Zannick is my new best friend. We’re taking a breather after weaving through the lush green trees of St Lucia’s Fond Doux Plantation and Resort to shelter beneath one that’s thick with coconuts.
The air, hot and sticky after a brief tropical downpour, has me gasping for a drink.
“Would you like some coconut water?” Zannick asks.
I nod yes, even though the cartons I’ve tried in the UK taste like potato juice.
He prods the young coconuts, which glisten like bowling balls, until one tumbles to the ground. Then he slices the top off.
Cupping it with both hands, I gulp down half of its refreshing contents – crisp, sweet and nothing like the poor imitations back home – and carry it to the resort bar for a top-up of Bounty rum. When in the Caribbean, eh?
This isn’t exactly a hard-won beverage.
Fond Doux is a cocoa plantation that once supplied Hershey’s, and my morning has been spent exploring its labyrinthine, jungly grounds to learn how chocolate is made. I’m like a tall child in an exotic sweet shop.
I’ve cracked open a cocoa pod to taste the zesty pulp coating the seeds inside, inhaled the sharp, coffee-like aroma of fermenting cocoa beans and devoured a spectrum of chocolate samples, from dark, cinnamon-flecked squares to creamy bars studded with cashew nuts.
Those who can’t get enough of it can stay at on-site Hotel Chocolat, where even the spa treatments utilise the cocoa groves’ produce.
That’s a bit hedonistic, even for me. So I retreat to nearby Anse Chastanet Resort.
Just outside Soufrière, a sleepy harbour town peppered with pastel wooden houses, this place is a tonic – particularly as I’m visiting mid-December.
I’ve swapped horizontal sleet, harried shoppers and ever-multiplying festive gatherings for 30-degree heat in a blissfully unplugged hillside resort with no phone or TV in my room.
The décor, minimalist but characterful, is almost all locally sourced. Whitewashed walls and rattan lampshades are lifted by bright madras plaid textiles (the cloth of the island) and abstract art. But it’s the surroundings that take my breath away. The knots in my shoulders unfurl as I step on to my balcony. To my left, the rugged spires of the Piton Mountains soar above a dense forest. On the right, beneath cascading palm trees, the Caribbean Sea laps the shore. You ain’t on Sauchiehall Street any more, Toto.
Birds perch on the ledge beside my table at Balawoo, the resort’s open-air tree house restaurant, where I stuff myself with catch of the day and a tangle of West Indian pumpkin ratatouille. At night, I doze off to the whirr of cicadas. It’s heaven.
There’s no pool, but you can go for a wild swim in the sea. And there’s no Jacuzzi, but I find something far more thrilling just 20 minutes away.
St Lucia lays claim to having the world’s only drive-in volcano, where you can park up on the crater amid steaming sulphur springs and take a dip in the mud baths.
Locals say the mud knocks 10 years off you so I slather my entire body in the stuff, dry off in the baking heat then soak in the bubbling, bath-warm pools.
I don’t quite emerge looking a decade younger, but my skin is soft and I’ve lost all concept of time. And do you age at all if you stop paying attention to the seconds ticking by?
The pace of life here is leisurely, but that doesn’t mean St Lucians don’t know how to party.
The island is a hive of activity when I arrive to the opening of Royal Saint Lucia Turf Club, a new racecourse teeming with local dignitaries and celebrities on its launch day.
There’s a reggae concert afterwards, but I’m drawn to the music blaring from a roadside joint called Release Stress Bar. Its name alone is enough of a lure, but a group of twentysomethings are dancing to Dolly Parton (country music is inexplicably huge here) and I’m overcome by an urge to join them.
The rum punch is too lethal for me to recall the details, but I have the best fun I’ve had in ages.
More good times are in store when I travel north to Marigot Bay Resort & Marina, which, with its multiple restaurants, swim-up bar and infinity pools, is the archetypal swishy Caribbean resort.
The hospitality is something else. Staff remember my name and bring drinks unprompted when they correctly suspect I’m withering in the heat. After I express disappointment the breakfast buffet is a bit British, the chef whips up a plate of salt cod with green figs and a hot mug of cocoa tea to wash it down.
There’s always a buzz here and plenty of activities to partake in. My favourite is one I’ve never tried before: kayaking.
“You can swim, right?” asks my instructor David as we eyeball the choppy sea.
Fortunately I don’t need to. Once we’ve bumped over the waves we reach a perfectly still reservoir bordered by tall grass. We row past mango, guava and banana trees. Birds swoop and land on the water’s surface, sending ripples that dance with the squiggles of fish underneath.
“This is the closest you’ll get to nature,” says David. “There’s no better place to come, alone, for self-reflection.”
I don’t think about work, or deadlines, or the to-do list waiting at home. My phone is in the hotel room so I commit everything to the camera in my mind: the blueness of the sky, the flowering almond trees, the sun on my skin.
It’s the picture I’ve returned to most often.
P.S. The best time to visit St Lucia is between December and May, when the weather is generally dry and hot. Rainy season is from June to November, and hurricanes are most likely to hit in August and September.
British Airways fly direct to St Lucia from London Heathrow. Nightly rates at Anse Chastanet ansechastanet.com start at £315 per room based on double occupancy. Rates at Marigot Bay Resort & Marina marigotbayresort.com start at £226 per night based on double occupancy. For more information on St Lucia, visit stlucia.org.