No matter if you approach by the dipping and twisting west coast road through miles of breathtaking scenery, or by the thrilling flight of helicopter, grazing mountain tops and skimming lush valleys, the first hint of Soufriere will be the towering pinnacles of the Pitons, ceremoniously soaring above the sea to heights of approximately 2600 and 2400 feet respectively. Emphatic in appearance these guarding sentinels of Saint Lucia were revered as gods by the Amerindians. Today this UNESCO World Heritage site still stirs an awesome feeling in observers and a respect for the powers of nature which formed them in a great upheaval of volcanic activity.
Soufriere is without a doubt Saint Lucia’s number one tourist destination. Soufriere is a picturesque rural town, located on the southwest coast of the island of St. Lucia and some 42 km from the capital city Castries. This area is remarkable for the richness and diversity of its landscapes and natural resources, including mountains, rainforest, rivers, and coral reefs. The area of coastline hereinafter described extends over 12 kilometers and presents a succession of beaches and cliffs, with the Soufriere bay at the center. No visit to Saint Lucia can be complete without a visit to Soufriere. It is blessed with the world renowned Pitons, the Caribbean’s only drive in volcano, a number of hot and cold waterfalls, sandy beaches, friendly people, and award winning resorts and restaurants. Soufriere is the ideal place to sightsee, relax, dine and unwind.
The breathtaking legendary beauty of Soufriere’s many natural land formations and exotic scenery has been the backdrop for a number of motion pictures. Some of these include Superman II, Creature and Fire Power. Oprah Calls Soufriere one of the five must-see places in the world.
The name ‘Soufriere’ is a French term used to describe any volcanic area, literally translated to mean, “sulphur in the air”. The same name was used by the French to call other volcanic regions in Saint Vincent, Dominica, Guadeloupe and Montserrat. However, unlike other Caribbean islands characterized by low-lying flatlands and scrappy brush-style vegetation, St. Lucia is filled with dramatic mountains topped with burgeoning rainforests and cascading waterfalls.
The community of Fond St Jacques is nestled into the rain forest covered mountains about three miles east of Soufriere. The name, as is spelled, means “valley of Saint James” although some locals say that the origin, and actual spelling of the name was Fond Cet Jac, which is creole for “valley of the parrots” with Jac referring to the Jacquot, Saint Lucia’s national bird. That argument certainly makes sense in that the area still has the greatest concentration of the beautiful birds on the island.
Perhaps due to the isolation of the community, Fond St Jacques boasts a proud tradition of self-help; that voluntary spirit resulted in the construction of schools and churches in the community. As is the case with virtually all communities in Saint Lucia, the Catholic church is the centre of much of the community’s activity. The current building of the church of Saint James and Saint Phillip was completed in 1974 by the people of Fond St Jacques with nearly all of the materials used having come from the community itself.
One of the more interesting features found in the church is a mural, painted by well-known Saint Lucian artist Dunstan St Omer, which has a black Christ as its central figure. The mural is sixty feet wide, also depicts a number of local scenes as well as a past priests and the Saints for whom the parish is named. Also included is the addition of Rastafarian figures, since they represented a significant part of the community. Of the mural, as it still is today, Fr Theo says: “The painting reflects the life, the culture and the experiences of the people.”
Fond St Jacques is located in some of the most rugged and densely rain forested terrain on the island. A sizeable number of visitors pass through the community since it serves as the gateway to the Edmund Forest reserve which is quite popular with eco-tourist.
Community activists believe that further enhancement of the local tourist product is warranted. Locally owned operations such as a new waterfall and bathing pool attraction with a cascading fall estimated to be in excess of 300 feet high will help bring in visitors as well as create employment.