One of the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, St. Lucia is located midway down the Eastern Caribbean chain north of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, northwest of Barbados, and south of Martinique.Â The island is 27 miles long and 14 miles wide and is generally shaped like an avocado.Â Saint Lucia is named after Saint Lucy of Syracuse, patron saint of the blind, and one of only seven women commemorated by name in the Roman Canon of the Mass.
Volcanic in origin, St. Lucia is more mountainous than most other Caribbean islands.Â The island’s highest point stands 3000 feet above sea level at Mount Gimie; however, St. Lucia’s number one claim to fame is definitely the Pitons, which are two volcanic plugs standing majestically on the southwestern coast overlooking the spectacular Soufriere Bay.Â Also a World Heritage Site, the Pitons make every list of things to see before you die from Conde Nast to Oprah Winfrey.Â Emerging from lush tropical rainforest complete with huge ferns and banana orchards on one side, and incredible sparkling blue ocean on the other, the Gros Piton soars to 2619 feet and is slightly south of the 2461-foot-tall Petit Piton.Â It’s difficult to adequately communicate the beauty of this area.
Like most Caribbean islands, St. Lucia’s colorful character is largely derived from the struggles between ancient indigenous populations, the slave trade, and conquering European forces.Â Settled by Arawak Indians, a culture later eclipsed by the Caribs, St. Lucia was called “Hewanorra,” meaning “Island of the Iguanas,” since 800 A.D.Â Erroneously thought discovered by Columbus in 1502, St. Lucia was more likely discovered by lesser known explorer and former Columbus navigator, Juan de la Cosa, in either 1499 or 1504.Â The island’s first official European presence was established by Peg-Leg le Clerc‘s enclave on Pigeon Island used to pillage treasure-laden Spanish galleons.
The first legitimate European settlement was founded by the Dutch around 1600 at Vieux Fort.Â In 1605, an English ship bound for Guyana (ironically called the Olive Branch) blew off course and went aground off the coast of St. Lucia.Â The sixty-seven passengers safely waded to shore and found coexistence with the Caribs to be impossible.Â In less than five weeks, only 19 of the original party remained due to violence, disease, and exposure.Â Another English colony was also wiped out by the Caribs in 1639.
During the 1700′s, St. Lucia played an interesting role in the political and economic processes of the eastern Caribbean.Â With the French headquartered on Martinique and the British headquartered on Barbados, the centrally located St. Lucia looked quite attractive to both parties, and both frequently worked to exert influence on its future, particularly the extremely lucrative sugar cane industry established in 1765.Â After many violent battles, the British won out.Â France permanently ceded control in 1815, and slavery was abolished in 1834.Â St. Lucia was incorporated to the central government of the British West Indies, eventually achieving full independence in 1979 following a Constitution in 1924 and universal suffrage in 1951.
St. Lucia’s population is overwhelmingly of African descent due to the huge slave trade; however, the French influence is palpable right down to the Creole language.Â The capital city, Castries, was founded by the French in 1650.Â Originally called Carenage (or Safe Anchorage), the city was renamed Castries in 1756 after the commander of a French expeditionary force to Corsica.
Local chefs frequently combine fish dishes with the island’s abundant tropical fruits including mangoes, papayas, pineapples, soursops, passionfruit, guavas, and coconuts.Â Another typical dish is callaloo soup made from a leafy green vegetable similar to spinach which, if not cooked appropriately, can be poisonous.Â Beyond cuisine, St. Lucia’s cultural influence includes two Nobel Prize Winners:Â Sir W. Arthur Lewis (Economics in 1979), and poet Derek Walcott (Literature in 1992).