February 22, 2013
The island of St Lucia may have some of the best beaches in the Caribbean but its mountainous, rainforest-clad interior is easily as compelling as its coastline. We take a look at two natural attractions worth heading inland for…
Just a few minutes drive from the centre of Soufriere, Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens is part of the Soufriere Estate and comprises six acres of planted tropical gardens including the waterfall known as Diamond Falls. The cement-coloured Diamond River comes directly from the volcanic Sulphur Springs, and the mineral-rich water gives the 17 metre falls a multi-hued glow with a stained appearance to the rock face.
The gardens themselves sit in a natural gorge, once the site of spring baths built in 1784 for the troops of King Louis XVI of France. At the time, the Governor of St. Lucia had some water samples sent to Paris to be analysed and they were found to contain the same properties as the baths in famous European spa towns like Aix-les-Bains and Aachen in Germany.
But the baths fell into disrepair at the turn of the 19th century and remained as ruins until they were restored by the previous owner of Diamond Estate. Today, the two Mineral Baths have modern bathroom facilities and are situated out in the open, with the warm clear waters highly recommended for sore joints and muscles – great for those returning from a Pitons hike.
The gardens themselves were first planted in 1983 with flowering bushes and shrubs, and exotic plants like Hibiscus, Anthurim and Heliconia all thriving in the tropical climate. If you’re a keen photographer you’ll want to keep your camera close by as the Heliconia flowers attract dozens of tiny, iridescent hummingbirds to their nectar.
The Tet Paul Nature Trail is one of St. Lucia’s real treats. Developed and constructed by local residents and the farming community of Chateau Belair, the trail is situated within the Piton Management area, part of St. Lucia’s World Heritage Site. Although it’s only about a 45 minute climb to the top – at a steadily rising but low incline – it can easily take almost twice as long as the distractions en route are many.
My guide John Nestor – a driving force behind the creation of the trail – was a walking encyclopedia, pointing out everything from the tiniest medicinal plants and flowers to distant plantations and villages, giving added context and meaning to the hike.
Along the trail is a sparsely furnished traditional home and a Cassava house, used to demonstrate the traditional art of producing tapioca. Further along, past pineapple and banana plants, avocado and apricot trees, a fully-functioning organic farm sits on a hillside facing a wide expanse of valley. But best of all are the views, which reach far across the volcanic valley and coastline until you reach the very end of the trail. Here, a staircase known as the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ leads to a small platform with a magnificent Pitons vista.