Nestled in a peaceful oasis of verdant tropical greenery, when you discover the fascinating historic charm of St Kitts’ Romney Manor you’ll feel you have uncovered a true hidden gem of the Caribbean. This is the perfect spot for one of those dreamy, lost afternoons, picnicking in the sleepy sunshine or gently ambling amongst the lovingly kept botanical gardens – bathed in a balmy breeze as the sapphire seas wink at you through softly stirred leaves.
A little trace of magic lingers around this delightful destination; there is a sense that the rich, diverse essences of the Caribbean have been blended and distilled down into a heady mixture of nature, culture and sheer, alluring tranquillity.
Explore the stately grandeur of Romney’s Estate, a quiet former plantation, steeped in poetic hints of what Wordsworth might have called the still, sad music of humanity. Evidence supports the theory that Tegereman, the famed Carib Indian chief, dwelt in a village that once rested upon this spot, and the majestic Saman tree at the heart of the estate – 24 ft around and covering half an acre – must itself have been planted by Arawak Indians some 350 years ago.
Later, the estate in its more recognisable form began to take shape, arising out of the very first land grant in the English West Indies in 1625 as Wingfield Estate. It went on to be occupied by one Sam Jefferson, the great, great, great grandfather of Thomas Jefferson, the famous third president of the United States. Jefferson sold part of the Wingfield Estate to the Earl of Romney and hence the names Romney Manor and Romney’s Estate emerged and have endured to this day.
In 1834 Lord Romney defied the British parliament, unilaterally declaring the slaves on the estate as free, thus making Romney’s Estate the first on St Kitts to emancipate the slaves labouring there. And the deep traditions of its former inhabitants have coloured the activities of the Manor to this day: now this location is famous for its dazzling and vibrant Batik products, amongst the Caribbean’s most desirable textiles. These vivid creations and their intricate designs owe much to the melting pot of colonial traditions, particularly via the West African connection, that linger in the heritage of this fascinating location. The onsite Caribelle Batik workshop, founded in 1974, offers factory tours to visitors and makes the perfect place to pick up a delightful souvenir of your trip. Here you can watch the artisans at work, conjuring up the most beautiful garments with an expert alchemy of wax and vivid dyes.
From sugar to indigo, from tobacco to rum, the plantation had a long history of turning out many of the Caribbean’s most defining products. Today the Batik works continue the productive tradition in more favourable circumstances, creating fine, artisan products, enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. Sited amongst stunning gardens, 400 ft above the glittering Basseterre Bay, and beyond the Caribbean Sea, sheltering in the scenic foothills of the St Kitts central mountain region, this is a truly breathtaking location.
At the outer edges of the botanical gardens you begin to experience the fringes of the island’s lush tropical rainforest as it stretches away into the distance, blanketing the slopes of Mount Liamuiga in a vibrant green covering, loud with the chatter of the forest’s abundant natural inhabitants.
With all of this natural beauty, rich history and peaceful ambience, if you are in St Kitts then an afternoon away from the beach is certainly well spent here, exploring the serene and exquisite destination that is Romney Manor and Caribelle Batik, with its copious colourful charms.