Beauty & Grace: St. Lucia's Anse Chatsanet Resort
by Andy Alpine
I went to sleep with tree frogs and crickets chorusing through the night's darkness. In the morning the first sound I heard was the flap of a bird overhead and then the songs of hundreds of its fellow creatures. I opened my eyes to the brilliance of vermilion and orange bougainvillea and a bright tropical sun.
Although this might sound like the narrative of a backpacking adventure, it describes my first night at the luxury resort of Anse Chastanet on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia. Located on its namesake bay and 500 lush tropical acres, the property faces St. Lucia's landmark twin peaks, the half-mile high Gros Piton and the smaller Petit Piton. The gourmet food, excellent service (a staff of 250 for 49 rooms), and architectural uniqueness make Anse Chastanet a world-class resort. But what turns it into a truly multifaceted destination is the extraordinary diving, with pristine colorful reefs and 80-foot dropoffs just 50 yards from shore.
Although, like myself, more than 25 percent of Anse Chastanet's guests come to dive, the resort also makes a romantic getaway. There are no TV's, radios, or telephones in the rooms, "so that the outside world cannot intrude," as their brochure puts it.
Individually designed by owner/architect Nick Troubetzkoy, accommodations start on beach level and work their way up the hill in a serpentine fashion. Stone steps and pathways overhung by vines and large trees make you feel as if you are living in a small, picturesque town.
My room was as large as most New York City apartments and opened to nature on two sides: no screens, no windows. Twenty feet overhead, the ceiling incorporated beams and dormers in tropical hardwoods. A pine tree grew up through the roof in the middle of the large open shower area. Paintings by a local artist contrasted with the white stucco walls. Every room at Anse Chastanet displays original art by painters, sculptors and wood carvers.
Like the architecture, the routine at Anse Chastanet encourages relaxed indulgence. The first dive of the day does not start until 10:30 A.M., allowing time for a leisurely breakfast at the Pitons Restaurant with its breathtaking view of the summits. Every beam and column in the main buildings appears to be hand-carved with elaborate figures and designs. Dive sites lie a short, smooth ride from the resort in comfortable boats, and divers return to the resort in time for lunch at the beachside restaurant called Trou au Diable (Devil's Hole).
The second dive at 2:30 P.M. heads for sites within a five to ten minute boat ride from the resort. After diving there is still enough time to enjoy the warmth of the afternoon sun on the long crescent-shape beach that gives Anse Chastanet its name.
Each evening when I was there, a group of local fishermen came to the bay with their oar boats and long fishing nets to catch small bait fish "herded" there by larger fish. On a few afternoons I took a sea kayak to the second beach of Anse Mamin with its old French colonial plantation stretching back through the valley.
My first dive, a check-out dive required of all divers, started 50 feet from shore in calm Anse Chastanet Bay. Immediately, I noticed first a small--and then an extremely large--spotted moray eel. For a reef so close to a resort, the coral was exceptionally healthy. Towards the end of the dive, we saw several rockfish and a pregnant seahorse!
This first dive set the tone for the rest of my week, with colorful coral and plentiful fish. I also got to see my favorite small critters such as arrowhead crabs, banded coral shrimp and Pederson cleaner shrimp.
My favorite dive was "Superman's Flight," located at the base of Petit Piton. The cliff was used as a backdrop in the film Superman II. A strong current caused excellent visibility as we "flew" along the steeply sloped wall, passing large barrel sponges, gorgonian fans and soft yellow corals. Angelfish, mackerel, puffers and spotted filefish accompanied us in the flow. Another unique dive was "Pinnacles," four seamounts that began at almost 100 feet and rose within a few feet of the surface. As I circled the outcrops, I found a profusion of black and orange gorgonian fans that were fed by the shifting currents. Amid this world of lace and rock, I observed a juvenile French angel fish nervously eyeing a large barracuda.
Our dive on the wreck of the Lesleen M was a photographer's delight. This 165-foot freighter was intentionally sunk in 1986 to create an artificial reef. In just 13 years the sea has provided the Lesleen M with an overcoat of corals, fans and fishlife to rival the variety of a natural reef.
Cabin walkways now housed schools of squirrel fish and offered great silhouettes of windows framed by gorgonians. We were also able to go down into the cargo holds and explore the engine room. Our divemaster pointed out a camouflaged frog fish that looked exactly like a clump of algae. Even with the divemaster pointing directly at the fish, I had difficulty discerning its form.
After the day of diving, I enjoyed the casual, Carribbean evenings. Every night, we had different entertainment: reggae, soca, jazz, and a steel band. One night three older gentlemen on guitar, violin and shaker played funky down home St. Lucian music.
Dinners were elaborate--a full four-course meal served at the hillside Piton Restaurant. One evening the beach restaurant offered a barbecue; another night, a Creole dinner. I also discovered the "Tree House," an extension of the Piton Restaurant a little further around the hillside. The sounds of the frogs and waves made it feel like a special hideaway.
On my last day at Anse Chastanet I went snorkeling at the reef, a short swim from the beach. Almost everything I had seen diving during the week was there--gorgonian fans, large sponges, juvenile spotted drums, angel fish, and even several small moray eels. It's no wonder that many guests who come to Anse Chastanet to just snorkel become enthralled with the undersea environment and decide to become certified divers.
As I came out of the water, I looked up to find a double rainbow arched behind the palm trees along the shore--a fitting end to a week of beauty and grace.
To book a stay at Anse Chastanet or for more information on the resort contact: Tropical Adventures Travel, 111 Second North, Seattle, WA 98109. Phone: (800) 247-3483 or (206) 441-3483; Fax: (206) 441-5431; E-mail: email@example.com.
For information about additional programs and tour operators, see the Geographical Index under "St. Lucia."