The Star (St. Lucia) - - TOURISM - By Mae Sab­bagh Wayne

Ire­al­ize now how priv­i­leged had been my child­hood. By the age of 21 I had been to so many places: the Mid­dle East, Asia, Africa, Europe - un­bur­dened by a back­pack! I used to take great pleasure in telling new friends that I'd seen most of the world. Luck­ily for me, no one asked had I ever been to Saint Lu­cia. I might well have an­swered: “Where?” Same an­swer for queries about Trinidad, Gre­nada, Bar­ba­dos or any­where else in the Caribbean. Truth be told, not even dur­ing my ge­og­ra­phy classes was the re­gion spo­ken about. On the other hand, I had heard of Ja­maica. But only be­cause when I was a stu­dent in London my room­mate Haile Se­lassie's grand­daugh­ter, Kitty, had in­vited me to ac­com­pany her on vis­its to Se­lassie wor­ship­per Bob Marley at his Kens­ing­ton home. Since those heady days, when­ever I hear Ja­maica spo­ken of, it is the le­gendary reg­gae star who im­me­di­ately comes to mind, not the is­land par­adise. (You're prob­a­bly wondering whether we shared a puff or two. All I'll say to that is, never in­haled!)

It's been some 30 years since I've made my home in Saint Lu­cia and I've been to Ja­maica sev­eral times for fash­ion shows. Still, I con­tinue to make the knee-jerk as­so­ci­a­tion. Which is what brand­ing is all about. Bob Marley (Usain Bolt, too) and Ja­maica are to­day syn­ony­mous; as are Bar­ba­dos and Ri­hanna. As are San­dals and . . . I al­most said Ja­maica. Alas, while to some ex­tent that is the case, the greater truth is that San­dals is now im­me­di­ately as­so­ci­ated with the Caribbean, sto­ry­book ro­mance cou­ples, mag­i­cal wed­dings and hon­ey­moons. Not long ago, while din­ing with a Bri­tish friend at Ki­mono -one of the ho­tel's yummy restau­rants - I had taken much pleasure in in­form­ing him that while the fam­ily-owned San­dals had ho­tels all over the Caribbean, its roots were in Ja­maica.

San­dals ob­vi­ously loves Saint Lu­cia! It has planted three of its re­sorts here, with a re­cently com­pleted lux­u­ri­ous ex­pan­sion at San­dals Grande of Over-the-Wa­ter Bun­ga­lows, and now a fourth is on the way. Of course, Butch Gor­don Ste­wart can­not claim ‘over the wa­ter' liv­ing as his orig­i­nal idea! The con­cept of wa­ter vil­las has been pop­u­lar in such places as Mex­ico, Tahiti, Thai­land and the Far East. But Mr. Ste­wart is the first to bring them to the Caribbean: to his San­dals Royal Caribbean, Mon­tego Bay, and now to San­dals Grande St. Lu­cian where there are nine!

The wa­ter vil­las con­cept had been floated in Saint Lu­cia since the days of Rose­wood. Re­mem­ber? Well, now the re­al­ity is here: and a thrilling new cat­e­gory of lux­ury va­ca­tion­ing it is. Many pun­dits be­lieve wa­ter bun­ga­lows will at­tract high rollers seek­ing true lux­ury just three hours away from Mi­ami! No more 20-hour flights to the Mal­dives nec­es­sary! My doc­tor in Mi­ami, while I was on a re­cent visit to his of­fice, re­vealed that he is a San­dals junkie, hav­ing stayed at their re­sorts in Turks & Caicos and the ul­tra-lux­u­ri­ous Ex­uma Ba­hamas. Now he is con­sid­er­ing the swanky Over­the-Wa­ter Bun­glows in Saint Lu­cia. He shared that he'd al­ways dreamed of staying in one of these wa­ter villa re­sorts but was put off by the need to spend two days fly­ing to his cho­sen des­ti­na­tion. Three hours was more his speed, es­pe­cially when he had only four or five days at his dis­posal.

I could hardly wait to get out of my reg­u­lar sur­round­ings (re­lax­ing as they are!!) when I was in­vited to sam­ple San­dals' idea of lux­ury liv­ing. No sur­prise that my bor­ing hubby was more con­cerned about pos­si­ble sea­sick­ness. And since I couldn't very well dial up some fan­tasy (god for­bid I should end up in Biky B!) I called one of my BFFs, the nearly-al­ways-readyto-sam­ple-a-new-ex­pe­ri­ence Berthia Parle. Now, I had stayed many years ago in Thai­land at an ‘over the wa­ter' chalet on some small is­land, the name of which I do not now re­call. I had a fun time but you couldn't truth­fully as­so­ciate it with lux­ury, if you know what I mean. Some­times na­ture ac­tu­ally is a eu­phemism for rough­ing it. I could hardly wait to dis­cover what the Saint Lu­cia ver­sion of­fered.

The San­dals ex­pe­ri­ence be­gins from the mo­ment you drive into the re­sort to be greeted by your but­ler of­fer­ing an iced towel. My uni­formed but­ler was named Michael. He had on white gloves and as he an­swered our rapid-fire ques­tions he flashed a forthe-movies smile that fur­ther tick­led our fancy. Michael led us to our villa and, for a split se­cond, I imag­ined I had landed in Dubai, even Shangri-la. Talk about made for he­do­nists!

The lo­ca­tion is per­fect: Pi­geon Is­land on one side, an­chored beau­ti­ful yachts fur­ther en­hanc­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, and lo­cal fish­er­men go­ing out ev­ery morn­ing to catch the fish that many of us en­joy so much.

The leisure bun­ga­lows are so de­signed that the ocean comes to you. There are glass pan­els on the floor that light up at night per­mit­ting a view of the noc­tur­nal marine life.

I love that this place is serene and so quiet, as if you are alone on a ship an­chored some­where out on the calmest sea. In fact you are not far from San­dals with its adult Dis­ney­world. Berthia was not about to miss that! And where my BFF goes, she drags me along, should I at­tempt to re­sist. On the oc­ca­sion she had an easy task. Suf­fice it to say the lo­cal tal­ent had us think­ing Ve­gas through­out their per­for­mances. But back to my pad on the sea.

Yeah, yeah, I know I sound over-ex­cited. So would you, had you been as for­tu­nate as were Berthia and I at the weekend, courtesy San­dals. Some would say lux­ury is per­sonal and sub­jec­tive but I can­not imag­ine

The real voyage of dis­cov­ery con­sists not of seek­ing new land­scapes, but in hav­ing new eyes. --- Mar­cel Proust

any­one de­scrib­ing the en­vi­ron­ment of which I speak as any­thing but lux­ury. The Guyanese grey and brown ma­hogany wood floor is so highly pol­ished you could slide across it! There are mag­nets at the bot­tom of all the doors so when the sweet Caribbean trade winds blow, you won’t be in­ter­rupted in what­ever ac­tiv­ity you may be en­gaged.

The bath­rooms are a dream, re­plete with glis­ten­ing mo­saic walls, rem­i­nis­cent of Ro­man splen­dour. The tow­els and linen are all mono­grammed, while my shower fea­tured my favourite Molton Brown. The memories of my Sloane Ranger days flooded back at the sight and scent of these di­vine toi­letries. Ac­tu­ally I had two show­ers, in­door and out­door. And a round tub for two! Per­haps when he reads this, Rick might be less in­clined to refuse the next in­vite. That tub for two over­looks Pi­geon Point; who could ask for any­thing more? Clearly the idea here is to pro­mote rest and re­lax­ation, sur­rounded by na­ture: birds ev­ery­where you look, fish dart­ing around and sim­ply get­ting to­gether undis­turbed . . . pure fan­tasy.

You need not be a wa­ter per­son to en­joy the mas­ter­piece. You are free to lie in bed all day, eyes glued to the 60-inch high def­i­ni­tion ro­tat­ing smart TV. (If any­thing can tempt my hus­band out of his pri­vate li­brary, this is it!) For me, how­ever, it’s the fab­u­lous pris­tine sur­round­ing wa­ter that re­mains the star at­trac­tion. There is noth­ing in the world more re­lax­ing than the sound of the sea gen­tly ca­ress­ing the shore, at night es­pe­cially. You wake up to more sooth­ing sounds, courtesy the birds, then jump into the azure blue wa­ter – just as gor­geous as the renowned Per­sian turquoise - prior to the day’s first cof­fee. In case you’re wondering, dur­ing my two days of su­per lux­ury I took my first ex­hil­a­rat­ing leap into the sea at 6 a.m.

As my friend the late ad­vised: “Let the sea set you free!” I cer­tainly did. I re­turned home re­freshed, high on life . . . if only un­til my next visit to San­dals’ Over-the-Wa­ter Bun­ga­lows!

Lux­ury in­cluded: Rest in bliss­ful peace with per­fect views of Pi­geon Is­land!

Com­plete with but­ler ser­vice, the Over-the-Wa­ter Bun­ga­lows s add a new el­e­ment of lux­ury to San­dals re­sorts in Saint Lu­cia.

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