But­ler ser­vice makes St. Lu­cia stay ex­tra comfy

San­dals Re­gency La Toc has lots of din­ing op­tions and friendly cats roam­ing

The Hamilton Spectator - - TRAVEL - JOHN AND SAN­DRA NOWLAN John and San­dra Nowlan are travel and food writ­ers based in Halifax.

“Wel­come to Par­adise.”

That was the com­mon and ac­cu­rate greet­ing from the friendly and ef­fi­cient staff at San­dals Re­gency La Toc in St. Lu­cia.

This trop­i­cal Eastern Caribbean is­land, vol­canic in ori­gin, is a former Bri­tish colony (al­ter­nat­ing be­tween French and Bri­tish rule 14 times) with a pop­u­la­tion of only 180,000. It’s a long drive — about 90 min­utes — from the in­ter­na­tional air­port to the first of three San­dals re­sorts but the hilly rain for­est to­pog­ra­phy with its bam­boo and fern trees, ba­nana plan­ta­tions and small fish­ing vil­lages are fas­ci­nat­ing.

Our re­sort had 330 rooms spread out on a lush 220 acre prop­erty that in­cludes a nine-hole golf course. Our room was a beau­ti­fully de­signed one bed­room suite with a mod­ern, bright bath­room, four­poster king size bed, two gi­ant LED TVs, a bar with high-end spir­its and a fridge stocked daily with bot­tled wa­ter, pop and beer.

Best of all was the ter­race with a pri­vate plunge pool and two but­lers — trained by the Guild of Pro­fes­sional English But­lers — whose main job was to pam­per us and look af­ter our needs and wel­fare. They even drove us to din­ner in a golf cart, if we wished. A bonus at the re­sort (since we’re cat lovers) is the f act that 50 friendly fe­lines roam freely around the prop­erty and of­ten drop by the open-air restau­rants and guests’ bal­conies to say hello.

The main buf­fet restau­rant at San­dals La Loc is The Pav­il­ion, a huge, open-air din­ing area ad­ja­cent to the beach and main pool. But the re­sort has eight other “no ex­tra cost” spe­cialty restau­rants. On the first night we en­joyed Nep­tunes, a seafood spe­cialty house right by the beach and its pound­ing surf. Un­for­tu­nately all the fish is pre­frozen (ap­par­ently it’s dif­fi­cult to ob­tain a re­li­able stream of fresh fish) but it was tasty and served by a friendly staff.

The most for­mal restau­rant was La Toc, where white-gloved wait­ers of­fer an ar­ray of French spe­cial­ties like es­car­got, Cor­nish hen and chateaubriand. The food was ex­cel­lent but the por­tions were very small and not at­trac­tively pre­sented.

Our most un­usual meal was at the Ital­ian restau­rant, Ar­mando’s. A great set­ting on a bluff but the food was dis­ap­point­ing. San­dra or­dered a New York strip steak, medium rare. When it ar­rived it was less than a cen­time­tre thick and ob­vi­ously well done. A re­place­ment was bet­ter cooked but only slightly thicker. The osso buco John wanted was not avail­able but they sub­sti­tuted poor qual­ity pork ribs. Ar­mando’s chef, a na­tive of In­dia, ar­rived and agreed that our food was not ideal. But when he learned that we loved In­dian cui­sine he urged us to come back and he would pre­pare a spe­cial In­dian feast for us. We did re­turn on our last night and it was fab­u­lous.

An­other culi­nary high­light was the weekly Street Party, a joy­ful evening with great en­ter­tain­ment (in­clud­ing stilt walk­ers and limbo dancers) and an ar­ray of won­der­ful St. Lu­cian spe­cial­ties like roast suck­ling pig, goat curry, ac­kee and salt fish and ox­tail stew. It was also a great way to min­gle with and meet other guests.

The sandy beach at San­dals La Toc was ex­cel­lent but was red­flagged for high surf ev­ery day we were there.

A free shut­tle takes guests to the two other nearby San­dals re­sorts. At the Grande St. Lu­cian the beach is su­perb with gen­tle waves. It’s ideal for guests who love ocean swim­ming. In ad­di­tion, we spent a few hours at San­dals Hal­cyon Beach, a smaller, more laid-back re­sort where no build­ing rises higher than the palm trees. Its lay­out, in­clud­ing Kelly’s Dock­side, a restau­rant ex­tend­ing 150 feet over the wa­ter, was im­pres­sive.

One day we joined Is­land Routes for an ex­cur­sion called the Soufriere Ad­ven­ture. We boarded a cata­ma­ran for a pleas­ant sail along St. Lu­cia’s west coast, past the ma­jes­tic Pi­tons (twin vol­canic cones that are the coun­try’s key land­mark), end­ing up in Soufriere, the former French cap­i­tal of the is­land.

A bus trans­ferred us to a sugar, co­conut and co­coa plan­ta­tion where we learned about the is­land’s his­tory and tasted fresh co­coa beans. An au­then­tic Cre­ole lunch was fol­lowed by a visit to the world’s only drive-in vol­cano (still steam­ing, it last erupted in 1766). On the re­turn cata­ma­ran, we vis­ited the tran­quil com­mu­nity of Marigot Bay (“Dr. Doolit­tle” was filmed here).

San­dals guests tend to re­main very loyal to the brand and it’s easy to see why. In f act some vis­i­tors come for two weeks or more and take the brief plane hop from St. Lu­cia to stay for a few days at San­dals re­sorts on nearby An­tigua, Gre­nada and Bar­ba­dos.

PHOTO BY JOHN NOWLAN

Sev­eral tempt­ing fresh­wa­ter pools are spread along the San­dals La Toc re­sort in St. Lu­cia. The re­sort also has a sandy beach.

PHOTO BY SAN­DRA NOWLAN

Aboard an Is­land Routes cata­ma­ran ap­proach­ing St. Lu­cia’s fa­mous Pi­tons.

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