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Big Sur - Hiking Andrew Molera State Park

One of the great delights of living in the Bay Area is the proximity to the natural beauty of California and it's hard to beat the stunning drive down Highway One to Big Sur. This is certainly one of the iconic American road trips, but for me the joy of being in the area is getting out of your car and hitting a trail, so you can be "in" the landscape rather than just looking at it from the asphalt. 

Luxurious Ladera, St Lucia, 2006


This Trip Report was originally written for the Fodor's Travel Forum.Here's  a quick trip report on our recent week at Ladera in St Lucia, Nov 26-Dec 3 2006. The photos are taken from Ladera's website with thanks.

AIRLINE: We took American through Miami from SFO and had no problems. I booked the tickets on miles and had no difficulty changing our return itinerary at the last moment. The only hassle was the poor connections between St Lucia and the West coast which was typical of all carriers.


RENTING A CAR/ROADS: Before we went I'd read a lot about the dreadful state of the roads in St Lucia and despite what we'd read, I was very pleased that we had gone ahead and rented a car through Hertz. The roads were in good repair, the issue is that they are VERY steep and twisting with sharp drop offs - think the coast near Positano in Italy or Highway 1 in California. 

Because I'm used to driving on the other side of the road we had no problem and I would recommend renting a car unless the thought of winding roads, and/or driving on  a  different side of the road makes you particularly nervous. For us having a car was a necessity because we don’t want to be limited to taking organized trips -or staying in the resort which is a problem as it's a fairly small property.





IS ST LUCIA A GOOD CHOICE FOR FIRST TIME VISITORS TO THE CARIBBEAN?I had read a lot of  travel forum postings about this before we went. St Lucia was the first destination we had visited in the Caribbean and we had no problems. However, we have traveled extensively in Africa, Europe, Latin America and a little in Asia (India Thailand etc).

I can see why some do not recommend St Lucia as a first time destination, though I think it's somewhat overplayed. St Lucia is a wonderfully vibrant island with a strong and engaging local scene. There is certainly evident poverty and in some places (Soufriere) we were hassled a little - regular tout stuff. But it was fairly tame and there was nothing menacing....can I look after you car? Can I help you? Do you need a guide etc? However, it may be that if you haven't travelled a great deal outside the US and you are disturbed by the evident contrast between the luxury of the resort and the surrounding realities, this may not be for you.



THINGS TO DO:The truth is we were  lazy - we visited a couple of plantations which were historically interesting . We visited the Botanical Gardens where you can soak in mineral baths, the volcano, went snorkeling at Anse Chasanet and organized a boat trip to Castries from Soufriere. It was easy to organize the boat trip at the pier and about 2/3rds less than the cost quoted at the hotel. Castries was interesting for a quick visit, particularly the center square with the lovely old cathedral with great Afrocentric murals and a lovely older painted roof. On the way back we stopped first at Marigot Bay and later to snorkel.

HOTEL REVIEW:
The week before  we arrived Ladera was listed as the top hotel in the Caribbean and the most highly rated hotel in the world by Conde Naste Traveler. These ratings are always suspect and although Ladera was lovely it's ridiculous to label it the best in the world! I have stayed in some wonderful discreet and  hotels in Asia that have some of the best service and are far more exclusive than Ladera, and yet they never appear on these lists - crazy.


Ladera is an intimate boutique property. Built on a ridge perfectly situated between the two Pitons.  It is is well situated and the views are STUNNING. However, the public areas are relatively limited, there's a  bar, pool, restaurant which are close to each other, with the rooms stretching out in a ribbon along the crest of the hill.

The open plan rooms (with no fourth wall) are very reminiscent of some of the places we have stayed on safari and they are colorful and quirky but certainly not for everyone. Despite the openness the rooms are very private...the line of rooms is built in such a way that you cannot see into anyone else's room and they are all different.

However, because the rooms all open towards the view (no fourth wall) we were constantly concerned about our noise disturbing other guests. This meant we were constantly talking in hushed tones which becomes rather tedious. For the most part we heard very little from our neighbors though late one night (and probably after a few drinks) someone made a loud cell phone call and we could hear EVERY word...not to mention the incensed screams of SHUT UP from the person in the room on the other side! This incident made us very aware of how quiet everyone was being and made us feel  rather as if we were staying in a library.
The rooms are all very different and quite characterful though a little tired in parts. They are lovely enough to spend your entire week lazily staring at the view. Some are two stories and have a lovely tree house feeling and others have two rooms and feel like suites, most have four poster beds. We looked at a number of rooms and stayed in several. In none of them was the plunge pool comfortable enought to use. They said that if we left the waterfall on it would warm up but it didn't. I think perhaps it depends on the time of year.

SERVICE: The service receives high marks from us. The staff are very helpful and extremly pleasant but don't expect the polished corporate service of a US chain. However, from my point of view this is part of the charm of a smaller hotel. One feature we found tedious was that there are no phones in the room which means every time you want something such as room service you have to walk to reception. I understand that they probably don't have phones because of the noise factor and we're happy to go without a TV on this type of holiday, however it would help enormously to have some sort of buzzer or bell system that would allow you to get things delivered to the room.

CLIENTELE: Ladera is clearly a honeymoon destination which means there are a lot of young couples. 

FOOD: We enjoyed the meals at Dasheen and found them varied enough. The wine list was surprisingly good and on our package we had a free bottle of house wine with dinner - they were flexible enough to apply this credit to cocktails if we preferred. There was music every evening, steel drums, reggae, jazz piano, singers etc. which made the evenings very enjoyable.

We drove north one day and ate at Tikaye were we enjoyed a casual lunch and had an enjoyable but simple meal at Cafe Bomb on the water past Jalousie Plantation.

SUMMARY: We enjoyed our trip to St Lucia and to Ladera which was very relaxing. We had an incredible rate through Luxury Link (paying less than $250 per night with two spa treatments and several meals) and I might have felt quite differently about the property had we paid the rack rate. Ladera is a very particular destination and very lovely but not for everyone. 

Overall I think I'm more inclined to see more of Asia than to rush back to the Caribbean, particularly given the long flight times from San Francisco.

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