Nestled between St Lucia’s iconic twin Pitons, Sugar Beach, a Viceroy resort offers an exceptional Caribbean holiday
Here’s a true story. As our taxi from Hewanorra International Airport winds its way through dense tropical plantations, up steep hills dotted with villages and along beautiful coastlines, I turn to my husband and say: “We have to get out and explore St Lucia while we’re here.”
As the cab arrives at the entrance to Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort and takes us on a tour of the spectacular estate, I’m starting to waver: “Maybe we’ll just stay in the resort and not go anywhere.”
And when we finally walk into our villa – a gorgeous white-painted cottage with a private plunge pool, set on a hillside with a panoramic view of the island’s iconic Pitons and the Caribbean Sea – my mind is made up: “I’m not leaving the villa.”
Located in the Eastern Caribbean islands, just to the northwest of Barbados, St Lucia is awash with luxurious resorts and hotels, but few can lay claim to the unique and remarkable natural beauty of Sugar Beach.
Set in the Val des Pitons, directly between the world-famous twin peaks rising more than 750 metres above the water and island, this exclusive tropical hideaway offers a memorable holiday experience.
“It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth,” says resort owner Roger Myers, the British entrepreneur and visionary who bought this former sugar plantation and run-of-the-mill hotel in 2005 and, with the help of leading Caribbean architect Lane Pettigrew, created one of the region’s best luxury resorts and residential developments.
“Everything about it, for me, is mystical: the setting, the views, the property,” he adds. “There’s a transcendental beauty to the Pitons that just lifts your heart.”
With 96 guest accommodations featuring hillside villas, beachfront bungalows and sugar mill rooms; an array of restaurants; a rainforest spa; two white sand beaches; and exotic gardens, Sugar Beach is in a secluded and seductive world of its own.
The resort is located on St Lucia’s calm-water southwest coastline, about five kilometres from the bustling town of Soufrière and a picturesque 45-minute drive from the international airport.
Nestled in more than 40 hectares of tropical forest separating Gros Piton and Petit Piton, the resort has an almost ethereal quality that entirely befits its UNESCO World Heritage-listed setting.
From the unassuming main entrance at the top of the hill, the guest accommodations are cleverly grouped in small and intimate clusters of villas and cottages, cascading down the tree-covered slope like mini-waterfalls to the beautiful bay.
At the foot of the hill is an enclave of private residences, some elevated on the lower slope, others perched directly on Glenconner Beach, named after the eccentric British aristocrat Colin Tennant, Lord Glenconner, who owned the hotel before Myers.
To the right, the road meanders alongside aquamarine water to a row of beachfront bungalows fronting the main Sugar Beach and under a canopy of mature trees to the Great House.
This is the resort’s social hub, an imposing but graceful plantation-style building overlooking tropical gardens, lawn cabanas, the main pool and a breezy beachfront restaurant.
Good food plays a major role in the Sugar Beach experience, setting the rhythm of the resort’s daily schedule – breakfast at The Terrace in the Great House is followed by a casual and leisurely lunch at the Bayside Restaurant just feet from the pool and beach.
Guests gather in The Palm Court, above The Terrace, for afternoon tea and sunset cocktails, and then have various options for dinner: a standout Asian-inspired menu in the Cane Bar, which doubles as a specialty rum bar; a more formal affair in The Great Room, with its old-world colonial ambience and Mediterranean- and Caribbean-influenced dishes; or a toes-in-the sand dinner at the Bayside.
And every Tuesday and Saturday evening, Sugar Beach offers Machou, a pop-up restaurant on The Terrace alternating between a French grill and a barbecue.
The resort also encourages guests to enjoy “anywhere, anytime” dining: on the beach, in one of the lawn cabanas, on the boat dock, or under the stars on the terrace of your villa with a personalised menu to suit all tastes and special occasions.
Under the expert direction of Executive Chef/Director of Food and Beverage Jacques Chretien – with his 30-year career in the kitchens of some of the best restaurants in France and Mexico – Sugar Beach delivers a stellar culinary experience.
Chretien’s thoughtful farm-to-table approach informs his team’s menus, with local farmers delivering organic meats, vegetables, fruits and herbs to complement the resort’s global wine selection.
Expect to pay capital city prices for food and drinks at Sugar Beach. You can dine à la carte, but many guests opt for part- or all-inclusive meal plans that help keep costs from mounting without diluting the quality experience.
By day, even a full resort never feels crowded with guests scattered among their villas, the beaches, the pool, tennis courts, the fitness center and also participating in an array of water sports, from snorkelling to diving and sailing.
Another highlight is the Rainforest Spa, an intimate retreat next to the main plantation house, designed by Pettigrew, built by local craftsmen and resembling a rustic village in a tropical forest.
The spa, which cost A$2.5 million to create, offers traditional St Lucian natural therapies in seven treehouse treatment rooms, along with a wet room, manicure and pedicure treehouse, and a fascinating Temazcal Amerindian steam room set inside a stone dome.
Between meals and activities, many guests retreat to their luxury accommodations, comprising 77 hillside villas and cottages, eight beachfront bungalows and 11 sugar mill rooms close to the Great House.
Another 22 private residences are also available for rent most of the year, especially during St Lucia’s high season.
The mostly three- and four-bedroom homes feature pools, expansive terraces, indoor and outdoor living and dining spaces, and high-end kitchens.
Each sugar mill room has the same plantation styling as the villas, cottages and beachfront bungalows as well as a plunge pool and walled garden. Superior sugar mill rooms have the bonus of a roof terrace.
Our villa is halfway up the hillside, a standalone, white-washed cottage straight out of a Caribbean storybook, with an entrance hall, sitting room, master bedroom with four-poster bed and flat-screen TV, and a well-equipped bathroom with a claw-foot tub and walk-in shower.
The sitting room and bedroom open to a spacious terrace with sun loungers, a dining table, comfy plantation chairs under an awning, a plunge pool and beautiful views of the Pitons and Caribbean Sea.
Each villa comes with 24-hour butler service, a personal iPad and a pair of cute his-and-her mobile phones linked to your butler’s station. Simply call to place an order, make a dinner reservation or request a pick-up from anywhere in the resort.
The resort’s finest accommodations are undoubtedly the two newly opened Beachfront Collection residences, set directly on Glenconner Beach.
These architect-designed homes are more contemporary than other villas on the estate, with a distinctive Southeast Asian aesthetic comprising numerous water features, glass sliding windows for seamless indoor and outdoor living, private pools and jaw-dropping panoramas of the Pitons. There are also plans for another three of these homes to be built overlooking Glenconner Beach.
Exploring Sugar Beach is a joy in itself. Myers fell in love with the jaunty three-wheeler tuk-tuks that are popular in Asia and bought several to ferry Sugar Beach guests around the resort.
Splashed with vibrant colours and individual nameplates, the motorised vehicles dart around like tropical parrots. “You can be a millionaire or a kid and still love sitting in those tuk-tuks,” says Myers. “They just make you smile.”
St Lucia’s peak season is mid-December to April. Sugar Beach also has its ebbs and flows, popular with honeymooners in spring and summer, multigenerational families during school holidays (the resort has a dedicated kids’ club) and couples year-round.
The resort underwent a three-year, multi-million-dollar renovation and transition and relaunched in 2012 as Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort – and is for the most part well-maintained. A non-functioning shower in our villa and a missing but prominent tile in the pool were initial minor flaws, but they were quickly fixed.
While Viceroy has managed the property since 2008 and delivers a polished international service, Myers was adamant that the resort keep its island character, especially in regard to the staff.
“I wanted it to be a Caribbean hotel, not a British or American hotel,” he says. “Almost all our staff is St Lucian and some have been here for 20 or 30 years. The people are simply fantastic.”
We never did leave Sugar Beach during our week-long stay, save for a tour of a neighbouring cocoa plantation and a chilled Piton beer at The View, a local bar with a sweeping vista of Gros Piton. The other joys of St Lucia will have to wait until next time.