La Rochelle Estate

La Rochelle Estate


LaRochelle Estate1




About the Site:

La Rochelle estate, comprising of 108 ha, is one of the best known of the Trust’s properties. It is situated in the Imbeza Valley, Penhalonga in the mountainous eastern border area, some 280 km from Harare and 20 km from Mutare.
LaRochelle Estate2
The house was built by Sir Stephen and Lady Virginia Courtauld in 1951 as a retirement home, and was donated to the National Trust in 1970.  A leading Professor of Architecture described it as follows:

“La Rochelle is a rare example in Africa of a major early Modern Movement (in architectural terms) private house, and almost unique in Zimbabwe, given the quality of its architectural detailing and of its interior decoration, especially in the Fantasia room and the Peacock cottage.”

During the time that they lived here, La Rochelle was a Mecca for important local and overseas people from all walks of life, and included artists and film stars, as well as influential politicians, in addition to family members. Most of these distinguished visitors were asked to engrave their signatures with a diamond-tipped stylus on the two large end windows which are of great historical importance.
LaRochelle Estate3
The Courtaulds were patrons of the arts and they funded the building of the Courtauld Theatre, the Queen’s Hall, and the Rhodes Club in Mutare, the Kukwanisa Agricultural School at Watsomba, and the National Gallery and the College of Music in Harare.



Rejuvenation and Restoration:




In June 2014 the National Trust with Acumen Africa, a host of consultants and multitude of contributors began the restoration of the property to its former glory, through the renovation of the buildings and rejuvenation and redesign of the gardens. La Rochelle Country House has been fortunate enough to have a dedicated and talented project management team as well as overwhelming support from friends of La Rochelle, both locally and internationally.

In 2015 The La Rochelle Country House opened. Accommodation consists of seven beautifully appointed and individually designed suites in the historic Courtauld House, one free standing West Wing comprising of 5 rooms and a honeymoon suite situated a small distance from the Country House overlooking the dam. All rooms reflect the elegance of the Art Deco and 1920’s era. Interiors have been carefully chosen to suit the style and are spacious and equipped with the finest materials, linen and amenities giving an instant homely feel in a luxurious and friendly environment. There are also more secluded single and family cottages available.


LAR Signature photo house and pond    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA    P3025317    bedroom  LAR Pool Signature

In addition to accommodation there is the La Rochelle Restaurant, Main Lounge, Coffee Shop, Snuggery Bar and Day Lounge. La Rochelle offers excellent small conference and function facilities and is a beautiful setting for a romantic country wedding.

wedding avenue          wedding

The water furrow that feeds the arboretum, many of the ponds and artificial streams as well as the famous orchid house which is surrounded by streams and waterfalls was also renovated, as was the orchid house.


Tropical section of the Dell at La Rochelle (3)   r1  New orchid biome (7)  New orchid biome (2)  New orchid biome (6)

A new Snooker Room, that saw the reconditioning of a 100 year old British championship table, was opened. The new children’s “petting farm’ was partially completed which – along with fishing, boating, hiking, birdwatching, cycling, horse-riding, snooker, swimming and spa treatments facilities improve the visitor experience.


The Old Craft Hall was restored to its former glory. The project achieved Lady Virginia’s request in her Will to use La Rochelle as “a venue for conferences either of a public, national, international or educational character”.

The natural and cultural features also attract many special interest groups including those of the Orchid, Aloe and Tree Societies, Birding groups from around the world, the History Society and various Arts groupings.

Visit the Hotel Website for more information:

To Make Reservations:  CLICK HERE

Or you may contact the Hotel by email at:

La Rochelle Updates:

  • National Trust Tribute to Mr Darrel Plowes It is with the deepest regret that we note the passing of Darrel Plowes, in Mutare, on Wednesday 19th October 201 aged 91. Darrel has been an invaluable friend of the National Trust of Zimbabwe for a many, many years and a great source of information and of assistance through his long friendship with Sir ...
  • Rare Orchid flowers for the first time since 1973 The 17th October was a historic day for the Trust and in particular for the La Rochelle property when a rare orchid flowered on the 17th October 2106, this is only the fourth time that it has flowered to our knowledge, the last time being in 1973 so this is a cause for celebration. The orchid ...
  • La Rochelle Update August 2016 The property continues to gain much support and praise from all visitors and work is underway to organise various events to attract a wider range of visitors who will view this property not only for its aesthetic appeal but also it’s historical importance for the people of Zimbabwe. For all enquiries and bookings please contact: ! With generous ...

La Rochelle Gardens:

Vanda RothschildianaBCL AlexanderiLa Rochelle has a large, unique botanical garden covering 20 acres of land, established with the professional help of the UK Horticulturist John Henry Michell, with exotic plants and trees gathered from all over the world. The indigenous wild bushlands were carefully preserved. There are numerous walking paths around the gardens.

There are interesting exotic trees in the arboretum as well as palms, cycads, azaleas and other flowering shrubs. This diversity provides ideal habitats for a large variety of bird species. An orchid house was built and filled with exotic and indigenous orchids and contains the Peter Horrocks collection of rare Phalanopsis.


Directions to La Rochelle:

GPS Coordinates

 18 ° 54′ 24” S

32 ° 41′ 28” E

Opposite Christmas Pass Hotel on the main Harare to Mutare Road, turn left at the Christmas Pass Service Station onto the Penhalonga Road. About 6 km down the road turn right at the La Rochelle signpost and proceed for about 3 km to the La Rochelle entrance on the right.


Operating Hours:

The gardens are open to the public every day.

  • World Heritage Day Global heritage group mobilising young people in fight to preserve cultural identity Today, the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO) are launching a new resource, ‘Trust Kids!’, a list of 25 things young people can do to explore, celebrate, preserve and share their cultural heritage.  In her annual World Heritage Day Lecture, Dame Fiona Reynolds, Chairman ...
  • Nyanga’s Unique History: Presentations over the Easter weekend “Nyanga’s Unique History” We have pleasure in announcing that two presentations will be taking place over the Easter weekend On understanding Nyanga’s rich archaeological heritage By Mr Robert Burrett,  Archaeologist On Saturday 15th April 2017 At 3 pm and Rhodes Hall, National Park (near the Area Manager’s Office), Nyanga, Zimbabwe Monday 17th April 2017 At 10 am Nyanga Community Library, Nyanga Village, Zimbabwe Entry – FREE! Enquiries: O Bepe 0773050801; ...
  • Spirit of Place Statements The Spirit of Place (SoP) concept was established at the Quebec conference of the International Council on Monuments and Sites in 2008.  SoP is defined as “the tangible (buildings, sites, landscapes, routes, objects) and the intangible elements (memories, narratives, written documents, rituals, festivals, traditional knowledge, values, textures, colours, odours, etc.). It is the physical and ...
  • Property Reports for 2016 You are invited to read our property reports for the year 2016 for the following sites: Rhodes Nyanga Historical Exhibition Mabukuwene and Worlds View The other four site reports will be posted shortly for you to enjoy.
  • 2016 Property Reports The following 2016 Property Reports can be read under the relevant property page: La Rochelle Country House and Spa Rhodes Nyanga Historical Exhibition and Worlds View They all make for a very interesting and uplifting read! Enjoy.
  • Happy New Year The NTZ Council members would like to wish you and your family a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year!   We are looking forward to continuing to work tirelessly to protect our precious national heritage.  

Zimbabwean Gardener magazine

An article on La Rochelle was featured in the 2014 Autumn edition of  the Zimbabwean Gardener magazine:

La Rochelle article Zim Gardener Autumn 2014 001

Historical Photographs and Documentation

Here are some interesting historical photographs and of Sir Stephen Courtauld and Lady Virgina Courtauld and La Rochelle in its heyday, circa 1960s.

The Courtaulds

Stephen, Mollie, George, August and Virginia Courtauld in the grounds of Eltham Palace, their London home, in World War II. George and August were Stephen’s cousins, and Molly was August’s wife.

LAR Circa 1960

Lady Virgina’s Fantasy Room

sitting room circa

The Sitting Room

The Courtaulds used to write a Bulletin of their life, here is the copy from 1957 it provides us with a rare glimpse into their life style:

page 1 bulletin page 2 bulletin page 3 bulletin

Here is a fascinating list of signatures of visitors that visited La Rochelle back in 1953:

1953 vistor signatures

Latest News: Refurbishment of the Dell and Water Furrow – October 2015

Further to receiving a very generous private donation we have now completed the restoration of the ponds in the Dell area of the garden.



Pictures showing ponds that have been restored.

Another 350m of repairs to the water furrow still need to be completed.  The river which feeds the furrow is now very low so we will complete these repairs once we have our first rains and there is adequate water to keep the concrete wet. Picture showing repairs to water furrow leading to the gardens.


As shown below concreting and stone work has been completed  to a section of earthen furrow that needed to be concreted as too much water was being lost before reaching the gardens.


The Nursery and Orchid Centre

The repairs to the glass houses have been completed. All that remains is to install the irrigation in them and some of the finishing touches.



The wooden slat houses. All old timber was removed and replaced. The old shade cloth roofs will be replaced.


The picture below shows steps being built that will allow guests to have a tour that leads through the orchid houses. Meaning that visitors do not need to retrace their footsteps back to get to the next house.


Picture showing an example of some of the potted plants that had out grown their pots that have now been removed.


As shown below a stand of bamboos are being removed as they have taken over a section of the nursery. For years this has caused damage to the surrounding shade houses, underground water pipes and electric cables.


We are now looking forward to the next phase of work which will be to concentrate on the nursery and orchid houses.

Mr K Martin

October 2015

End of Year Report for La Rochelle: 2015

The NTZ is more than pleased to report that 2015 was an exceptional, exciting and outstanding year for the property that saw many important elements of the LRC project vision being achieved.

Project vision:

To develop the La Rochelle property and estate into a creative ‘nexus’ of educational, cultural and environmental excellence in Southern Africa while adapting the estate to the economic and educational realities of the 21st century, for the benefit of both Manicaland and indeed Zimbabwe as a whole and playing a small part in the country’s renaissance

In addition to LRC staff hard work whose dedication and commitment is invaluable so much was achieved through a large team of professional people living in Zimbabwe and in the UK, who so generously gave up their time and expertise voluntarily. Together, everyone worked to uphold the vision that Sir Stephen and Lady Virginia Courtauld had for the estate.

The team undertook a major refurbishment of the buildings, infrastructure and gardens was completed and new furniture and equipment was purchased whilst other key pieces were lovingly restored with the expert assistance of Sheena Hewitt.

The La Rochelle Centre Operating Company (LRC) was formalised with the appointment of a Director representing the interest of the NTZ in this Company. The La Rochelle Centre website was launched ( closely linked to the NTZ website. Mr Kevin Martin was appointed the General Manager of the Estate and Mr Jannie Martin was assigned the responsibility of looking after the orchids and the Dell area.

The final result was the re-opening of the hotel re-branded as the La Rochelle country House.


logo LAR

With assistance from Mrs Henrietta Courtauld, a landscaper based in London, UK, London who spent hours researching the original gardens from family documents, the estate team worked tirelessly to renovate the gardens.  The refurbishment of parts of the garden were made possible by a very generous private donation that was instrumental in renovating the water furrow that feeds the arboretum, many of the ponds and artificial streams as well as a complete overhaul of the famous orchid house which is surrounded by streams and waterfalls.

r1 r2

The team also completed renovations to the more formal gardens and ponds to be able to open La Rochelle as a select wedding venue for the occasional garden wedding set in a stunning grounds.

r4     r3

The building of a new Conference Centre was achieved towards the end of the year with the generous assistance of Stone Beattie Architectural Studio in Harare. The Old Craft Hall was restored to its former glory. The project achieved Lady Virginia’s request in her Will to use La Rochelle as “a venue for conferences either of a public, national, international or educational character”.


Another project completed was the opening of a new Snooker Room, that saw the reconditioning of a 100 year old British championship table. The new children’s “petting farm’ was partially completed which – along with fishing, boating, hiking, bird watching, cycling, horse-riding, snooker, swimming and spa treatments facilities that will improve the visitor experience.

During the major refurbishment of the house and the estate the “aesthetics from the Courtauld era” were retained through careful research wherever possible. A development of this magnitude is extremely positive, especially against the backdrop of a difficult economic situation in Zimbabwe.


LAR circa 2013   LAR Ext Signature  LAR Pool Signature

In addition to the re-opening of the hotel a La Rochelle Historical Guide Book. was compiled by Mr Bruce Mennell, who lives in the UK who put in much time and effort researching and seeking information from a variety of sources including Darrel Plowes, the NTZ and English Heritage. The document was kindly edited by Mrs Sharon Waterworth who lives in Zimbabwe. The guide book is an excellent resource for those visitors to LAR and in addition to this it is a valuable historical document containing many rare photographs of Sir Stephen and Lady Virginia Courtauld.

Mr Mennell luckily, also was able to trace historic negatives held by a London photographic studio. Copies of the photographs, taken of La Rochelle and the Courtaulds in 1957 by the renowned British photographer Mr J. Alan Cash, F.R.P.S.and now displayed in the house. The find was a very fortuitous record of the lounge fittings and of views of the house and surrounds at the time that the Courtaulds lived at La Rochelle. Mr Mennell also had copies made of various paintings that were formerly hanging in the house, creating another historical record.

During the time that the Courtaulds lived at La Rochelle it was a Mecca for important local and overseas people from all walks of life, and included artists and film stars, as well as influential politicians, in addition to family members. Most of these distinguished visitors were asked to engrave their signatures with a diamond-tipped stylus on the two large end windows which are of great historical importance.


An exercise to decipher and record all the signatures on the windows commenced in November 2013 and the compilation of the signatures was completed in 2015. The pain staking work was undertaken by Mrs Nina Bauer of the NTZ, Mrs Heather White and Mr Darrel Plowes. Also the next step was started: to research into each signatory and compile an account of whom they were.

The signatures cover an interesting period in the history of Zimbabwe and they may provide an insight into what facilitation role the Courtaulds played in its transformation. In 2016 the NTZ will publish this important information into a document.

We are now looking forward to implementing more projects during the course of 2016.

La Rochelle: 2016 Update

2016 was a busy and eventful year for La Rochelle and we are very happy with how far we have come in working towards our end goals and vision for the “La Rochelle Project”. Here are a few highlights of what we managed to achieve:

  • Completed improvements to the La Rochelle orchid house and had the very special Lady Virginia Orchid flower for the first time since 1973.


  • Successfully hosted 10 conferences with top corporates such as Old Mutual, TelOne, ZIMPLATS, Pearl Properties, IDBZ and more.
  • Our occupancy has greatly improved this year with an average occupancy rate of 40%.
  • Hosted a number of events such as bird courses, vintage car rally, art retreat, jazz evening, food and wine pairings and educational workshops.


  • Successfully hosted 3 weddings.

We have more exciting plans for 2017 and we hope that you will join us for some of them.

We also hope that some of you are planning to hold special events such as 50th birthday parties, wedding anniversaries, corporate strategy meetings and engagement parties at La Rochelle in 2017. We really need your continued support to achieve our overall vision.

Below is a calendar of what will be happening in 2017 at La Rochelle Country House and Spa.

Spirit of Place Statement for La Rochelle Country Estate:

Experience both the natural beauty and rich cultural heritage of a country estate, and feel the passion held by Sir Stephen and Lady Virginia Courtauld to settle here and literally ‘put down roots’ as the saying goes. The house and grounds are what has made La Rochelle a lasting treasure to be enjoyed in perpetuity by the nation of Zimbabwe and its visitors. It will forever evoke images of a time in history when this very generous titled couple, who combined English ancestry and Italian and Hungarian ancestries as well, adopted not only this country, but also its people and took both to their hearts.

Their public-spirited generosity, and their enduring interest in promoting the various arts, music and culture, as well as a deep desire to improve the welfare of the lower echelons of the population, means that they will always be remembered for their generous largesse towards Zimbabwe even though these contributions were always made very quietly and modestly and never openly and flamboyantly.

Their foresight in donating La Rochelle to the National Trust now enables one to not only spend a weekend or more inside their very home, but also to walk the pathways so lovingly designed and created by Sir Stephen and his massive team of gardeners and planners, and to relax for a while in a haven of peace and beauty and marvel at the extensive collection of rare orchids.

Stop for a while in The Dell, close your eyes, drift away to the late 1950’s era and just pretend that you are one of Sir Stephen’s invited guests for the weekend, the way he would have wanted it to be. Breathe in the scents surrounding you through this beautiful garden and think of Lady Virginia and her kind and generous nature as she busied herself for the day with the local ladies and their knitting and crotchet projects that she funded.  Picture in your mind the soft tunes drifting down from the house from piano and violin as the invited musicians ready their instruments for the evening.

Take the time to enjoy this very special home and garden remembering that the Courtauld’s former home is here for all future generations to be able to admire and enjoy.



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