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I'VE FOUND PARADISE; ALEX HIBBERT MAKES A RENDEZVOUS WITH ST LUCIA , ONE OF THE FRIENDLIEST ISLANDS IN THE CARIBBEAN.

IT'S Wednesday afternoon and I'm rushing through the warm sea in pursuit of a trio of darting cuttlefish. My flippers fly up and down as I try to catch my quarry, to little avail.

Buzzed up on rum and sunshine, I decide to instead focus my attentions on surveying shoals of tropical fish I'm more used to seeing starring in animated films at my local cinema.

An hour or so later and I'll be sipping champagne in a speedboat while whizzing over waves and back to base.

Twenty-four hours previously I was about 40 feet deeper with a tank strapped to my back, scuba diving for the first time.

Just before that I was on top a volcano, caking myself in mud while wallowing in a hot spring.

If this all sounds like one big boast, it shouldn't - it's actually a pretty average couple of days at the Rendezvous resort in St Lucia.

Started by the Barnard family in 1966, they created their business with the idea that, if they provide an experience which strips back all the stresses of everyday life in a little corner of paradise, people might come. And it works... perfectly.

Nestled among acres of gorgeous tropical gardens and the two-mile stretch of Malabar beach's white sands, Dennis Barnard transformed the family home into 20 guest bedrooms, before it became Rendezvous as we know it today in 1993.

Last year the family pumped $12.5m into a stunning renovation, and now the resort includes 100 rooms and suites, and myriad amazing places in which to unwind.

Rendezvous really is like nowhere I have been before.

It's a beautiful resort which incorporates two incredible a la carte restaurants, a state-of-the-art spa which offers more massages and treatments than I knew existed, poolside champagne and cocktail bars, as well as facilities to do pretty much any activity you want.

That includes watersports for the thrill-seekers, and pilates and yoga for the health-conscious.

Of course, you can simply do nothing, if relaxing is the only thing you want on your itinerary.

Last year I stayed at Jumeirah's incredible five-star Mallorcan resort and likened it to an experience where I felt like royalty: it was opulence defined.

I would say, on balance, that Rendezvous is finer. Different, though. I mean, sure, it provides luxury with ease (see the daily champagne tasting sessions featuring bubbles from around the world), but it's not stuffy.

In fact, far from it. Instead, staffed by modern-day genies who deliver on any desires the guest might have, it seems perfectly designed for relaxation. I ended up making friends with almost every member of the workforce, and each day delivers at least one new and unforgettable experience.

Usually more than a few. Rendezvous calls itself 'The Boutique Hotel For Couples', and it really does deliver on that promise. Compact but not claustrophobic, the day begins with a buffet on the main terrace consisting of fresh fruit, eggs done any way you want, as well as local and international delicacies.

Then, either spend time enjoying the plentiful pleasures on offer around the resort, or those wonderful staff can arrange excursions on your behalf.

At night there's a range of dining options, which does fine dining without ever feeling too formal.

That includes the brand new beachfront Malabar restaurant, where you leave your shoes at the entrance and dig toes into the sand while consuming some amazing steak and fish, and each day the main buffet terrace focuses on a different cuisine, including a great beach barbecue and traditional Caribbean delicacies.

And if you're looking for that special experience as a couple, then why not head out onto the beach for a candlelit dinner for two? Or take some time out from company by finding a discreet hideaway beside the lazy river pool that meanders gently through the resort? The resort also offers a number of packages for people honeymooning or planning on having their nuptials abroad.

St Lucia is known as one of the friendliest and safest of all the Caribbean islands, and it really does feel that way.

By the end of the trip I feel like the staff have all become a sort of family far away from home.

And, after a long goodbye in which I hug almost everyone, I make a promise to myself to return to this corner of the world, which really does feel like paradise.

If you've put some money away for a rainy day, then put it to good use and treat yourself to a stay at one of the most beautiful places I have ever had the pleasure of staying.

If you haven't, then get saving. It's worth it.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:May 28, 2016
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