For Caroline, Jamaica truly is one of her most favourite places. It’s different to most other Caribbean islands in so many ways. At 4,240 square-miles it's big and the diverse scenery ranges from the stunning Blue Mountains in the north east, to the rugged rainforest to beautiful white sandy beaches. This means that there is a host of adventure activities to try including river-rafting, waterfall climbing, hiking, canopy tours and even bobsledding! She says that what really sets Jamaica apart is its people who are passionately Jamaican, very friendly and eager to help you have a great time on their beautiful island. They have the best accent too − animated and fast! She sets anyone and everyone this challenge: “I dare you not to like Jamaica,” as they have been saying for years, “once you go, you know!”
Caroline, Alison and Nick's first stop was Goldeneye in the quiet village of Oracabessa. This boutique hotel features twenty-two villas dotted throughout its fifty-two acres and there is only one word to describe it, which is ‘cool’. Not only is this the place where Ian Fleming wrote all fourteen James Bond novels, but it is also the brainchild of the founder of Island Records, Chris Blackwell. The three agree that music and James Bond are at the heart of the property, as well as the rather delicious Blackwell rum! This is a place to relax, kick back and have some fun.
The setting is unique and peaceful, and something that they hadn't quite encountered anywhere else. While there are gorgeous Beach Cottages, the real gems are the Lagoon Cottages and Suites that come with direct access to the crystal-clear lagoon waters − ideal for a swim, snorkel or paddle-boarding. Accommodation has a rustic yet elegant feel, with touches of technology including a complimentary music selection and quirky additions such as retro-style SMEG fridges. Traditional Jamaican cuisine incorporates fresh produce from the resort’s organic farm which you can visit for a tour and lunch, while spa treatments incorporate indigenous herbs and plants. Like everything else here, the spa is fun and unusual − where else can you kayak from your lagoon accommodation directly to the spa or make an appointment as you swim past? Guests should take a visit to Firefly, the former home of Noel Coward and before him the notorious pirate-turned-governor, Sir Henry Morgan. Caroline told us that the road is nothing short of terrible, but the view once you get up there is spectacular and it’s a great spot to enjoy the sunset while sipping a cool Red Stripe beer – her idea of heaven!
Next, they travelled to Ochio Rios and one of Caroline's all-time favourite hotels, Jamaica Inn where she describes the moment you arrive and look across the manicured gardens to the Caribbean Sea, as a moment that you realise you are somewhere very special. There is always a warm welcome, including one from the hotel’s friendly dog, who on this occasion was a gorgeous Labrador puppy.
Accommodation is spread throughout the grounds and exteriors are painted in the most fabulous shade of blue with accents of white. The style is colonial but there is a real old world charm. Uniquely, your lounge is open-air, meaning that you can step from your air-conditioned bedroom into your open-front lounge. Guests of Premier Verandah Suites can step right onto the sand or gaze out at the water and hear the waves gently lapping the rocks. It’s a great place to go to connect with family, friends or a partner. There is no television to distract you, (but for those travelling with gadgets there is complimentary wi-fi), and you don't miss the technology. The hotel has a really social atmosphere; guests are encouraged to mingle over pre-dinner drinks served with complimentary canapés and dinner is a real treat. Caroline, Alison and Nick were fortunate to experience the very substantial and delicious beach barbecue, as well as a sit-down dinner on the terrace with evening entertainment from a local band that played a great mix of well-known and not so well-known reggae and local songs. You really know where you are in the world here and guests old and young feel compelled to get up to dance after dinner. For the total feeling of being refreshed and revitalised, make sure you visit the Ocean Spa. Treatments are based around local organic plants and are carried out in open-air treatment pavilions located on the cliff overlooking the water. There are no artificial sounds, just the gentle waves and the rustle of the trees − pure relaxation.
There is so much to see and do in the area including the famous Dunn’s River Falls, zip-wiring, river tubing, ATV tours, 4x4 tours and even polo and horse-racing. You certainly won’t be short of thrills. Our trio visited Mystic Mountain where they were taken by chairlift (for about fifteen minutes) through the tree canopies which gave them amazing views, before they decided which of the fun activities to do first. They opted for the bobsled ride where you can control your own speed, so be brave and don’t apply the brake for a real adrenaline rush! Another great place for the whole family is Dolphin Cove where visitors can interact with dolphins, observe exotic birds, snakes and iguanas on the jungle trail walk, snorkel with the stingrays, enjoy a glass-bottom boat tour or watch one of the fun shows.
Their next stop was a complete contrast to the small boutique hotels. Half Moon in Montego Bay is much larger and has been built along the waterfront of its four-hundred-acre site. A Grande Dame of the hotel scene, it celebrated its 60th birthday this year and exudes the elegance of a bygone time − a prime example of which is the grand porte-cochère with two bronze lions waiting to greet guests. Half Moon ticks all the boxes. There are rooms, suites and villas − to suit everyone from couples to groups of friends or family travelling together − that are clustered together around one of fifty-four swimming pools, so that there is always somewhere to go for some quiet time.
Facilities and activities for all age groups abound here. One of Caroline's favourite things is the morning ride and swim with the horses from the on-site equestrian centre. Caroline is a very experienced rider so was partnered with the beautiful big bay, Wesley, and was expertly guided by Dwayne, who she tells us had all the cheek and charm of a true Jamaican! Once you’ve become acquainted with your horse, you take a gentle ride through the grounds to one of the quieter beaches on the property and get ready to swim with your horse. She tells us that you ride bare-back and are given a little demonstration on what you need to do, how to hang on and what to do on each instruction, before setting off with your trusty steed through the waves. As the sea starts to get deeper and when you eventually start to swim you, she says that you need to change your position and then the real fun starts. She won't give away what happens, but says it's something really unique which she guarantees will be enjoyed! And, even though Alison and Nick are not horse-riders, all three found the experience lots of fun.
Half Moon is great for a family holiday too and they wished that they were young enough to explore the Anancy Children’s Village, which features a model Caribbean village complete with chattel houses, an outdoor play area, sand box, activity centre and wading pool. Every child would be more than happy to spend some time here and happy kids means happy parents, who can enjoy a treatment at the Fern Tree Spa, play a round of golf on the hotel’s course, enjoy a game of tennis or squash, or even swim with the dolphins on-site.
Caroline, Alison and Nick dined at the delightful Sugar Mill which is located across the road and surrounded by the golf course. It’s a magical and romantic place where an old water, which is lit up at night, spins slowly and the food is outstanding. Chef Christopher Golding blends Caribbean cuisine with Asian, European and African influences to create a really interesting and flavour-packed menu, and Mr Solomon Gardner, the Keeper of the mill for forty years, has some special menu recommendations. How about the Boston Jerk Brochette – a skewer which is flambéed at the table with aged rum? It’s a real show piece and absolutely delicious!
They also experienced some of the activities in the Montego Bay area. The tour of Rose Hall Great House was really interesting. This old plantation house was once the home of Annie Palmer who had a very chequered past − she murdered all three of her husbands, before meeting her own grizzly death − and has been restored for visitors to learn about its fascinating history. Caroline says that you can see why the spot was chosen for such an impressive property, as its elevated position affords the most amazing views. Another activity famous in Jamaica is river-rafting and Caroline, Alison and Nick were fortunate enough to experience this on the Martha Brae, just a thirty-minute-drive away. It’s a really relaxing way to spend a few hours. Your Guide helps you onto your raft and away you go, floating down stream gently while you learn all about the flora and fauna of the area and just simply watch the world go by – heaven! No trip to Jamaica would be complete without experiencing the delicious treat which is jerk and Scotchies, which is practically an institution in Jamaica, is a great place to have lunch, relax and enjoy another Red Stripe! They highly recommend the pork and chicken sausage with the roasted local breadfruit is – simply divine. Just watch out for the hot sauce – it does exactly what it says on the tin!
Round Hill Hotel And Villas was the final stop on their tour and is another fabulous spot, where privately-owned villas are dotted throughout the hillside. One of the most well-known and esteemed owners is Ralph Lauren who has been instrumental in the décor of the entire hotel. When it opened in 1953, one of the first shareholders was Noel Coward, followed by famous faces such as John F. Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, Errol Flynn and Ian Fleming. You can literally feel the past here as you imagine these renowned faces enjoying the glamour of a bygone era which has been lovingly maintained throughout the years, but has all the modern touches you’d require. The property enjoys the best of both worlds with ocean view rooms in the Pineapple House which are perfect for couples and those looking to be right in the centre of the action, but also a whole host of villas of all different shapes, sizes and design, there is truly something to suit everyone. If you simply want to get away from it all, you need never leave your villa – many have full-size pools and not only can you enjoy a daily breakfast cooked to order in your villa, but you can have all meals served or cooked for you and never encounter another guest.
However, if you do wish to socialise, the hub of the property is the beach and infinity pool area. The view is simply stunning and the beach gently shelves to shallow waters suitable for even the littlest of guests to enjoy and there are fun touches such as the trampoline in the water. The Bar and Beach Tenders are friendly and efficient, creating delicious cocktails and really taking care of you. Caroline recommends getting one of the fresh coconuts (if available) to enjoy the delicious coconut water straight from the pod. Smaller members of the family are really well taken care of here with the Pineapple Kids Club which offers a whole host of fun activities for all the children, but it’s the simple touches including the staff who are happy to teach children to fish off the rocks that make the most special memories.
Finally it was time for our team to leave Jamaica. And, for Caroline in particular, it was absolutely with a heavy heart. She is truly passionate about this island and wants everyone to love it as much as her. She says it has a heartbeat you cannot find anywhere else in the world and she hopes that you will love it just as much when you visit.