Elyse Glickman is US west coast editor of Lucire.
Forget the package deal and go à la carte! Jamaica boasts a treasure trove of unique lodging options, fresh island fare and unexpected cultural surprises
by Elyse Glickman
from issue 28 of Lucire
While Jamaica’s all-inclusive packages promise the sun and the moon (and deliver), having it all can be too much. Though they have their appeal (amenities, playgrounds, reggae playing 24–7) and those famous buffets, how much food can you seriously eat when heat and humidity are high and your swimsuit stares up at you from your suitcase as if to mock you?
The truth is you don’t need to have it all—just a very gracious handful of hospitality offered by decidedly one-off boutique properties. Though Round Hill Hotel and Villas is definitively a resort, it offers a nicely balanced cross-section of amenity-filled luxury and local character. Or characters. On the map for more than 50 years, it has a roster of guests that includes the Kennedys, Noël Coward and Ian Fleming. More recently, in 2005, Ralph Lauren joined this exclusive club, putting his island-preppie stamp on several guest room blocks as well as his own fabulous tropical getaway. His charity balls at Round Hill are the stuff of legend.
Round Hill’s villas blend Lauren’s island æsthetic with the eclectic tastes of their regular owners. My flat looked like the perfect private poker spot for James Bond and his worldly entourage with warm masculine woods offset by expressive and colourful island art. The spa, meanwhile, is a lady’s paradise, offering such delicious indulgences as a pineapple body scrub teamed with a papaya facial and massage. Local cuisine here is done fancy, but retains a nice sense of authenticity.
Word has it that Round Hill actually does have a good breakfast buffet. That said, there is something delicious about coming to breakfast on a private veranda in yoga attire as members of the staff prepares made-to-order coconut and banana pancakes, sets out the sweetest mango and papaya, and brews aromatic Blue Mountain coffee in a kitchen adjoining the airy bedroom and the James Bond bar.
If your idea of a getaway is to avoid all-inclusive sprawl, renting a villa such as Fairway Manor (accessible, with 300 other villas, at www.jamaicantreasures.com) is an excellent alternative, especially if you are travelling with children or a large group of friends. Staying here is a similar experience to staying at a friend’s home. The décor is not trendy, but the house is roomy, meticulous and features a fantastic ocean view overlooking Half Moon (a fabulous, historic resort similar to Round Hill). You pretty much have the run of the place, except for an attentive staff that sees to it that you at ease in your new island home. Olive is especially charming, running the kitchen with a bright smile and a passion for preparing family recipes that has been passed down through generations. Once you’ve shared your dietary restrictions, trust her to dazzle you with a meal whose ingredients have come straight from the market that very morning.
You don’t have the bells and whistles of Round Hill or Half Moon—and that’s the point. Fairway Manor’s raison d’être is to relax as nature and the locals intended. However, Half Moon is a stone’s throw away if you want a resort fix, and if it is culture you desire, you’re 20 minutes away from Greenwood Great House, a historic home once owned by several generations of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s family. Owner Bob Benton, a handsome and commanding presence, spins colourful stories about the historic British clan as well as engaging commentary on the home’s valuable furnishings and artwork.
When it comes to getting back to nature (beyond some of the terrific rafting and horseback riding trips offered by Chukka Adventures, complete with quick-witted and extremely patient guides), Negril lives up to its reputation as ‘the capital of casual’. After you’ve passed the cookie-cutter island vacation camps, a vibrant row of charmingly rustic mini-resorts unfolds, each with their own character and beachfront. Kayuba, one of the better ones, has a touch of African flavour, superb food, a pair of talking birds and, just across the street, a scenic yoga studio and a duty free shopping mall.
Those who insist on “boutique luxury” should attempt to get a room at Rockhouse—the “Four Seasons” of Negril’s rustic properties—or Jake’s at Treasure Beach. Both are home to spas chock-a-block with island-grown treatments (i.e. pineapple, Blue Mountain coffee, rum, ginger, etc), chic souvenir boutiques and fresh, home-style food (by this point, I have realized most restaurants are excellent as long as you stick to red snapper, jerk chicken and other things indigenous to Jamaica).
Rockhouse offers nice, unexpected touches such as daily yoga classes taught by a 30-year expat from France and active fundraising with the Rockhouse Foundation to improve local schools. At Jake’s, the ambiance created by founder Sally Henzell whose mix of Caribbean and Middle Eastern influences just may inspire you to redo your place island-cottage style—even if you live in the changeable northern reaches of the States.
Many of us in the States came of age when Jamaica Tourism commercials beckoned viewers to ‘Come back to Jamaica … and make it your own.’ It is nice to know all these years later there is still truth in advertising. •
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