In search of some autumn sun and a lot of relaxation, Louisa Castle visits Jamaica Inn and discovers life is for taking easy and always accompanied by a smile.
Jamaica Inn has been at the top of the list for luxury hotels in the Caribbean for over fifty years. It has hosted Hollywood aristocracy and British nobility and today it was our turn to stay in the blue colonial hideaway.
The photographs of Marilyn Monroe, Arthur Miller, Sir Winston Churchill and Noël Coward adorn the library nested amongst family photos of the owners and Shadow, the resident Labrador. A gentle reminder of all the stories these walls could tell. After a day of travelling the Rum Punch welcome drink was a treat as we watched the evening lights twinkle across the lawns.
Our flight from Gatwick to Montego Bay was comfortable as was the journey from the airport but a long week in the office meant that the enticing lure of the sand between our toes was all that we could think about at that moment. Welcomed home by our host, and Shadow (who enjoys a game of frisbee on the beach we soon discovered, should you wish to take her up on it) we were shown to our room, a Premier Verandah Suite on the Beach Wing. The room itself is colonial and calm but it was the verandah which made our stay. Larger than the room the covered verandah was home to us for much of our stay, for dinner, for relaxing and for the storm watching.
With access direct to the private beach this is what a Caribbean holiday is all about. Of note, there are no televisions or radios in your room. The ethos being that you are here to relax. There is comprehensive WiFi coverage though, so worry not. Unpacked and ready for some good food, we dressed for dinner. Dress code is smart casual so nothing to worry about there, for anyone who has a husband like mine, who prefers not to have to wear a tie for dinner on his holidays. A balmy twenty-something degrees meant that we were dining under the stars to the sound of crashing waves and live music. There are meal plan options, from breakfast only to all-inclusive which includes a dine around option to sample four of the local restaurants in Ocho Rios should you wish.
We dined one evening at Evitas an Italian/Jamaican restaurant ten minutes away, located in an authentic 1860s Gingerbread house and with a long list of famous guests on its wall of fame. Breakfast, is a great opportunity to try the local dishes. Each morning chef offers a different Jamaican breakfast option alongside your traditional fruit or Eggs Benedict should you prefer. The Jamaican national dish, ackee and saltfish is definitely worth a try. Tonight we sampled the delicious mix of local and international flavours. With five courses to choose from we settled on just three and nothing was too much trouble for the waiting staff. Fresh catch of the day caught our eye offered jerk, blackened or grilled. For me it had to be blackened jack fish and for my husband a light chicken curry. Followed by a generous scoop or two of ice-cream. The menu changes every day so if youre staying a week or more, dont worry there will be plenty to choose from, plus theres a relaxed room service menu for evenings on your verandah. I have to admit I became a little addicted to the plantain nachos.
For foodies there is also an option to shop and cook with chef Maurice Henry at the local market and to catch your own dinner with Tony and Marvin who moor their fishing boat on the beach and will happily chat to you about everything from football to fish. One trip that we did arrange was to Yaaman Adventure, a former plantation. Designed for the active with buggy rides and camel treks, there is also a Flavours of Jamaica Tour. It begins with an escorted ride around the plantation and ends at the majestic Great House, perched high on the hill and a cookery lesson. Such a stunning setting and thanks to our very patient cook, we mastered jerk chicken (not too spicy), Festival bread, callalloo and coconut sauce. Carey, our guide agreed it wasnt bad for first-timers. For foodies, like us, there are lots of trips and treats to go on but one that is definitely top of the list is Stush in the Bush, a luxury combination of Ital (organic) farming and gourmet dining high in the mountains. Run by husband and wife team, Chris and Lisa, I will be writing more in the February issue.
That morning we had received news of a sea turtle hatching, so we dashed back to Jamaica Inn to join that tour run by ex-teacher and English man Melvyn. Part of Jamaica Inns legacy is a Foundation to support the education and wellbeing of the islands youth and the preservation of the marine environs. And part of this is The Oracabessa Bay Turtle Project which has resulted in more than 100 nests and 16,000 hawksbill sea turtle hatchlings being released each year. And we had the opportunity to learn and be a part of releasing 184 two-day old turtles to the sea. It was a humbling and fulfilling experience and I would recommend young and old to take part if you get the chance.
Having read through this article so far, it sounds incredibly busy. Nothing is busy or rushed in Jamaica and definitely not at Jamaica Inn. Each day included a stroll along the 700 foot beach, a game of croquet with resident expert Rupert who has worked at the Inn for nearly 50 years, a rumology lesson at the beach bar, relaxing in the sun (two books were completed) or a little snorkelling. Two books were completed along with many afternoon naps.
The Ocean Spa, winner of best hotel spa in Jamaica for two years running, nestled on the rocks with crashing waves beneath is a must-do. As we were celebrating our anniversary whilst in Jamaica, my husband and I chose an Ocean Bliss Couples Massage. Overlooking Cutlass Bay, we lay side by side and drifted to the sound of the ocean below as our masseurs, Pauline and Ann (who are amazing) used natural coconut oil with rosemary and lemon grass to drain away our stresses. In addition, there is a full beauty salon, personal training and yoga.
On the final night of our stay I arranged dining under the stars for my husband and I. A surprise, the team were amazing, planning to the final detail with charm and professionalism. Being led down to the beach via a trail of lanterns, dining with the sand between your toes and the waves and tree frogs providing the background was the perfect way to end the holiday.
Champagne in hand, great food and the romance of the setting.