Jump up and get down on the lush and sandy island of St Lucia, where celebrities go to play and every meal tastes better with some hot sauce and a cool Piton beer
In the words of Van Halen, "Go ahead, jump!" The hottest spot on the Caribbean island of St Lucia come Friday night is the weekly 'jump up' street party in Gros Islet, a small, rustic village on the northwest coast of this beautifully lush mango-shaped isle.
The streets are filled with locals and holidaymakers, all enjoying the open-air music, food, drinking and dancing until the wee small hours. It's the island's intimate answer to the O2, the Hollywood Bowl and Mardi Gras, all rolled into one small space, thronging with people all out to have a good time. And good times are what they do really, really well on St Lucia.
The West Indies island has been voted the world's leading honeymoon destination, by the World Travel Awards, for eight years in a row now. So honeymooners clearly love its turquoise waters, secluded bays, deserted coves and sandy beaches. So, too, do celebs. Amy Winehouse spent more than three months there soaking up the sun, while Denise Van Outen and Lee Mead flew to the island to celebrate their engagement earlier this year. If Hollywood and London are where the A-list live and work, St Lucia is where they go to play.
The high-end, exclusive and super-discreet Cap Maison is a home-away-from-home for many sports stars, while uber A-listers such as Oprah Winfrey opt for the Jalousie Plantation, in its perfect location nestled at the base of the Pitons, the two volcanic plugs that define the island's geography in what is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
DJ Trevor Nelson has been spotted at The Landings resort, near Gros Islet and Rodney Bay, while TV presenter Lisa Snowden has stayed at Cotton Bay Village, in Castries. And while it's bound to have its share of slebs, the Windjammer Landing Villa Beach resort, also in Castries, is a popular spot for families. Meanwhile, Ms Winehouse, it seems, has made a point of being spotted just about everywhere, mostly popping in up pap shots at Le Sport.
So what draws the stars, plus numerous honeymooners, families and chill-seekers here? Aside, of course, from the sun (a warm, tropical climate year-round, with some rain from June to November), scenery and amazing sunsets?
Many devotees will tell you they like the fact that St Lucia hasn’t succumbed to mass tourism like other Caribbean destinations, such as Jamaica, nor is it as exclusive as the likes of St Barts. Instead, it has managed to pull off being diverse, yet boutique - a premium destination, with no high-rise hotels, but plenty in the way of bustling 'real life'.
Some holidaymakers love the music, the reggae-tastic vibe and the steel bands, especially the annual jazz festival. Most love the sun and the food - freshly-caught fish is a speciality, as are curries and rotis, all perfect when washed down with a chilled Piton beer. If you want the ultimate meal with a view, book a table for lunch at Dasheene, the restaurant at the intimate, hillside eco-resort Ladera, with its panoramic views of the Pitons and the sparkling sea. Some visitors simply can't get enough of the hot sauce - St Lucia's ubiquitous, piquant accompaniment to every meal.
Active types will appreciate the coral reefs at Anse Cochon and Anse Chastanet, plus the island's numerous watersport opportunities, from diving to sailing. The very adventurous can even go hiking in the rainforest, which stretches from one side of the island to the other, while sunset is a time to either enjoy a candlelit meal on the beach, as arranged by your hotel, or try a more energetic pursuit such as horse-riding. The attraction billed as 'the world's only drive-in volcano', with its pungent sulphur springs and Jurassic Park-style landscape, located in the southwest near Soufriere, is interesting, but won't take up much more than an hour of your time.
St Lucia is big enough that you can stay for two weeks and not discover it all, yet, at just 27 miles long and 14 miles wide, small enough to allow you to explore the whole island in a matter of days. It has all the things you'd expect from a tropical island, from gorgeous palm-fringed beaches to luxurious (and usually secluded and private) hotels and resorts to an interior filled with dense, lush rainforest (and steep, sometimes fear-inducing, roads that cut through the hilly terrain).
The capital city, Castries, in the northwest of the island, is also worth a visit, as is Vieux Fort (St Lucia's second largest port) on its southern tip, and the charming fishing village and old French capital of Soufriere in the southwest.
Yet for all its sunshine and scenery, it's really the people - friendly, warm and genuinely happy to be sharing their island with you - who stick in my mind. When I thanked the guy at passport control in Hewanorra Airport after getting off my flight from Gatwick, I was greeted with a cheerful, "no worries". They should make the slogan their official motto: St Lucia is 'no worries' central.
Virgin Atlantic and British Airways both fly to St Lucia three times a week from Gatwick.