ST. LUCIA: Visit for the gorgeous scenery
Hit the BBQ in St. Lucia, writes NATALIE CHALK
"NO pressure, no problem" is the motto of the smiling islanders of St Lucia.
And under the shade of a mango tree, a rum punch in hand, watching the sailboats bobbing about in the Caribbean, life's trials and tribulations seem a very long way away.
Click here for fantastic St. Lucia offers
My base for the week is the Smugglers Cove Resort & Spa on the northern tip of St Lucia.
Staying in a bright blue beach hut, just a few steps from my mango tree, I come to learn how paradise works.
Days begin with a feast laid on for breakfast. I befriend the cook who stands proudly at the hotplate ready to prepare omelettes, fried eggs and French toast. She is so easygoing and her smile never wavers.
In fact all the waiting staff here serve with a warm "hey sweetie" or "hey baby", which is most endearing.
After my fill of eggs, cheese and ham, I take a chilled mixed fruit drink down to the beach, find my mango tree and do nothing at all. I watch a fellow guest coax a friend to join them on a pedalo and within 10 minutes they are just a dot on the horizon.
I simply tilt my hat over my eyes and hope for no more interruptions as I too drift away.
The sound of soca music, combined with the smell of barbecue, stirs me back to life. I roam over to find the source of it for lunch.
The resort is all-inclusive so I pile my plate high with sizzling meats, fish and salad, grab a beer, then retire for the afternoon with a book beside the pool.
In the evening, I get dressed up for dinner and cocktails. The dress code is "elegantly casual" so it's nothing too strict.
The catch of the day is cooked to perfection at the Waterside Creole Grill, which has fantastic views.
I then settle down for the evening to watch the live entertainment of a fireeating and limbo dancing show, while I work my way through the cocktail menu.
Days like these don't come around very often, which is why a holiday in the Caribbean is a lifetime must. A lot of holidaymakers at Smugglers Cove never leave the resort. And why would you when there is a pub, a sports bar, cocktail bar and four restaurants? Drinks They all serve premium branded drinks and food is on offer until midnight.
There's also a gym, spa, and seven swimming pools dotted between the chalets and beach huts. Plus the resort has a private beach.
It's great for couples who want to just hoover up the all-inclusive food and booze and relax.
It's also appealing to families as there are kids' clubs for tiny babies through to teenagers who get the chance to experience movie-star makeovers, cooking and beach cricket.
While staying put at the resort is tempting, I've heard a rumour that there's plenty on the island to explore.
So after a few days of rest I head for the main lounge area where the day's activities, including nature walks, dance classes and archery, are all listed.
I opt for a boat trip to the south of the island and spend the morning lying on a catamaran sailing towards the famous Pitons. These two volcanic mountains rise 770m and 743m from the sea floor.
You can see the majestic stacks, which are covered in lush green vegetation, from almost every part of the island. So unique, they are a symbol of St Lucia and its beauty.
We get the chance to snorkel in the waters around them but instead of joining the queue on the boat for flippers and masks, I can't resist taking a giant leap off the side into the warm water for a swim.
Coral reefs cover about 60% of the marine area around the Pitons and 168 species of fish live here too.
I marvel at the vivid colours, the constantly moving shoals of fish and the swish of underwater plant life in this amazing silent world.
Jazz Back on board the boat, I meet a new pal who is one of the staff. She calls me "girlfriend" and befriends everyone on the day trip. She gets us all up dancing to the soca music on deck as we sail back in the evening along the coast.
With a craving for more Caribbean beats, I head for the St Lucia Jazz Festival, the island's big crowd puller staged annually at the beginning of May.
It started more than 20 years ago as a marketing event to boost the island's profile. Over the years it has transformed into a fullon festival, with a varied line-up which attracts some of the world's biggest stars.
The headlining act is none other than soul diva Diana Ross.
The crowd go wild when she appears with her trademark big hair and long, sparkling gowns. She's still got it.
Surrounded by people laughing and dancing, we sing along to Baby Love, Ain't No Mountain High Enough and Endless Love.
I also see Toni Braxton, the Gypsy Kings, Ziggy Marley, son of Bob, and South Africa's Hugh Masekela.
In previous years the performers have included the late Amy Winehouse, UB40 and Rihanna. Not wanting the night to end, I carry on to the nearby Fire Grill bar where musicians are jamming for the hardcore fans into the early hours.
The culinary concept here is "food over fire" and you can get a delicious flamegrilled steak or a Texanstyle barbecue done on the cast-iron smoker. Or, lounging on the sofas in the bar, you could get stuck into the range of rums on offer as they have the largest collection on the island.
As dawn breaks, I crawl into bed, then spend the next day under my mango tree.
This heady mix of thrills and chills makes St Lucia my paradise island.
For incredible St. Lucia offers, click here
SEVEN nights all-inclusive at the four-star Smugglers Cove Resort & Spa with Virgin Holidays, including flights and transfers from Gatwick, start from £1,089, saving up to £110.
Prices per person based on two adults sharing standard room, including taxes and charges which are subject to change, departing between November 4 and 18. See virgin holidays.co.uk, call 0844 557 3859 or visit Virgin's stores in Debenhams and House of Fraser nationwide.
START your holiday before you even take off in the stylish V-room at Gatwick or Manchester. It's £20 for adults and £12 for children.