La Rochelle Estate
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.
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.
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.
Spirit of Place Statement for La Rochelle Country Estate:
Visit La Rochelle and experience both the natural beauty and rich cultural heritage of a country estate, and feel the passion which led Sir Stephen and Lady Virginia Courtauld to settle in this unspoilt haven. The house and grounds, now enjoyed in perpetuity by the nation of Zimbabwe and its visitors evoke images of a time in history when this generous, titled couple, who combined English, Italian and Hungarian ancestries, adopted this country and its people, and took both to their hearts.
The Courtauld’s public-spirited generosity, their enduring interest in promoting arts, music and culture, and their deep desire to improve the welfare of the rural population shall always be remembered in Zimbabwe. Their contributions were made quietly and modestly, with sincere humility.
Their foresight in donating La Rochelle to the National Trust now enables visitors to stay in the Courtauld’s home, walk the pathways so lovingly designed and created by Sir Stephen and his team of gardeners, and relax for a while in a haven of peace and beauty. Visitors can marvel at the extensive collection of rare orchids, cared for and tended in the manner established by Sir Stephen.
Stop a while in The Dell, close your eyes, and drift back in time to the late 1950’s. Imagine that you are one of Sir Stephen’s invited guests. Breathe in the scents of the beautiful garden. Visualise Lady Virginia with her kind and generous nature, as she busies herself with the ladies’ home industries projects. Listen, as from the house drift soft melodies as the musicians warm up their instruments for the evening entertainment.
Take time to enjoy this home and garden, remembering that the Courtauld’s home has been left in trust for the delight and pleasure of future generations.
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.
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.
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.
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: http://larochellecentre.com
To Make Reservations: CLICK HERE
Or you may contact the Hotel by email at: email@example.com
La Rochelle Updates:
- Annual Report April 2017 – March 2018 In late 2017 a unique Public Private Partnership (PPP) was established and the Trust signed a 50 year Notarial lease for La Rochelle for the establishment of the following: Agricultural Training centre Accommodation for training centre and Expansion of country house The PPP is in synergy with the vision of the NTZ and La Rochelle Organics (Organic Africa) ...
- La Rochelle – Events and news – May 5, 2017 Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on (04) 497213 / 0714 610 803 to find out costs and more detail. In 2016 La Rochelle hosted a number of events such as bird courses, vintage car rally, art retreat, jazz evening, food and wine pairings and educational workshops. Here are a few recent photos from some of ...
- La Rochelle – Spirit of Place Statement 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 ...
- 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:
La Rochelle has a large, unique botanical garden covering 20 acres of land, established with the professional help of the UK Horticulturist John Henry Mitchell, 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.
Activities on offer at La Rochelle
Walk around a large unique botanical garden and one of the finest orchid houses, enjoy the hiking, biking and horse riding trails, go boating, swimming, fishing, visit a petting farm for children, tour the organic herb farm and explore the historic house.
Enjoy fine dining and pampering at the beauty spa.
Directions to La Rochelle:
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.
The gardens are open to the public every day.
- RE: INVITATION TO HISTORY SOCIETY LUNCHEON; 13th October 2019 HISTORY SOCIETY OF ZIMBABWE Founded 1953 RE: INVITATION TO HISTORY SOCIETY LUNCHEON; 13th October 2019 National Trust members are kindly invited to attend the HSZ Annual Luncheon, and for your support at any future. Our speaker will be Dave Grant, the deputy head of Falcon College, an excellent speaker and fine historian. I am, of course, fully aware of ...
- Tribute to Helen de Barsy Hyslop A Tribute to a Wonderful Person – June 2019 Helen joined the NTZ in 1993 and became a member of the Executive Council in 2003. She was Chair of the Rhodesia Association of University Women (1970 -1980). One of her major local achievements, at that time, with other groups was the lobbying for separate assessment for ...
- History inspired fiction The Trust would like to congratulate Louisa Treger on the successful launch of her latest book entitled The Dragon Lady recently heldin Johannesburg, South Africa. As you will see from the photograph above Louisa Cleverly reproduced the famous black snake that Lady Virginia had tattooed down her leg in her late teens which in the early 1900s would have been ...
- Video of an Historical Exhibition of Traditional Shona Sculptures by the late Jonathan Matimba The Trust was instrumental in re-discovering a unique collection of works by the late Jonathan Matimba who was one of the three most famous and influential stone and wood carvers of the 1950s and ‘60s in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. The works are of great significance and of national historical interest. The ...
- Book Release -The Dragon Lady: The Courtauld Legacy Continues A visit to a historical National Trust Property called La Rochelle Estate inspired Louisa Treger author of The Lodger (Macmillan 2014) to write a book that has just been published by Jonathan Ball and Bloomsbury Caravel! It’s a work of historical fiction based on the lives of Sir Stephen and Lady Virginia Courtauld who built ...
- Discovery of a Formerly Unknown Modern Zimbabwean Stone Sculptor – Jonathan Matimba This special exhibition has been extended until Christmas 2018. ‘The Yawn Dog’, ‘The Mighty Eagle’ and ‘Hongwe’s Ponder’ are a few of the fascinating titles given to Jonathan Matimba’s sculptures on display at the Rhodes Nyanga Historical Exhibition Rhodes Museum) at present. ‘Seed Pod’, ‘Morning Love’ and ‘Flying Dream’ describe some of the modern pieces of ...
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.
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.
Lady Virgina’s Fantasy Room
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:
Here is a fascinating list of signatures of visitors that visited La Rochelle back in 1953:
La Rochelle: 2017-March 2018 Update
La Rochelle is a rare example in Africa of a major early Modern Movement (in
architectural terms) private house, and almost unique in Zimbabwe. Today it is a boutique hotel.
In late 2017 a unique Public Private Partnership (PPP) was established and the Trust signed a 50 year
Notarial lease for La Rochelle for the establishment of the following:
• Agricultural Training centre
• Accommodation for training centre and
• Expansion of country house
The PPP is in synergy with the vision of the NTZ and Organic Africa and their business partners have
a very good reputation for looking after the environment and being socially responsible in their business
operations. Needless to say the project presents an exciting opportunity for ensuring the economic viability
of La Rochelle, training and supporting small scale farmers, caring for the environment and raising the profile
of the NTZ regionally. Based on the positive feedback in response to the new management of the property
and the upgrading that has taken place, there is enormous potential for growth. This past year has been a
busy and eventful one 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”.
The property consists of three main sections: The hotel and Beauty Spa, the grounds and the new organic
herb farm. A research programme was undertaken in December 2017 and January 2018 to determine attitudes to and understanding of the property in order to obtain information that is useful in planning longer-term future
strategy for the venue.
Country House Boutique Hotel
Occupancy has greatly improved with an average occupancy rate of 40%.
The hotel successfully hosted the following events:
• 10 conferences with top corporates such as Old Mutual, TelOne, ZIMPLATS, Pearl Properties, IDBZ
• Bird courses, vintage car rally, art retreat, jazz evening, food and wine pairings, educational workshops
and four weddings.
• A series of musical events were performed by the Peterhouse instrumental group and the Iona Jones
Singers of the Phoenix Choir.
The main lounge The Fantasy Room
Work on identifying and recording the signatures etched on the famous windows continues, the result will be
of great historical significance and will result in a publication.
The well-known Tjaart Walraven, famous South African chef and judge on the popular show SA Bake Off,
came to train the catering staff and new menus.
High-tea’s in the garden or lunch in the Chinese Pergoda were introduced in the 20ha arboretum, a tranquil
venue set amongst exotic trees with a breathtaking view towards the forested mountains on the Mozambique
border. The coffee shop area was renovated and extended outside on the patio area.
A thatched rondavel was upgraded to house the beauty Spa adjacent to the swimming pool area. The
treatments on offer have been reorganized and the spa now offers a wider range using all natural and organic
Organic Herb Farm
The herb farm training centre has seen the establishment of 10 hectares of ‘field test’ of organic herbs and
the trials are well on their way and fast expanding. Herbs that have been planted include Lemon Verbena,
Peppermint, Chilli, Chamomile, Lemon balm, Fennel, Stinging Nettle, Safflower, Calendula, Caraway, Tulsi,
Basil, Thyme, Dandelion, two varieties of Ginger, and three varieties of Turmeric Anise and many have seen
their first harvest. Visitors to the hotel can now wader down to the farm and pick fresh herbs to make a cup
of herbal tea or pick a few to garnish a sun downer drink with.
The trials were conducted by Mr Dominik Collenberg who holds a Master’s Degree in Organic Farming and a Master’s Degree in Economics of Development which means that he has the expertise to implement the project. He is the Director of Organic Africa a company who focus on organic production and are the only company certified in organic fair trade products in Zimbabwe. They are also the only company in southern Africa whereby its small scale farmers have their land certified and so are able to produce high quality herbs.
Organic Africa works extensively with all their producers to help them attain Ethical Biotrade, Organic and
Fair Trade certification. An export market was secured for the crops by a leading herbal tea producer based
Since September 2017, the farm has trained some 3,889 farmers (2377 female and 1512 male). 47 of them comprised 4
farm managers and 42 contract farmers. Future plans include the building of a regional agricultural college to train small scale farmers, mainly women, on how to grow crops without using chemicals or fertilisers and how to make compost according to strict organic global regulations.
Calendula growing under an acacia tree Chilli crop
Further improvements were completed to the orchid house.
The very rare Lady Virginia Orchid flowered again. It flowered for the first time in 2016 after 40 years of not
flowering. The Courtauld’s discovered the rare species and kept it in their greenhouse at Eltham Palace,
London. When their greenhouse was destroyed in the Second World War, only a tiny piece of the orchid
remained which miraculously they were able to identify and save and it is now on show in the Orchid House.
Visitors are enjoying exploring the extensive grounds that are continually being improved upon:
• New trails have been established for hiking, biking and horse riding.
• Volley ball and croquet facilities were created.
• A petting farm was opened.
• The large swimming pool was restored.
• The dam was also restored; children can paddle in the dam, go fishing and boating.
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.
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
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.
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 (www.larochellecentre.com) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Zimbabwean Gardener magazine
An article on La Rochelle was featured in the 2014 Autumn edition of the Zimbabwean Gardener magazine: