Rum has a special place in Caribbean culture. Besides being a popular drink, rum was long a key part of the economy of the islands. As a result, much of what has happened in the Caribbean over the centuries relates to rum. While rum and rum making is part of the heritage throughout much of the Caribbean, not only is the product different in the various islands but so is the approach to rum-making. Therefore, we signed-up for a shore excursion that offered a rum tasting at St. Lucia's only remaining rum distillery.
This was a half day tour (3.5 hours) that would not take us very far from the cruise port in Castries. In addition to visiting the distillery, the tour would make a few stops along the way.
The first stop on the tour was at St. Marks, one of the grand colonial-era houses on Morne Fortune, the steep hill (689 ft) overlooking Castries harbor. During the 19th century, prosperous merchants built their homes on this hill. St. Marks was created by a Scotsman who married a local woman and so the contents of the house reflect both European and African culture. It is still owned by the family and is very well maintained. The veranda on the north side of the house presents a panoramic view of Castries harbor.
Next, we drove to Caribelle Batik. Similar to the Caribelle Batik attraction on St. Kitts, Caribelle Batik on St. Lucia gives demonstrations on batik-making and sells clothing items featuring batik prints. Also as in St. Kitts, the store is in a beautiful setting with palm trees and lush floral displays. In addition, there are spectacular views of Castries and the adjacent mountains from the balcony at the back of the building.
Continuing on, we made a photo stop at a spot overlooking Marigot Bay. Author James Mitchner called Marigot Bay “the most beautiful bay in the Caribbean" and it has been used in several films including the 1967 version of “Dr. Dolittle.” It is also of historic significance as the site of battles between the French and English navies. Today, it is a yacht haven with luxury villas, hotels and restaurants.
Unfortunately, the tour did not take us into Marigot Bay itself so our view was from afar. Aggressive local vendors also detracted from the experience.
Back on the mini-bus, we went on into the Roseau Valley. Much of the valley floor is covered with banana plantations. Next to tourism, growing bananas is St. Lucia's main industry. Our guide showed us how the clusters of bananas grow pointing upwards rather than downwards as they are commonly displayed in the supermarket. Upon reaching a certain maturity, each cluster is put into a blue plastic bag to protect it from insects. Thus, in a field of banana plants you see blue dots
The Roseau Valley is also home to the primary attraction on this tour, the St. Lucia Distillers Group of Companies. Before the switch to bananas, the main crop on St. Lucia was sugar cane. From sugar cane, you get molasses. Fermented and distilled molasses makes rum. Consequently, there were once many rum distilleries on St. Lucia.
With the decline of sugar cane on St. Lucia, the distilleries began to close. By the 1950s, there were only two left, one in Dennery and one at Roseau.. In 1972, those two amalgamated and distillery operations subsequently were consolidated at the Roseau site. The company was later sold to Angostura Ltd. of Trinidad but a member of the St. Lucia family that once owned the distillery remains the managing director.
The distillery is a complex of low lying industrial buildings. It is not architecturally interesting but rather completely utilitarian. Nowhere near as massive as the Bacardi distillery in San Juan, the St. Lucia operation had the feel of hand craftsmanship.
To begin the tour, visitors are shown a video about the rum making in St. Lucia. This is followed by a guided tour through the facility. You see the shed where the wood used to make the barrels is stored, the stills and the barrels of aging rum. All in all, we saw more of the actual rum-making process than on most other Caribbean rum distillery tours we have taken.
After viewing a room full of colorful St. Lucia and Trinidad carnival costumes, we came to a room with a long bar down the center. Spaced every few feet along the bar were bottles of the various rums and liqueurs made at the distillery - - some 17 in all. Bartenders were standing by to pour samples. However, no one seemed to mind if you poured yourself a sample from whatever bottle took your fancy. Appropriately for St. Lucia, we thought the banana-flavored variety was the best.
The rum distillery and its “Rhythm of Rum” tour are open to independent travelers as well as to those on tours. There is an admission fee.
Above: St. Marks, a mansion dating from the colonial era.
Below: The dining room at St. Mark's.
Above: Caribelle Batik on St. Lucia.
Below: A batik demonstration at Caribelle Batik.
Above: The view from Caribelle Batik.
Below: A view of Marigot Bay.
Above: A banana field.
Below: Scenes from the rum tasting tour.
Cruise destination travel guide - St. Lucia - St. Lucia attractions - Rum tasting tour review