ST. LUCIA'S EXCLUSIVE HIDEAWAY
Text and Photography by Stephen Frink
Location, location, location. This oft-quoted real estate cliche can be used to describe the fundamental attraction Anse Chastanet resort has for traveling divers. It is in the heart of St. Lucia's very best diving.
I discovered this in the early 1980s, not by staying at Anse Chastanet, but by staying at another resort. Each day we would load the dive boat and travel nearly two hours to sites along Soufriere Bay and the base of the Pitons. Often our boat would cruise by a gorgeous beach resort. I could see lovely rooms nestled among the trees on a verdant hillside and instantly coveted the convenience of a dive shop just steps from the water. I could see easy beach dives being made in front of the resort and wondered why I was not there.
Then one day we dived Anse Chastanet Reef. This site alone convinced me that when I next visited St. Lucia, I would be staying at Anse Chastanet. Just 10 yards beyond the water's edge, the reefs remarkable ecosystem offered an amazing profusion of unusual tropical marine life, all in 20 to 140 feet of calm, clear water. In the shallows there were Atlantic Oval Squid; near the surface, myriad Silversides. On closer inspection, the true magic of the reef plateau was revealed. Graceful Spotted Drums executed their delicate pirouettes beside Brain Corals, Spotted Morays leered from crevices, angelfish and parrotfish grazed amid the coral canyons and frogfish and seahorses could be found amid the sponges and seafans. This was a fish and macro photographer's paradise. Despite the allure of the reef slope, with its impressive sponges and sheet corals, the marine life was so fascinating I never dropped below 30 feet.
True to my promise, I did go back to Anse Chastanet. In fact, I have visited several times since, most recently last September. The following are some of my impressions from that trip:
Travel Considerations: Travel to St. Lucia is much easier now that the San Juan airport has become such an efficient hub to the Caribbean. I flew from Miami to San Juan aboard an American Airlines 757 (two and a half hours) and then connected via a 727 for the last one and a half hour leg to Hewanorra Airport. The flights were easy and hassle free. Once on the ground a representative of Anse Chastanet assisted with baggage and drove the scenic 1 hour 10 minute trip to the resort. I left Miami at 8:30 am and, by 4:00 pm, I was checked into my room at Anse Chastanet.
Anse Chastanet: On St. Lucia's unspoiled southwestern shore, Anse Chastanet is nestled within a verdant 500 acre estate comprised of both lush mountainside and pristine natural beach. Just a mile and a half from the picturesque town of Soufriere, with views encompassing both the blue Caribbean and the impressive twin Pitons, Anse Chastanet offers 49 unique rooms; 37 scattered along the hillside, 12 along the beach. Amenities include two restaurants and bars, a tennis court, two boutiques and an in-house dive facility, Scuba St. Lucia.
On past visits to Anse Chastanet I've stayed in the hillside rooms. The views are nothing short of spectacular, with hills shrouded in greenery and an horizon dominated by the Pitons. No two rooms are exactly alike, yet each reflects the taste and talent of the owner, architect Nick Troubetzkoy. The original rooms are spacious octagonal whitewashed cottages and, farther up the hill, are deluxe suites characterized by immense space and wide open vistas. These are incredible accommodations yet, on this trip, I stayed down on the beach and found, for my needs, this was actually preferable.
There are 135 steps separating the beach from the hillside dining room and, of course, the rooms are farther up the hill beyond that. For most, this is not too significant. But for me, I always seem to be carrying a couple of cameras or going back to my room for a charged battery. The proximity between the beach rooms and the dive shop was a compelling convenience. And, since the beachside units are also very spacious and elegant, with open roof dormers, tile floors and a separate sitting room overlooking a gorgeous garden view, amenity deprivation was certainly never a consideration.
Scuba St. Lucia: At the south end of the beach is Anse Chastanet's unique SSI Platinum Pro/PADI Scuba Diving Facility. Perfectly efficient for both beach and boat dives, Scuba St. Lucia offers guest gear storage; a small scuba boutique; three compressors; rental dive gear; and an underwater photo center offering camera rentals, instruction, custom videos and E-6 slide film processing.
Under the direction of Michael and Karyn Allard, Scuba St. Lucia became the first SSI Platinum facility in the Caribbean. This means they can certify from novice through instructor, plus offer numerous specialty courses. The reef just offshore is perfect for scuba instruction; calm, clear and loaded with fascinating things to observe. It's no wonder more than 500 people have logged their first resort course dives here.
Whenever I visit Anse Chastanet I spend an inordinate amount of time diving the Anse Chastanet Reef, Turtle Reef and even the sand flat in front of the resort. They are very productive from a photographer's point of view, primarily because the unusual critters are commonplace. Peacock Flounders, lizardfish, seahorses, frogfish, Flying Gurnards, Peppermint Stick Lobsters, Snake Eels, Chain Morays, Viper Morays, Banded Morays, Conger Eels, squid, octopus and even Electric Rays could reasonably be photographed here during the course of a day and a night dive.
As good as their beach diving may be, excellent boat dives are found nearby as well. With a dive fleet that includes a pair of 43 foot V-hulled vessels and a single 34 foot dive boat, all equipped with twin outboards, the entire St. Lucia Marine Park is easily accessible. The farthest dives are probably the shipwrecks, the Lesleen M and the Daini-Koyo Maru, just 30 minutes away by boat. The Lesleen M was a 165 foot freighter sunk in October of 1986 in just 65 feet of water. She sits perfectly upright and has acquired an incredible cloak of sponges and gorgonians. Schools of Blackbar Soldierfish now reside within the superstructure. The 250 foot dredge Daini-Koyo Maru was intentionally sunk as a dive attraction in September of 1996 in 105 feet of water, landing on her starboard side. Sponges and fish have quickly settled onto this artificial reef, confirmation of St. Lucia's rich marine ecosystem.
Reef dives typically slope rather precipitously from about 30 feet and offer rich coral cover all the way down to 130 feet and beyond. Some sites, such as Superman's Flight at the base of Petit Piton Mountain, are quite vertical. Azure Vase and Yellow Tube Sponges are common and colorful crinoids seem to abound. Most of the fish are smaller species such as chromis, soldierfish, squirrelfish, drums, angelfish and wrasse, although sometimes schools of jacks can be sighted as well. Turtles are fairly common, but large reef dwellers and pelagics are not. The small creatures, macro life and coral cover are exquisite, however. Visibility ranges from 80 to 100 feet under optimal conditions but can drop to 20 feet or less with significant freshwater runoff from a driving rain.
If you are looking for an unusual dive destination with a strong component of romance, creature comforts, adventure and dive professionalism, Anse Chastanet should definitely be on your wish list. By the way, while you are there, make time to visit the terrestrial delights of this island, including nearby wonders such as the Sulphur Springs, Diamond Waterfall and mineral baths, the rain forest and, of course, a closer view of the twin volcanic spires known as the Pitons.
For further information or reservations regarding Anse Chastanet, call (888) GO-LUCIA or (954) 202-6245. To contact the resort direct, phone (758) 459-7000, fax (758) 459-7700 or e-mail ansechas tanet@candw. The Web site can be found at www.ansechastanet.com.