest rooms. (Its location means lots of stairs, so skip this one if you have mobility issues.) If you’re an active, adventure-y duo, choose an all-inclusive resort that bundles a bazillion activities into the rate. You won’t have to decide “Shall we spring for this?” if it’s already included. Plus, it allows for a bit of time apart; if one of you wants a massage while the other wants to go windsurfing, no problem.

All-inclusive seaside resorts Rendezvous (www.theromanticholiday.com; from $604 per room), and BodyHoliday St. Lucia (www.thebodyholiday.com; from $838 per room) are tops in the romance category. These adults-only sister resorts offer all the elements for grown-up fun: beautiful beaches, great food and drink, comfortable digs, spas, and a mind-boggling list of daily activities, all included, even introductory scuba courses, and motorized sports like waterskiing and tubing. It’s luxury summer camp for the over-21 set. (There are no TVs in rooms, but the Wi-Fi is good.)

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Rendezvous offers beach cabanas for two. Diane Bair

Unabashedly romantic, Rendezvous offers 100 rooms set in gingerbread cottages. Foliage-lined pathways skirt a massive ancient saman tree and lead to Malabar Beach. There’s a champagne bar with nightly tastings and a pianist, and a toes-in-the-sand restaurant, where you can arrange a private, torchlit dinner on the beach. Want rose petals and chocolate in bed? They’ll sprinkle on the fairy dust. This was once a private estate and you feel the personal vibe. Couples show up for Tai Chi, yoga, and chef demonstrations, and set sail on Hobie catamarans or zip around on JetSkis, among a bazillion things to do here. The ambience is low-key and friendly, and the staff will know your name (and your favorite beverage) by Day Two.

Set on a hillside at the tip of the island, 155-room BodyHoliday is an ideal choice for sensualists; daily spa treatments (including a dozen different types of massage and facials) are included in the rate. A stunning, Alhambra-style Wellness Centre is the heart of the resort, a temple devoted to wellness. Couple’s massages? But of course, not to mention a synchronized Abhyanga massage that involves warm oil and four hands (two masseuses). On the waterfront, Body Guards, a.k.a. activity leaders, will teach you how to windsurf, sail, or dive, take you tubing, wakeboarding, or waterskiing, and lead classes that can kick your bootie — and this is just a fraction of what’s happening on any given day. (Which explains why you’ll be ready to sack out on a lounge chair, drinking coconut water straight from the shell, at 4 p.m.) But this is no bootcamp — the goal is rejuvenation and relaxation. There’s ice cream and alcohol. Steel bands and beach parties enliven the night. You’ll head home all aglow and feeling super-mellow, never a bad thing in couple-dom.

Does St. Lucia earn its romantic props? Definitely. But if we ever go solo again, we’ll wear a T-shirt that says “Only me” on the front and “More champagne, please!” on the back.

For current travel COVID protocols, visit www.stlucia.org.


Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com