Fair Helen of Troy has nothing on St Lucia. St Lucia is so desirable that 14 blood-drenched battles have brought about 14 changes of St Lucia ownership. No wonder the island's national anthem proclaims St Lucia as "the fairest isle in all the world," just as Helen was declared "fairest woman" on the planet.
Twin mountain peaks are St Lucia's signature symbol. Known as the Pitons, French for peak or spike, the colloquial meaning of piton is big nose. World travelers often compare the Pitons with the picture-perfect peaks of the South Pacific. Paul Gauguin would have loved the island, but he chose instead to paint masterpieces on Martinique, the island just north of St Lucia.
Lush, mountainous St Lucia - pronounced St Loosha - boasts a 19,000-acre rain forest as its centrepiece. Some 29 miles of mountain trails provide spectacular views above and beyond the wildest imagination of a Hollywood set designer. The 2.5-mile Enbas Saut Falls route starts at a jungle-clad mountain and ends with cooling, rainforest waterfalls. Athletic visitors will want to go mountain biking on a former plantation near the village of Soufriere. Cool down in the village reservoir, now re-styled as a swimming hole.
Some of the island's best beaches are on the protected, or leeward, coast at the island's northern end. The busiest beaches are located between the island's northern tip and the capital city, Castries. Once a venue for all-too-frequent wars and invasions, Castries was named for the Marechal de Castries, a French colonial minister who served as governor of the island in 1784. When not being invaded, Castries had the unfortunate habit of burning down, as happened in 1796, 1812, 1927 and 1948. So there are few remaining examples of Creole architectural gems. Buildings that somehow escaped fires and wars are noted for balconies with gingerbread patterns that are the most intricate of all Eastern Caribbean venues - except for Trinidad. The town centre is Derek Walcott Square. When local scribe Walcott won the Nobel Prize for Literature, it provided the perfect excuse to drop the previous controversial name: Columbus Square. Overlooking the town is Morne Fortune, hilltop scene of the fiercest battles that took place in the 18th century.
Head north from Castries and you will pass the airport, the cruise ship port, and then marvel at the rich, lush countryside with its thousands of banana plants. The family of Empress Josephine, Napoleon's first empress, once owned a plantation on the island's windward side. St Lucians even claim that the first Empress of the French was born on St Lucia, not Martinique. At the Marquis Estate, visit a banana and copra (dried coconut) plantation straight out of the most romantic of South Seas fantasies. St Lucia plantations have, at least in the past, provided the world with a steady supply of bananas, coffee, sugar and cocoa beans. The latter provide the main ingredient for chocolate concoctions so prized by chocoholics.
St Lucia's weather is almost always sunny and warm; brief showers cool the tropical heat. Bring sunblock - also shoes suitable for biking and hiking if that is your forte.