DARK, wild , mysterious, and rebellious. No, not the pirate ship that has sailed eerily into view as I glide through warm, azure Caribbean waters but the enigma that is Amy Winehouse.
The singer has just returned to Saint Lucia, the tropical paradise
where I am currently brushing up on my breast-stroke, to, ahem,
concentrate on her music.
And it is easy to see why the most
controversial and inspiring entertainer of her generation would choose
such an island to write her third album.
As a musician it is the
kind of place in which the creative juices must flow as sweetly as the
local rum - the elixir that is the lifeblood of this bewitching West
Measuring only 238 square miles, with a
population of a little more than 160,000, Saint Lucia certainly packs a
punch way beyond its tiny dimensions.
Its jagged, rainforest-clad peaks, soar dramatically out of the turquoise sea giving the island a raw, untamed feel.
Yet it has the easy-going vibe you would expect from a tropical pearl in the Caribbean necklace of islands.
Once the favourite haunt of pirates Saint Lucia is now the preserve of holidaymakers from around the world.
families, water sports, cricket, eco-holidays - it ticks all those
boxes and lots, lots more. You don't even have to worry about
hurricanes, they only come once a century.
But there is
something different about this volcanic island, a sense of
individuality, an island that offers so much more than the soft veneer
of sand, sea and hotels.
"La Belle Hélène" (the beautiful
Helen), as the locals affectionately call their island, could soon be
renamed in honour of Miss Winehouse herself if the Lucian folk have
She fell under Saint Lucia's spell earlier this year,
spending two month's there trying to "get away from it all", and it
seems the island has fallen in love with Amy.
The Back to Black
diva is one of the main draws at next month's Saint Lucia jazz festival
- the hottest event of its kind in the whole region - and is once again
making the most of her favourite holiday haunt.
pride of place in Saint Lucia and nothing quite typifies the island's
sheer verve than the Friday night jump-up at Gros Islet.
fishing village is right next door to the tourist centre of Rodney Bay
and the jump-up has always drawn a good mix of locals and tourists for
the last 20 years.
There aren't that many places left in the
Caribbean where locals and tourists meet as equals. Barbados has the
well-mannered Oistins Fish Fry, and Antigua has the even more sanitised
Shirley Heights, but Gros Islet is another thing entirely.
This is where you experience Caribbean life at its rawest, a place that makes the ice in your rum and coke shake to the beat.
the place where red-eyed Rastas, piratical-looking islanders and lithe
local girls come face to face and body to body with tourists gripping
their cameras, wallets and spicy chicken with equal measures of
It's a kind of dirty dancing meets Notting Hill Carnival in one raucous and narrow street.
The smell of BBQ mingles with the smell of dope. Yes, it's edgy, but it's hardly "dangerous".
But times are changing in Saint Lucia according to the country's amiable Minister of Tourism Allen Chastanet.
A world class yachting marina, which he hopes will "tap in" to the Antiguan sailing fraternity is now close to completion.
along with the delightfully picturesque Beausejour cricket stadium -
which recently played host to a rare England victory over the West
Indies - and a sprinkling of new luxury hotels, will hopefully boost
Saint Lucia's burgeoning popularity which has seen tourist numbers
Those who decide to take the eight-hour
direct flights from the UK will be rewarded with a myriad of
attractions and opportunities to explore.
Saint Lucia's emblems,
the Gros and Petit Pitons are two 2,500ft fingers of rock pushed up
like a gigantic V-sign by volcanic activity.
The energetic can climb them in around two hours, to be rewarded by unforgettable views.
the nearby sulphur springs you can bathe in a warm, mineral-rich river,
undoubtedly the best way to get a feel St Lucia's effervescent
They're not far from the colourful little town of Soufriere - French for sulphur mine - on the south-west coast.
landscape underwater is as dramatic as above, and there are interesting
dive sites to suit all levels of competency off Saint Lucia's west
Most hotels, including the first class Royal Lucian Hotel
in Rodney Bay where I am staying, and resorts offer a range of
watersports including water skiing, windsurfing and kayaking.
land lovers, there are guided trails through the rainforest that afford
stunning island views and the chance to see exotic birds and plants
including the elusive Saint Lucian parrot, hummingbirds, lizards and
If that all sounds like too much hard work then why not
kick back on the island's idyllic beaches, although not the best in the
Caribbean, and dream of lazy days.
As for me, I'm desperately
trying not to get captured by the pirate ship - it is actually the one
they used as the Black Pearl in the Piates of the Caribbean films - so
I at least stand a chance of hearing Amy's third album.Saint Lucia highlights1. Pigeon Island
first European invader, a French pirate know as Jambe de Bois (Wooden
Leg) based himself here in 1550 to attack Spanish ships.
English landed in 1605 and, over the next couple of centuries the
island changed hands 14 times between England and France. It has good
beaches and impressive 18th-century forts and is the location for the
Saint Lucia Jazz Festival each May.2. Beausejour Stadium
of the cricket action. The best-appointed ground in the Caribbean, it
is in a natural bowl a few miles from Rodney Bay and within easy reach
of the capital, Castries.3. Rodney Bay
main tourist area, with a magnificent, sweeping sandy beach, Reduit,
and a marina that was carved out of swamp land in the Seventies. It has
accommodation to suit every pocket, and is a major watersports centre.
A causeway links it to Pigeon Island.4. Castries
The capital and commercial centre, home to more than a third of the population and the inter-Caribbean airport.
destroyed by fire in 1927 and 1948, it still retains a few historic
nooks and crannies. Bustling but friendly, with a good market; try the
local speciality, roti, a curry dish of meat and potato wrapped in a
flatbread, from one of the many little restaurants. Or visit the
duty-free shopping complex or take a boat to the nearby islands of
Guadeloupe and Martinique.5. Marigot Bay
This deep, natural harbour surrounded by densely forested hills is arguably St Lucia's most beautiful bay.
he British have a long history at St Lucia's Marigot Bay, probably the most enchanting inlet on the entire Caribbean island.
1778 the British fleet hid in this narrow finger of water, disguising
their ships by tying palm fronds to their masts before sailing out to
surprise the French navy.6. Saint Lucia Jazz Festival
May 5-10 is the island's best known festival and is a magnet for
visitors who come to see internationally renowned musicians perform in
venues around Saint Lucia.
This year's lineup includes Amy Winehouse, Estelle and Chaka Khan. For more information see www.stluciajazz.org
Brown stayed at the Royal St Lucia Hotel in Rodney Bay. Rooms start
from $130 dollars a night on a room only basis. Breakfast, Half-Board
and Full Board options are available. For further information visit www.rexresorts.com