Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 85
May 15, 1998

Last Update 16 May 98 1200ET

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MARTINIQUE: PART 3 BY TOM CARROLL

(Ed Note: The previous two installments of this feature appeared in the March and April 1998 CTRs.)

Martinique-  Part  3,  Atlantic  coast,  the mountains & Habitation
Lagrange by Tom Carroll

We  returned  the  boat  to  the  charter company on August 6 in Le
Marin.  We  then promptly applied ourselves to further explorations
of  Martinique  during  our  remaining  day and a half. Our charter
company  had  reserved  an  air  conditioned, compact Renault at Le
Marin's  Thrifty  Rent-A-  Car.  With  CDW,  it  was  $45. per day,
unlimited  mileage.  The  car  had a stick shift, good for mountain
driving  but ungood for the manually challenged. Expect to pay more
for  an  automatic.  I'd  use Thrifty again as we were pleased with
car,  service  and  the agent's help to the crew in filling out the
rental  contract,  a  French l0l pop quiz. Despite dire predictions
to  the  contrary, we weren't gouged in any way and, in fact, got a
break  by  not  being  penalized  when we returned the car late the
next  day. My U.S. driving license was enough, no local license nor
fees were required.

Driving  in  Martinique  is  on  the right. The arterial thru roads
carry  highway  numbers  as  do most secondary roads. Both are well
marked   with   self-explanatory   international   symbols.  French
comprehension  is  not  needed  to  get  around  though of course a
detailed  road  map is. There are a few special driving rules, e.g.
yellow  diamonds  on  white  backgrounds  signify  when to yield. I
drove  without  full  grasp of those rules, yielding chronically to
the annoyance of unyielding traffic law experts behind me.

Drivers  with  past  experience  in Antillean volcanic islands will
find  driving  here  a snap as will first timers who stick with the
main   roads.   Drivers   who   get   ambitious   and   travel  the
secondary/local  roads  in  the  mountains and mornes (lower hills)
must  remember  the  usual  Caribbean caveat - - these roads can be
extremely  steep,  curving,  narrow and without the comfort of U.S.
style  guardrails.  In  a word - demanding; or, in two words - hair
raising.  The  local  drivers  can  be  madcap. Don't forget: these
drivers  aren't  just  West  Indian, they're French too. Some folks
might prefer a cab or tour bus for mountain driving.

We  had  sailed  the  Caribbean  side  so  we  decided to drive the
Atlantic   side.   Martinique's  hotels,  restaurants  and  tourist
attractions  are  mainly  on  the  Caribbean  side  as  is  typical
throughout  the  Lesser  Antilles.  Caribbean  calm  waters seem to
always  trump  wild  Atlantic  surf  for  desirability  of vacation
spots.  But  Martinique's  Atlantic  side  is  also  developed  - a
feature   unique   in  the  Windwards  -  particularly  its  craggy
southeastern  coast  which benefits from a protective peninsula and
reefs that break up the surf.

Under  clear  skies  we  took  the  windward  coastal highway, N 6,
eastbound  out of Marin and then northwards towards the towns of Le
Vauclin,  Le  Francois  and  Le  Robert.  There  was no shortage of
scenic  inland  and coastal views, though not the dramatic mountain
views  and  gorges  we were to see further north. The coastal towns
were   larger  than  I  expected,  multiple  blocks  of  commercial
buildings  and  busy  with  pedestrian and vehicular traffic. I was
disappointed  to find none had country village looks. Perhaps I was
expecting  Iles  des  Saintes  or maybe even the French countryside
exhibit  at Epcot. But these are working towns, not prettied up for
tourists,  with  an utilitarian look about them. Apparently, people
don't  sit  around sipping aperitifs here. There are numerous signs
of  commercial and recreational boating on this side of the island.
The  sailboats  I  saw  were  fairly  small,  indicative  of  boats
belonging to local, coastal sailors

It  was  our  objective  to  see  several  of  the  Atlantic  coast
attractions.  But  we  were only partially successful. For example,
the  well  regarded  small resort at La Fregate Bleue near Francois
was  on  our list but we passed it up for lack of signs and time to
search.  Though  we didn't know it at the time, there are two small
offshore  islands  near  here  known  as Les Ilets de l'Imperatrice
which   bear   common   ownership  with  Habitation  Lagrange,  our
evening's  destination.  Located  on  Ilets  Oscar and Thierry they
have  5  guestrooms or so apiece and are supposedly among the best,
though least advertised, remote getaways on the island.

North  of  Francois,  highway  N  6 veers inland, westward and away
from  the  coast towards the Lamentin plains, the main agricultural
area,  where  N 6 eventually merges with northbound highway N 1. An
Atlantic  coastal  traveler  should remain on N l, as it soon turns
east  and  develops  into  the  new windward coastal highway on the
outskirts  of  Le  Robert.  The rental car company recommended that
route  in  the  interest  of  staying  on  main  roads.  But in the
travelin'  tradition  we took a serpentine local road, highway D l,
running  north  out  of  Francois  closer  to the coast to reach Le
Robert.  Though  a little narrow, it was reasonably well marked and
a  good  choice.  That  road  allowed us to see the large bay at Le
Robert off Ptne Champomont which we would have otherwise missed.

We  stopped  to  tour  Habitation  Le  Clement, a restored colonial
plantation  house  and  active  rum  distillery. You can tank up at
their  samples' bar before making a purchase or for that matter you
can  just  tank  up.  The  home itself is meticulously restored and
furnished   authentically   in   colonial   antiques.  Grounds  and
outbuildings  are  included  in  the  nominal  admission charge. It
reminded  me of the high quality, preservationist-inspired colonial
restorations  that  are  fairly  common around Philadelphia, Boston
and   other  heritage  U.S.  locations.  There's  nothing  like  it
elsewhere  in  the  Windwards  area  other than additional spots on
Martinique  itself  and  on  Barbados.  Of  course,  this is hardly
surprising  given  the  limited  capital  resources  of those third
world  republics.  Le Clement was the site of a meeting between the
presidents  of  the  U.S.  and  France  less  than a decade ago but
normally  there  are  no  lodgings  here nor is there a restaurant.
Interesting  place  if  you  want  to  drink a little rum while you
historicisize. There were several tour buses here.

We  continued  along the coastal highway wondering if our jobs back
home  would miss us if we played hooky for a few more days. If only
the  puffy  white clouds had aligned themselves into an "n" and "o"
we  would  have diverted to the village of Tartane on the peninsula
known  as  Presqu'ile  de  la  Caravelle  to  check  out the nature
preserve  on  the Atlantic shoreline. When conditions are right the
snorkeling  is  supposed  to be excellent there. We would also have
sought  out Saint-Aubin. The latter is a refurbished colonial house
on  the mainland overlooking the peninsula which offers lodging but
restaurant  service  only  to  its own guests. We scanned the skies
wishfully  but no cloud spoke in opposition to time's tyranny so we
proceeded smartly.

It  was  past noon when we were on the outskirts of Trinite that we
started  to  look  for a luncheon restaurant. We mistakenly assumed
that  we  would see many of them as we drove along. The restaurants
in  this  district  must  be tucked away down by the water or up in
the  hills. In the towns we saw nothing that appealed to us, mostly
luncheonette  type  places, though we didn't systematically search.
Advance  planning  is  needed  to avoid driving around aimlessly if
you  are  planning  to  eat  in  this area. The guidebooks point to
reputedly  outstanding places like Le Brin d'Amour near Trinite and
Le  Madras  in  Tartane.  Perhaps  we drove right past some of them
without  realizing it. I had in mind trying Le Colibri in Morne des
Esses  (somewhere  up  in  the  hills,  west of Trinite and Sainte-
Marie),  favorably  reviewed  several  years ago in Conde Nast. But
I'd  left  the  particulars  on all these places at home (I carried
only  sailing  guides, not conventional guidebooks, to save space).
Two palettes now complained of my packing parsimony.

Past  Trinite  we  beamed  onto  signs  for Primereve, a three star
resort  on  the  beach at Anse Azerot in the Sainte-Marie district.
At  first  we feared it catered exclusively to security freaks. The
entrance  was  gated  -  -  though  unmanned  -  -  so  we  had  to
plaintively  seek  admission  through  a formidable two-way speaker
system.  We  couldn't  get our unseen French-speaking gatekeeper to
open  up  so we dissed their pretentious entry rules by sneaking in
behind  a  delivery  truck.  Willie  Sutton  used a variant on that
technique  once  to bust out of stir. He wedged himself up into the
truck's  undercarriage,  but  we  thought  that  excessive just for
lunch.

We  strolled  along  a  landscaped  lane and eventually found their
restaurant.  In  restraint  of  drooling  we directed only measured
glances  at its outdoor luncheon pavilion. Open to sea breezes with
swaying  floor  palms,  it  was  a  perfect setting for the mid-day
gustatorial  seduction  that seemed to lay await. A genteel gang of
four  - silver, china, crystal and starched white linens - beckoned
us  to  tables  attended  by  waiters bearing trays of indulgences.
Shangri-la,   we   embrace  thee.  But  time  and  our  sightseeing
dalliances  had  conspired  against us. We were devastated to learn
that  past  2:00 p.m - - it was 15 minutes or so past - - . they no
longer  seat.  We  had  thought  ourselves  proper claimants for an
unhurried  multi-course gastronomic extravaganza of the type famous
in  French  provinces.  We  were  aggrieved  for a second reason as
well.  Our  travel  savvy  told us 15 minutes mistiming had filched
from  us  the right to a whole afternoon like this. Lunches of this
order  may  be  preludes  to  an afternoon of sipping beverages and
other  frivolous  pursuits  around the pool, a courtesy extended to
visiting  diners.  We  grimly  looked  around for a vending machine
seeking  at  least candy bars and peanuts. We knew we must conserve
our energy, the next truck might not come for hours.

But  on  the  heels  of  bad  news  came good news - - the poolside
brasseire  was  open  for  sandwiches and drinks. The sandwich menu
had  pictures  which  was fortunate since little English was spoken
here.  While  the  menu selections did nothing to further our plans
for  a  grand  lunch,  the pictures were right up our communicative
alley.  We  lolled  at  a  table  by the pool waiting for our hand-
carved  chicken  sandwiches  which  were  served  on  freshly baked
French  bread.  We  were  consoled.  The help here was friendly and
accommodating,  even  if crazed about punctuality. We walked around
after  lunch  finding  that  the  resort has about 100 rooms spread
throughout  attractive  grounds  in  cottages  and suites. It has a
distinctly  European look and feel about it. Would be worth further
research  for  someone  seeking a comfortable place on the European
touristed Atlantic coast.

It  was  past  mid-afternoon  when  we  resumed  our trip along the
coastal  highway.  North  of  the  town of Sainte-Marie the highway
hugs  the  coastline  providing  dramatic  views  of the Atlantic's
crashing  surf  -  the  waves  have  come unimpeded from Africa. We
entered  the  small  town of Marigot, annotated on our roadmap as a
place  to see folklore festivals . To us, it was the gateway to our
night's  destination.  We were looking for a road to take us to our
lodgings  located  in  the mornes somewhere between Marigot and the
next town north, Le Lorrain.

Marigot  is  scarcely more than a crossroads of the coastal highway
with  secondary highway D 15. I stopped for confirmation thinking D
15  itself  might  be  our  place  to turn. Getting smarter all the
time,  I  carried  a  brochure  to  a young woman standing near the
road.  She  pointed animatedly northwards, "c'est tout pres d'ici",
adding,  "tournez  a  gauche,  a gauche" which by now I was able to
decipher  as  meaning my turnoff was to the left, somewhere not too
far  along  the  road  we were on. But the map showed no such road.
With  best  improvisation,  I  put  my  forefinger and thumb almost
together  in  the  universal sign for "small" and tried, "une route
petite"?  First  a  quizzical look and then it blossomed, "oui, une
gauche petite".

We  were  en  route  to a Bourbon time warp - a restored plantation
some  believed  to  emulate  the  ways  of  pre-revolutionary  high
society  in French colonial times. One travel reviewer implied that
Americans,  especially  non-French  speaking ones, might be seen as
buckskinned  interlopers  in  such a setting or - in the reviewer's
own words - "a little gauche" for the place.

But  now  we knew that good geography had been misidentified as bad
hospitality.  This  was  simply the way to get there - - une gauche
petite.

Habitation Lagrange

We  knew  only  three things for sure about our destination. It was
part  of  a  restored  sugarcane  plantation and rum distillery. We
also  knew  that  it  was  a  small  and  luxurious, with its hotel
bearing   four  stars  and  its  restaurant  deemed  gastronomique,
factors  which  contributed  to  its almost universal acclaim among
professional  reviewers  and  guidebook authors. Lastly, we knew of
its  enlightened  and progressive management - - I had corresponded
with  them by fax before departure and secured an attractive "walk-
in" room quotation in francs.

About  one mile beyond Marigot we spotted a small sign directing us
to  turn left onto a neglected looking country lane which meandered
northbound  into  the  distant mountains. On one side of the rutted
road  were  the  waters  of  Riviere  du  Lorrain,  late  of  those
mountains  and  now  destined for the nearby sea. On the other side
were  the  lagoons  of  Seguineau Agriculture, an aquaculture farm.
Along  the  river  banks  we  saw  blanchisseuses  (laudresses) who
covered  the  rocks  with  laundry  they  had  earlier  beaten  and
scrubbed.  Presently,  we  began  an  ascent into the low hills and
entered  a  milieu  so  remote and thickly forested, jungle really,
that  I  thought  we  had missed a turn. The poor road, the jungle,
the  estrangement from civilization in this primitive setting - all
these  factors  seemed  to suggest a venue for eco-tourism lodgings
not  a  world class hotel. The crew fidgeted slightly. A campsite -
even a luxury one - was not what she had contemplated.

It  is  said that first impressions are the lasting ones. I believe
that  I will long remember my first glimpse of Habitation Lagrange.
The  rainforest glistened in a profusion of color, the aftermath of
a  fleeting  shower.  The  road  opened  ahead to a cleared plateau
framed  by  flowering trees, plants and bushes - a tropical setting
of  such excruciatingly virginal beauty that to progress was almost
to  ravish.  At  the crest appeared this turreted mansion, once the
planter's  house  now  a  chateau  for  travelers.  So  remote,  so
solitary  and so strongly suggestive of a privileged, elitist past.
Lagrange  emerged with ambiguity - - was it real or was it a fairy-
tale apparition, a tropical Brigadoon in the mist?

The  wide-eyed  description  which follows should not be discounted
by  any suspicion that I lack travel sophistication. I have been to
places like this scores of times on the travel channel.

Our  true  latitude  seemed  belied by equatorial heat as we pulled
into  the  circular drive. Still, crew and I bargained that our air
conditioned  car  was  no  loss for what awaited. A discreet plaque
marked   the   threshold.  Embossed  were  four  diminutive  stars,
displayed  by  authority  of Office Departemental du Tourisme de la
Martinique.  No  one came out for our bags but this seemed a wholly
proper  and  fitting  way  to  preserve  the  afternoon's lethargy.
Lagrange's  greeting,  however,  was  tangible  and  memorable. The
dark,  cool  interior  of  the  mansion  embraced us sensually in a
blend  of  tropical sultriness and European reserve. This must have
been  what  it  was like centuries ago. The planter relied on thick
walls,  dark  wood paneling and natural ventilation to vanquish the
heat  of  the  day.  It surely seemed to work. Air conditioning now
would  be  an  affront to that legacy and Lagrange gives no affront
to the past, though its casablanca fans were welcome.

To  the  right  of  the  entrance  hall  was the billiards room and
library.  That  reminder  of colonial amusement and learning was to
capture  me the next morning when I lounged there before breakfast,
finding  a  trove  of  English  titles  among the dominantly French
reading  material.  To  the  left  was a small bar room, capable of
accommodating  perhaps  a dozen drinkers comfortably. That room was
rich  with  the  contrast  of  polished  woods  and gleaming brass.
Assembled  spirits  stood  quiet  sentinel,  tiered in readiness to
slake any thirst that presented itself.

We  had  no  more than entered the spacious, high ceiling main room
when  it  was  called  to our attention that lazy August afternoons
are  not  unprecedented  here.  A  day  much  like  today  had been
captured  on  a  large  mural  on the far wall depicting plantation
society  eras ago. My recollection is that drapes were drawn on the
half-dozen  floor  to  ceiling windows. There remained enough muted
natural  light to show off the exquisite mahogany furnishings, fine
rugs,   ship   models,   sculptures   and  other  West  Indian  and
Continental  period  pieces  which  were  about.  The  room bespoke
aristocracy  this afternoon. But later in the evening it rightfully
claimed royal rank when transformed into an intimate dining room.

Perhaps  we  had  been sailing too long. Maybe we had seen too many
beaches  and  seascapes.  But we found ourselves mesmerized by this
place  in  the  forest. It was not a museum, we were shortly to see
its  resort  credentials.  Nor  was it a theme park exhibit, it was
too  understated  for  that.  Lagrange  asked  us  to  accept  that
pedigree  and pleasure are not mutually exclusive and a fine resort
hotel  might combine the two. We found ourselves willing to examine
that proposal with relish.

On  the  far  side  of  the  drawing  room  we found the unassuming
reception  area.  The  lady  on  duty  sat  primly  behind a period
writing  desk  -  Louis  XIV  by my untutored eye. She spoke little
English  and, I believe, was startled by our unannounced arrival. I
sensed  it  was  not  a  daily occurrence for travelers to suddenly
appear  in  the  middle of the jungle seeking a "walk-in" exemption
from  the  standard low season rate of $275. My letter confirmation
didn't  help much as it had been written in English by the manager.
But  graciousness  didn't  miss a beat as she signified that things
would  be  straightened  out  and in the meantime our bags would be
fetched.  Not  a  word  about  credit cards, imprints or pedestrian
stuff  like that. Of course, there were very few words at all given
the  language hurdle. We followed her upstairs and, in the European
way,  she  showed us the two available rooms in the main house (one
other  was occupied and we had no interest in the fourth, a suite).
The rooms were equivalent, we chose the one with the better view.

Our  high ceiling, oversized room was both modern and 19th century.
The  room  was  adorned  with  hardwood  floors  and furnished with
armoire,  bureau and several other pieces. Prominent was a wickedly
wickered  chaise  lounge  suitable for Empress Josephine. The four-
posted  mahogany  bed  was  canopied and accented with lush fabrics
and  thick  linens.  Creole  and  West Indian period reproductions,
including  art  works of the locale, were here and there. Our room,
like   the  others,  had  two  full  french  doors  opening  to  an
ornamental  iron  work veranda which ringed the entire upper floor.
Outdoor  furniture  was in place for each of the rooms. The veranda
provided  a 360 degree elevated vantage of the surrounding area and
enabled  guests  so  inclined  to stroll around, getting a sense of
how  the  planter would have viewed his grounds. But the planter no
longer  lives here so there are concessions to modernity. The doors
could  be  closed  and the room air conditioned at our election. No
man  suffers  from an air conditioning addiction more profound than
my  own.  But  these  doors opening to the outside were too much to
resist,  so  we  used  the  overhead  fan  and  turned  on  the air
conditioning  only  for sleeping. Incidentally, the setting was bug
free,  no  pests  at all so no need for screens although, as noted,
we did not test that proposition at night.

The  elegance  of  a  bathroom  hardly  excuses  the  inelegance of
mentioning  it,  but this was no ordinary head. The marble bathroom
fully  met  the  expectations  of a modern traveler but did so with
ingenuous  reproductions  of  19th  century  plumbing.  There  were
period  fixtures,  an  antique basin, footed tub and separate water
closet  with  overhead  water  tank and simulated pull chain. I bet
the  planter would have loved the telephone we found in his wc, not
to  mention  the plush bathrobes found in his walk-in closet. Small
touches  show  things  have been thought out here - a little fridge
for  cold  drinks  is  always  welcome  but here it would spoil the
effect  so  it's on the balcony out of sight. We got settled in and
then went for a walk around the grounds.

The  visual  axis  of the property is a splendidly landscaped, free
form  pool.  Sitting  back  at discreet distances from the pool are
the  main  house,  two  smaller  buildings  of complementary design
containing  lodgings, l'ajoula or open air dining pavilion used for
breakfast  and lunch and a building housing the kitchen and service
area.  The  property covers multiple acres and is divided by a deep
ravine  containing  a cascading mountain stream spanned by a rustic
suspension  bridge,  for walkers only, which leads to the back half
of  the  property.  There,  tennis  courts  and  another  stylishly
designed  building  with  several  more rooms are both located. All
together, there are l7 rooms.

The  planter  picked  this  spot  with care. A walk 50 yards to the
edge   of   the   property  opened  up  sweeping  views  of  banana
plantations  in  the  valley  below.  Ominous  late afternoon skies
canopied  a  scene  from Cecil De Mille - easterly zephyrs prompted
thousands  of fronds to sway in seductive unison as if all had been
cast  as  extras  to show off the misted mountains in the distance.
There  was  simply  nothing  else  around, no sign of any buildings
anywhere.  With  the  thickness  of  the jungle I suppose something
could  have  been  100'  away  without  being  spotted.  In fact, I
learned  after  our  visit that there are a rum distillery ruins on
the  premises  but  we didn't see them. When we returned across the
bridge  we  looked below to discover scores of wild orchids growing
in  the  ravine. It would have been easy to miss them - - there are
so many magnificent flowers and formal plantings everywhere.

Doubtlessly,  there was a story behind this restoration and we were
about  to  hear  it. After walking the grounds and taking a swim we
dressed  for  dinner  and  appeared  for  drinks on the stone patio
overlooking  the  pool.  We  were  unfashionably early but were not
about  to  let  arbitrary  custom  deprive  us of seeing twilight's
shadows  on  these grounds. The patio server was not yet on duty so
the  manager came over, introduced himself and proceeded to fix our
drinks  - - les planteurs, naturally, well suited for the location.


At  least  I  think he was the manager. The brochure lists a woman.
Perhaps  they  jointly  manage.  Regardless,  he turned out to be a
great  host.  He  resides  in  one  of  the units with his wife and
toddler  daughter  who charmed the patrons by wandering around with
her  toys, followed closely by a local nanny. We frolicked with her
the  next  day  in the pool. The manager returned not only with the
drinks  but  with several slightly tattered picture albums and with
purpose  aforethought  to  educate us on the details of restoration
illustrated  by  work-in-progress photos. He was multi- lingual and
a  life-long  resident  of  Martinique  whose roots go back several
generations.  If  he  was not the manager he should have been since
he  was a real character and a Gallic counterpart of a Dickens' inn
keeper.

As  we  learned  the  details  there  were  two surprises. One, the
restoration,  really  a  total  rebuilding, took place less than 10
years  ago.  The  second  was  that  the  original building was not
nearly  as old as I thought. The original building on this site was
constructed  in  the  early  l900's.  But  it  was  designed  as  a
reproduction   of   an   l8th  century  creole  mansion.  When  the
restoration  was  done  10  years  ago  the  project,  in  reality,
recreated  the  originally envisioned 18th century mansion. A great
deal  of  the  work  was done personally by the owner, his wife and
other  relatives. In fact, the manager is related to the owner. The
main  building  was  gutted  and  lovingly reborn to look a century
older  than  its  true  age.  The  pool and many of the surrounding
buildings  are  brand new construction. Great pains have been taken
to  produce an authentic reproduction. The goal of authenticity has
been  prodded  and  subsidized  by the terms of tax laws which made
this  sort  of  project  economically  feasible, much like U.S. tax
credits for inner city historical renewal.

Dinner,  as  might  be  expected,  was memorable. We ordered from a
French/creole  menu  presented to us while we were on the patio. It
was  explained  this  provides  the  extra  time  needed for proper
preparation   of   a   gastronomic   meal.   The   manager  offered
translations  and  helpful  suggestions.  Seafood and beef were our
choices,  together with creole appetizers. We had counted ten other
guests  earlier  in  the  day.  There were four tables set although
only  three  were  occupied  for  dinner.  The  other guests seemed
cordial  but we had little interaction with them, couples tended to
be  off  by  themselves.  We  heard French and German spoken but no
English.

We  were  seated  about 8:30 p.m. I wish for this recounting we had
made  more  careful  note  of the particular manner of preparation,
the  herbs  and sauces but with the patio drinks and dinner wine we
were  feeling  pretty  good.  The  effect was like a private dining
room.  The  manager  again  amiably  looked  in on us and his other
guests.  He  dined at the table next to us with people who appeared
to  be  regular patrons. We were well served with neither fussiness
nor condescension.

Sailing  around  the  Caribbean  this  way,  even in a rented boat,
entitles  one  to certain pomps. One of them is to make comparisons
authoritatively  or  at  least  with  authoritative  appearance,  a
pretension  that  I  now  indulge. As crew and I dined we nominated
from  past  experiences  contenders  for  best  in  the category of
intimacy   in   a   Caribbean   gastronomic   setting:   Anguilla's
Malliouhana  Hotel Restaurant and Pimms at Cap Juluca, Fish Pot and
Tastevin  in  Grand  Case,  St  Martin,  the  Garden at Long Bay on
Tortola,  Biras  Creek and Little Dix Bay on Virgin Gorda, Francois
Plantation  on  St.  Bart's,  Coral  Reef Club and Cobblers Cove on
Barbados,  Petit  St.  Vincent  Resort Restaurant on PSV and Cotton
House,   Mustique.   The  winner:  Habitation  Lagrange,  with  one
dissenting  vote  which  was cast for Cotton House. That particular
voter  was  disqualified because she voted for all the other places
also.

I  was  up  at  dawn  for a swim and walk, spending the time before
breakfast   just   looking  around  the  comfortable  library.  The
privileges  that  accompanied  station in life as a matter of right
centuries   ago,  almost  a  divine  right,  absorbed  me  in  this
remarkable  place. Maybe it was what I was reading. I'd picked up a
history  of  the  planters  and  their  very calculated alliance of
convenience   with   the   English  immediately  after  the  French
Revolution.  The  planters  correctly perceived that the revolution
brought  imminent  risk  to  both  their  heads  and  purses. Their
machinations   in   resisting   for  many  decades  the  inevitable
reallocation  of  wealth  enabled them to preserve their privileged
way of life, though not indefinitely.

These  planters  never  used Irish indentured servants. So it would
have  been  an  historical  anomaly  if  any  ancestor  of mine had
spruced  up  a room like this for his master's comfort. Regardless,
the  post-revolutionary  rights  of  man and distribution of wealth
had  brought me to a room where no ancestor of mine would have been
welcomed  except  as  hired  help.  These  lofty  thoughts  made me
uneasy. What earned right, after all, did I have to be here since -
  in truth - I'm here as the purely fortuitous beneficiary of their
toil.  But I soon snapped out of it. I'm here because the bloodline
had  improved  considerably  over time. Those guys would never have
thought to fax ahead for the walk-in rates.

Later  that morning, continental breakfast was served outdoors with
freshly  baked  baguettes  and croissants - where do they get these
things  out  here?  After  a  parting swim with our young friend we
were  reluctantly  off  with  the  very satisfied feeling of having
stayed  at a remarkable place. It should be pointed out, naturally,
that  those  who  envision  a Caribbean vacation as taking place on
the  beach  might  not find Lagrange to their liking. This is not a
beach  resort.  In  fact,  the  Caribbean  is quite a distance away
though  Atlantic  side  beaches  are  not  far.  Transportation  is
provided for those so inclined and there is always a rental car.

We  continued  northward  via  N l through Le Lorrain and almost to
Basse  Pointe,  near  the northern tip of the island where the main
highway   is   replaced  by  secondary  roads.  We  wanted  to  see
Plantation  Leyritz,  a  place sometimes compared with Lagrange but
larger  and busier. Tour buses come up from Fort de France with day
trippers  for lunch and an afternoon on the grounds. We were rushed
so  we  spent  only an hour or so there, enough time to just walk a
round  a  bit  and  discover their perverse practice of charging an
admission  fee  to  the  grounds.  It's  a  visually attractive and
historically  interesting  place, particularly the unrestored manor
building  with  the original, dusty furniture. The rooms themselves
are  restored  slaves'  quarters  that  we did not actually see but
from  pictures  appear  to  be  very  comfortable.  The grounds are
magnificent  with  a  small  stream  running throughout. But with a
gift  shop  and  straw doll museum (probably an intricate craft but
hokey,  in  my  view)  there  were  too  many tourist angles for my
taste.  We  were  convinced  that it offered Habitation Lagrange no
serious  competition  as  the  preferred  place.  On  a price-value
ratio,  though,  I have read opinions making a plausible case for a
vacation at Leyritz.

We  decided  to return to the airport by way of the mountain route,
more  time  consuming due to reduced speed and switchbacks than the
inland  highways but scenically superior. We backtracked to highway
N  3 and took it down through L'Ajoula-Bouillon into Le Morne Rouge
where  it  divides and forms N 2. N 2 likewise heads southbound but
along  the  Caribbean coast via San Pierre, Carbet, Case-Pilote and
Schoelcher.  We  considered  taking  N  2 because there was a great
deal  of  Caribbean  coast we had missed. We saw most of that coast
just  from  the sea (we had seen nothing north of St. Pierre, there
are  few  roads  up  there  anyway). But decided to stay on N 3 and
stick with our plan to see the mountains.

We  continued  south  through  the  mountains  passing La Trace des
Jesuities,  Martinique's  most  scenic highway which is really more
like  a  botanical  path  through  the  mountains,  rainforests and
‘balisiers'  or  giant tree ferns. As implied, that roadway is said
to  have been first cut through the jungles by Jesuit missionaries.
We  continued  downwards and out of the mountains for a spectacular
ride  to  the  outskirts of Fort de France. There were several side
trips  that looked interesting including the road to Mt. Pelee, the
gorge  and  waterfall  at Gorge de la Falaise and the Jardin Balata
Botanical  Park  but we had to drive straight through. Several days
are necessary just to see the highlights in this area.

As  we  approached  Fort  de France we passed the replica of Paris'
Sacre  Coeur  Basilica  at  Balata and shortly beyond that made our
only  driving  miscue  of the trip and got temporarily lost. We had
been  looking  to  intersect  with  N  1 to take us directly to the
airport  and  bypass  Fort  de France. We missed it and ended up on
local   streets  into  the  city.  By  this  time  our  directional
instincts  were  pretty good and we had very little trouble getting
through the city to the Lamentin district and the airport.

Rather  than  get  stumped  by  verbal  puzzles,  we  waited in the
airport  pickup area for a Thrifty shuttle and hailed its driver to
lead  us to Thrifty's off-site base. We reached the terminal in the
nick  of  time  but  found our flight had been delayed anyway so we
had  a leisurely lunch. The trip ended gastronomically, even in the
airport restaurant.

NEVIS: FOUR SEASONS RESORT BY DON GRIMES

   After  several  consecutive  years  of  hectic,  stress-inducing
vacations  (the  kind  where  you  visit  several cities in a week,
never  staying in one hotel more than two nights), my wife Mary and
I  decided  that  our 1997 summer vacation would have the following
required   criteria:   1)   sun,  beach  and  ocean;  2)  luxurious
accommodations  and first-rate service; and 3) outstanding food and
drink.  In  short,  we  wanted  to  be pampered in paradise. We had
never  been  to  the Caribbean, so that area rated very high on our
list,  despite  the  fact that we were planning to take the trip in
late  August,  during  the  prime hurricane season. Based on strong
recommendations  from  colleagues  and friends, we decided to go to
the  Four  Seasons Resort in Nevis, West Indies. It was a very wise
choice.

  I made our reservations last March. I was a little perplexed when
I  received a phone call from the Four Seasons in June informing me
that  there  was  going  to  be a rather large group of mutual fund
salespeople  there  the same week as my wife and me. They wanted to
know  if  we wanted, perhaps, to change our reservations to another
week.  I  told  the  Four  Seasons that really wasn't a good option
because  we  had already purchased nonrefundable airline tickets. I
quizzically  asked  if the place was going to be overrun by a bunch
of  drunken  fools,  dramatically  changing the ambiance -- turning
the  resort  into  something  akin to a Sandals in Jamaica, perhaps
:).  No,  I was assured, the only reason for the call was to let me
know  that  there  may  be some group activities planned at certain
times  of  the  week,  and  if  I  had  anticipated an almost empty
resort,  that  wouldn't be the case. They also assured me that this
incentive  trip  rewarded  the  very  best  performers  within this
organization  and they would be the type of client normally catered
to  by  the resort. Although I was still trying to read between the
lines,  I  was satisfied by the explanation and attributed the call
to  the  Four  Seasons  just  being  highly concerned about meeting
guests' expectations.

  Although we're not rich, we splurged on the "Romance in Paradise"
package  for  the  off-season price of $3,900. The package included
1)  accommodations  for  seven  nights  in  an ocean-front room; 2)
daily  breakfast  and  dinner;  3) unlimited golf, tennis and 'non-
motorized'  water  sports  (snorkeling,  windsurfing,  sailing on a
mini-catamaran,  boogie-boarding,  etc.);  4) a half-day snorkeling
trip;  5)  a  one-hour  massage  for  each  of us; 6) champagne and
truffles  upon arrival; 6) water transfers from St. Kitts to Nevis;
and  7)  a  'lovely  parting  gift' (don't get your hopes up -- our
gift  was  a  cheap  print that is still buried somewhere in one of
our closets).

  As  a  meticulous  (some, including my better half, would call it
'anal   retentive')   CPA,   I  calculated  that  the  package  was
substantially  the  better deal as long as I played as much golf as
I  thought  I  would  (my wife doesn't play) and we were content to
eat  our meals at the resort (which we were -- we had heard nothing
but  raves  about  the  quality  of  the  food). By the way, if you
bypass  the package deals available and go the a la carte route, be
advised  that  the  'rack  rate' for the rooms that time of year is
~$400  (you  don't  even want to ask about the in-season rates) and
the  green  fees  for the golf course are $100. Breakfast buffet is
$20  per  person  and includes coffee, tea, milk and OJ. Dinner for
two  (appetizer/salad,  entree,  dessert,  and  a moderately priced
bottle  of wine) ran about $100 the two nights we participated in a
themed  buffet  (more on that later) and ~$150 on the nights we ate
in The Grill Room or The Dining Room.

  The resort requests that you sign a ticket after every meal, even
if  you're on a package. That way they have evidence to support the
extra  charges for alcohol and, surprisingly enough, soft drinks. I
can  accept  the  incremental  charges  for  beverage alcohol (even
though  it  added  substantially  to  our bill), but I think it's a
little  chintzy  to  charge extra for a Coke. Just adjust the rates
five bucks a night and be done with it.

  The  trip had an ignominious beginning. We were flying Delta from
Louisville  to  Atlanta to San Juan, then picking up American Eagle
from  San  Juan to St. Kitts. We were scheduled to leave Louisville
around  6:00  a.m.  the morning of Saturday, August 23, arriving in
St.  Kitts around 3:30 p.m. Well, when we arrived at the Louisville
airport,  Delta  informed us that our scheduled flight from Atlanta
to  San Juan had been canceled, but "fortunately" there was another
flight  scheduled  an  hour  later  and there just "happened" to be
enough  space  to combine the two flights into one. When I inquired
as  to  why  our  flight  was  canceled,  I  was  told  'mechanical
problems'.  Yeah,  right.  I  may  have  been  born at night, but I
wasn't  born *last* night. I strongly suspected that our flight was
canceled  merely  because  there  was  room  for  me  and my fellow
passengers  on  the  second  flight. That, in and of itself, wasn't
the  problem; the problem was that the extra hour in Atlanta caused
us  to miss our San Juan flight to St. Kitts, which resulted in six
extra  hours  in the San Juan airport. We already had plans to stop
in  San Juan for a night on the way home, so we weren't chomping at
the  bit  to  explore the city. We camped out in the airport, tried
to  stand-by  (unsuccessfully)  for  a  LIAT Airlines flight to St.
Kitts,  and  ultimately  caught  an 8:45 p.m. American Eagle flight
and  landed  in St. Kitts around 9:50 p.m. (epilogue: my subsequent
written  complaint  to  Delta  yielded  only  a couple of upgrades,
which  can  be  used  only  on  certain  'full fare' flights; I was
hoping for something a little 'greener').

  Four  Seasons staff greets you at the St. Kitts airport after you
clear  customs/immigration  and  assists  you  with  your  luggage.
Unfortunately,  in  our  case, there was no luggage to assist with.
We  were  told  that the plane had probably been too heavy and some
of  the  luggage  had  to  be left behind in San Juan, but that our
bags  would  'undoubtedly'  be  on the first flight in the morning.
Unfortunately  the  bags didn't arrive until about 5:00 p.m., but I
was  able  to purchase a swimsuit in one of the shops and we had no
plans  that day other than to lay around and soak up the sun. Mary,
like the smart traveler she is, had carried her swimsuit on board -
-  she  often  gets the urge to change into a bikini at 35,000 feet
:)

  Back to Saturday, the night of arrival. From the airport it was a
short  van  ride to the pier, followed by a ~25 minute boat ride to
the  resort.  A  very  speedy  check-in  was followed by a friendly
staff  person  leading  us  to  our  room. Because we arrived after
10:30  p.m., the main restaurants were closed. But, in the first of
many  classy gestures we would experience during the week, they had
set  a  table  in  our  room  with linens, china, crystal, etc. and
loaded  it  with  a  very tasty dinner -- marinated chicken breast,
vegetables,  salad,  dessert,  and the aforementioned champagne and
truffles  (actually  the  'champagne'  was  a  California sparkling
wine, but at the time it tasted like Dom Perignon).

  The  room itself was what one would expect from a Four Seasons --
large  bedroom/sitting  room  area  (king  sized bed, couch, coffee
table,  'dining' table with four chairs, armoire with TV and VCR --
videotape  movies are available for check-out at the concierge desk
for  a  nominal  charge).  The bathroom was great, much better that
ours  at  home.  Double  vanity, water closet, sunken tub, separate
shower  stall. Sliding glass doors with wooden blinds looked out at
the  sea.  We  were  a  little  disappointed  that  the room wasn't
*closer*  to  the  beach -- it was probably 75 yards to the edge of
the  beach, far enough away that we couldn't hear the waves lapping
up  on shore. There was very nice patio furniture right outside the
glass  doors  which  we used a few times. Like kids in a toy store,
we  really liked the safe in the closet (but only after we survived
an  argument  over  how  to operate it). I don't want to sound like
we're  overly  paranoid  and  mistrustful  (we're not even from New
York!),  but  we  often waste time thinking of good hiding spots in
hotel  rooms  for  extra  cash,  passports,  jewelry,  etc. My only
complaint  about  the  room is that the tile in the shower area was
showing  signs  of  wear (grout looked bad, etc.) and the wallpaper
above the shower area was peeling back.

  You  can  take meals in your room, at the poolside/beachside open
air  restaurant,  in  The Grill Room (breakfast, lunch, or dinner),
or  in  The  Dining  Room  (dinner  only).  The  Dining  Room has a
slightly  different,  slightly  more upscale menu with a *slightly*
less  casual  atmosphere  --  you're  still in the Caribbean, after
all,  and everything is very much open and airy, but you'll tend to
see  families  with  smaller children in The Grill Room rather than
in The Dining Room.

  The first morning we had room service breakfast because we didn't
have  any  clean  clothes,  but  we had all other breakfasts in The
Grill  Room.  We  tended  to  have the Island Buffet for breakfast,
which  had  a  full  selection  of meats, pastries, breads, fruits,
etc.  Your  eggs,  including  omelets,  could be made to order on a
griddle  near the buffet table. The food was good-to-excellent, but
I  would  have  to  say  that  the  service in the morning was very
spotty  -- one server in particular remains in my memory even eight
months later.

  The  evening  meals were nothing short of spectacular. We had two
dinners  in  The  Grill  Room,  two  in The Dining Room, and on two
nights  we  enjoyed  the  open  air  buffet  which  was served down
poolside/  beachside.  We  were  a  little  leery about the buffets
because,  where  we  come  from,  one  tends  to  find that buffets
generally  leave  a  lot  to  be  desired.  We  went ahead and made
reservations  one  night  for  the  Italian  Buffet,  but  we  told
ourselves  that  we  would  sneakily  check  the  food  out  before
committing  to  it.  We  actually just walked up to the hostess and
asked  if  we could look at the food first (so much for acting like
secret  agents). It looked great and tasted even better. So much to
choose  from that I couldn't even begin to describe it all, and the
quality  was  outstanding. Salads, antipasti, pastas, fresh grilled
fish,  lamb,  etc.,  a dessert table that seemed to creak under the
weight  of  all  the  goodies  piled  on top of it -- my stomach is
growling   just   thinking   back   on   it.  We  confidently  made
reservations  a  couple  of  nights later for the Caribbean Buffet,
and enjoyed it as thoroughly as the first.

  The  atmosphere couldn't have been better either. The buffets are
set  up  under  the pool cabana area and, if you get to there early
enough,  you can request a table along the railing. Close your eyes
and  imagine  yourself  sitting with your beloved, looking out over
the  beach  at  the black sea, the lights of St. Kitts twinkling in
the  background.  You're drinking a bottle of fine wine or savoring
your  third  rum punch. A Caribbean band plays music lightly in the
background.  Even  though  there are people sitting all around, you
feel  like  you're completely alone with the person that means more
to  you  than  anything  in the world. A truly memorable, magic and
romantic experience.

  The  dinners  we  had in The Grill Room and The Dining Room would
closely  rival  those  from the best restaurants that we've been to
in  San  Francisco, New York, Chicago, London, Paris, Rome, etc. (I
know  some  contributors to CTR give detailed blow-by-blows of each
and  every  meal,  but I won't/can't. Just trust me -- the food was
outstanding).  Service  in the evening was immeasurably better than
in  the  morning.  A  couple of the nights it was a bit stuffy -- I
couldn't  feel  much  breeze  blowing through the open-but-screened
windows.  Maybe  that  was  a  lesson  that  I  shouldn't have been
wearing a sport coat.

  A  large  portion  of most of our days consisted of laying around
the  pool  or  beach.  The property has two relatively modest pools
(no  waterfalls or swim-up bars, etc.) and a separate hot tub area.
There   were  plenty  of  lounge  chairs  available  and  some  had
umbrellas  or mini-tents next to them in the event you were feeling
the  effects of the sun. The poolside service was top-notch -- when
the  staff  would  see  you enter the pool area, someone would walk
over  with  fresh  towels and fix up your lounge chair for you. You
could  order  food and drink from one of the staff (after the large
breakfast  we normally skipped lunch, relying on a Mudslide or Pina
Colada  to  tide  us  over til dinner). The staff frequently walked
around  with  trays of ice water, cold towels, and an Evian-branded
aerosol mister to cool you off. Talk about being pampered!

  There  was parasailing offered by a couple of boats that were not
affiliated  with  the  resort. I inquired about the cost -- I think
it  was  about  $50  for 1/2 hour. By the way, the resort warns the
guests  about  non-sanctioned  activities  such  as  this.  I guess
they're trying to limit liability, etc.

  Down  the  beach  just  past  the  resort  property line, another
entrepreneur  was  renting  wave runners/jet skis. We signed up for
one,   but  when  we  showed  up  at  our  appointed  time  he  had
experienced  mechanical  difficulties and had to take both machines
back to the shop for work. We never tried again.

  While you're laying either on the beach itself or the side of the
pool  closest to the beach you can expect the locals to try to sell
you  stuff  as they stroll back and forth. CD's (or was it cassette
tapes?),  handicrafts,  etc.,  we never seriously considered buying
anything.

  I  played  golf  three  mornings  on the Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-
designed  golf  course.  I  teed  off  each  morning  at 7:00 a.m.,
finishing  about  9:30 a.m. I'm not a very good golfer, even though
I  really  love the game. I always tell myself that I'm destined to
get  better,  but,  except for occasional flashes of brilliance, it
hasn't  happened yet. The first morning that I played, the pro shop
paired  me up with another guest. The first hole is a par five -- I
put  my  tee  shot  in the water fronting the tee, got the next one
out  in the fairway, and proceeded to shank the next three shots (I
was  battling the shanks all of last year). After taking a generous
nine,  my  partner  said,  "Golf's really not your game, is it?". I
said,  "Look, asshole, if you think that just because . . . .". No,
what  I really said was that it wouldn't hurt my feelings at all if
he  wanted to push forward without me. I knew that I would slow him
down  and  I  didn't  want  to  do  that. He graciously accepted my
offer.  I  saw  him later that morning in the restaurant -- he said
he  shot  a  75  (I  shot  115!),  so  I'm glad that he didn't feel
compelled  to  stick  with  me.  Word of my play must have filtered
back  to  the pro shop, because the other mornings that I played no
one  joined  me.  I did take a lesson from the golf pro one day and
participated  in one of the free golf clinics offered by one of the
assistant pros another day.

  The course itself had some really interesting holes. It's an 'out
and  back'  layout  that  goes  a  ways up the slope of the dormant
volcano  that  dominates  the  island  and  then  comes  back down.
Several  of the holes afford spectacular views. I brought my camera
along and snagged some outstanding photos.

  The  resort  publishes  a  weekly calendar of activities that are
available  to  guests,  some  free,  some  for a nominal charge. We
signed  up  for  a  free  tour  of  the  resort's kitchen on Monday
afternoon  (okay,  I  know  it sounds weird, but it was really very
interesting).  The  head  chef led our group throughout the various
preparation  areas of the kitchen, and provided interesting tidbits
of  information  on  how  the  menus  are  planned,  how the resort
procures  supplies,  etc. The pastry chef took over mid-way through
the  tour  and  gave  us  the  scoop  (pun intended) on the dessert
scene,  a  subject  near and dear to our hearts. An hour or so well
spent.

  On  Monday  evening,  the general manager hosted a cocktail party
which  we  enjoyed  very  much.  Several of the resort's management
staff  were  there  and  it was interesting to talk to them and ask
how  difficult  or  easy  the adjustment to life on the island was.
Almost  all  of the guests at the cocktail party were *not* part of
the  large  group  (they  must  have  had  their own thing going on
somewhere),  so we got to meet people who weren't trying to sell us
mutual  funds  (just  kidding, no one tried to sell us anything all
week  except  for  the  advertisements for the resort's condos that
ran incessantly on one of the television channels).

  Another  activity we took part in was a star-gazing hike ($10 per
person),  which was led by some local biologist/botanist/nature guy
who  had  moved down there from South Carolina. If someone tries to
talk  you  into  this,  RUN FOR YOUR LIFE. The guy led us on a long
circuitous  walk  that  ended  far  up  the  beach,  away  from the
resort's  lights. He had a few ratty, smelly blankets for people to
sit  on,  but nowhere near enough for the number of people that had
been  snookered  into  the trip. He then proceeded to ramble on and
on  and  on  and  on  (and on!) about the mythology associated with
various  constellations.  What added to the frustration was when he
would  try to point out the constellation under discussion with his
flashlight  beam.  You  couldn't tell what the hell he was pointing
at.  So,  he  would  launch  into  a  long  story  that was all but
meaningless  because  you  couldn't tell which star grouping he was
talking  about.  Then  he  wanted everyone to sit around a campfire
and  swap  stories -- he told us how some of his star gazing groups
sit  around  until  2:00  a.m.  or so. My wife and I just looked at
each  other  in  stunned  horror.  How  do we get out of here!?! we
wondered.  Apparently  many  others  felt  the same way because the
questions/stories  coming from the crowd quickly dried up. Maybe it
was telepathic peer pressure.



The  1/2  day snorkeling trip that was part of our package was fun.
Believe  it or not, I had never snorkeled in my life (even though I
had  been scuba diving in Hawaii). We piled into a large catamaran,
and  enjoyed  rum  punch and reggae music as we sailed over towards
St.  Kitts. After anchoring, we were fitted with masks and fins and
were  able to snorkel for only about an hour or so before having to
head  back. Calling the trip a '1/2 day' may be a bit of a stretch,
but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

As  I  previously mentioned, Mary and I were both entitled to a one
hour  massage.  The resort encourages you to make your reservations
early  for  this so they can make sure they have a masseur/masseuse
available.  When  you  make  a  reservation for any activity at the
resort,  they leave reminder/confirmation cards on your bed the day
before.  Our  confirmation  card  for the massage indicated that my
masseur  was Franz Something-or-other. I immediately had visions of
an  Arnold  Schwarzenegger-type  twisting me painfully into a human
pretzel.  I  became  less  and  less  enthused  as  the  time of my
impending   doom   approached,  so  I  finally  chickened  out  and
canceled.  Mary  kept her appointment and said that the massage was
fine.

The  resort  has  a fitness center that Mary used several mornings.
To  appeal to the widest audience possible, the aerobic classes are
geared  to  a  fairly  low fitness level, so if you're into intense
workouts  you may need to spend extra time on the Stairmasters. The
resort  has  a  dozen  or so tennis courts (all clay I think). Even
though  I'm  a  much  better tennis player than golfer I didn't use
them  (Mary's not a tennis player either). They looked nice though.


On  Friday,  we finally felt rejuvenated enough to wander away from
the  resort.  We  took  a  ~$10  cab  ride into Charlestown to walk
around  and  do  some  souvenir shopping. Once you hit downtown you
can  definitely tell you're not at the Four Seasons anymore, but it
wasn't  too  bad.  The  infrastructure  could use some work, but to
someone  who's  traveled  to  India  alot in the past few years, it
looked  pretty  good.  We  bought  some  beach wear at one store, a
monkey-and-coconut  wind  chime at another store, and assorted odds
and  ends  at  other stores. The sales staffs were all friendly and
helpful.  The  cab  driver  on  the way back to the resort tried to
talk  us  in to taking an island tour (with him as the tour guide),
but  we  were running out of time so we declined. In retrospect, we
wish  we  had gone into Charlestown earlier in the week and perhaps
taken him (or someone else) up on the offer.

Let  me close with a little story that I think tells alot about the
type  of  place  the Four Seasons is. When we were finally ready to
leave  on  Saturday morning, the resort told us to just meet at the
pier  at  a certain time. Our bags would be picked up from our room
without  our  help  and my golf clubs would be brought from the pro
shop.  When  we  arrived  at the pier, they confirmed that they had
three  bags  total for us, which was correct. The bags were already
loaded  in  the  hull of the boat. When we arrived in St. Kitts and
were  standing  in  line at the airport, the staff started carrying
in  the  guests'  bags.  The  good  news is that we did indeed have
three  bags  and they *did* all belong to us. The bad news was that
the  zipper  on  my  golf  travel  bag  was  broken  beyond repair.
Apparently  the  zipper had broken when the pro shop loaded them up
and,  unfortunately,  they  had  been put on the boat like that. So
there  I  was, scrambling around the dinky St. Kitts airport trying
to  find  someone  who had some duct tape or something that I could
use  to  secure the bag so my clubs didn't spill out into the plane
on  the  flight  to San Juan. I couldn't find anything at first. It
was  a hassle that I didn't really need. I wasn't disappointed that
the  zipper  had  been broken, I was just disappointed that the bag
had  been put on the boat like that. The place to find something to
fix  it  was  at  the  resort,  not in the airport where no one was
being  very helpful. The clubs survived the flight to San Juan and,
once  there, I used one of those shrink-wrap machines to secure the
clubs for the remainder of the trip home.

I  (briefly)  mentioned  the  golf  club  experience in the comment
section  of  the  guest  evaluation form. The resort management was
all  over  it.  The general manager sent me a letter of apology and
the  pro  shop  manager called me to apologize and asked me to send
him  the  receipt  so  that they could reimburse me for the cost of
the  repair.  I  didn't have the heart to fax him a receipt for $10
so  I  just let it drop. I couldn't have been more impressed by the
seriousness  with  which they took my comment. Customer service and
guest  satisfaction  appear  to  be  the  very  essence of what the
entire  company  is  about. (I was so impressed that I put my money
where  my  mouth  is  and recently purchased a small amount of Four
Seasons stock -- symbol: "FS").

So,  if  you're looking for a first-rate, classy Caribbean vacation
with  minimal  outside  distractions,  we  very much recommend Four
Seasons Resort Nevis.

PUERTO RICO BY SANDRA ROSENWALD

We  recently  returned from a 6 day 5 night trip to Puerto Rico. We
left  JFK  at  7:30  a.m.  and  were by the pool by 12 noon. Coming
home,  we  had  a  5:30 flight, so we were able to sit at the beach
till  after  3.  We  truly  had  6  days! We stayed at the San Juan
Grand,  which  I  am told was the Sands. I only have good things to
say  about  the  hotel. It was beautiful, the room was great with a
super  view  of the pool/ocean. The service was excellent and there
was  no  need to race down to get lounges in the morning. The Grand
is  next  door to The El San Juan hotel which has the most gorgeous
lobby.  We  also walked and check out the new Ritz Carlton, Hampton
Inn and Embassy Suites.

Trips  -  We  went on a 1/2 day tour of the Rain forest. ($30 p.p.)
It  was  nice, but I would have wanted more time to walk around. We
went  on  a  full  day catamaran snorkeling/swimming/lunch tour. It
was  on  the  Barefoot  III. We had a great time and the snorkeling
was  great.  We  took  a cab into Old San Juan, rather than a tour,
and  walked  around  for a few hours. We ate at a local deli and it
was great.

Food  - Food is not cheap. (We usually vacation in Mexico or Aruba.
San  Juan  had  Aruba  prices.)  Breakfast  and lunch we had at the
hotel.  Great.  We  had  dinner  on  Saturday  night at the Piccolo
Fontana  at  the  El  San  Juan Hotel. When we usually vacation, my
husband  only packs nice shorts and collared Polos for the evening.
I  take  some silk short sets and cotton dresses. We were told that
Puerto  Rico is dressier. Bill packed a pair of dockers and a sport
jacket.  Well,  we  went  to  dinner and couldn't believe our eyes.
There  were  people in tuxedos, long gowns and the kids we saw were
wearing  the tightest, slinkiest, shortest spandex clothing you can
imagine.  It  was  a true people watching experience! Here I was in
my  cotton Gap dress, thinking I was dressed up! Anyway, dinner was
wonderful  and  about  $110.  The  next  night we had dinner at The
Metropol,  which  is  a local restaurant and was highly recommended
by  friends.  It  was  just  3  blocks  from our hotel. The food is
Puerto  Rican/Cuban.  It  was fabulous and cost about $25. The next
night  we  ate  at  Ruth  Chris Steak House, which is in our hotel.
Another  $100  dinner,  but suburb. We returned to The Metropol the
next night and returned to Ruth Chris on our last night.

Casinos  - Those machines don't pay off as they do in Atlantic City
or  Connecticut!  I  had  two  winning  nights, but still came home
poor.  People,  especially  at  the  El San Juan, were betting HUGE
amounts  of  money.  We  either  gambled at our place or the El San
Juan.

General  impressions  -  We  had  a very nice time, but we wouldn't
return  to Puerto Rico. We love to take long walks on the beach and
long  walks  exploring  the  Hotel  Zones.  Here,  your  hotel,  as
beautiful  as  it  is,  is right on a main street with Burger King,
strip  malls,  Condom  World  etc.,  right across the street. There
were  no  hotels  on one side of us, just condos where local people
lived.  The  beaches  were public and crowded with local teens with
loud  boom  boxes.  We  were  also warned not to walk around in the
evening.  One  of  the  tour bus drivers said that the police don't
ticket  you  in  the evening for treating red lights as stop signs,
because  there  are  so  many car jackings, people don't stop. They
look, and go.

We  passed  the  Condoto  Area where there are many more hotels and
tourist  shops.  It  was  too  much  like  a  big  city.  We say El
Conquistador  from  the boat and that looked super. People say that
the  Dorado and Ceremar are great resorts, but we didn't get there.


We  had  a  great time, the weather was great, trips were fine, but
Puerto Rico is too much like a big city for vacation time.

ST. JOHN BY LINDA TUFFEY

We  returned from our 3 month winter in St. John. We had some great
new experiences, visited some new places and re-visited some old.

This  was definitely an animal sighting trip. First, we had 15 cows
(yes  I  said  cows)  in  our  garden at Valentine. Just peacefully
munching  our  hibiscus and scaring the $@#%#^#^ out of our cats! A
little  more to the natural side, we were seeing off friends at the
ferry  dock and had a wonderful time watching a dolphin swim with a
gal  who  jumped  in  when  she  saw  it. Everyone on the ferry got
videos  and  pics.  When  the  ferries engines started, the dolphin
just  got  in  at the front of the boat and lead it out of the bay.
It  was  quite  spectacular.  We  paid  $200 in Hawaii for the same
experience!  Then,  about  2  weeks ago, we spotted whales from our
deck.  A  momma  and  baby  playing  for  about 1 1/2 hours. We had
guests  for lunch that day and the whales decided to return and put
on an afternoon show too.

Last  week,  when  I  was  taking a walk, I spotted a deer about 50
feet  away from me. Must have been a girl cause she was so cute and
tiny!  When  she  saw  me,  she  calmly  turned and walked into the
woods.  The  same day I saw 2 baby mongooses with their momma. Very
cute.

We  had  a few new restaurant experiences. I've noticed that Oliver
Twist  has  been mentioned and we enjoyed it also. They have a nice
inexpensive  menu  (a  rarity  in  Cruz Bay). We also tried the new
restaurant  at  Wharfside  called  Panini  Beach.  Very  expensive!
Unfortunately  I  cannot  recommend it because it is priced way out
of  line  and the food and service is not that good. Great location
though.

We  also  loved  Serafina in Coral Bay. It is where Don Carlos used
to  be  (and  The  Still before that). It's Italian and the service
was  very  good  and  the  food  wonderful! Something new in an old
place  is  Sunday  Jazz  Brunch  at Fish Trap. The food and service
were  good  and  they have live music. The Jazz group also plays at
Oliver Twist on Thurs.& La Tapa on Tuesday.

As  for the old ... we revisited Ellington's for a wonderful sunset
meal  on  the upper deck - great view. Had the best gourmet meal at
'dinner  with  Andre'  - the night time restaurant @ Chilly Billys.
Thursday  night  2  for  1 Marguiritas at Morgans Mango is a MUST -
especially  the  Mango  ones!  The new restaurant at Mongoose) same
restaurant,  new  name  and  operator) has GREAT steaks. We usually
stick  to  fish  unless  we're  at  Uncle Joes, but this was really
good.

Of  course  the  Lime  Inn is always our favorite, but the wait for
shrimp  feast  was  ridiculous  1  hour 45 min! We always bring our
guests  there,  but when we have no company, we steer away from the
Wed  night  crowd.  We  went  on  Friday  for  an excellent chicken
special  and  pasta  special.  Then  -  stupid  as  we are, thought
Pusser's  may  have  gotten  better - WRONG. How can one restaurant
with  such  a  great  location  have such poor service and mediocre
food? Oh well ....

Have  to  highly  recommend  the  Blast  for a day trip to Jost Van
Dyke.  Plenty  of  sun, food, beer, great snorkeling at Sandy Spit,
Foxy's,  Soggy  Dollar  Bar  -  just  a  fun day for all. $80 + $15
custom's fee.

Have  to  finish  with our completion of efforts on our 'new' home.
Valentine  has  turned  out fabulous. Painted and cleaned up with a
new  pool, deck and brick patio, she looks like she had a facelift!
Had  her  pictures taken for a new brochure which we are working on
now.

ST. JOHN BY PAT SZUBA

Trip 4/98

Our  trip  began  on  Monday, April 27. We flew standby from Balto-
Atlanta-  St. Thomas. Arriving in St. Thomas around 2:15, we caught
the  3:00  ferry  from  Charlotte  Amalie.  The owner of our rental
"Mahogany  Tree Villas" met us at the dock. She took us back to our
place,  which  was  just  beyond  Gallows  Point. It was a very one
bedroom,  full  kitchen,  living  room  with  stone  walls,  within
walking  distance to town. Mary, the owner, was even nice enough to
supply  us  with  an  answering  machine  given  that  my child had
recently  been  ill  and  I  was a little apprehensive leaving him.
After  dropping  our  things and changing into comfortable clothes,
Mary  then  took  us to the grocery store to stock up and gave us a
quick "where to go, what to do" tour of town.

The  next  morning,  we  went  to  get  our  jeep  we'd reserved at
Courtesy.  I  chose Courtesy, because they give you access to their
parking  lot,  since  we'd  heard  parking  in  town  was  next  to
impossible.  We rented a Samurai. It turned out to be a lemon. LOTS
of  play  in  the  steering  wheel and they clutch was almost gone.
After  a day of hairpin curves in that vehicle we tried to exchange
it.  No  satisfaction.  After  one  more day, we gave up-- insisted
they  take  it  back,  even  though  we'd reserved for 4 days. They
tried  to get us to pay for 3 (even though we only had it for two),
and  had  to  get to the "raising of the voice stage" before we got
any  satisfaction.  We  ended up going down the street to Spencer's
and got a Sidekick. Automatic and ran MMMUUCCCHH better!

Beaches-  Since  we were only there for 5 days, we didn't get to as
many  beaches as we would have liked. We decided to go to Trunk Bay
our  first  day  to  the underground trail considering we're novice
snorkelers.  I'm  glad we went there because of the novelty, but it
WAS  the  most  crowded beach that we'd gone to all week. The fresh
water  showers  were  convenient  though,  and there's also a snack
bar.

Francis  Bay  Beach  was beautiful. We snorkeled to the left of the
beach  near the rocks. The right side was totally sandy and lovely.
Calm  waters.  A  sting  ray  was  meandering  up and down near the
shore, as well as countless other fish.

We  walked  the trail (about 20 minutes) around Leinster Bay to the
small  rock jetty. We then swam over to Waterlemon Cay. On the left
side  of  the island, there is a shallow reef, very pretty and lots
of  fish.  After  snorkeling for awhile, we decided to take a break
on  the sandy beach of the island. I had no trouble, but my husband
found  himself  standing  in  an area surrounded by sea urchins. (I
guess  he  didn't  look before he leapt!) We rested there and met a
newlywed  couple  who  were  staying  at the Westin. They, like us,
were  having  a  wonderful experience on the island. Unfortunately,
they  were  not  having  a wonderful experience at the Westin. They
said  definitely not worth the money you pay. Back to Waterlemon---
after  our rest and chat, we went around the other side. There, you
find  a  much  bigger  reef  and deeper water. A little rougher out
there,  but  not  enough to hamper your snorkeling. Upon our return
to  the shore, we came upon a large bed of starfish along the sandy
bottom.  The  current  there was strong and I think I swam over the
same  starfish  for  about  10  minutes!!! No exaggeration!! It was
exhausting! But worth it!!

We  gained  access  to Honeymoon beach from Caneel Bay resort. It's
about  an  8  minute walk from the guest parking lot. Nice beach. I
think  we  had the best spot under a large tree. I truly felt I was
in  paradise. A couple of excursions came into the area, but stayed
to  the  left  of  the  beach, so we basically felt like we had the
place  to  ourselves.  Tried reading-- I found myself so mesmerized
by  the  view,  that  I had a hard time concentrating. Just sitting
there  relaxing,  when  all  at once a donkey came over and started
sniffing  around  our  things.  I  thought  he was going to take my
clothes!!  Eventually he walked off and found something of interest
on the trail behind the beach.

Restaurants-  Our  first  night,  we  went to Ellington's and I was
very  disappointed  in my meal. My husband's was good, but overall,
it  wasn't worth the price. We met a few others who had eaten there
that week and they weren't happy about their experiences either.

Fish  Trap  was  a  success.  Great  food  and service. Loved their
sauteed  mushrooms!  The  seafood chowder was good also, but it was
heavy on basil.

Cafe  Roma was also good. Pizzas look great. I had a pasta dish and
probably only ate 1/3--there was so much!!

The  best bargain meal (and it was excellent!) was Uncle Joe's BBQ.
It's  located  next  to St. John Car Rental. If you like ribs, this
is  the  place.  They  fall right off of the bone. Chicken too! You
have to wait a little while, but it's worth it.

On  the Coral Bay side, we ate lunch at Skinny Leggs. Great grilled
portobello  mushroom  sandwich!  YUM! Good burgers too! Tried to do
some  shopping  there,  but  found  on the East side of the island,
they  only  take American Express. No Visa here! So we made another
trip  back  later  in the week. Had drinks at Shipwreck Landing and
did  some  shopping  in  the shops next door. Didn't go any farther
than that. Next trip!

One  tip:  Don't  use  the  bathroom  at Skinny leggs unless you're
desperate!  Disgusting!!  You might get lucky and get there in time
for  the  bi-annual cleaning. Go down the road to Shipwreck Landing
instead. CLEAN!

Breakfasts:  We  ate  most  of  our breakfasts at Sting Ray Cafe in
Wharfside  Village.  They had a delicious breakfast wrap- huge! for
$3.50  Their  breakfast  were  good,  and  very reasonable. Coconut
mango  French  toast-3  big  pieces  $3.50.  Also, we had them make
lunch  for  us  for  later  in  the day. Good sandwiches. I brought
ziploc  bags  with  us, so things wouldn't get soggy in the cooler.
(our place provided cooler for us)

Le  Petite  Cafe--For  reasonable,  good  breakfasts with fantastic
views.  This is located on Centerline Road heading east, right past
Chateau  Bordeaux.  We stopped here before our Francis and Leinster
bay  days.  One  day,  we  forgot water for the beach and Paul, the
owner, was nice enough to supply us with a gallon jug.

We  took  a  day  excursion on the Pirate's Penny/Stormy Petral. Al
and  Shelly were great. There were only 5 couples on the trip- 6 is
the  limit.  The  crew  was  able  to  give  you  alot  of personal
attention.  First  stop  was  at  Spanish  Town  on Virgin Gorda. A
little  time  to  look at the shops, but you didn't need much time.
Just  a  couple  shops.  Then  on  to the Baths. The water was very
rough  that day. We snorkeled over to the beach and then Al took us
on  a  little  adventure  through  the caves and over the rocks. He
ended  the  climb  with  a  10 foot jump off a ledge into the water
(for  the  braver  souls).  The  chickens walked back to the beach.
After  the  Baths,  we went for lunch on Cooper Island. Great place
to  stop.  There's  a restaurant right on the beach and a couple of
cabanas  and  that  appears to be all there is on this island. Next
stop  was  Peter  Island.  The  sea  was rough this day and Al just
wanted  to  find  a  calm place to snorkel. He found it!! This trip
was fun and definitely worth it.

On  our next trip to St. John, we'll probably take the public ferry
to  Virgin  Gorda,  so  we can spend more time exploring the Baths.
Only so much time!!

Another  tip: If you react from bug bites at home, bring "off" with
you  and use it especially at dusk. I used it and still had alot of
bites,  but  my  husband  hardly  had  any  (I  didn't  use perfume
either!)

To  conclude,  you've  probably already deduced that we're planning
another  trip  back  to  the  island.  WE LOVED IT!! The laid-back,
relaxing,  uncrowded  atmosphere.  Good  restaurants  and bars with
entertainment.  The weather was perfection! And I felt safe walking
around  at  night. (unlike St. Thomas). So, if you're planning your
first trip there, relax--it will be great!!

ST. LUCIA: ANSE CHASTANET RESORT BY TONY SHELBOURNE

(Ed. Note: The following feature is copyright A P Shelbourne and is used in the CTR with his permission.)

Trip 4/98

INTRODUCTION

My  wife  Sue  and I spent our two week honeymoon at Anse Chastanet
from  29  March to 12 April 1998. This report contains our personal
impressions  of  the  stay,  rather  than  a  detailed meal-by-meal
account.
I'd recommend the following links if you're interested:

Lynn  Mckamey  did  an excellent write-up including dive facilities
on           Caribbean           Travel          Roundup          -
http://www.gobeach.com/ctr/c0996_05.htm#stllynn

The  Anse  Chastanet home page has plenty of detail, some pictures,
and  is  pretty accurate. Some of the text sounds like hype, but it
really is that nice a place - http://www.ansechastanet.com

The  Reef Environmental Education Foundation has a thorough list of
fish     that     can     be     found     on     the     reef    -
http://www.reef.org/survey/geog/73020001.htm

In  summary:  we  really  enjoyed  our  stay.  The  hotel  and  its
attractions are superb.

SNORKELING

Now,  I'm  not  much  of  a swimmer. I doubt I've been in the water
more  than  twenty  times  in  as  many  years.  A  main reason for
choosing  Anse  Chastanet  over  other  St.  Lucian resorts was the
reef,  though  -  Sue  is a dedicated water baby. I thought I'd tag
along  and maybe do a bit of snorkeling in between enjoying the rum
and  the rainforest. I had the impression that you'd have to swim a
fair  distance  and  then  chase  around  for  ages,  spotting  the
occasional  fish or piece of coral. Not so. Walk to the beach, wade
into  the  water,  put  your  head  down and... your very own David
Attenborough   wildlife   documentary,   without   the   breathless
commentary or the annoying synthesizer music.

To  those  who've  never  experienced an unspoilt coral reef, I can
only  offer  the  following  analogy.  Imagine  you're sitting in a
garden,  lush and overgrown with trees, shrubs, flowers, cacti, and
fungi.  Imagine  the  garden's  full  of  animals:  a  dozen multi-
coloured  parrots  in the magnolia over there; two hundred electric
green  hummingbirds round that maple bush; red dragonflies hovering
over  the  primroses;  a  golden  eagle swooping from one branch to
another;  armadillos,  marmosets  and duck-billed platypuses nosing
through  the  tall grass. Finally, imagine you're not stuck in your
chair.  You  can  float up to the top of the tree, or fly round the
other  side  of  the  bush. That's the Anse Chastanet reef - though
not as wet, of course.

The  reef at the south end of the beach is popular with both divers
and  snorkellers.  It  falls  off  into  deep water and you're more
likely  to  see  bigger specimens and more species. The reef at the
north  end  is  shallower and many snorkellers prefer it. You might
not  see  a  barracuda  or a turtle (I had to mention that, because
Sue saw a two foot turtle!), but there's plenty going on.

It  is Anse Chastanet's crowning glory. You could have a good time,
even  a great time here without going in the water, but it would be
like visiting Wells in Somerset and not seeing the cathedral.

ROOMS

Hotel  rooms  don't  get much better than this. We started off in a
beachside  deluxe.  There are three blocks of these near the tennis
court  about  fifty  yards from the beach. Each block has two rooms
downstairs  and  two  upstairs.  We had one of the uppers (10B). It
was  about  650 square feet. There are family houses being built in
Britain  with  less floor space than this. An open L-shaped balcony
ran  round  two sides. Not much of a view: coconut palms, hibiscus,
bougainvillea,  carob trees, that sort of thing. The inner sleeping
area  was  partitioned  from the balcony by floor to ceiling wooden
louvered  doors. A quiet ceiling fan kept the air moving. I heard a
couple  of  guests  bemoaning  the lack of air-conditioning, but we
thought  this  was  more than outweighed by the feeling of sleeping
outside  in  the  tropical  night.  A large net canopy over the bed
guarded against the occasional mosquito.

A  word  here on privacy. The first impression is that you are open
to  the world, but judicious adjustment of a louver or two cuts off
most  lines  of  sight.  However,  if  you're what a colleague once
described  as "an acoustic coupler", you may have problems. The guy
downstairs  could  snore for the USA at the next Olympics - and I'm
something of an expert in this field.

We  moved  for  our  last  night  to a deluxe hillside room (8A) on
request  of  the  management,  who wanted our room for some elderly
guests  who  didn't fancy the steps down to the beach. They gave us
a  150  USD credit, which was nice. 8A was half as big again as 10B
and  had  a  view  down to the sea. The walk-through shower was ten
feet  by  four.  You  could  have fitted a rugby team in there, not
that we wanted to.

Both  rooms  were  well  equipped,  with plenty of seating, storage
space,  refrigerator,  hair dryer and good quality soap etc. in the
bathroom.  Fresh  linen  and  towels, including ones for the beach,
were  provided  daily.  The  maids  seemed always to get rid of the
sand  we  inevitably  left  on the floor (plus the pound of basmati
rice that Sue's mother had stuffed into her suitcase).

AMBIANCE

If  Hedonism  II  in  Jamaica  is  at  one  end  of  some imaginary
Caribbean  scale,  then  Anse  Chastanet is decidedly at the other.
You'll  find  no loud dance music, no toga parties, no congas round
the pool. There is no pool.

The  clientele  is  predominantly  middle  class,  North  American,
professional.   Ages   range   from   seven   to  seventy,  with  a
preponderance  of  thirty-five  to  sixty year olds. There was live
music  every  night,  but I only saw a dozen or so guests and staff
boogeying  to the soca band on one evening. A bit dull? Restrained?
Smug?  Yes,  all  that,  but also relaxed, informal, and laid back.
I'm  tempted  to  say  "sophisticated", and I never thought I'd use
that word in seriousness without a gun pointed at my head.

STAFF

The  overwhelming  impression  is that there are lots of them, both
front  of  house  and  back.  The  waiting  staff  in  the bars and
restaurants   were   usually   smiling,   friendly  and  efficient.
Reception staff, on
the  other  hand,  were only efficient. Anse Chastanet could really
do  with  giving  its  receptionists  some  customer care training.
They're  the  first and last people you see, and the ones you go to
if you want
something  out  of  the  ordinary.  An occasional "Hello, how can I
help you?" would make a difference.

The  staff  at  the dive shop take the biscuit, though. Diver macho
and  Caribbean  cool  combine  to  give  a  surreal quality to your
interactions with them. To illustrate:

It  was  early-ish,  about  nine-thirty,  and  the  dive  shop  was
deserted  except  for a tall young man in dreadlocks staring out to
sea.  I hung around the equipment rental counter, quietly whistling
a  jaunty,  pre-snorkelling  tune.  After  a few minutes, the Rasta
slowly  turned,  ambled  behind the desk and turned again, his gaze
fixed once more on the blue Caribbean.

"I'd  like  a  pair  of fins, please." Three or four seconds passed
before he glanced my way.
"Size,"  he  said.  This  man's  voice  was  so  laid-back  that it
couldn't  make  the effort to rise at the end of the word to form a
question.

"Seven,  please."  He  picked  slowly  through  a  pile of fins and
placed a pair on the counter.
"And a buoyancy vest, please." Pause.
"Mask," he rumbled.
"No, a buoyancy vest, please." Longer pause.
"Buoyancy,"  he  said,  sinking  that  word  to  depths  previously
unplumbed.  He handed over the yellow inflatable jacket and started
to amble out of the store room.
"Should  I to sign for this?" Without breaking stride or taking his
eyes  off  the  sea,  he  reached  out and handed me a clipboard. I
signed  my  name  and  room number, noticing that nobody had signed
back in
my  gear from the previous day. Behind me the Rasta returned to his
lonely vigil.

It's  hard  not  to  take  these things personally, but I'm certain
that  if  the  ghost  of Jacques Cousteau had walked into that dive
shop, he'd have merited no more than a raised eyebrow.

CALL ME MR. TENBY!

You  sign  for  everything at Anse Chastanet, whether it's included
in  your package or not. During the course of a single day, I wrote
my  room  number (10B), surname and signature for: breakfast, water
taxi  to Soufriere, beer at the beach bar, fins from the dive shop,
beer  from the beach waiter, lunch, beer with lunch, afternoon tea,
rum  punch  watching  the  sun set, dinner and wine with dinner. By
the  end  of  the first week Jenny the waitress would greet me with
"Hello, Mr. Tenby!".

Are  they  collecting  autographs in case the guests become famous?
Or  is  it  a wildly aggressive stock control policy? I suppose the
staff   can't  be  expected  to  know  what  each  guest's  package
includes;  and  it  means  you  don't have to wear a stupid colored
wristband.

FOOD

Breakfasts  are  great.  Loads  of juice, tropical fruits, cereals,
pastries,  yogurts and so on. Then eggs any way you want them, plus
bacon,  sausages,  mushrooms  etc. There are some interesting daily
specials.  I've  never  eaten fishcakes, steak, corned beef hash or
banana  pancakes  for  breakfast  before.  We're  obviously missing
something in the UK.

Lunch  is  served  at  the  beach  bar,  and isn't included in most
packages. Burgers, sandwiches, rotis, curries and so on at about 7-
12 USD. Very substantial portions, and good quality.

Dinners  are  the  problem.  The  food is good, perhaps even rating
"gourmet".  Every  dinner  consists  of  six courses: an appetizer,
soup  or  salad,  sorbet,  main  course,  dessert,  then coffee and
mints.  The  presentation  is  excellent  - the plates are a visual
treat  -  often  garnished  with  a  flower or two. But it does get
repetitive  and  it's  all a bit bland and "international". After a
week  I  was  longing  for  some concentrated flavor. The meat, for
instance,  is  good  but  the  sauces  mask rather than enhance the
taste.  The  chef seems to have missed the modern method of reduced
jus-based  sauces in favor of more traditional flour bases, despite
the  word "jus" appearing liberally on the menu. He also relies too
much  on  exotic  ingredients adding interest. I mean, christophene
and  dasheen  are  nice  the first time round, but they're not very
exciting vegetables as such.

Vegetarian   dishes   (my   wife's   a  veggie)  were  particularly
disappointing.  There  was  little  texture  -  everything was very
cooked,  very  samey.  Often  the accompanying vegetables were more
interesting than the main dish itself.

Perhaps  we  got jaded after two weeks and I'm being over critical.
What  would  really  help  would  be  an  alternative dinner venue:
somewhere  that  did  omelettes,  steaks  and stuff to give a break
from the gourmet dining experience.

We  ate  out  once  at  The  Still  in Soufriere. It was good, well
priced and worth the excruciatingly bumpy taxi rides.

THE PACKAGE

We  booked  with  Tropical Places - http://www.tropical.co.uk - who
were  efficient,  helpful and, above all, cheap. We got the flights
and  14  nights accommodation, breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner.
We  also  received  the  "Escape"  and  "Honeymoon"  packages which
included  airport  transfers,  some  free  excursions, introductory
scuba,  drinks  package with champagne, free T-shirts and a 500 USD
anniversary  voucher.  And  we were bumped up by the hotel (without
our  asking)  from  a  standard  to deluxe room. All this for under
3000  UK  sterling  for the two of us. Three times what we normally
spend  on  a  fortnight's  holiday,  but  about  half the published
rates, I reckon.

IN CONCLUSION

As  I  write  this, it's lunch time, April the 15th. I'm sitting in
my  office  in  Taunton,  England.  Outside  small  hailstones  are
dropping  from  a  leaden sky. In the almost endless list of places
I'd rather
be, Anse Chastanet comes top.

ST. LUCIA: LESPORT AND THE ROYAL ST. LUCIAN BY LARA SOLONICKNE

Trip 4/98


My  husband  and I set out for our first trip to St. Lucia in April
1998.  We  had  booked  seven  nights  at LeSport, an all-inclusive
resort.
We  flew  direct  from  Chicago into Hewanorra airport on a charter
flight  that  took  just over five hours. Then the drive to LeSport
was  another  1.5  hours.  We  did  not stop for food or a bathroom
break  during  the  drive, so plan accordingly before you leave the
airport!


LeSport
Room
LeSport  has  102  air-conditioned rooms and all face the Caribbean
Sea.
Our  room  was in the “oceanfront” category. We were in a two-story
block  at  the edge of the resort. I think these are the best rooms
in the resort, specifically rooms 611-614.
The  view  from  the  balcony was truly breathtaking: you look down
over  the ocean. To your left are mountains and Pigeon Point in the
distance.  Surrounding  the balcony are flowers of every color. The
hummingbirds  would sit on the patio and would fly into the room if
we let the patio doors open.
The  rooms  were  spotless and featured a four-poster king bed. The
rooms  were  quite  large,  with  plenty of room to leave suitcases
scattered  open  on  the  floor  and still have enough room to walk
around.  The  room  had  a  small desk, a table and two chairs, the
bed,  two  end-tables,  a  minibar  (empty),  a  clock radio, and a
phone.


The  bathroom  fixtures, however, showed their age. We had very low
water  pressure  in  the shower head and our toilet did not want to
flush.  The  vanity  had two sinks. The blow dryer that is supplied
with  the  room is very weak and if you have long hair, like me, it
would  take  almost  a  full  hour to dry. So if you go, bring your
blow  dryer  from  home.  Another point to note is that the outlets
were all 220V, so appliances from the U.S. require an adapter.


The  rooms  are  very  quiet and we did not hear any noise from the
restaurant or from any of our neighbors.
Clientele
Most   of   the  guests  were  British,  with  some  Americans  and
Canadians.  Ages ranged from about 24 to about 80, with the average
age  around  40.  There  were  no children at the resort during our
stay.  Most  guests came in couples, and many were in larger groups
of two or more couples.


Restaurants


The  food  at  LeSport  was  very disappointing. They have only one
restaurant,  which  gets  very  tedious after the second day at the
resort.  There  were  buffets  for  breakfast  and lunch. Sometimes
there  was  a  buffet  for  dinner as well, and other nights it was
menu  service.  The buffets varied slightly from day to day and the
variety  of  food  was  lacking. I heard other guests commenting on
the  quality  of  the food as well. I had expected a large array of
seafood  dishes,  but  the only fish they served was dorado (a.k.a.
mahi  mahi)  besides  the small shrimp contained in the salads. The
crabmeat in many dishes was artificial.
Service  at  the  restaurants  was  generally slow, particularly in
refilling  water  glasses,  wine,  and  drinks  from  the  bar.  My
suggestion  for  the  resort would be to have soft drink dispensers
available and pitchers of water on the tables by request.
In  British  style,  LeSport  serves  afternoon tea from 4:30 until
around 6:00 P.M.
The  resort  also  offers  room  service  for Continental breakfast
only.
We went off the resort for dinner two nights.

One  night  we went to the specialty restaurant at LeSport’s sister
resort,  Rendezvous.  The restaurant, The Trysting Place, was small
(about  25  tables),  had  a  more  formal  atmosphere, and was air
conditioned.  However,  the  food  quality  was  worse than that at
LeSport, so I could not recommend it.

Another  night  we  went to the Charthouse in Rodney Bay. This is a
franchise  of  the  American  chain, but the restaurant has been in
St.  Lucia  for 17 years and is owned by St. Lucians, so we thought
we  would  try it. The Charthouse is right on the water and is open
air.  The  restaurant  is  very  small,  so  we  called  ahead  for
reservations.  The  food  and service were excellent. For about $85
U.S.  (including  tip)  my  husband  and  I ordered steak, lobster,
soup,  wine  by  the  glass,  and cocktails. I highly recommend it.
After  dinner  at  the Charthouse we went to Snooty Agouti, a nifty
little  coffeehouse/art gallery, which is definitely worth checking
out as well.


Nightlife


Nightlife  is  very  tame at LeSport. Most guests are up very early
(before  7:00 A.M.) so we heard several couples commenting how they
were  in  bed  at  9:00  P.M.  every night. The resort has the main
Terrace  Bar and an air-conditioned piano bar that opens after 7:00
P.M.  There  often is live music accompanying dinner, and there are
usually bands scheduled in the Terrace Bar after 9:30 P.M.


Beach and Pools


The  beach  at LeSport was large and very clean. Lounge chairs were
easy  to  obtain  and  the beach was uncrowded. The resort provided
clean  beach  towels  in  our room daily. They also have wait staff
taking  drink  orders  constantly:  all  you  have to do is stick a
yellow  flag  in  the sand and you will have a drink within minutes
without leaving your chair.
The  water  was crystal clear and we could snorkel a short distance
away from the beach.
LeSport  has  three pools: the main one by the beach, a smaller one
by  the  Terrace Bar (used for aqua aerobics and water volleyball),
and another pool up at the Oasis spa (more on the spa later).


Activities


LeSport  posts  a  schedule of events daily. The schedule is jammed
with  activities,  even  more  activities  than are offered at Club
Med.  We  participated  in  activities such as golf, step aerobics,
aqua  aerobics,  volleyball,  fencing,  and archery. We also worked
out  on-on-one  with  the  personal  trainer  in the gym. They also
offer  water skiing, scuba, yoga, calypso dancing…I could go on and
on. There is something here for everyone.
LeSport  has one dilapidated tennis court that is not even a court.
It  is  made  of  asphalt  with  poorly  painted lines done in wall
paint.  If  you  have bad knees do not even think about stepping on
it.  The  court  surface is so fast it is virtually unplayable. The
surface  is  extremely slippery and you cannot run on it full speed
or  you  can  take  a major spill. If you are tennis player, forget
tennis at LeSport.
LeSport  offers  early  morning  walks and hikes. These walks are a
great  way  to get moving before breakfast and provide an excellent
opportunity  to  see the surrounding countryside and learn a little
more  about  the  island.  We also took a bike ride into the nearby
village  of  Gros  Islet. The ride lasted a little over an hour and
LeSport  provided  us with some quality mountain bikes, much to our
surprise.  One  thing to note about LeSport is that their equipment
and facilities are all topnotch (excluding the tennis court).


The Oasis


The  big  draw  of  LeSport  for many guests is the spa, called the
Oasis.  The  Oasis  sits  in  the mountains and it is a steep climb
from  the  beach.  The  spa  has  Moorish-style architecture and is
modeled  after  a  Spanish palace. It looks more impressive in real
life than in the brochures.
After  a  meting  with  the nurse, you receive a treatment schedule
for  whatever  number  of days you are booked for. Typically, there
are  two scheduled treatments per day—included in the all-inclusive
rate.  You  can  cancel  any treatment you do not want, but keep in
mind  that is difficult to reschedule them. We tried massages, foot
massages,   deep  hair  conditioning,  aromatherapy,  jet  showers,
facial,  algae  bath, seaweed wrap, and reflexology. Treatments are
performed  in private rooms. Having been to other spas in the U.S.,
I  can  say  that the therapists were not particularly skilled, but
the  treatments  were  adequate,  especially  when you consider the
reasonable rates at LeSport.
The  Oasis  also  houses  a meditation temple, saunas, hot and cold
plunge  pools and other related stuff. This is also the location of
the  small gym and the aerobics studio. There is also a Clarins spa
in the Oasis that guests can use for additional cost.


Service


LeSport  has  “Bodyguards”  (the equivalent of a Club Med G.O.) who
were  all  a  lot  of  fun and very professional. I have to say the
service  at LeSport was the best I have experienced anywhere in the
Caribbean,  and  arguably,  anywhere  else. The staff was uniformly
attentive and friendly.


Royal St. Lucian


For  the  last  night  of  our vacation, we switched resorts to the
Royal  St.  Lucian.  LeSport  was overbooked for that night and was
looking   for   volunteers   to   move   to   the  Royal.  For  our
“inconvenience”  they  rewarded  us  with  a  seven-night  stay  at
LeSport!  That  was  a  deal  we  could  not  pass  up. Apparently,
overbooking is a common problem at both LeSport and Rendezvous.
The  Royal  St.  Lucian  is  part  of  the Rex Resorts chain and is
located directly on Reduit Beach.


Room


The  Royal St. Lucian has 84 air-conditioned suites. Some rooms are
oceanfront, but most face the pool with a partial ocean view.
The   rooms  were  very  roomy  and  luxurious.  Our  deluxe  suite
consisted  of  a  living  room,  bedroom,  enormous bathroom, and a
patio.  Rooms  were equipped with TV, three phones (one next to the
bathtub),  a  fully  stocked minibar, alarm clock, and a suite-wide
stereo system. These rooms are very impressive.
The  patio  was  quite  spacious  with a recliner, lamps, and other
furniture.  We noticed many people sitting and having drinks before
dinner.
The  living  room  had  comfortable  seating  for five. There was a
separate  work  area  with  a  phone, and the Royal offers services
geared for the traveler who must work while on vacation.


The  bedroom  contained  two  twin  beds  pushed together. It had a
separate  dressing  table  with  120V outlets. The bedroom could be
separated  from  the  living room by closing a pair of shutters and
pulling  a sheer gauze around the doorway to the bedroom. There was
plenty  of  closet  space  and I think there was also a lock box in
the room.
The  marble  bathroom  was  almost  the  size  of  the  bedroom. It
contained  a shower and separate bath. The shower was Jacuzzi-style
with  jets  on  each  side that you could turn on if desired. There
were  two  separate sinks and each had its own counter space. There
was  also  a hamper, which is convenient if you are on a long trip.
They   also  provided  us  with  robes.  Interestingly,  the  Royal
supplies  its  rooms  with  the  same weak blow dryers that LeSport
has.
The  rooms  at the Royal do not have a Caribbean feel, but they are
more like a luxury American resort.


Restaurants and Bars


We  ate  only  two meals at the Royal: dinner and breakfast. We had
dinner  at  L'Epicure.  The  restaurant was romantic, open air, and
candlelit,  and  almost  everyone dines as a couple. The restaurant
has  menu service, and there are many types of prix-fix menus which
may  apply  depending  on what package you paid for. LeSport set us
up  with the all-inclusive plan, so we could order anything off any
menu. Both entrees we had were well prepared. Breakfast was buffet-
style in La Nautique.
The resort also offers full room service.
On  the  final  night of our trip we went to bed early, so I cannot
comment  on  the  nightlife  at the Royal. The Mistral lounge had a
piano,  although  the  night  we  were  there  they  had live music
performed by a local band.


Beach and Pools


Reduit  Beach  is  large  and I was told that it is the best in the
Rodney  Bay  area.  Whereas LeSport was very private and quiet, the
Royal  is  louder  and  much  more  public.  However  the  beach is
spacious,  and  we  did not have to sit too close to others. We did
have  a  couple vendors approach us on the beach (no big deal), but
it was a change from LeSport.
We  preferred lying out by the pool. They have umbrellas and tables
readily  available  there,  and  we sat by a waterfall that drowned
out some noise from the beach.
The  Royal has wait staff taking drink orders on the beach and they
also have a swim-up bar at the pool.


Activities


Since  we  stayed  at the Royal only briefly, I did not investigate
many  activities. My husband used their weight room and said it was
well  equipped  with expensive Cybex equipment. There were aerobics
classes,  water  sports  like  windsurfing, and tennis instruction.
The Royal also has spa services available for an extra cost.


Service


Service  at  the Royal was also excellent. No complaints there. The
managers  were  readily  available  and made sure that they met the
guests.
Excursions
We  went  on one formal excursion in St. Lucia. We took a Speedboat
to  Soufriere  offered  through  Sunlink Tours. This took about six
hours  total.  We took a bus from LeSport to the Vigie harbor. Form
there  we  took  a  power  boat  to  Soufriere, and cruised through
Marigot  Bay  along  the  way  for picture taking. The boat was two
levels,   air   conditioned,   and  comfortable.  Once  we  got  to
Soufriere,  we  went  by  minibus  to  the  Sulfur  Springs and the
Botanical  Gardens.  On  the return trip we stopped for a half-hour
of  snorkeling. The tour cost us $65 U.S. apiece and was a good way
to see the island without eating up too much time.

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