The sustainable luxury farm in the Caribbean everyone is talking about


The sustainable luxury farm in the Caribbean everyone is talking about

Imagine for a moment a place where in the early hours of dawn, a breeze sends the smell of fresh fruit and flora wafting in all directions. The occasional green vervet monkey, baby in tow, makes an appearance on the porch, and as night falls, the chirping of crickets drones out any other sound, and fireflies signal that it’s time to turn in. And yet, at any given moment, pristine service in the form of private attendants is right at your fingertips from the comfort of your very own luxury cottage, nestled in 400 acres of fertile, organic farmland in the heart of St. Kitts.

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Belle Mont Farm, located in the eco-friendly resort community of Kittitian Hill, opened in December 2014 on the premise of delivering a truly sustainable hotel experience for visitors to St. Kitts, while promoting local farming practices that empower those in the surrounding community.

The five-star, farm-to-table boutique hotel features 84 luxury cottages, four farmhouses, and 14 three-and-four bedroom luxury villas, all architecturally mimicking the traditional Kittitian chattel homes, and painted sky-blue and white.

Each luxury cottage features large, open-concept rooms with elevated ceilings, a king-sized bed, a private, outdoor four-piece bathroom complete with a soaker tub and rainwater shower, your very own infinity pool, a private wraparound veranda, and your very own projector and pulldown screen - perfect for movie nights right in the room. The best part? Floor-to-ceiling doors that can be thrown wide open to reveal stunning views of the Caribbean Sea and its surrounding islands.

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After staying at the Belle Mont Farm in St. Kitts, PAX spoke with founder Valmiki Kempadoo, and got the scoop on everything you need to know about booking a stay here. And yes, the bathroom is really outside - but don’t worry, there are curtains!

PAX: Where is the Belle Mont Farm located, and what is it all about?

Kempadoo: Kittitian Hill is a $600 million hospitality and real estate destination anchored in the holistic philosophy of sustainability, authenticity and a belief that luxury is not signaled by possessions but rather by a commitment to one’s community and its culture. The destination is founded on the four cornerstones of sustainability – cultural, economic, social and ecological.

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Belle Mont Farm is located high on the mountainside and not on the beach like most typical Caribbean resorts are. Its focus is on providing the guest with an authentic, Caribbean experience and certainly not the many clichés that the typical Caribbean resort presents to its guests. For instance, we do not have limbo dancing, fire-eating and staff dressed up in ridiculous costumes. One of the things we try to do at Kittitian Hill is to celebrate the creativity, warmth and hospitality of the people of St. Kitts and the Caribbean. One of the challenges of developing Belle Mont Farm has been to communicate this concept to the right group of people in the world and have them understand what we are trying to do.

Kittitian Hill’s 400 acres of fertile farmland are set between Mount Liamuiga and the Caribbean Sea in St. Kitts, West Indies. Located in the northwest of this lush and vibrant island, the extraordinary site affords views of the rugged coastline and the picturesque island of Saint Eustatius as well as St. Barths and St. Maarten. Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport offers direct flights from London, New York, Miami and Atlanta, and connections to a host of other countries.

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PAX: How did the concept for Kittitian Hill and Belle Mont Farm come about?

Kempadoo: Kittitian Hill was founded on the concept that a business could serve as the vehicle for social change. Given that the tourism industry is by far the most significant in the Caribbean, I decided that a significant resort community could serve as this vehicle. Once I had made the decision regarding the business model, I spent some time looking at various islands in the region that would be suitable for the concept. I sought an island that did not have a very significant tourism industry, and as such ruled out islands like Barbados, Antigua and Saint Lucia and focused on three islands; Grenada, Dominica and St. Kitts. It was around the same time that St. Kitts was closing the sugar industry and therefore offered an ideal destination for the business model.

PAX: Your hotel offers incredible views of Mount Liamuiga. How has building at the base of a volcano helped business, from an eco-friendly/sustainable development standpoint?

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Kempadoo: Being on the foothills of the volcano is a blessing for Kittitian Hill, as it has provided wonderful free draining and very fertile, volcanic soils. Kittitian Hill ranges in altitude from 500 to 1,000 feet above sea level and this gives us a wonderful microclimate which allows a variety of tropical and subtropical fruits and vegetables to thrive. At a time when almost every acre of available land in St. Kitts was under sugarcane cultivation almost all the lower slopes of Mount Liamuiga were cleared of the native vegetation.

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PAX: Where does the farm-to-table concept come in?

Kempadoo: Our resort's agricultural endeavors hope to stimulate a paradigm shift by encouraging the local agricultural community to move away from the use of chemicals with the aim of reducing ground water and soil contamination. About 90 per cent of Belle Mont Farm’s culinary ingredients come right from the farm, with the rest coming from our local farming communities whom we work with to encourage sustainable farming practices.

Kittitian Hill’s organic farm offers the largest selection of tropical fruit in the Caribbean, from 100 types of mango to indigenous varieties such as mamie apples and soursop. Coffee crops and cocoa plants are in abundance, as well as vegetables, including cassava.

Executive chef Christophe Letard oversees all food and beverage operations, including The Kitchen restaurant and The Mill bar located at The Great House and the nearby Pool Grille, which offers fresh takes on traditional “comfort food” in a casual outdoor setting. Additional distinct dining experiences include The Farm Table, which features an outdoor communal farm table set amongst vegetable and fruit gardens, and Arthur’s sea-to-fork restaurant on a nearby black sand beach.

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PAX: How can we make Canadians and other international visitors see the value of a sustainable and eco-friendly hotel experience in the Caribbean, when so many flock to the islands because of the affordability of an all-inclusive resort experience?

Kempadoo: In many ways, the typical Caribbean resort is not dissimilar from that of the plantation of yesteryear. Three hundred years ago the plantations of the Caribbean deployed foreign management, foreign capital, exploited the local "people", exploited the environment and then rapaciously repatriated profits. There are many resorts within the Caribbean today that one could argue have a similar business model.

There is a growing consciousness in a particular market segment that is aware of not only the impact that tourists have on the physical environment, but also the impact that they have on the economy and probably more importantly the social fabric of fragile small island states.

I am of the opinion that many persons are aware of the potential negative impacts that they may be having while holidaying in traditional resorts, but they often feel that they do not have a choice and therefore either opt not to travel to areas where they feel they are making a negative impact, or do so with a guilty conscience. I think that there is need for a deeper conversation to be had about the impact of tourism on small island states, particularly within the Caribbean - one that I believe the politicians and major industry players do not necessarily want to have.

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PAX: Who is your target traveller demographic? How is Belle Mont Farm working to attract the right kind of traveller?

Kempadoo: We are targeting a rapidly growing market segment which we have described as "Affluent Liberals" (the same as Tesla, WholeFoods, and Farmers Markets) which is very underserved in the hospitality industry. It is interesting to note that this market segment spans both the Baby Boomers and Millennials which is borne out by our experience at Belle Mont Farm.

PAX: If this was an all-inclusive aficionado’s first time staying at BMF, what should they expect? What might stand out as different?

Kempadoo: We consider ourselves at Belle Mont Farm, the antithesis of the typical "all-inclusive" Caribbean resort. We strive to offer the guest an authentic experience and encourage as much interaction with local communities and people as possible. We hope that a guest coming to Belle Mont Farm from an all-inclusive background would experience:

  • Our respect for the local art and culture, starting with the architecture and the use of materials in building Belle Mont Farm, to the names of the guesthouses (which are named after Caribbean authors), to the artwork hanging on the walls.
  • The fact that we are one of the very few large-scale resorts in the small island states of the Caribbean to only use small and medium-size local contractors to build the entire resort.
  • Our commitment to procure supplies and ingredients from local suppliers and farmers.
  • The care that we have taken to protect the environment during the development of Belle Mont Farm and the careful cultivation of the organic farms throughout the resort.

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PAX: What kinds of conservation efforts are in place at Belle Mont Farm to reduce the hotel’s carbon footprint on the Caribbean?

Kempadoo: Kittitian Hill is being developed on lands that were cleared hundreds of years ago for sugar cane cultivation and in more recent times were abandoned as sugarcane harvesting became mechanized. We made a point of planning and developing Kittitian Hill under the native tree line and in doing so we were able to position all the buildings without cutting any mature trees down of any kind.

We have very long list of sustainable practices either underway or planned at Kittitian Hill, a few that specifically address our carbon footprint are:

  • Kittitian Hill bottled water: we discourage the use of plastic bottled water and produce our own bottled drinking water using returnable glass bottles.
  • Reuse and recycle: we actively compost all compostable materials and attempt to recycle as much glass plastic and paper as we can given the island environment.
  • Tree-planting: one of the best ways to offset our carbon footprint is by planting trees. At Kittitian Hill we have planted over 20,000 trees since our inception and continue to plant trees at the rate of 2,000 to 3,000 per year.
  • Energy: Our goal is that by 2020 all of Kittitian Hill’s energy requirements shall be met by renewable energy in the form of solar photovoltaic, wind and biomass.

With its proximity to the volcano and surrounding rainforest, Belle Mont Farm is also the perfect backyard for hundreds of nosy neighbours - green vervet monkeys, who are actually native to Africa, but ended up on the island sometime in the mid-1700’s.

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“Unfortunately in planting one of the largest collections of rare tropical fruits in the Caribbean, we have inadvertently created a garden of Eden for the monkeys and we now face the challenge of how to contain or control the monkeys from harvesting all the fruit,” Kempadoo explained.

Despite their love of snatching fresh fruit that would otherwise serve as ingredients for the three restaurants at Belle Mont Farm - The Kitchen, Patio Garden, and Farm Table - the monkeys are a wonderful attraction nonetheless, and are a delight for many guests who enjoy photographing them in their natural habitat.

PAX: What can guests of Belle Mont Farm look forward to - besides its natural beauty, of course!

Kempadoo: Currently, guests may enjoy:

  • our signature farm to table culinary experience at the Farm Table
  • breakfast at the Nursery
  • farm Tours and "working with the farmers"
  • foraging for fruit with 'Bushman," our local forager
  • yoga, mindful meditation
  • spa treatments
  • hiking around the property and to Mount Liamiguia
  • snorkelling at Dieppe Bay reef
  • golf at Irie Fields, one of the world's most sustainable golf courses
  • tennis on our all weather courts

For more information on the Belle Mont Farm or Kittitian Hill, visit www.bellemontfarm.com.

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