As most Jamaicans will freely admit, their dramatically beautiful Caribbean island has had a pretty rotten press in recent years. For three decades or more, the country has been haunted by its ‘Manley-era’ image of a society riddled with crime, drugs and corruption, but now a growing band of elite international investors—a handful of whom have kept faith with Jamaica throughout the lean years—is helping to underpin the renaissance of this captivating island. In the past five years, vital improvements to the its long-neglected infrastructure —notably the construction of two major new highways and the expansion of Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport—have helped to attract direct foreign investment in tourism projects worth more than $1 billion (£560m).
Since 2003, leading Spanish developers have invested heavily in a string of luxury hotel resorts along the 70 miles of Jamaica’s northern ‘Gold Coast’. In 2005, the Blackstone real estate group —having revived the fortunes of such iconic London hotels as Claridge’s, the Savoy, the Berkeley and the Connaught —highlighted Jamaica’s investor appeal with the purchase and redevelopment of the Wyndham Rose Hall Resort. Now, the long-term American owners of the 5,000-acre Rose Hall Estate itself have teamed up with Robert (Bob) Trotta’s European-based Resort Properties Group to create the Palmyra Resort & Spa on a spectacular, 16-acre, ocean-front site next to the established Ritz-Carlton resort in Montego Bay.
With American visitors currently making up 70% of Jamaica’s annual influx of tourists (compared with only 12% from the UK), the island’s first luxury beachfront ‘condo’ development is being aimed full-square at the US market, although switched on Europeans will think its new-found ease of access (Air Jamaica already flies daily to Montego Bay, with Virgin starting direct flies from July 2006), tempting golf facilities and relatively low property prices no less appealing. The property element of the development, due for completion in 2007, comprises 13 frontline two-storey buildings with 26 individual villas, and five 12-storey apartment blocks making a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and 10 four-bedroom penthouses, 630 apartments in all. Prices of the villas and apartments range from $400,000 (£220,000) to $2.5 million (£1.4m). For more information, contact PURE International (020–7331 4500) or visit www.explorethepalmyra.com.
The resurgence of Jamaica as a tourist destination and one of the last genuinely affordable unspoilt property hotspots in the Caribbean is due in no small way to the vision and enterprise of the American industrialist and philanthropist John Rollins, and his charismatic wife, Michele. In 1960, Mr Rollins, a former lieutenant-governor of the state of Delaware, lost his bid for re-election and went to Jamaica to recuperate. The trip led him to buy the historic Rose Hall Estate with its ruined Great House and 7,000 acres of some of the most beautiful beach and farmland on the whole island.
The architect John Concannon was commissioned to oversee the $2.5 million (£1.4m) restoration of the Great House, built between 1770 and 1780 for wealthy British sugar-planter John Palmer. The Great House on the neighbouring Cinnamon Hill plantation, owned by the Barrett family of Wimpole Street (many of whom are buried in the grounds) was built around the same time. The majority of Jamaica’s great plantation houses were burned to the ground during the slave uprisings of the 1830s, but Rose Hall survived, largely thanks to its reputed haunting by the ghost of the infamous Annie Palmer, a former mistress of the house who murdered three husbands and numerous slave lovers before she, in turn, was killed by a slave in 1831.
Derelict and roofless, Rose Hall had stood abandoned since the 1930s, but Concannon was able to trace details of the original Georgian mansion from records of ship ballast entering Jamaica and from early-20th-century photographs found in Kingston. Painstakingly, fabrics, rugs and wall-coverings were replicated, and the Great House’s original mahogany furniture reconstructed by Jamaican craftsmen. Its 18th-century interior was completed with antique furniture and pewter-ware sourced in Jamaica, England and New York.
Today, despite its gory past, the Great House is the elegant focal point of this exclusive residential enclave, where small groups of traditional plantation-style houses are scattered among the wooded hills surrounding the celebrated White Witch golf-course. Designed by Robert von Hagge and Rick Baril, the course covers 200 acres of Rose Hall’s greenest hills, with 16 of its 18 holes looking out across the Caribbean Sea.
So far, three hillside ‘villages’ of individual family houses have been created around the White Witch and its neigbour, Cinnamon Hill, which follows the contours of the old Barrett sugar plantation and skirts the grounds of the Great House, home in recent years to country-music icons the late Johnny and June Cash, and now part of Rose Hall.
The first of these mini-villages, called West Indies Estates, consists of 10 sites overlooking the White Witch course and the Caribbean Sea, averaging one acre in size and priced between $400,000 (£220,000) and $635,000 (£355,000). The construction of a house of appropriate size and design will cost a further $500,000 (£280,000) to $600,000 (£335,000). The second village, Caribbean Heights, comprises 18 half-acre lots, of which all, bar one, have been sold. The third village, The Greens at Rose Hall, borders the fairways of the Cinnamon Hill golf course, and is being built in two phases, with 34 lots in all. The first phase, now under construction, consists of 16 lots, ranging in size from around half an acre to more than an acre in size, and priced between $180,000 (£100,000) and $340,000 (£190,000).
Enquiries regarding these and future developments on the estate should be directed to Candace Harman at Rose Hall Developments (00 1 876 953 8150; www.rosehall.org).
Pending the completion (scheduled for next year) of the new North Coast Highway linking the resort towns of Negril, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, the 60-mile journey from Rose Hall to Goldeneye (see box above), the late Ian Fleming’s former home on the island’s north-east tip, is a hair-raising, two-and-a-half-hour drive. The recommended alternative is a 10-minute helicopter ride, for, as the Jamaican Tourist Board’s Wayne Sterling gleefully explained: ‘In Jamaica, PHD means pothole-dodger, not Doctor of Philosophy’.
Penny Churchill flew with Air Jamaica (020– 8570 7999; www.airjamaica.com) to Montego Bay; standard return fares from £522.