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Port of Call Spotlight: Castries, St. Lucia

One of the loveliest islands of the Caribbean, St. Lucia, the second largest of the Windward Islands at 240 square miles, is a frequent stop on Southern Caribbean cruise itineraries. Now independent, it changed hands more than a dozen times during its history, with Great Britain and France vying for it during colonial times.

A lush island, St. Lucia boasts green hills, the fishing village of Soufriere and its nearby volcano, La Soufriere --often referred to as a "drive-in" volcano because one can drive up to its crater -- and take in its bubbling mud activity, sulfur springs and steam and perhaps enjoy the waters at nearby Diamond Mineral Baths. Fine beaches including Pigeon Island, Marigot Beach, Anse Castanet and Reduit await visitors. But though famous for its beaches and lush panoramas, the island's most spectacular sight --arguably the best in the Caribbean are its twin, green, cone-like peaks, Les Pitons, rising one to more than 2,500 feet, the other one to more than 2,400 feet, next to the sea on St. Lucia's southwest coast. Most ships feature scenic cruising along Les Pitons --with passengers out on deck snapping photos of the sight.

Another must-see: beautiful Marigot Bay, so picturesque that several movies including the first "Dr. Doolittle" with Rex Harrison have been filmed. Small ships, like those of Star Clippers, drop anchor here and deploy their portable water-sports marina for guests to swim or kayak in that setting.

Castries, the capital, has a large harbor with a backdrop of green hills. There are two piers, Pointe Seraphine, within walking distance from the center of Castries, and Port Castries with a shopping terminal called La Place Carenage. The city has some modern concrete and glass buildings and a colorful Central Market near the dock where you can sample the delicious local tropical fruits, like mangoes, pineapples, bananas and papayas. Castries highlights include the Roman Catholic Cathedral on Columbus Square. The square has some restored buildings and nearby is Derek Walcott Square (named for the local Nobel Prize winner for literature) with a 400-year-old tree, and also nearby, Government House. Morne Fortune is another highlight, with Fort Charlotte where visitors can take in the 18th century barracks, cannons and a small museum as well as enjoy panoramic views of the port.

Shore excursions sold aboard ships include visits to banana plantations; beach sojourns; snorkel, scuba, horseback riding, and kayaking tours; hiking and bicycling programs. Sailing to Pigeon Island on the brig Unicorn (featured in several "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, is a popular option.

Local flavors to enjoy while in St. Lucia include island fruits, banana catsup, cinnamon sticks, and rum (the latter three also make good souvenirs and gifts for the folks back home). Local culinary specialties include Creole-style conch, dumpling and calaloo soup (made with a leafy green) and banana-stuffed pork.

Cruise lines that visit St. Lucia include Carnival, Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Silversea and Star Clippers.

IF YOU GO -- For additional information, visit www.stlucia.org.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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