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travel: Fun in the sun for all the family; Ginny Warner enjoys a break with her family on a paradise Caribbean island.

Byline: Ginny Warner

WHIZZING through the treetops, 100ft above ground, wasn't quite how I'd expected to experience the lush beauty of St Lucia's rainforest.

"Come on, Mum," said James, 16, as I stood on the zip-line platform with my knees knocking. "You can do it."

Several members of our party, including a couple of American women of "a certain age", who were "trying new experiences", had already taken off, whooping as they went, and my son, behind me, was keen to get going.

I couldn't chicken out now. I stood nervously while the guides clipped my harness on to the twin cables, took up the sitting position as instructed... and stepped off, trying not to think about the huge drop below me.

There was a whoosh of air, a whizz of the zip-line, and I landed on the next platform within seconds, having not taken in any of my surroundings!

Having got one under my belt, I started to get the hang of it and enjoy it a bit more, although I still didn't see an awful lot of wildlife. I suspect most of it had been scared off by all the foreigners hurtling through the trees.

James and his new friend, Adam, 14, however, loved it and wanted to do it all again, even if their outfits of hairnets, hard hats and gardening gloves weren't the coolest of teenage gear.

During the 30-minute journey to the Rainforest Canopy Adventure, our driver Neville had pointed out and stopped to show us - breadfruit and star fruit trees, mahogany, nutmeg and cinnamon trees, bamboo, and of course bananas, the island's second biggest industry after tourism.

We also saw a flamboyant tree of magnificent red blooms and very long seed pods which local people dry out and use as percussion instruments.

I'm relieved to say the second sightseeing trip we organised to the island's former French capital, Soufriere, didn't involve re-enacting a Bushtucker Trial from I'm A Celebrity.

Our driver this time, Edmund, was a fascinating guide and happy to stop for us to take photos of places of interest en route, including fishing villages, Laborie and Choiseul, and St Lucia's famous twin mountains, the Pitons, which area World Heritage Site and said to be Oprah Winfrey's number one place to see.

First we went to the Sulphur Springs, "the world's only drive-in volcano".

Part way in we joined informative local expert Christina for a close-up look on foot, and to "enjoy" the delicate eggy aroma.

Visitors can see pools of boiling mineral-richmud, which is said to have health-giving properties, and clouds of steam shooting 50ft in the air.

One crater is named after a guide called Gabriel, who was badly burned when the volcanic crust crumbled as he tried to get a closer look. He lived to tell the tale but would have preferred a less painful route to fame.

Edmund then took us to the Toraille waterfall for a refreshing dip before driving to the nearby Botanical Gardens and the Diamond Falls.

The magnificent gardens are very peaceful, and teem with wildlife such as lizards and birds, including the Antillean bullfinch and iridescent hummingbirds. For a small extra charge you can take a spa bath.

We ended our trip in Soufriere itself, whose impressive waterfront area was the setting for the film Romancing The Stone.

In between trips we were happy to relax at our hotel, Coconut Bay Resort & Spa. My teenagers spent hours in the pool, playing games such as volleyball with their newfriends, or splashing about on the waterpark slides and in the "lazy river".

They also worked their way through the menu of non-alcoholic cocktails at the swim-up bar and sampled the burgers from the beachside grill.

I relished the escape of the adults only pool, where I could soak up the sun and read my book with only the sound of birds singing and the Atlantic waves breaking on the beach as background - rather than the music and happy holiday noises around the family pools. The Atlantic breeze was very welcome with the temperature in the mid-80s and high humidity.

One of the highlights of the holiday for my 14-year-old daughter, Lizzie, was being pampered at the hotel's spa.

She chose the Teen Treat package, which involved a relaxing facial and back massage, followed by a manicure.

I tried the Hot Stones Therapy, a blissful 80-minute top-to-toe massage with hot oil and special lava stones.

When I was fully "basted", Barbara, my therapist, wrapped me up like a mummy in fluffy warm towels and left me to relax. It was very calming and the feel-good effect lasted for hours.

All the resort staff were delightful, friendly people and nothing was too much trouble. The hotel catchphrase seemed to be "Yeah, man!".

In the evenings James and Lizzie did their own thing with their friends, chatting around the pool or in the hot tub, and later disappearing upstairs to the disco until the early hours.

I spent the evenings in the comfortable lobby, sipping Caribbean Explosion cocktails and enjoying a varied programme of entertainment.

There was live music every night and we were also treated to displays of traditional dancing, fire-eating, and limbo and acrobatic dancing.

We tried out local speciality food during a St Lucia theme night, and one of the island's top singers got everyone up dancing at the Pirates Of The Caribbean barbecue evening.

At the end of the holiday, the hotel's proximity to the airport was a bonus as we were able to stay by the pool to grab some final rays until just two hours before our flight home. It was hard to tear ourselves away and we hope to return soon to the Helen of the Caribbean... the place that launched a thousand trips.

GINNY WARNER was a guest of Coconut Bay Resort & Spa in St Lucia, and her stay was arranged by Virgin Holidays, which offers seven nights' all-inclusive at the resort from pounds 899, including Virgin Atlantic flights ex-Gatwick to St Lucia and transfers.

Prices per adult based on two adults travelling and sharing a room, for departures in 2008. Child prices for under-12s start from pounds 199.

Seven nights in St Lucia, flying from Manchester incl flights and transfers and accommodation on an all inclusive basis start from pounds 999.

Prices may be subject to increases in fuel surcharge or Air Passenger Duty. Virgin Holidays reservations: 0871 222 0304 or visit www.virginholidays.com

The world's only drive-in volcano

CAPTION(S):

The beautiful Diamond Falls at the Botanical Gardens; Gros Piton as seen from the Botanic Gardens; The Coconut Bay Beach Resort and Spa and gorgeous St Lucian coastline; Ginny sets off on a zipline above the St Lucian rainforests; The waterpark provides plenty of fun for all the family
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 12, 2008
Words:1131
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