Gros Islet itself remains a mostly residential and mostly quiet district, with a handful of picturesque nineteenth-century buildings scattered among houses and shops. Immediately to the south of the village proper, across the marina dotted with yachts, the Rodney Bay tourism area is a hive of hotels large and small, holiday villas, restaurants, nightclubs, shops, and watersports outfits. The fanciest hotels line Reduit Beach, one of St Lucia’s most popular bathing spots, with views across the bay to Pigeon Island and the Caribbean Sea beyond. And north of Gros Islet is the posh Cap Estate — here you’ll find some of St Lucia’s most luxurious residences and boutique resorts, as well as the home of poet and Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, who died earlier this year.
The late Dunstan St Omer was as famous for his friendship with Derek Walcott — who fictionalised his friend as “Gregorias” in Another Life — as for his murals in churches and other public buildings across St Lucia. St Omer’s murals in the cathedral in Castries and the Roseau Valley church are his most celebrated, but the Roman Catholic parish church in Gros Islet, dedicated to St Joseph the Worker, also boasts a series of the artist’s religious paintings. Duck into the church for a glimpse of these works, and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Hit for six
On the outskirts of Gros Islet and nestled among the Beauséjour foothills, St Lucia’s national cricket stadium was renamed in 2016 for Darren Sammy, the first St Lucian to captain the West Indies cricket team. A venue for international cricket since 2003 — when the West Indies played a Test match here against Sri Lanka — the stadium was sited in the driest part of St Lucia, though you wouldn’t guess it from the lush green turf.
Once a week, quiet Gros Islet shows its other, more extroverted face, as home of a wildly popular and long-established Friday-night street party. Vendors’ stalls form an outdoor stage several blocks long, and the rum and Piton beer flow freely. When they aren’t dancing to soca, zouk, and reggae, partiers can refuel themselves with freshly caught and cooked seafood and barbecued chicken. The party goes late, and you can hear the music way off — just follow your ears.
“Big Island” — the literal translation of its French name — was settled in the eighteenth century by French colonists, who founded one of St Lucia’s first Roman Catholic parishes here. In 1778, when the island was captured by the British, the Royal Navy established a fort on the bay, named for Admiral Rodney. (The name stuck.) During the Second World War, the US military established one of their series of Caribbean bases here, and began the long-term project of draining the bay’s mangrove swamps to create a seaplane marina. In later decades, Rodney Bay has become St Lucia’s main tourist district, thanks to the sheltered bay, perfect for watersports, and relative proximity to Castries, six miles south.
With its twin hills creating a distinctive profile, Pigeon Island, across Rodney Bay from Gros Islet, once really was an island, but the construction of a causeway in 1972 joined it to the mainland. Now a national park, Pigeon Island over the centuries was home to indigenous Arawaks and Caribs, the base of sixteenth-century pirate François le Clerc, then site of a British fort. To improve the sightlines and permit surveillance of French warships, Admiral George Rodney is supposed to have ordered all the island’s trees cut down. Later on, the island served as a quarantine station, US observation post, and private home of a British stage actress, famous for her parties. The current park preserves various archaeological traces and ruins of this colourful history. Today’s visitors can explore these sites, hike up and around the peaks (the views are worth the effort), and enjoy a dip at two small beaches. And of course Pigeon Island is also the main stage for the annual St Lucia Jazz Festival.
4.1º N 60.9º W
Caribbean Airlines operates regular flights to George F.L. Charles International Airport in St Lucia, with connections to destinations in the Caribbean and North America