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St. Lucia Is for Sinners


Bowie, an elephant, and oiled-up boys play into the history of the Caribbean Xandau.


Would Sugar Beach, one of the most glorious resorts in the Caribbean, exist if not for David Bowie? The thought occurs as I gaze at the heart-stopping vista of the Pitons — “two lonely spikes jutting out of the coast of the island, each shaped like the Matterhorn,” to quote the great travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, who visited Saint Lucia in the 1940s. God though he was, the beaches and lush forest canopy do not, of course, owe their existence to Bowie, but the resort cradled between the Pitons might. Its owner, Roger Myers, began life as a junior accountant in charge of his company’s low-hanging fruit, including a then one-hit wonder about to segue from the success of “Space Oddity” into his new glam persona Ziggy Stardust. “I came out of my office, and there he sat, among all the taxi drivers with their paper bags full of receipts, wearing a dolly rocker dress and reading a copy of Accountancy News,” Myers recalls as we stand high above his resort, taking in the elegant sweep of the beach below. Bowie would connect Myers to his producer, Tony Visconti, and the two would subsequently form a record label that arguably gave Myers the wherewithal to make his fortune as one of the U.K.’s most successful restaurateurs, before cashing it all in to retire to the Caribbean. Except that Myers couldn’t resist a new opportunity when it presented itself. And so here he is, running a hotel that has become a bolt-hole for many of the rock stars he once partied with (I spied Jimmy Page, conspicuously dressed all in black, at breakfast one morning).

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Coincidentally, Bowie would later buy a home on the nearby island of Mustique, owned by Colin Tennant, a.k.a. Lord Glenconner, a playboy aristocrat and rumored lover of Princess Margaret, who turned Mustique into a playground for the rich before decamping in 1982 to Saint Lucia, accompanied by his pet elephant.

Courtesy of Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort

Famous for louche soirees verging on orgies — the U.K.’s Daily Mail reported that “boys wearing little except coconut oil were said to have entertained guests at one party” — Tennant died in 2010 at the age of 83, leaving his estate and elephant to Kent Adonai, his longtime valet and close friend. How close is left to the imagination, but it sparked a long court battle between Adonai and Tennant’s grandson and heir, Cody Tennant. The elephant, sadly, died a few years later, or so I was told during a hike to Superman Falls (so named for its role in Superman II). Our guides, Justus Alcindor and Maximinus Maximin, were children when Tennant arrived on the island, and told stories of gathering to watch Bupa — as the elephant was known locally — wade to shore. How had Bupa died, I asked, as we strode through the undergrowth, thick with guava, cocoa, and cinnamon trees, coffee plants, lemongrass, and mango groves. Bloating, they replied — from eating too much bread. Eccentrics may be amusing, but they are rarely practical.

Courtesy of Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort

If you are lucky, Myers might take you on a walk to the southern reaches of Sugar Beach, just beyond a row of sumptuous private villas complete with infinity pools (the resort has five of them — three built and two scheduled), where Tennant’s ornate former home, all Mughal flourishes, gently rots away.

Courtesy of Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort

But although he’s gone, Tennant’s legacy lives on: Sugar Beach sits on 325 acres of his land, sold in the 1980s to an Iranian family who developed the original hotel here. Now this Caribbean Xanadu belongs to Myers, and his touch has brought back some of Tennant’s glamor, with spacious villas and plunge pools straggling around the slopes, and a spa that features treehouse gazebos and an earthen steam room drawing on Amerindian traditions. At night, you, too, can summon Tennant’s hedonism in the resort’s chic Cane Bar, with its collection of aged rums and potent cocktails.

Sadly, oiled boys are not included, but who would notice if you snuck one into your room? 

Courtesy of Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort

How to Make the Most of Sugar Beach

1: With 70 inches of rainfall annually, the forested interior of Saint Lucia makes for a lush canopy, best enjoyed by zipline. At the Morne Coubaril Estate, knowledgeable guides
will give you a crash course in tree identification — and point out Oprah’s winter retreat, far below in the town of Soufrière.

2: Taste the forest bounty on a hike to Superman Falls, with guides that will stop and share the tart pop of “jungle M&Ms,” a.k.a. cacao beans (much of it destined for gourmet chocolate makers like London-based Hotel Chocolat).

3: Arrange to join a half-day catamaran trip around the base of Petit Piton, and then north along the coast, where you can snorkel to shore and hike the beach to the small fishing village of Canaries. Replenish those carbs with a local Piton beer and take in the small-town life.

4: Sugar Beach commissioned architect Alex Michaelis to design five elegant and sun-filled beachfront villas — each customizable to accommodate the buyer’s specifications.  Two are left.

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