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F lying over St Lucia - the view largely consisting of rainforest - you may be forgiven for thinking that the island is simply a mass of trees. But skulking under this verdant blanket is a tropical island paradise, home to numerous volcanic and white sand beaches, hot springs, pretty coves, scented jasmine and wild orchids. One of the most naturally beautiful islands in the Caribbean, St Lucia also makes way for idyllic resorts. Sailing around the island gives you a chance to step ashore and discover both the natural wonders and the man- made variety, and you'll be in fine seafaring company. Over the years, St Lucia has attracted sailors of all types, from pirates nestling in the safety of the hurricane hole at Marigot Bay to French and English military in centuries past, to today's superyachts cruising the Caribbean's Windward Islands chain. NATURAL APPEAL Due to its volcanic origins, St Lucia has breathtaking mountains and a fabulous underwater world. As such it has great appeal for hikers, divers and nature lovers. From the rugged terrain of the south to the flatter, less volcanic north, the island has something for everyone. With the mountains comes rain, and thus lush rainforests where tropical birds find refuge among the acres of designated rainforest reserve. Towering here are the soaring Piton mountains, which have become a symbol of the nation. The twin volcanic peaks dominate the southwest of the island and appear more dramatic than they actually are due to the fact that they rise up from the sea in sheer, spectacular ascent. Gros Piton provides wonderful opportunities for ahike, while those with a greater head for heights can zip- wire through the rainforest or take the aerial tram that rides over the tree tops and provides spectacular views of the rainforest. Nearby Soufrière is the oldest town on the island. Named by the French, it is most famous for its stunning natural surroundings, including the sulphur springs which lend it its name. The town used to be the island's capital and it still has some original Creole wooden buildings. But for a real taste of St Lucia's past, the 19th century Fond Doux Estate has acres of orchards, cocoa trees, banana, coconut, coffee, nutmeg and cinnamon plantations, along with old sugar works and herb gardens. To the north lies Pigeon Island, a 44- acre national park that was formerly only accessible by sea but is now connected by a man- made causeway. Once the home of indigenous Opposite page: although much of the island is lush and green, there's plenty of space for stunning white sand beaches ( right) st lucia St Lucia is so desirable the British and French fought for possession of it 14 times in the 18th century. Today, the only haggling going on is in the local markets. sea& iexplores this Caribbean idyll By Miriam Cain 38Isea& iIAUTUMN 2009 Heaven- saint

AUTUMN 2009I sea& iI39 Amerindians, and then pirates, the island today abounds with walking trails and historic remnants of its service as a military base. One such example is an 18th century fort that was built as a lookout to spy on French ships during numerous conflicts over the island. During that century the island changed hands 14 times between the British and the French, and, although it is now English- speaking, remnants of its time under French rule are reflected in the place names, Creole cuisine and French patois that many of the islanders still speak. Alongside Pigeon Island is Rodney Bay, St Lucia's main resort area. A bustling hub of shops, restaurants and bars sits alongside the long sandy Reduit Beach and Rodney Bay Marina which, along with Marigot Bay, is one of the main yachting destinations on the island. South of Pigeon Island and Rodney Bay is the island's capital, Castries. Its market is a bustling meeting place, especially on Fridays. Castries Port is a day stopover for many of the large cruise liners and is devoted to duty free shopping, for which there are two options at either end of the port: La Place Carenage and Pointe Seraphine - great places to head if you need some retail therapy, but to be avoided if you desire peace. THE BIG BLUE The island is surrounded by waters that are rich in marine life. The warm waves also play host to migratory whales during the winter months and are the main home for stunning underwater life year round. Soufrière Marine Park is perfect for snorkelling, as is the coral around Anse Chastanet. Just north, you can swim with turtles at Anse Cochon, while the east coast and Grand Anse are the best places for turtle watching. REST EASY Described as being the most beautiful bay in the Caribbean by author James Michener, Marigot Bay has provided shelter to mariners for centuries. The bay has been a favourite of yachties for years, and even starred in the original Doctor Dolittlefilm. Today it houses the Discovery at Marigot Bay resort, which includes a marina, spa, fitness centre, restaurants, shopping and 57 suites overlooking the docks. Combining sustainable, low- impact design, the suites are built on the hillside over-looking the bay, and are terraced so that every suite has a view from the private balconies. The resort's main pool is surrounded by lush vegetation and blends into the scenic backdrop of the hillside. A winding boardwalk links the suites, pools, ?