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At Caribbean farm, nature, heritage, and strong women

Posted by Patricia Borns  February 24, 2011 07:43 AM

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Cattle pastures and fruit trees line the dirt road to Balembouche Estate south of Soufriere, St. Lucia, but don’t let the "estate'' part fool you. The grandness of this former sugar plantation hugging the sea has nothing to do with spa treatments and Frette linens, but with Uta Lawaetz and her daughters Verena and Anitanja, graceful hosts who also cook, fix the plumbing, run an organic farm and farmer’s co-op, and nurture regional artisans, preserving a vanishing West Indian culture and way of life.

The heart of Balembouche is its breezy, gingerbread main house; a tropical antique inside and out where guests breakfast on the porch, gather for candlelit dinners, or cook for themselves in an honest West Indian kitchen The four cottages scattered over the landscaped and cultivated grounds are open to the outdoors; breeze- and fan-cooled, designed and decorated by Uta Lawaetz’s artful hand. You hear the tree frogs at night and the moos and baas of farm animals. Rustic, but seductive, and economical – a week’s lodging can be as little as $500.

Although it’s tempting to lapse into dreamy seclusion, you’ll want a car to reach the best beaches and tropical forests of St. Lucia’s most authentic and beautiful corridor. The location just below Soufriere is ground zero for exploring the Pitons. Starting in Fond Gens Libre (village of free people), the Gros Piton heritage trail leads to a summit’s eye view of Petit Piton and the southwest coast. (About a 4-hour trek.) From the heritage manse of Fond Doux Estate, trails shoot off to Chateaubelair ridge for a photo op of the tallest Piton. Knock yourself out, then cool off under the 50-ft. Toraille waterfall

The Lawaetz women never stop working, yet are always accessible. Their local knowledge will illuminate your stay. For instance, learning of my interest in St. Lucia’s clay pot cookery, they directed me to the home studio of Irene Alphonse in Choiseul, a center of traditional craft.

Watch and listen to Alphonse hand-building her pots with freshly dug earth, using techniques similar to those of her African and Carib ancestors.

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