Ian Fleming’s James Bond once mused that Jamaica was ‘the most romantic of former British possessions’. For the uninitiated, it’s a vast island of dense mounds of chlorophyll rich vegetation and dramatic mountains, fringed by the requisite white sand beaches. However, since its heyday in the 1950s when it was the winter sun getaway of choice for the world’s rich the island’s senses have been assaulted by the twin blights of all-inclusive resorts and an alarmingly high murder rate.
The new government is determined to ensure that Jamaica catches up with its more up-market neighbours, and, for those who never fell out of love with the island, the resurgence can’t happen soon enough. ‘It’s a fascinating country,’ says Savills’ International director David Vaughan, who used to holiday at his uncle’s plantation estate when he was a boy. ‘In some areas, it’s greener than Somerset, and it’s so vast that there’s plenty to do. It’s definitely time to rediscover it.’ Derek Bishton, consultant editor at the Daily Telegraph, champions the island as being ‘a class apart’ from others in the Caribbean.
He first visited Jamaica in 1981, and he now owns a villa near Montego Bay (Mo Bay), which he rents out (www. beachhousejamaica.com). ‘I wouldn’t want to underplay the crime statistics,’ says Mr Bishton. ‘There are hundreds of senseless murders every year in Jamaica, but they’re mostly to do with local disputes. I’ve never encountered any problems out in the countryside, where people are very friendly and hospitable.’ Helpfully, Jamaica’s recently expanded airport at Mo Bay which has direct flights from London Gatwick—allows visitors to avoid Kingston altogether.
A home at Half Moon
The Rose Hall peninsula boasts three emerald 18-hole golf courses the daily downpour is dubbed ‘liquid sunshine’ locally), and a clutch of five-star hotels. One of the first to be built on the former plantation estate was the Half Moon hotel, founded by a hotchpotch of mostly American investors from playboys to the designer of New York’s Radio City Music Hall in 1954.
Unlike many other Caribbean hotels, the Half Moon shuns sardine can layout in favour of individually furnished cottages. It’s charmingly old-school, and justly proud of its past (it’s hosted John F. Kennedy, The Queen and, more recently, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall). Some members of the original investor families still own the cottages today. It’s this concept that the hotel is now expanding with the launch of 18 new villas, which are available to buy through Quintessentially Estates (0845 224 3658; www.quintessentiallyestates.com).
Designed in traditional pavilion style, The Colony at Half Moon, where prices start at $2.3 million, is already a hit with buyers: 14 reservations have been made. Villa owners are entitled to use their home for 60 days a year, will have full access to the hotel’s wide-ranging facilities, including golf, squash, flood-lit tennis courts, spa, riding and children’s centre, and, thereafter, share revenue of rental with Half Moon at a ratio of 70:30. ‘I know of no other arrangement that’s as generous,’ says Taz Brown, sales director. ‘Plus, we’ve set up a purchase structure based in the Caymans, so as to be as tax-efficient as possible.’
The immature nature of the premium-property market in Jamaica makes it hard to determine whether the Colony is fairly priced: anecdotally, prices of properties outside complexes are thought to be 40% lower than in Barbados, and annual running costs can vary between £12,000 and £120,000. ‘But the great thing about the Colony,’ adds Mr Brown, ‘is that we look after all of that for you. It’s the ultimate lock-up-and-leave tropical home.’
5 musts in Jamaica
1. Greenwood Great House
2. Rocklands Bird Sanctuary – for hummingbirds
3. The HouseBoat Grill – romantic dinner on water
4. Cranbrook Flower Garden a must for gardeners
5. YS Falls – just as good as Dunns River, but less known