Several overweight American tourists stop and gasp for air at the top of Signal Peak, which sits proudly on the north side of St Lucia’s Pigeon Island.
Fanny packs, branded golf caps and tote bags with gigantic logos give the game away: these ruddy-faced individuals have just rolled off the gigantic cruise ship that’s currently sat idling in the seaport at Castries and they look perplexed, as well as knackered.
Why? Because they’ve just stumbled across two idiots scrambling along the narrow walking trails in a rented Suzuki Jimny, swinging around the protected military ruins and kicking up dust in front of the numerous photo opp sites as they race to beat the weather and reach the starting point of an epic and tricky-to-reach rock climb.
Try this without some local knowledge and it’s highly like you’ll be pointed towards the nearest prison, but the nearby all-inclusive BodyHoliday Resort is on friendly terms with the national trust and has exclusive access to one of the most picturesque roped climbs on the island.
“But this isn’t your typical yoga retreat, as classes are often led by professional athletes or serious experts in their field”
It’s now Thursday and I’ve been on the Caribbean hideaway since Saturday. In that time I’ve abseiled down a waterfall, almost puked during a morning spin class, eaten my bodyweight in homemade peanut butter energy balls and have had every muscle in my broken body pummelled by various experts.
Hence the nonchalant attitude towards joy-riding around a protected historical site in a little 4×4 and the fact that the impending roped ascent up the ragged, sheer faces of Pigeon Island fails to have any alarm bells ringing in my head, despite my climbing experience totalling a couple of hours on a sweaty indoor wall when I was about 13.
Where to Stay
BodyHoliday St Lucia
Designed predominantly with health and fitness in mind, this former yoga retreat and spa has expanded its line of activities to suit any kind of fitness fanatic.
A stay at the resort includes all meals, which are delicious and freshly prepared every day to impeccable standards, while all guests also receive a daily treatment at the beautiful spa area and access to a full schedule of exercise and relaxation sessions.
But this isn’t your typical yoga retreat, as classes are often led by professional athletes or serious experts in their field, which means even those with stupidly high levels of CV can expect to come away feeling like they’ve been pushed to the limits.
Throw in the beautiful private beach – complete with myriad water-based activities – the numerous pools, extremely friendly staff and picturesque tropical surrounds and you have a haven for anyone that likes to keep busy on holiday.
Rates at the all-inclusive BodyHoliday Resort start from $500 (£385) per person per night, with a supplementary cost applied for the Adventure Programme.
A new body
St Lucia might not top many lists of the best motoring destinations in the world, but its winding volcanic roads and challenging jungle terrain make it the perfect spot to hone driving skills and indulge in a perspective rarely enjoyed by the majority of holidaymakers that visit the island.
After all, this is the sort of destination us Brits flock to during the depths of winter for some hot sun, sandy beaches and fruit-based cocktails next to the pool, but there ‘s so much more here to reward the adventurous.
The BodyHoliday has long been frequented by those with itchy feet – the holidaymakers that can’t handle ingesting another James Patterson novel beneath the baking sun and those who perform a few push-ups on the beach or swimming to a distant rock in order to burn off some energy.
Indulging in a bit of organised wellness might not be anything new, but BodyHoliday takes things to the next level. It’s perfectly possible to work out on the hour, every hour, from 7am until sundown.
Introductory yoga classes follow beach-based boot camps, aqua aerobics classes seamlessly flow into tennis lessons and afternoon paddle-boarding sessions can be followed by a competitive game of volleyball.
But the key difference here is that the staff all seemingly represents their country at one discipline or another. The personal trainer, who can be hired for one-on-one sessions at an additional fee, is an ex-Commonwealth Games gold medallist body builder, for example.
You can imagine my surprise when a morning run to a nearby paradisiacal cove was led by a local athlete who set the sort of pace that would have Mo Farah crying into his Quorn burger.
“The drive from the north west of the island to the Piton Mountains in the south is nothing short of breath-taking”
It is lucky, then, that the BodyHoliday resort also offers all of its guests a complimentary treatment every day, which range from an hour-long facial to a welcome two-person deep tissue massage at the on-site Ayurvedic Temple.
Closer to the edge
With only a few hours to get acclimatised, I’m up early and dodging epic Caribbean downpours to meet my guide for the day, who has been instructed to dangle me over the Errard Waterfall with a few ropes and some karabiners.
The BodyHoliday uses a pretty tasty Land Rover Defender to ferry adrenaline junkies from the resort in Rodney Bay to the various locations dotted around the island, so we load up the chunky off-road machine with helmets, ropes and water and head into the dense jungle foliage of Dennery.
“Keen adventurers will find that much of St Lucia is only really accessible by 4×4”
St Lucia is unlike many of the typical postcard Caribbean atolls in so much that it features some crazy elevation for such a compact place (3,143ft above sea level is the highest point), while the interior of the volcanic island is largely covered in thick, inaccessible jungle.
We peel off one of the handful of main roads and follow a demanding mud-spattered track for a few miles. Recent rains see small landslides block the road ahead, while rapidly sprouting plant life requires the odd machete-wielding session to clear the way.
The Defender copes admirably well and its knobbly off-road tyres, roof rack and spade mounted to the rear ensure it looks the part surrounded by lush rainforest.
We unload and begin a half-hour hike along a slippery path towards our intended waterfall destination. Our guides, Marlon and Tevin, are kitted out in Wellington boots, shorts and t-shirts as they nonchalantly hack away at the dense vegetation with an enormous blade.
The trek involves slippery streams, steep climbs and much foul language as deep mud pools digest trainers, but the vistas from the top of the 66ft-tall body of cascading water are well worth it.
It is, like many things to come during my stay in St Lucia, a lot higher and more demanding than I imagined, but the adrenaline buzz felt after gravity does its thing makes the toil worth it and the view of the rainforest canopy as cold water piles into my eyeballs is a memory that will stay with me forever.
The meandering drive back to the north west of the island takes in the many banana plantations of Dennery, where the roadsides are dotted with drying snakeskins. According to my guide, local farmers kill and peel the deadly fer-de-lance snake and hang up its entrails as a warning to others in the area.
The mighty Jimny
It’s all too easy to enjoy the ridiculously delicious food and plentiful activities that the BodyHoliday resort offers without actually seeing the island, with one staff member telling me that around 60 per cent of the residents never set foot outside the sprawling complex.
That’s a shame, because the drive from the north west of the island to the Piton Mountains in the south is nothing short of breath-taking.
The plan was to make use of the resort’s awesome Land Rover Defender, but the clutch had bitten the dust after our foray into the jungle and it was now up to me to organise an emergency set of wheels.
What to Drive
Keen adventurers will find that much of St Lucia is only really accessible by 4×4, so it pays to spend a bit of extra money and bag something with chunky tyres, body protection and all-wheel-drive capability.
Car hire for a week will set you back around £400, with tax and a local permit bundled into that cost, but get in quick, as the good cars disappear quickly. We were helped out by Drive-a-Matic, who managed to secure the mighty Jimmy extremely last minute.
It’s a good idea to demand a new vehicle and make sure you get confirmation via email. Alternatively, opt for a battered old model (like we did) and don’t worry too much about it getting scratched up, because some of these trails are gnarly and could lead to a little scratched paintwork.
Thankfully, the St Lucian’s tourist board proved extremely helpful and offered a Suzuki Jimny from Drive-A-Matic Car Rentals at a discounted rate. Car hire understandably very expensive on the island and the choice of vehicle isn’t exactly enticing.
In my naivety, I assumed I would be able to get hold of a brand new Suzuki Jimny, which is arguably one of the coolest little cars to come out in recent years, but it was a battered, previous generation model with plenty of miles on the clock that eventually greeted me.
“Local farmers kill and peel the deadly fer-de-lance snake and hang up its entrails as a warning to others in the area”
Regardless, the little off-roader proved to be a warrior when it came to navigating some of the extremely demanding ‘roads’ that veer off some of the more established stretches of Tarmac.
It takes over two hours to drive the 34-miles from Rodney Bay to Soufriere in the south, with the blacktop zigzagging across steep hillsides, winding through green-covered valleys and grinding to a halt at the various small towns.
In any other part of the world, this drive would be quite daunting and a little frustrating, but the views of a crystalline ocean afforded by some of these elevated mountain passes is worth every bit of discomfort.
The little third-gen Jimny, with its puny 1.4-litre engine and four-speed automatic gearbox, sounds like it is going to explode on some of the more demanding climbs and there’s one final test in the form of a proper off-road section before we reach the exclusive Anse Chastanet Resort, where a mountain bike ride awaits.
The idiosyncratic Anse Chastanet Resort, which includes the ultra-exclusive Jade Mountain Resort, is set in 600 acres of former sugar plantation, which now houses cocoa trees that allow guests to test out their chocolate making skills during a stay.
But rather than indulge my sweet tooth, I’m here to burn off some calories on a mountain bike ride and enjoy some of the neat trails that have been built around the protected sugar plantation buildings.
“The trek involves slippery streams, steep climbs and much foul language as deep mud pools digest trainers, but the vistas from the top of the 66ft-tall body of cascading water are well worth it”
The riding is dead easy for anyone with some mountain biking skills, although there are some technical sections for those wanting to push themselves, but the joy is derived from finding out about the history of the place as chunky tyres tear up the trails that meander through the remnants of 300-year-old buildings.
My guide stops for a moment to hack the top off a couple of fresh coconuts and teaches me how to prepare and digest one properly (if you’re not eating the nutty flesh, you’re missing out).
“Have you ever eaten jungle Skittles?” he enquires quizzically. I shake my head, and with that he forages around the jungle floor for a cocoa pod, cracks it open and instructs me to suck the snotty goo that surrounds the untreated beans.
The texture is rank but the flavour is immense – jaw-clenchingly sweet with hints of orange, lemon and other citrusy fruits coming through. The sugar hit is welcome, as I realise this is the first day I haven’t absorbed at least four freshly prepared meals from the BodyHoliday resort.
To combat the growling stomach, I peel off the main road near Gros Islet and spend a handful of Eastern Caribbean dollars on some of the best jerk chicken I’ve ever eaten.
It’s so damn cheap, so it seems stupid not to visit every single smoking food truck in the vicinity, washing down handfuls of spicy meat and plantain with bottles of ice cold Piton beer.
One final climb
With the Land Rover still crocked, it is up to me to transport the climbing gear and my guide to the final adventurous activity of the week.
A lingering issue with my left knee means it has swollen up like a balloon thanks to the week’s various activities and the inclement tropical weather has decided to dump a load of rain on the exact site of this rock climb.
With cruise passengers suitably vexed, we decide to take a detour to the very north of the island, where the landscape miraculously changes from thick, green vegetation to dry and dusty plains.
“The cliff face we are perched on sits about 30ft above sea level and the rocks below look like they’d mangle any body foolish enough to lose grip”
This is the wild Atlantic side of the Island and the sparsely populated region makes for some awesome off-road action. Even my adventurous guide Marlon is impressed with the little Jimney’s prowess over some of the trickier terrain.
A break in the weather sends us hurtling back towards Pigeon Island and frantically unloading the rear of the diminutive 4×4. The hike down to the rocky shores of this historically significant site is tough enough.
With absolutely no indication whatsoever, we veer off one of the sign-posted walking paths and scramble down an almost sheer drop before miraculously being deposited, dishevelled but unharmed, alongside the uncharacteristically rough Caribbean Sea.
From here, it is a case of coasteering around to the foot of the rock climb, which requires some fairly intense, un-roped ascents in itself – my knee and backpack laden with camera gear suggest I turn around and head back on several occasions.
“You’re one of the first to try this activity,” Marlon reveals as he’s attaching a karabiner to my waist. It turns out the activity was only recently added to the long list of challenges BodyHoliday residents can enjoy.
There’s no time to think about that though, because the cliff face we are perched on sits about 30ft above sea level and the rocks below look like they’d mangle any body foolish enough to lose grip.
Due to the nature of the climb, it’s difficult to start from the bottom (the sea is usually too rough), so I’m instructed to belay down before making my way back up again.
This is supposedly the entry-level rock face (the most challenging involves a Hollywood-style overhang) but every muscle in my body is burning when I finally haul my broken shell above the precipice.
The BodyHoliday Resort is just about visible in the distance from this vantage point, but the refreshing hit of an ice-cold beer is an hour-long scramble away. I consider swimming but rapidly see sense and begin the slow climb back down.
Rest and relaxation
As I ask one of the bar staff for another bag of ice to place on my knee, I can’t help thinking of the little mantra BodyHoliday has plastered across its promotional material: “Give us your body for a week and we’ll give you back your mind”.
There are plenty of people staying on-site that have judged their visit to perfection. The daily spa treatments massaging away any aches and pains, the in-house nutritionist instructing on the best fuel for active bodies and the BodyScience Clinic highlighting any areas that need attention.
Alas, like an over-excited child at an all-you-can-eat buffet, I clearly went too hard, attempting to cram in as much activity as I could into a short week and now I’m hobbling around.
But the thought doesn’t hang around for long, because the sun is shining and I’m stuffing my face with homemade peanut butter energy balls and fruit smoothies. Oh, and I’ve got an appointment with a sports therapist who is going to make my busted knee work again.
“Give us your body for a week and we might break it, but we’ll do our best to fix it and you’ll feel bloody awesome regardless”.
A version of this story was written for Vice Media’s excellent Amuse website.