Why it’s time to re-energise with flower power on botanic beauty St Lucia

blood, hanging crab claws and giant fishtails surround me, heightening my
senses – although I’m in an environment far more calming than these strange
horticultural names might suggest.

Working my
way through acres of palms, I brush past scarlet ginger lilies, fragrant
frangipani and a tree offering trailing black berries, which my guide Coady
describes as Bob Marley’s dreadlocks.

I’m in St
Lucia’s Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens (diamondstlucia.com) – six acres of
horticultural exotica and a UNESCO world heritage site, featuring a natural
gorge with health-enhancing waters.

This is
where dragon’s blood, a striking deep red sedum, provides creeping ground
cover. Spiky red flowers with yellow tips give the illusion of suspended crab
or lobster claws, and huge palms mimicking giant fishtails form part of the
exotic planting within this tropical landscape, part of the 2,000-acre
Soufrière Estate.

points out wafts of lemon grass, which make a great alternative to regular
mosquito repellent if you rub the leaves on your skin, as well as St John’s
Bush, which is said to ease menstrual cramps, and the aptly named tree of life,
which apparently aids the immune system and helps reduce cholesterol.


Further on,
we reach the Diamond Waterfall, not the most imposing at 50ft high, but whose
therapeutic mineral-laden cascades have tinted the rocks a blend of yellow,
green and purple. It is served by sulphur springs upstream, its mineral-rich
volcanic waters spilling over the rockface.

While you
can’t swim at the foot of the falls, hot spring baths nearby should satiate
anyone’s desire to take a dip. It is said that bathing here aids rheumatism,
respiratory complaints and ulcers.

soil is the key to the lushness of this Caribbean island, situated between
Martinique and St Vincent and to the northwest of Barbados, its richness and
tropical rains encouraging even the most difficult of plants to thrive.

300,000 years ago, volcanic activity created a legacy of beauty in the famous
Pitons – Gros Piton and Petit Piton – majestic mini mountainous lava globes
rising from the Caribbean Sea, and now covered with vegetation and trees.
They’ve become prime hiking trails accessible to tourists wanting to get a
better view.

between those Pitons like a perfectly fitted Cinderella’s slipper is the
luxurious Sugar Beach resort, itself a botanical paradise spread across more
than 100 acres of tropical forest with enough planting to mimic Diamond
Botanical Gardens’ flora and fauna.

Formerly a
working sugar plantation, the property has a long history of owners including
Lord Glenconner, famously known for his friendship with Princess Margaret, and
is now owned by the Green family, owners of The Connaught and Claridge’s in
London, and managed by Viceroy.

super-luxe with white-on-white interiors, a plunge-pool in each accommodation
and butler service. But its stand-out beauty lies in the majestic scenery which
envelops it. From one end of the large swimming pool near the beach, it feels
like you could touch Petit Piton’s almost vertical charcoal-coloured rockface.

Following a
steep meandering road down from the barriered entrance, there’s no indication
that Sugar Beach houses 105 resort accommodations and 25 residences, because
they are all so subtly positioned, from the beachfront bungalows which overlook
the shimmering white sand imported from Guyana, to luxurious, vast villas
secreted among the plantings of palms, flamboyant trees and other tropical


star Matt Damon reportedly rented out the whole resort in 2013 to celebrate the
renewal of his wedding vows, inviting George Clooney, Ben Affleck, Jennifer
Garner, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones to the celebrations, although
Sugar Beach staff remain tight-lipped about any celebrity presence.

An enviable
collection of modern art ranging from the likes of Andy Warhol to Damian Hirst
provides a contemporary twist, adorning walls throughout, even in the
well-equipped children’s club.

Sugar Beach
was the first resort on the island to re-open after the pandemic, and wisely
kept the gardeners on throughout lockdown, explains head gardener Julian

gardens have evolved over the years, as landscapers had different ideas. We’ve
tried to avoid the use of imported materials and plants which are going to
become invasive,” Julian explains.

A major
refurbishment – the resort closed for five months last year – has produced nine
new luxury accommodations, upgraded culinary outlets, a beachside fitness
facility, a refreshed spa and a new main pool area, as Sugar Beach celebrates
its 30th anniversary this year.

You can
dine on oysters and Tomahawk steak in the grand colonial splendour of The Great
Room or go to the beach for more informal pizza, pasta and tacos at the Bayside

including bananas, mangoes, coconuts and avocados are pointed out in the
regular garden tours, which are conducted by the horticulturalists on site.

Much of the
produce goes into the salads, salsas, sauces and other delicacies on the menus,
or is incorporated into the plethora of cocktails served in the stylish resort

is big here – from yoga to Piton hikes, rainforest spa treatments featuring
natural products, and gentle walking trails where you may spot hummingbirds,
will certainly encounter lizards, and according to one young guest, may come
across the odd scorpion.

Deep within
the network of tropical planting is a rainforest spa, a lantern-lit long wooden
corridor leading to treehouses on stilts, perched high above the ground and
fringed by a stream. Here, singles or couples can have a range of treatments,
many with a nod to the landscape – bamboo massages, body scrubs made from
cinnamon, and coconut and sulphur mud wraps to detox and relax.

But if a
hotel beauty treatment feels a little sterile, there are natural remedies a
short drive away, which will provide a grittier, smellier experience

out, I dunk myself in toe-curlingly hot muddy water at Sulphur Springs –
Soufrière (the former capital) gets its name from the French meaning sulphur
mine – slathering myself in gritty, sand-coloured volcanic mud, known for its
exfoliating and skin-enhancing properties. The site is a short walk from the
edge of the crater known as La Caldera (the cauldron), described as the
Caribbean’s only ‘walk-in’ volcano.

waiting for the mud to dry on my skin, an artistic aide war-paints me with a
necklace of charcoal-coloured mud for fun, before I wash the whole lot off in
another slightly less scalding pool. The healing mud is said to relieve sunburn
and ease sore joints and arthritis. My skin feels smooth, soft and refreshed.

But it is
the sight of the crater nearby, a rocky landscape dotted with mud pits of
scalding bubbling water throwing up clouds of smoke and steam, which really
sets my skin tingling.

Here, the
pungent, rotten-egg stench of sulphur billowing from the cracks in the earth
catches your throat, and the stark landscape is far removed from the lush oasis
its volcanic nutrients have served in the nearby botanical garden. At least the
smell keeps the snakes and spiders away, our guide John says, grinning.

While the
volcano hasn’t erupted in thousands of years, it is still active and the crater
around which we stand is now cordoned off. Yet John recalls that as a child, he
and his friends would picnic and play on the hot sulphur-infused terrain,
dodging those deadly bubbling pools as they went.

All that
changed 33 years ago, he recalls, when a tour guide jumped rather too hard on
the surface and the earth gave way, resulting in him suffering second-degree
burns. That’s why we are now only allowed to observe the scene from a distance.

In the heat
of the day, the lush forested oasis of Sugar Beach is beckoning, as we wend our
way down to the beach, past deep red crotons, phoenix and areca palms, coral
hibiscus and sizzling scarlet flamboyant trees. Hanging crab claws and dragon’s
blood never felt so inviting.

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