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Appropriately, St Lucia is shaped rather like a mango!

St Lucia [pronounced Loo-sha] is 27 miles[ 43km] long and 14 miles [22km] wide.

It is very lush and has preserved its green mountainous heart, with banana plantations giving way to vibrant forests.

The south of the island is dominated by the Pitons, the jungle-clad twin peaks that symbolise St Lucia. They appear on umpteen post-cards depicting the Caribbean.

Culturally, the island is an engaging mix, with Creole artlessness, Caribbean flair and French finesse being underscored by traditional British values.

This reflects St Lucia's varied history. It  has changed hands 14 times, with the French and English [later, British] flags alternating from 1650, when French settlers first landed.

From the 1760's, the island operated a plantation economy, based on African slave labour.

Visit St LuciaSt Lucia became British for good in 1814 and gained independence in 1979, but it remains part of the Commonwealth.

English is the official language, but Creole patois is common-place. That is French and English vocabulary imposed on African grammar.

St Lucia feels safe to travellers, but the people can be quite forthright, whilst not as "in-your-face" as Jamaica. They are as friendly as the people of Barbados, without being as primly British.

Until recently, agriculture, chiefly bananas, was the mainstay of the economy.

However, a World Trade Organisation ruling puts this under threat, because by 2006, they must compete with massive US-backed Latin American companies for EU trade.

St Lucia and other small Caribbean countries have had preferential treatment from Europe in the past.

The USA had complained that this was unfair and illegal.

Now the surviving plantations will depend entirely on exports to Britain where many consumers will pay more for bananas grown using fewer chemicals.

St Lucia is slowly converting to a more tourism-based economy and has its share of luxurious hotels and low-key traditional inns.

It is also an extremely popular port-of-call for cruise liners.

The capital, Castries, is  perfectly suited to the largest cruise ships, which dock at Pointe Seraphine Cruise Terminal, on the outskirts of the town. At the terminal, is a small precinct, with a choice of duty-free shops selling jewellery, designer clothing and local crafts.

A variety of excursions are also available in air-conditioned mini-buses. Taxis also queue up, offering guided trips for those who prefer to look around on their own.

Water taxis ply the harbour between the terminal and another duty-free mall, La Place Carenage.

There is not much to see in Castries, as most of the old Colonial buildings were destroyed in fires in 1927 and 1948.

On Fridays and Saturdays, they have a typically colourful and noisy West Indian market, when ladies from the surrounding St Lucian countryside come in to sell their wares, mainly fruit, vegetables and chickens.

There is also a good choice of authentic crafts, including basket-ware of a large variety of designs.

The main square in Castries was renamed the Derek Walcott Square in 1993, in honour of the St Lucian poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

On top of the hill to the south of the town is the Morne Fortune Historic Area, where along with some remarkable views, you will find the old military buildings of Fort Charlotte, originally built by the French in 1768 and completed by the British in 1814.

Heading southwest and inland from Castries, through the hills, you get to the banana plantations of Cul de Sac Valley.

St Lucians claim that the volcanic soil makes their bananas, the sweetest and juiciest ones on Earth. I won't argue!! They're delicious!!

In the south are the dramatic Pitons, the twin cone-shaped hills which tower over the trees.

Gros Piton rises more than 774 metres [2540 ft] and Petit Piton stands 716 metres[ 2350 ft] high.

The quaintly ramshackle town of Soufriere nestles under the twin peaks and marks the gateway to a fascinating seven acre volcanic crater. This is La Soufriere Sulphur Springs. No longer active, the volcano's sulphurous vapours have the overwhelming smell of rotten eggs although they are said to have therapeutic value.

Nearby are the beautifully maintained Diamond Botanical Gardens, Mineral Baths and Waterfall. The gardens, created in 1785, are well worth a visit.

Sailing around this coast and snorkelling and diving at Anse Chastanet, just north of Soufriere, is very popular. The reef here is in a national marine park.

Marigot Bay, halfway down the west coast is a magnificent steep-sided cove with an exclusive marina for glitzy yachts. It is a very chic resort. Dr Doolittle was filmed here.

To the north of Castries lie sheltered bays, beautiful beaches, lovely hotels, a marina, historic landmarks and shopping malls.

By Choc Bay is the American-style Gablewoods Mall, with a wide range of shops.

Rodney Bay is next along the coast, where Reduit Beach is one of the finest stretches of sand on Saint Lucia.

Across the road from the beach and a little further along is Rodney Bay Marina, lined with restaurants and bars.

At the far end of Rodney Bay is Pigeon Island National Landmark with another great beach.

Golfers can enjoy their sport at Cap Estate Country Club or Sandals St Lucia.

My wife and I enjoyed a fascinating morning at the Mamiku Gardens on the less developed, but very attractive, east coast of the island.

We enjoyed a fascinating talk by the owner regarding a great array of beautiful tropical plants. Many of them, like the Noni tree, have great medicinal properties, valued for centuries by people in the tropics.

Saint Lucia is a wonderful, very green tropical island, with some of the finest scenery in the Caribbean. Why not book a holiday on this page or on via visit-the-world.co.uk?  

If you go, don't forget to taste a rum punch...or three, virtually the national drink of the Caribbean!! Wonderful!!