Think Pink and find a Diamond above Castries
Perched on a hillside, with its jaw-slackening panorama of lawns, gardens, Castries harbour, Vigie peninsula, Pigeon Island, the blue Caribbean horizon and, on a clear day, Martinique, the Pink Plantation House is worth seeking out for the view alone, but this rosy diamond in the tropical sun is much more than it appears at first. Heading out of Castries to the top of the La Toc or Morne Road, flamingopink signs point the way to one of the island's most unique destinations, a happy blend of history, art, horticulture and darned good food, and once there, the charm of the 110 year old home and its hostess are irresistable.
The home was built by the British government around the beginning of the 20th century, and anecdotal accounts say it was used to house visiting and working officials abroad: indeed local horticulturalist and landscaping legend Veronica Shingleton-Smith came to St Lucia from England in 1952 when her father was stationed here as chief of police; she later married into a family who'd arrived in 1906 and has lived here ever since. There are other houses of the era scattered across the hillsides of Morne Fortune and La Toc, but many are in disrepair, and none capture the essence of the family home that Pink Plantation feels when you enter it.
Michelle Elliot is the creative driving force behind the Pink House, having literally stumbled upon it's blushing beauty "in the bush" when looking for a place to house her studio and workshop eight years ago. Wild Orchid Designs had been located on the shore of Vigie Cove next to the Elliott family’s restaurant The Coal Pot, but damage from Hurricane Dean in 2007 drove Michelle to look for a new location “on higher ground”. She also wanted somewhere beautiful, but was starting to give up when a surveyor friend mentioned the property situated on two acres of sloping grounds, and insisted on a visit.
Overgrown, jungly gardens and dilapidated outhouses couldn't hide the captivating Victorian charms of the Pink House, which was on the market after the most recent owner had died about eight years before. Other prospective buyers were interested in developing the acreage, but Pink House needed a special owner and Michelle needed a special place, so the family put in an offer the next day, bought the property and set about cleaning it: she documented the transformation by photographing it every step of the long, painstaking “labour of love” as she calls the process of bringing the house back to life.
A mighty little crew of builders, gardeners and carpenters worked side-by-side replacing rotten wood, extending the verandah, cultivating and caring for the lush, sloping grounds and vegetable gardens; Michelle rescued authentic architectural details, turned windows into doors, recycled old wooden boards from another old plantation home, insisted on hand tools instead of power tools and gradually the pink diamond in the rough was brought back to some of its former glory. The interior of the old family home was left almost intact where possible, and thick layers of ancient paint still adorn the wooden doors and jalousie shutters; dry-rotten walls were replaced with authentic salvaged boards where possible, but many of the quaint, rustic details were left to retain the livedin feel of the Pink House. Where practicalities came into play, windows became doors to open up the flow, and the extended verandah was inspired by another local home, all executed in keeping with the history of the property.
Originally the vision was to create a home for Michelle’s pottery business, Wild Orchid Designs, but visitors to the Pink Plantation House had other ideas, and soon she had requests for weddings and parties which were catered by The Coal Pot; suddenly she was buying a stove and a fridge, catering “home-style” from the tiny kitchen and people came.
Nowadays the breezy verandah with its captivating view is usually full to capacity at lunchtime with locals and visitors enjoying authentic Saint Lucian cooking in a spectacular, history venue. It may be a little off the beaten track, but that’s one of the reasons to seek out the Pink Plantation House early in your visit to Saint Lucia: follow the pink signs once, and believe us, you’ll remember your way back every single time.