As the sun dips below the western horizon of St. Kitts, silhouetting the mountainous island of Sint Eustatius in the far distance, a misting rain begins to fall over Belle Mont Farm – a new, entirely organic and sustainable luxury resort nestled on the slopes of Kittitian Hill.
It’s one of those fleeting showers that characterize this and other islands in the Lesser Antilles, but it fails to dampen the enthusiasm of resort guests who have gathered at the outdoor communal dining table for the most authentic of farm-to-table experiences.
The rain has, however, dampened the acacia logs in Executive Chef Christophe Letard’s cooking station – a traditional wood-burning brick oven – as he prepares the seven-course meal for the feast ahead.
In an effort to get the oven fired up, Letard and his pastry chef fan its mouth with sheets of cardboard, rhythmically raising them above their heads and lowering them to mid-torso. “It’s like we’re praying,” Letard jokes. “It’s a wood-fire sect.”
A few minutes later, the smoke dissipates, the wood catches fire and, in this sublime setting in the heart of the resort’s herb and vegetable farm, the evening’s festivities begin.
We start with rustic bread made from pumpkin and eggplant and served with a variety of spreads and condiments, from chicken liver mousse and papaya chutney to pumpkin butter and rabbit pâté.
Course follows delicious course, including a baked lamb stew; pork belly that has been cured, smoked, glazed and grilled; and a chicken roulade served with plantain-and-bread stuffing – all dishes indigenous to St. Kitts.
Belle Mont Farm delivers an authentic island experience unlike many other Caribbean retreats. Much of what is served in the resort’s various restaurants is grown onsite within a thriving farm and nursery that are seamlessly integrated into the 400-acre property.
And if an ingredient isn’t grown or raised on the island or in the Caribbean – like beef, for example – it won’t appear on any of Belle Mont Farm’s menus.
“This is pure Caribbean food,” Letard says. “The ingredients that we grow and how we grow them can open a whole new style of cooking. I want the techniques that we use to be different. I want to be more open-minded for people who want to try new ideas.”
Belle Mont Farm is a gastronome’s paradise and – predictably – the resort’s culinary achievements best showcase the property’s organic and sustainable philosophy. The resort is also striving to reinvigorate the island following centuries of dependence on sugar plantations.
“We are already making an impact on how our staff and surrounding communities think about ourselves,” says Valmiki Kempadoo, founder, developer and owner of Belle Mont Farm and Kittitian Hill.
“There is a deep need for us to be more confident about who we are as people. Kittitian Hill is already shifting mindsets about our interpretation of the unique vernacular architectural style of St. Kitts and our use of local ingredients to deliver world-class cuisine.”
Belle Mont Farm opened in late 2014 and is still very much a work in progress. About 40 of 84 one-bedroom guesthouses are now complete, along with 10 of 65 planned three- and four-bedroom villas and one of seven four-bedroom farmhouses.
Each guesthouse is named after a Caribbean author and designed with a cathedral ceiling, a luxuriously appointed alfresco bathroom screened by lush rainforest foliage, an infinity-edge plunge pool, a cool drop-down projector offering Netflix and other media-streaming options and jaw-dropping island panoramas from a private patio.
Some guests may see the absence of a beach at Belle Mont Farm or immediate access to the ocean as a detriment. But from its perch more than 1,000 feet above sea level and at the base of the island’s dormant volcano Mt. Liamuiga, the resort more than compensates with stunning views of the island’s western shore and the Caribbean Sea beyond.
The four-bedroom farmhouse is the most prized accommodation, offering ample space for up to eight people and featuring an expansive central pavilion with a private 100-foot infinity pool, a gourmet kitchen and a curated wine selection by Isabelle Legeron, Belle Mont Farm’s master of wine.
The resort’s commitment to sustainability, as well as the natural bounties that are harvested from its organic farm, add character to most of the guest experiences.
Spa treatments (currently offered in two specially outfitted guesthouses) feature scrubs and oils made from indigenous ingredients grown on the property, such as lemongrass and vertiver.
By 2017, the Mango Walk Spa, comprising more than a dozen cottages interspersed throughout a grove of 150- to 300-year-old mango trees, will replace the spa cottages.
“We want to be able to share some of the rites and rituals of the island and its culture, inspired by the grandmothers who have lotions, motions and potions for every ailment,” says spa manager Nickie Myers.
Farther down the hill, a challenging but beautiful par-71 golf course, designed by 1991 Masters champion Ian Woosnam, recently opened, featuring breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea from every hole.
The course also meanders through mango groves and the farm’s other fruit trees, and golfers are actively encouraged to pick and eat the fruit as they navigate each bunker and green.
Golfers may also encounter herds of sheep grazing along the fairways – they help with the weeding, since pesticides and other chemicals are forbidden.
Guided foraging trips are another highlight. When led by chef Letard, these fascinating excursions end at the outdoor dining table at the heart of the farm where he incorporates just-picked ingredients into a meal.
Explore with the resort’s organic agriculturist Yahson Tafari and you’ll be treated to a bento-style breakfast served under the shade of a 200-year-old mango tree in the resort’s bucolic nursery.
Belle Mont Farm employs some 500 islanders, including building contractors, who – according to general manager Carlos Salazar – are imperative to creating a resort that is authentic to the island.
As the first phase of development nears completion, construction is already underway on future amenities that will transform Kittitian Hill into a significant Caribbean destination.
By the end of 2016, there will be two new restaurants and a bar specializing in vintage rums (more than 1,500 are planned for the menu); also in 2017, Kittitian Hill will be home to The Village, a 200-room hotel that will resemble – as its name implies – an island village with various shops and storefronts.
Through its employment opportunities, the resort is strengthening the island’s community and is also putting money into the pockets of local farmers through regular purchases of meat and produce that is not grown or raised at Belle Mont.
What’s more, the resort sells any crop surplus from its farm to various markets around the island. “You can actually see change, which is pretty amazing,” says Meshach Alford, Belle Mont Farm’s sustainability manager. “It’s very rewarding.”
For others, like 72-year-old nursery manager Winston Lake, Belle Mont Farm represents an enormous breakthrough, transforming an area of St. Kitts that was once monopolized by sugarcane plantations.
“I worked in the sugar industry for 44 years,” Lake says, “and I never thought I’d live to see the day that this area was turned into a paradise.”
LIFE AT THE FARM
For those who desire more than a vacation at Belle Mont Farm, the resort offers a handful of residential options, all of which come with island citizenship. Shared ownership of the seven fully furnished farmhouses starts at $415,000 and provides at least two weeks of access per owner over the course of a year. Three-bedroom villas are available for sale starting at $2.5 million. And, apartment residences in The Village (available in 2017) range in price from $405,000 for a one-bedroom studio to $636,000 for a two-bedroom unit.
For more information, visit bellemontfarm.com.