Story & Photos by Stan Bishop
The southernmost part of Saint Lucia, Vieux Fort, has been of great importance for centuries. Vieux Fort was a major producer of sugar in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the Americans even built an airfield there – Beane Army Airfield – during World War II. Today, that airfield, having been extended subsequently, is the island’s main airport, Hewanorra International Airport.
The main point of entry for most visitors to Saint Lucia from North America, Europe and Asia, Vieux Fort is well-known for its vast expanses of land. This characteristic is often a metaphor for the area in the same way that Texas is touted for its bigness in the U.S.
Vieux Fort, home to the eco-friendly Maria Islands just off its coast, also boasts other landmarks: George Odlum National Stadium, a sea port, captivating beaches, a horse racing track, a major hotel, and a strong agricultural and cultural identity. Nicknamed “The New Frontier” many years ago, Vieux Fort offers endless untapped possibilities.
Perched about 730 feet above sea level on the southernmost point of the island, Moule-a-Chique, is the Moule-a-Chique Lighthouse, which was built in 1912 and is said to be the second-highest lighthouse in the world. From there, one can feel the great southern hospitality that exists below.
Charles Louis, 82, a wine maker from Canelles, Vieux Fort, has been a wine maker for the past 41 years. Prior to taking up the craft back in 1979, he was a banana farmer tilling his farm at Ravine Poisson, nearly 20 miles north of Canelles. After Hurricane Allen devastated the island’s banana industry in 1980, he was distraught.
Soon after that, he was invited to a workshop at Union, Castries, where participants were given basic ideas of using local fruits to make juices and wines. He later bought a book on how to make wines and other paraphernalia and never looked back.
Louis’s company, Helen Brands, has since fermented an impressive line of local wines, beginning with banana wine. Other wines on the list are made from watermelon, mango, sugarcane, jamoon, and tamarind. The oldest bottled wine in stock – banana wine, of course — dates back to 1988.
“I love everything about Canelles,” Louis said, gazing at the undulating terrain. “It’s a beautiful place to live, which is why I’ve lived here so long. The people get along very well. I cannot live anywhere else.”
Louis’s spirit of industry is merely a fraction of the industrious nature of Vieux Fort. Aside from a free trade zone where various goods and services are produced and provided, the town is home to some of the island’s main exporters, including Windward & Leeward Brewery Ltd. and Baron Foods Ltd. The area is also a major hub for nearby constituencies, namely Laborie, Choiseul, Micoud, and Soufriere.
By the way, if you think that standing atop Moule-a-Chique and gazing across the captivating scenery of Vieux Fort is anything to brag about, just try visiting Maria Islands. These two small islands, Maria Major and Maria Minor, are home to Saint Lucia’s indigenous iguanas, and the Saint Lucia Racer, the latter being the world’s smallest snake.