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Second-biggest of the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles, Saint Lucia boasts gorgeous seashores along both the Caribbean and the Atlantic—not to mention a remarkable, multicultural heartbeat.
Roughly equidistant between Martinique to the north and Saint Vincent to the southwest, Saint Lucia claims some outstanding tropical scenery: the jungled highland of the Barre de L'isle forming its spine, the iconic coastal spires of the Pitons looming above Soufriere, the geothermal roil of the Suphur Springs, the dreamscape of Marigot Bay, and much, much more. Grade-A Caribbean beaches such as Anse Chastanet draw sunbathers and swimmers, while windsurfers frequent the wilder Atlantic coast.
The isle's earliest inhabitants were the Arawaks, but the Island Caribs—who called it Hewanorra, the Land Where the Iguana is Found—had claimed dominion over it by about 800 C.E. A French pirate settled on Pigeon Island off the northwestern coast in the late 16th century and conducted raids from there: the earliest known chapter in a convoluted history of European colonization.
With fierce Carib resistance to foreigners ultimately waning, the 17th and 18th centuries saw the French and British engage in a back-and-forth tug-of-war over Saint Lucia, named by the former after St. Lucy of Syracuse. The island changed hands numerous times, but the British finally ironed down their control in 1815 (via the Treaty of Paris) and administered Saint Lucia for another 164 years. French, though, remained the official language until the mid-1800s, and its influence remains clear in numerous place names and in the linguistic dominance of Saint Lucian Creole French (Patois).
Relics of colonial heritage dot Saint Lucia: On that old pirate stomping ground of Pigeon Island, for example, you can see the ruins of French and British battlements, while the capital of Castries claims the grand Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.
Most Saint Lucians are of African descent, with a good portion of the population encompassing some mixture of African, European, Amerindian, and Indian heritage. That multicultural blend ensures some fabulously good food--from rice-and-peas to Indian-style curries--and diverse musical traditions, among them zouk and soca. Major festivals--including the Saint Lucian Carnival, the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival, and the traditional La Woz and La Magwit celebrations--give plenty of pizzazz to the cultural calendar.
The flash and sparkle of Carnival, a simple but delicious beachfront meal of fresh-caught fish, a mosey on golden sands or a stirring hike in verdant cloud forest: Saint Lucia wears many alluring faces.