Chantelle tells us about her visit to Jamaica...
After a 9 hour flight with British Airways we touched down at Kingston Norman Manley International Airport, the sun was setting and the temperature a wonderful 30 degrees. We continued through customs and immigrations – I highly recommend the fast track service which costs just $30 and includes a meet and greet service off the place – to the arrival hall which was very modern and looked newly refurbished. After a short wait we were met by our friendly driver Ernest who took us to Strawberry Hill, one of the fantastic Island Outpost collection of properties founded by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, perched 3,000ft above sea level and a 45 minute drive through the Mountain View Neighbourhood.
We were greeted at Strawberry Hill with refreshing face towels and a cool drink while we admired the spectacular view overlooking Kingston and the surrounding regions of St Catherine and the Blue Mountains. The temperature was warm and humid although 3,000ft above sea level, with a gentle breeze to keep the insects at bay. Food is a speciality in Jamaica and we were served wonderful coconut buttered shrimps, red snapper and jerk chicken roulade with the most divine strawberry infused cheesecake with coconut bottom. I was in heaven! Our foodie experience continued at breakfast with a wonderful array of tropical fruit, ackee and salt fish, calaloo, dumplings, plantain and banana bread.
Formerly an coffee plantation there are 12 Georgian style cottages and studios dotted around the grounds of Strawberry Hill, with the main communal area of pool, field spa, bar, restaurant, lounge, library and gold room located in the middle, which gives this accommodation a very exclusive and romantic retreat feel with relaxed luxury emphasised. The cottages are all very homely, individual charming and traditional with 19th century Caribbean furniture, dark oak four poster beds and dark oak wooden floors with white linen and muslin drapes over the bed, complete with duvets and electric blankets for the cooler evenings. All cottages have kitchens or kitchenettes and are identified by the outside fretwork and benefit from French doors leading out to your own private veranda to take in the truly magical mountain view.
Jamaica was such a beautiful island and as we travelled north to Ocho Rios we were able to see the diversity from rivers and mountains to rainforest as Ernest described the history and cultural influences of the island.
Arriving at Jamaica Inn, we were met by Mary the manager who is as famous as this stunning hotel. Built in the 1950’s and still family owned by the Morrow Family, the 52 roomed Jamaica Inn oozes elegance and sophistication. Boasting 750ft private beach and gardens with communal pool and croquet lawn, all the room types and cottages benefit from ocean views, with the premier verandah rooms located on the beach or right next to the ocean and spacious cottages benefiting from their own plunge pools and situated on the bluff or own peninsulas. For those special occasions Cottage 7, with integrated cliff side plunge pool and the White Suite with separate private pool, terrace/lookout and garden area are the optimum of luxury.
After the initial site inspection we were able to indulge in traditional British afternoon tea with board games in the library, relax at the field spa or workout at the gym (as if!) before meeting for a formal evening of canapés, cocktails, three course dinner including Jamaican curry, pastas and fresh fish, after dinner treats and drinks in the piano bar. The front of house staff at Jamaica Inn offer a very high standard of customer service and were professional, extremely attentive, charming and ensured at all times that we were looked after without being intrusive.
Breakfast at Jamaica Inn will see you spoilt for choice, from a cooked traditional Jamaican Breakfast of the day to a set spa breakfast, or separates such as waffles and pancakes, the staff at Jamaica Inn ensure that your beverages are topped up at all times.
After an exhilarating morning, we then stopped en route for lunch and got Jerk Chicken and Festivals (Dumplings) and prepared for an afternoon at the uber stylish but understated, GoldenEye hotel. Another of the Island Outpost properties, owned by island records founder Chris Blackwell, it’s second claim to fame is that it is where Ian Fleming wrote some of the James Bond books. We were greeted from our transport and escorted through the lounge and concierge area and along the suspension bridge, across the lagoon and beautiful beach to the beach bar, where we were greeted with rum cocktails and met the general Manager, Jenny.
Whilst sipping our cocktails and taking in the ambience, it is clear to see that Goldeneye is all about “Lifestyle”, with a group of ladies celebrating with champagne around the pool, with supermodels Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss favourite retreat in Jamaica. We then had a site inspection of the Beachfront Cottages with French doors opening on to the upstairs and downstairs veranda and lagoon cottages are outstanding with five steps leading straight into the water, with a veranda area and kayaks for your own private use. All cottages are equipped with stocked Smeg Fridges, modern kitchens, Ipod docks, private outdoor rain showers and free standing baths. The lagoon cottages are so relaxing and calming, being so close to the water and encouraged to use the Kayaks provided, I would recommend Cottage 1, which is located half on the beach and half on the lagoon.
We then made our way to the glass bottom boat tour, which toured around the lagoon and we could take a look at the view of the lagoon cottages and spa from the lagoon, we also went out into the ocean and viewed the Ian Fleming villa and private beach from the ocean. We then had at the afternoon at leisure to enjoy watersports, spa treatments, cocktails at the Bizot bar and relaxation at the beach at the fresh and seawater pools. Before dinner, we arranged to meet and view the Ian Fleming Villa, a 5 bedroomed villa. This would be a fantastic place to stay for a special family or friend occasion, boasting a king room, double room and twin room, with media/film Centre, private large pool area, outdoor garden and dining area and separate courtyard with water feature, queen size indoor sofa, also including private chef and butler, housekeeper and gardener. There are two outside cottages that are in the same style and have kingsize beds.
We then met at the Gazebo restaurant for canapés, cocktails, wine and three-course dinner including coconut shrimp, Jamaican curry, mahi mahi and lobster. It was a real treat to meet the legendary bond girl, Grace Jones at dinner (A good friend of Chris Blackwell) whilst dining with Jenny, Chris Blackwell’s PA and the Chief Operations officer for the Island outposts who provided us with a Goldeneye speciality, ‘Black and Blue’, blackwell rum and blue mountain coffee, a truly special evening.
3 hours by road along the coast to the northeast, we took in the landscape and many bays on the way to Port Antonio. We drove past the newly built Ian Fleming International Airport, completed in 2011 and stopped at the Eroll Flynn Marina, where tourism started in Jamaica before the aircraft was invented and Cruise ships still dock. Port Antonio attracted the jetset in 1950’s and films were shot here in the 1980’s such as Cocktail and Blue Lagoon but it is still used as an exclusive area to shoot films and modelling. We then continued to Geejam, an idyllic hillside hideaway with stunning views and home to the world famous Geejam Recording Studios, where many world famous recording artists have recorded tracks and albums.
On arrival at Geejam, the entrance alone is hip and trendy. We were greeted by Kanesha, Floyd and Rod the general manager, who took us to the Bushbar for Lunch, a relaxed atmosphere with an Apple mac desktop allowing guests to choose their favourite songs, a pool table with a view and tailormade “Geejam style” cocktails. The lunch menu is a fusion of Caribbean and Asian style. I had a jerk chicken wrap, whilst another favourite was the ‘Red Stripe’ beer battered fish and chips, the fish being the local mahi mahi and fresh succulent prawn salads.
We then visited all of the accommodation - seven modern and contemporary state of the art units, all with steam rooms and home theatre sound systems, music is a real focus here! I had to test the iPod docking station, you are really encouraged to indulge in this. The Sandwood Villa was the main villa when developing the other accommodation at Geejam. The villa boasts three kingsize bedrooms, all with private verandas and outdoor living area, and the only swimming pool at the property, so if the property is unoccupied guests at the property are able to use the swimming pool facilities. I stayed in the Ska Cabin with its own private outdoor jacuzzi and stunning Ocean and Forest Views. I particularly enjoyed hearing from Iyolla, a member of concierge about the music artists that had previously stayed in the room that I had stayed in. When checking into my room, we were given our own personal mobile phone, so that we were able to contact all members of the Geejam team.
As we made our way down the steps to the Geejam recording studio we passed by the waterfall and daybed, ideal for taking in the surrounding nature and also the modern gym with punchbag and Bob Marley inspired football posters. On arrival into the Geejam recording studio, the American hiphop artist Kanye Wests’, sound engineer and pianist were rehearsing in the studio. Many past and present music artists have recorded albums at Geejam Studios, including Amy Winehouse, Gwen Stefani and Alicia Keys. We then visited the Drum and Bass room, which is a large spacious room with outdoor living area, underneath the recording studio with a spectacular view of the Ocean.
Dinner had a relaxed atmosphere in the Bushbar, continuing with the Carribbean and Asian Influence with the evening menu. Their talented and highly trained chef Nigel created bespoke and unique fusions, I ate the blue cheese and spinach stuffed chicken breast and the tapas style size desserts. Live entertainment that evening were the Jolly Boys, with a combined age of 250+, they were great characters! They recorded their album at Geejam Studios and recently completed a world tour, they are residents at the Bushbar at Geejam every Saturday night.
The next morning I woke to the sound of the surrounding wildlife in the rainforest, and we had the rest of the day to explore the Geejam facilities. I took the 90 steps down to the small and secluded beach, with loungers, daybeds and hammocks to relax on and a beach bar and kayaks provided. That afternoon we left for our transfer to Kingston Airport. After waving goodbye to Rod and his team, we were enroute to our private jet transfer, via Blue Lagoon - made famous for the recording of the films ‘Cocktail’ and ‘Blue Lagoon’. The Cocktail bar at the lagoon has been left to deteriorate, but it is to be restored by 2015 to its former state, owned by the Geejam Collection it will be a buzzy area that will transform the upcoming Port Antonio. Currently, it is a secluded majestic Lagoon, where you can swim in the turquoise coloured lagoon and enjoy the small beach area.
Within 15 minutes we were at Ken Jones Aerodrome, where we then took a 15 minute private jet transfer to Kingston International Airport to connect with the BA flight back to London Gatwick, the view was absolutely stunning, taking in the Port Antonio coastline from 1000ft up and flying in between the mountains and over Kingston. At Kingston International, as we had club world seats reserved, we were able to use the fast track security service again and relax in the club Kingston lounge, enjoying refreshments, spa treatments and secretarial services before being escorted by a member of club Kingston staff through the boarding gates and to the BA club world cabin.
The people of Jamaica were extremely friendly. They are a passionate nation and it is a colourful and diverse destination, with beautiful beaches, luxury accommodation, rainforests and mountains and a huge amount of authentic local culture. It is easy to say that I loved this destination and I cannot wait to go back. As the saying goes… ‘Once you go, you know’.