The road from Castries to Cul de Sac opened in 1999 and was immediately popular with cars and trucks. It is quite a straight road running along the sea and is a welcome relief from the hairpin curves of the old Morne Road.
The Castries end starts at the roundabout on La Toc Road, goes through two short tunnels and comes out in the Cul de Sac valley, where a right turn takes you towards the beautiful Marigot Bay and the West Coast Road to Vieux Fort. A jog to the left and then a quick right takes the East Coast Road to the southern end of the island. The West Coast Road is full of mountain curves but has less traffic than the East Coast. Together they present a very scenic drive round the island.
The transinsular road goes through extensive banana plantations with the occasional packaging plant, through the village of Ravine Poisson before climbing steeply over the Barre de l’Isle, the mountain barrier that divides the island. There is a short, self-guided trail at the high point on the road between Castries and Dennery, which takes about 10 minutes and affords good views of the rainforest and down the Roseau valley. There is a small picnic shelter. It can be slippery after rain. The experience is rather spoilt by the noise of traffic. A longer walk to Mount La Combe can also be undertaken from this point (see Flora & Fauna). Be careful in this area as it is known as the drug growing region. Cyclists and hikers have reported that the locals are not particularly friendly and their stares can make you feel uncomfortable.
The road descends through Grande Rivière to Dennery where the vegetation is mostly xerophytic scrub. Dennery is set in a sheltered bay with Dennery Island guarding its entrance and dominated by the Roman Catholic church. Here you can see the distinctive St Lucia fishing boats pulled up on the beach. Carved out of single tree trunks, the bows are straight and pointed rather than curved and are all named with phrases such as ‘God help me’. A US$6 mn fishing port has been built with improved moorings, cold storage and other facilities, with Japanese assistance. There are lots of small bars but no other facilities. You can follow the Dennery River inland towards Mount Beaujolais. At Errard there is a photogenic waterfall. Permission should be obtained from the estate office before attempting this trip. Plantation tour with lunch and hotel transfers costs US$50. Book through tour company.
Fregate Island Nature Reserve, on the north side of Praslin Bay has a small but interesting visitor centre. The two small islands provide nesting sites for the frigate bird and the north promentory of Praslin bay gives a good vantage point. The reserve is closed from May to July during the breeding season. At other times call the National Trust, T4525005 for a guide. The area is also of some historical interest as there was an Amerindian lookout point in the reserve. It was also the site of a battle between the English and the Brigands. It used to be known as Trois Islet and the nearby Praslin River is still marked as Trois Islet River on maps today.
Praslin is noted as a fishing community with traditional boat building. The road leaves the coast here and goes through banana plantations and the villages of Mon Repos and Patience. Mon Repos is a good area to witness the flower festivals of La Rose and La Marguerite. Between Praslin and Mon Repos are the Mamiku Gardens: Botanical Gardens and Woodland Walks on an estate owned by Baron de Micoud in 1766 but later a military post and site of a battle with brigands. n T4528236, www.mamiku.com Daily 0900-1700, EC$15 for foreigners, EC$10 for locals, there is a snack bar and souvenir shop. The coast is regained at Micoud. There are one or two restaurants (including Palm, simple and clean), a department store, post office and a branch of Barclays bank. It is also the centre of St Lucia’s wine industry: banana, guava, pineapple and sugar cane brewed and bottled under ‘Helen Brand’. One mile west of Micoud is Latille Gardens with fruit, flowers, trees and waterfalls. From Mahaut Road follow signs to the south. Tours can also be arranged through hotels and include a walk through the Descartes Rainforest Trail, T4540202.
Mangrove swamps can be seen at Savannes Bay Nature Reserve. The bay is protected by a living reef and is a very active fishing area. The shallow bay is excellent for the cultivation of sea moss, an ideal breeding ground for conch and sea eggs. Scorpion island lies in the bay and to the north are more archaeological sites on Saltibus Point and Pointe de Caille (the latter excavated by the University of Vienna in 1983 and 1988).
(pop:14,000) After about three miles you reach Vieux Fort, the island’s industrial centre, where the Hewanorra international airport is situated. It is an active town with a good Saturday market, a lot of traditional housing and gaily-painted trucks for transport, although they are gradually being replaced by the ubiquitous Toyota vans. The area is markedly less sophisticated than the north of the island. The town boasts two new supermarkets in malls, JQs and Julian’s. The latter has a cinema. The post office is on Theodore Street which with the police station is right in the middle of the town. Fishing boats are pulled up on the small beach but there is no proper beach here. On Clarke Street you will pass the square with a war memorial and band stand. The bus terminal is at the end of Clarke Street near the airport. Vieux Fort makes a good base for exploring the south of the island. Helen Brand, the local wine producer, is just outside Vieux Fort. You can try the different wines (rather like a heavy port) and take an unusual souvenir home. Ask your taxi driver to stop there on the way to the airport.
The perimeter road skirts Anse de Sables beach (no shade), the base for Club Med watersports and looks across to the Maria Islands (see Flora & Fauna). The interpretive centre on the beach is not always open. If you want to visit Cap Moule a Chique, turn left at the T junction and follow the road to the banana loading jetty (on Wednesday you will pass truck after truck waiting to be weighed). Bear left and go up a badly maintained track. Finally go left again through the Cable and Wireless site up to the lighthouse. The duty officer will be glad to point out the views including the Pitons, Morne Gomier (1,028 ft) with Morne Grand Magazin (2,022 ft) behind it. Unfortunately Morne Gimie (3,118 ft) is largely obscured. Further to the east is Piton St Esprit (1,919 ft) and Morne Durocher (1,055 ft) near Praslin. The lighthouse itself is 730 ft above sea level and also has good views over the Maria islands and southwest to St Vincent.