Fascinating for a visit during your time in St. Lucia, the Balenbouche Estate is truly magical location. This is a place whether you are seeking to spend a few days there, or simply want to have a look around the historical and natural delights that make this such a special and unique place.
Balenbouche is situated in the charming south of the island, around 30 minutes from Soufriere (30 minute drive). Surrounded by stunning natural scenery, where abundant forests meet secluded beaches and waterfalls and quaint fishing villages are to be found close by. This lovely locale offers wonderful views and the opportunity to take advantage of the airport, banks, post office, local stores and restaurants (two on the beach!). All to be sampled close by in the intimate surrounds of Vieux Fort. This small town boasts a charming Saturday Morning Farmer’s market, whilst the lookout above the town features spectacular views over the whole of St. Lucia and the Pitons.
The local Anse de Sable beach can claim to be one of the most attractive and extensive beaches on St. Lucia. Exciting activities such as kite surfing or horse riding are also available in the vicinity. In addition the local area boasts a rich history and culture of which the Balenbouche Estate is just part. From the picturesque church at Choiseul to the la Pointe Carib, an ancient indigenous settlement, from the Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens to the Toraille Waterfall, from the rainforest to the beach: there is plenty on offer in this part of the world for visitors to savour.
The area in which Balenbouche is built is steeped in a long history. Beginning around 2,000 years ago when St. Lucia was first settled by the Arawak people of Central America. These early inhabitants left behind a number of traces of their dwelling in the area. So carved basins and petroglyphs can be found along the Balenbouche river, along with a number of fine examples of tools and pottery that are held in the Estate collection. In the 1600s the island was occupied by the French, with European settlement on the Estate dating from around 1740. Balenbouche was home to the Gaillard de Laubenque family from 1840 to 1860 during which time the still standing plantation house was built. Along with this impressive building, traces of the landscaping, an aqueduct and a number of lesser ruins remain.
Slaves from Africa were shipped to St. Lucia in the 17th century and remnants of African settlement linger, from both before and after the emancipation of 1834. These setlements include the settlement of Piaye in the vicinity of Balenbouhe that was founded by the freed slaves and still retains a strong African identity. In addition, the late 19th Century saw the settlement of labourers from East India whose influence is also still strongly felt in parts of the area, particularly Balca to the north.
In 1964 the Lawaetz Family moved to the estate. Erik Lawaetz, a Danish-West Indian developer purchasing it and managing it through the years up until and after St. Lucian independence in 1979. In 1984 Roy and Uta Lawaetz, Erik Lawaetz’s son and daughter-in-law, came to the property and began a lengthy process of renovation and restoration. After Caribbean artist Roy, and Uta, an architect and interior designer from Germany, separated in 1990. Uta, along with their two daughters, remained at the estate, making it her mission to develop and improve the charming property, placing it on a more stable footing. Converting parts of the estate into guest accommodation, and mixing this with tours, weddings and farming cottages, together they made the estate sustainable once more. Today, Uta and her daughters Verena and Anitanja, have transformed Balenbouche into a renowned ecotourism destination and heritage site,. They welcome many diverse visitors to the estate’s many delights.
Ecotourism is Balenbouche’s speciality and maintaining a sustainable and carefully balanced usage has always been an important priority. One of the very first places to adopt an ecotourism approach, as part of the Heritage Tourism Association of St. Lucia, Balenbouche boast an impressive record in taking a responsible and ethical attitude to the management of the estate.
Striking a deal with members of the local community, much of the estate has been opened up to low impact farming, such as garden crops, sporadic cattle grazing and charcoal gathering. The estate is particularly passionate about organic farming, long before such things became popular or widely practiced in the UK. Ever since 1987, there have been no chemical fertilisers used on the estate. Crops such as lettuce for the local farmers co-op, along with fruits such as coconut, avocados, star fruit, mango, papayas, breadfruit, plantains and bananas are grown to provide those guests staying on the estate with the very freshest of delicious local produce.
With rainwater collection, recycling and solar water heating, energy is conserved in keeping with the estate’s ecological philosophy. Such measures are not without their immediate advantages as a number of fine examples of local flora and fauna have chosen to make this delightful spot their home.
Along with restoring the architecturally impressive 19th century plantation house, the two centuries old waterway on the estate has been carefully maintained and there are plans in the pipeline to restore one of the buildings to make an interpretation centre for visitors. This way they can learn about the site’s rich history in more detail.
There are two great beaches within a five-minute walk of Balenbouche, along with other fine beaches a little further out, and with temperatures running at a constant balmy 20-30 degrees Celsius with a frequent, pleasant breeze the weather is lovely.
A genuine Caribbean treasure, the Balenbouche Estate is lush, rich in heritage and culture and a real delight. Enjoy the magical atmosphere and take in their unique, ecologically conscious blend of hospitality and charm.