It’s not every day that your hotel room turns out to be a house. As I open the door to my two-floor villa at the Jamaica Inn, I can’t help giggling with childlike glee, sprinting barefoot upstairs to my four-poster bed, the white cotton canopy billowing in the sea breeze like sails, to perform a running jump onto the fluffy pillows.
I spend the next half an hour wandering around the rooms. Downstairs: an open kitchenette-sitting room, terrace with plunge pool, and private outdoor staircase to the ocean. Upstairs: a vast bedroom, balcony with outdoor shower, bathroom with indoor shower and bath, and a walk-in dressing room.
My villa sits serenely at one end of the Jamaica Inn grounds on the famous Caribbean isle, surrounded by a smattering of other cottages, each with panoramic views of the azure sea. The rest of the 52 suites are attached to the main building of the hotel and come with their own startling panorama of the ocean.
Interaction with the lush surrounds is actively encouraged here, as people enjoy breakfast on their balcony above the beach or fling the windows wide on their private terrace.
The legendary Jamaica Inn was once the go-to destination for the glitterati and literati. Marilyn Monroe and her husband Arthur Miller honeymooned here, while Noël Coward, T.S. Eliot, Errol Flynn and Sir Winston Churchill also soaked up the sun on private sojourns. The old-school glamour and colonial history of the island still hang in the air, even if the clientele has changed (Lily Allen and Sir Richard Branson are among recent visitors).
The legendary Jamaica Inn was once the go-to destination for the glitterati and literati.
Faded sepia pictures of Hollywood’s famous faces enjoying dinner line the walls of the main building’s musky study, while owners Eric and Peter Morrow maintain the family feel of the place. Their father, Charlie, set up the hotel with his friend Matthew Archibald in 1958. Many of the staff members are ‘lifers’ too.
Among them is Teddy, who has worked at the hotel for 58 years and had his beach bar christened ‘Teddy’s Bar’ to mark the occasion. His stooping figure and wiry limbs make me wonder how he’s still going, but put on some music and you’ll find him dancing along the beach, serving drinks like he’s 20 again.
It makes me consider that the international reputation of the island’s reported crime culture does serious disservice to the friendly people serving the tourism trade. Ocho Rios, where the hotel is located, was once a fishing port and now acts as the coastline for several four- and five-star hotels. Life is slow-paced and a walk around town highlights the chilled-out nature of locals, with whom the hotel encourages guests to strike up a rapport. I am taken to the food market to check out local ingredients: from cassava, ackee and breadfruit to the more recognisable sugar cane sticks, plantain and coconuts. When we get back to the hotel, chef Maurice demonstrates how to serve it up in traditional Caribbean style and is thrilled when my fellow guests and I smack our lips together in delight.
A ten-minute boat trip to Dunn’s River Falls and Park is a worthwhile jaunt to see Jamaica at its best. It is one of only a few waterfalls in the world that empties directly into the sea. The current has created natural steps out of the rock to the top of the hill, which tourists can walk up with the help of a guide. The foliage is home to a number of insects, and at one point I flinch when I see a giant spider and its nest of black eggs.
For a more genteel approach to nature, turtle watching in Oracabessa Bay is another option (about 20 minutes by car). Mel Tennant (aka The Turtle Man) works with a number of luxury hotels to provide a narrative of the reproduction, survival and conservation of these placid creatures. Donations help to keep his business alive, as well as to educate locals on the importance of local marine wildlife. Not only does his knowledge of turtles inspire, Tennant’s anecdotes of flirtations with famous rockers are equally entertaining and I begin to wonder if there is an A-lister he hasn’t met.
I spend my days relaxing in a hammock with one of Teddy’s (strong) rum punches, playing croquet in the sun and visiting the treehouse-style spa
Back at the ranch, it’s a quiet loll from villa to beach to restaurant. When I return, staff greet me with a “welcome home” – and it starts to feel that way. R&R is the key objective here and it proves to be the perfect setting for a romantic retreat, with the hotel often used as a venue for weddings. I spend my days relaxing in a hammock with one of Teddy’s (strong) rum punches, playing croquet in the sun and visiting the treehouse-style spa to enjoy a full body massage to the sound of waves lapping the shore.
Each morning, I am woken cheerily by the bright blue views and make the most of the experience before the rest of the guests wake up for breakfast. A few steps down the private staircase on the bluff outside my villa and I’m in the water swimming from my cove to the main beach. I pull a kayak into the sea (water activities, which also include paddle boarding and sailing, are complimentary), and paddle around the private bay watching the waves ripple further out to sea.Breakfast can be taken in your room (I dine al fresco on my balcony one morning – one of the better ways to enjoy a full English), or in the restaurant. Open to the elements, nothing starts the day off better than a fruit juice and a pile of pancakes on the open veranda.
Lunch is a relaxed affair on the beach, while guests are encouraged to dress up for dinner in the hotel to match the colonial vibe – linen slacks for men and cocktail dresses for women. Caribbean seafood dishes are served alongside more traditional European plates of duck breast or steak.
I feel like I’ve settled in with a new family at Jamaica Inn – Maurice, Teddy, Mel and the whole gang add a unique charm to the place. They say home is where the heart is, and a little piece of mine will always be here.