On the beautiful, vibrant island of Jamaica lies a hotel drenched in the charm and glamour of the Caribbean. Toby Keel was lucky enough to pay a visit.
There’s an irresistible and authentic air of old-school Caribbean glamour about Jamaica Inn. Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller came here on their honeymoon, Sir Winston Churchill stayed in one of the villas, whiling away hours painting the fishing boats bobbing gently on the turquoise sea, and Noël Coward and Ian Fleming both lived close by, dropping in regularly to prop up the bar.
It’s easy to see what drew them in – primarily because it feels as if the place has barely changed since then. Whitewashed walls, hardwood furniture and ceiling fans are the order of the day; there’s even a no-TVs-in-rooms policy to hammer home the idea that you’re here to relax and switch off.
And what a place to do so. Tucked away, a couple of miles from Ocho Rios on the island’s sheltered north shore, Jamaica Inn has one of the loveliest settings in the Caribbean. The 48 rooms and seven cottages are scattered among lush tropical gardens and fringed by 700ft of flour-soft sand, which curves around a bay so warm and calm it’s more like getting into a bath than jumping into the sea.
Beyond that, the rest is up to you: perhaps a treatment in the spa overlooking the sea? Snorkelling on the reef? Maybe just grab a cocktail and pass an afternoon dozing in a hammock? Island life is good.
Picking a room needn’t be too tricky, since all have balconies and sea views. But for those who revel in the hotel’s 1950s atmosphere, the pick of the rooms is the White House, a three-bedroom villa on its own private mini-peninsula; it’s where Churchill stayed during his visits.
The remaining cottages are all beautiful in their own ways, but if you’re after a more modern feel, then the two-storey cottage seven is the pick of the bunch: it’s where Richard Branson’s nephew and his new wife stayed when they got married at the hotel a few years ago.
Food and Drink
Jerk chicken, Blue Mountain coffee, fresh fish, tropical fruits and rums which will make your eyebrows stand on end. Jamaicans are rightly proud of their food and drink, and the Jamaica Inn is a great place to make the most of that.
The hotel’s food is terrific – local specialties such as Jerk Chicken zing with flavour, and even the humble club sandwich is served with real panache. In the evenings the fish, freshly pulled from the Caribbean earlier the same day, was always faultless.
To get more of a flavour for the island’s spices, you can join the hotel’s executive chef Maurice Henry for a tour of the local farmer’s market, followed by a cooking lesson back at the hotel.
But make time to experience some authentic island cooking elsewhere as well. Miss T’s Kitchen, a short taxi ride away in Ocho Rios, is a local institution that serves a mean Jerk Chicken, while the goat curry is a true Jamaican classic.
Things to do
Head to the nearby Sun Valley Plantation, not to see the coconut trees that are their bread and butter themselves – graceful as they are, once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all – but for the plantation’s tropical garden. The wonderful owner/proprietor Lorna Binns will walk you through the various flowers, fruits and trees while hummingbirds flit around, so fearless as to be almost tame.
The hotel spa has been voted the best in the Caribbean, and while the list of treatments is good, it’s the setting that really makes it. The ‘rooms’ are actually wooden platforms on stilts built into a small, rocky headland at one end of the resort. The massages all take place with views of the sea and the noise of the waves lapping below.
Visiting during the English summer or autumn? If so, you owe it to yourself to witness – and help out with – the hatching of baby turtles. Mel Tennant, a former headmaster from Birmingham, retired to Jamaica a few years ago and has since made it his mission to help the endangered hawksbill turtles who nest along this stretch of coast.
Earlier in the season you can help with turtles laying their eggs; if you visit later in the year, it’ll be hatching. When a nest is ready to hatch, Mel takes groups of people along to help out. The sight of 150 saucer-sized baby turtles scuttling towards the seas is unforgettable.
- Sipping cocktails is part of the daily routine at Jamaica Inn – every guest gets brought a Planter’s Cocktail half-way through morning to get their day going.
- Most of the watersports are included as standard, if you fancy sailing or paddling a canoe. But whatever you do, don’t miss the chance to grab a mask and snorkel and join the boat trip out to the best spots of the nearby coral reef. Perfectly clear water, towering coral canyons and shoals of fish so colourful as to almost be luminous.
- Teddy the barman has been running the beach bar for over half a century – no wonder it’s named after him. He still serves a mean rum cocktail, and will happily spin you a yarn about some of the famous guests who’ve graced his establishment over the years. He’s not even the longest-serving employee, incidentally – the loyalty of the staff and the huge number of returning guests lend Jamaica Inn a real family atmosphere.
- If you find yourself with half a day in Kingston while waiting for a plane, a trip up to the Blue Mountains to see a plantation comes highly recommended. The quality and care lavished on these beans is extraordinary.
A superior balcony suite at the Jamaica Inn costs from $468.75 (about £352) per night, based on double occupancy, including breakfast, tax and service (00 855 441 2044; www.jamaicainn.com). Carrier offers seven nights in a superior balcony suite from £1,775, based on double occupancy, including return flights and private transfers and food and beverage credit (0161 492 1357, www.carrier.co.uk)