St. Lucia is indeed a Caribbean dream: a small, lush tropical gem of an island that is still relatively unknown and undeveloped, although it does offer a good variety of accommodation for tourists, including a few discreet resorts. St. Lucia is one of the Windward isles of the Lesser Antilles, situated midway down the Eastern Caribbean chain between Martinique and St. Vincent, just north of Barbados. It is tiny – only 27 miles (43km) long and 14 miles (23km) wide – and shaped a bit like an avocado.
The volcanic island’s main landmarks are the Pitons, two soaring peaks on its southern coast that rise up from the sea and shelter a magnificently dense rain forest, where wild orchids grow and brilliantly-plumed tropical birds abound. The Creole people of the island are as warm as the tropical climate, and visitors are treated to plenty of smiles as they make the most of the island’s natural beauty and secluded golden beaches, where coral reefs beckon snorkellers and scuba divers.
Most visitors are day-trippers who arrive on cruise liners at the island’s main port, Castries, and generally do little more than shop for souvenirs. Those who have time to explore, however, are enchanted by the walks, cycling trails and natural beauty spots on the island, including the fascinating Soufriere volcano, with its bubbling sulphur springs.
The island has been left with a distinct French flavour, although its earliest colonists in the 17th century were British. The colonial history of the island, first settled by Arawak Indians around 200 AD, is a long saga of battles for control between the French and British. Britain eventually won the war in 1814, and granted independence under the Commonwealth to St Lucia in 1979.