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Take A Walk In Castries

Cruise ships bring thousands of visitors every week to Castries Harbour, where they stretch their sea legs on the short walk along the harbour front from the duty free port facilities of Pointe Seraphine and La Place Carenage, to the heart of Saint Lucia's capital, where they find the city's charms and treasures. International brand retailers are located at both cruise ship berths, where there is a staggering range of jewellery, perfumes,  luxury apparel  and alcohol products at competitive tax free prices. Close to the Fisheries Complex on the main highway into the city centre is Serenity Park, an aptly-named community space which offers a calm and pretty place to watch the bustle of the day pass by.

Red-roofed Castries Market is found on the left side of the main road that hugs the waterfront, with its colourful produce market at ground level and two storey craft market, which is adjacent to the original historic building that now houses a picturesque tumble of vendors stalls, stacked high with local baskets, hand-made gifts and unusual souvenirs. Across the street on the harbour side is the Vendors' Arcade, selling imported arts, crafts and t-shirts galore. Make sure to haggle politely if buying in bulk - cheerful negotiations often pay off in discounts.

The city of Castries if full of tiny restaurants bars, known as 'rum shops' , where the smell of fried chicken means a tasty snack, and the crack of dominoes against the wooden table offers a chance to get to know the locals. Many bars have tables on the street, just right for swigging a cold Piton beer or a Chairman's rum and watching Saint Lucia's capital go by. Pay US$2 for a beer and it's a bargain - pay $3 and it's getting towards hotel prices - but you'll be welcome to join in the colourful city scene.

The Basilica or Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is the island's largest Catholic church and home to the vibrant, impressive murals of local artist, the late Sir Dunstan St. Omer. The cathedral is open for visitors all day, although late afternoons may find a funeral taking place, which in Saint Lucia often means a large crowd of family and friends decked out in black, white and purple which is a local symbol of mourning.

Right beside the cathedral is Sir Derek Walcott Square, the city's garden heart and tribute to Saint Lucia's Nobel Laureate for Literature. Busy stores line the square on three sides, some old and authentic, others renovated in a modern Caribbean style. The park plays a key part in the Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival, hosting the annual Jazz On The Square, but it is mainly an oasis of calm in the busy capital, and a gargantuan samaan tree throws welcome shade on benches that are perfect for taking a breather.

Bourbon Street is at the western end of the Square, and home to the Castries Central Library, a gracious old building with columns and balustrades and other Caribbean architectural delights, which has been serving the readers of Castries for many years. It's a throwback to nostalgic days when books and reading were top on most kids' agenda, and well worth a brief stop as you head towards Bridge Street, another of the city's main thoroughfares.

Architecturally, Castries is a mixed bag, in part because of a devastating fire in 1948 which wiped out three quarters of the commercial centre. Bridge Street is an interesting mixture of contemporary Caribbean buildings and modern Saint Lucian design, home to banks, retailers and the General Post Office. Dominating the street is the slick glass Blue Coral Mall, which is an air-conditioned shopping haven with a range of boutiques and stores. Turn right on the corner and you've reached William Peter Boulevard, is another busy thoroughfare, lined with cars and storefronts which is often rocking to the bass of an inpromptu sound system, especially on the weekends.

At the end of the Boulevard is Constitution Park, housing government buildings, the law courts and registry,  a popular short cut across town and afternoon workplace of many an amateur political commentator. Keeping the park on your right, the street leads back to the waterfront and emerges on Jeremie Street opposite La Place Carenage, which is the capital's second cruise berth. If all that walking has worn you out, a breezy ferry ride is just the ticket back to Pointe Seraphine, if that's where you started, or reward your efforts by drinking a cold Piton while you look out at the harbour.