CASTRIES, St. Lucia — If there’s one Caribbean island that is quickly developing a reputation as the destination of choice for chocolate lovers, it is St. Lucia. Where else can you tour a cocoa plantation, learn the "cocoa dance," plant your own cocoa tree, and have a chocolate-inspired spa experience?
With Mother’s Day coming up, there’s sure to be one or more attractions to please moms with a sweet tooth and a curiosity about the world of chocolate.
Options range from a night at the new Hotel Chocolat, a meal at the Boucan Restaurant where every item on the menu is cocoa-nib infused, or an opportunity to make your own delectable chocolate bar using local cocoa beans grown in the fertile volcanic soil of the Soufriere region.
Here are a few suggestions:
The Caribbean and Central America combined produce about 15% of the world’s cocoa and St. Lucia’s is said to be among the best. Commercial cocoa cultivation began on the island in the 18th century and the amount of land dedicated to the crop has been increasing.
Begin with a tour of one of the island’s major cocoa plantations such as Morne Coubaril or Fond Doux, the latter being one of the rare certified organic cocoa estates in the Caribbean. The tours cover more than two dozen types of trees, plants and flowers that grow on the estates (almond, mango, nutmeg, White Star Jasmine and Lobster Claws) as well as the cocoa tree with its large colourful bean pods clinging to the bark.
You’ll also see where beans are fermented (to bring out flavour), then dried on large racks in the sun, and later roasted and shelled to produce cocoa nibs. (Adventurous visitors can climb into a huge caldron of cocoa beans in their bare feet and learn the "cocoa dance" — one of the last stages in the production process). Both properties also offer an excellent lunch featuring local Creole cuisine.
The are so many chocolate-oriented offerings around this 81-hectare cocoa estate, you could easily call it "cocoa central."
For starters, there’s the brand new boutique Hotel Chocolat — with 14-rooms, the Boucan Restaurant, where you can enjoy cocoa-nib infused dishes against the dramatic backdrop of Petit Piton. The new "tree to bar" tour, open to hotel guests and visitors, covers the seedling nursery, fermenting room, sun-drying station, and, offers an opportunity to plant your own cocoa tree.
Next, move to the verandah of the historic Rabot Estate home (dating to 1745) where guide Thomas Joseph will tell you about the history of chocolate, while showing you how to make your own chocolate bar (with 70% cocoa) from locally grown beans. Grind the beans using a mortar and pestle, blend in cocoa-butter and sugar, pour into a a mould, refrigerate and eat! Coming soon — a new spa (expect chocolate-inspired treatments) and a small-batch manufacturing operation that will make premium chocolates on the premises, rather than exporting the beans for processing in Europe. Check thehotelchocolat.com.
COCOA TEA AND MORE
A popular hot beverage on St. Lucia — especially on Sunday mornings — is cocoa tea. It’s made from freshly grated cocoa sticks that sell for about $5 (cocoa tea recipe included) and can be purchased almost everywhere from local markets, to streets stalls and tourist attractions. Some versions, such as the one served daily at Bay Gardens Beach Resort, are thickened with flour and spiced with a hint of nutmeg. It’s unsweetened so you can add sugar according to your own taste.
At the opposite end of the island, on the south coast, Coconut Bay Resort & Spa serves a tasty cocoa-rice dish in its buffet restaurant (offered on pirate theme nights) as well as a weekly "chocolate extravaganza" buffet.
Cocoa treatment at Ti Kaye’s Spa
As if the seclusion, comfort, and tranquillity offered of Ti Kaye Village, a gorgeous boutique property in Anse Cochon, weren’t enough, there’s the wonderful Kai Koko Spa. Here you can enjoy a Balinese-style massage (therapist Theresa Poleon is excellent) with your choice of five scented oils, including one rich aromatic chocolate-infused concoction that smells good enough to eat. There’s also a "chocolate package" experience).
Enjoy it all from the spa’s spectacular location, high up on a cliff over the Caribbean Sea, with a view of a secluded cove below. Three treatment rooms and a relaxation/meditation room (with private Jacuzzi) are made with richly grained coconut wood and local bamboo. Lush vegetation grows outside the open windows through which a gentle breeze blows. Ti Kaye’s gift shop also sells a hand crafted all-natural soap made in St. Lucia that comes in four different scents including Cocoa-Mint (made with coconut oil, olive oil, local cocoa nibs and pure essential oil of peppermint).
GOOD TO GO