OCHO RIOS, Jamaica, May 22, 2013 — Jamaica Inn is the antidote to the blur that Caribbean travel has become in recent years.
The 47-room property is tucked in a pristine cove in Ocho Rios, about an hour from Montego Bay and light years from the throbbing all-inclusive culture that has come to define too many holidays in the Caribbean.
Opened in 1950, it was designed during the glamorous age of the jet set. You can easily imagine Ian Fleming perched at the railing overlooking the sea, a cigarette dangling from his lips, a dry martini shaken, not stirred.
The property pulls you back to the time when people like Noel Coward and Errol Flynn, Marilyn Monroe, and Arthur Miller sought out the island and Jamaica Inn as an escape.
Jamaica Inn is comprised of several low-slung buildings that hug a private cove. The 700-foot beach overlooks a protected reef. Flanking each side are coral cliffs, where seven cottages are discreetly angled amid the lush plantings.
Today, Jamaica Inn retains every inch of that old school style, catering to adults and children over 12. This is a carefully curated property designed to beckon a kinder, gentler lifestyle. There is a precious little in way of distraction here: no throbbing Zumba, no belly Jell-O shots and no big screen TVs. (In fact, there are no TVs at all, nor alarm clocks in the rooms. There is, however, WiFi.)
A graceful, slow pace means you can really sink into the experience, feel the rhythm of Jamaica. This doesn’t mean it’s joyless. Quite the opposite. This is an intimate where guests give each other the right amount of space and camaraderie. The leisurely days that seem to stretch encourage conversation not small talk. One of the magnets for socializing is the small bar by the pool, where Teddy, a bartender who has been at the helm of the bar for the past 54 years, keeps the drinks cold and conversation flowing. Pick up games of croquet are not only encouraged, but employees will join in, if you ask.
Mostly, though, days at Jamaica Inn are best spent listening to the breeze sway the palm fronds, the waves lap at the sugary beach, and the sound of the cormorants caw overhead. It’s a place to remember what stillness sounds like.
This is the epitome of civilized travel, so civilized that dining in the open air restaurant at night means men wear collars and trousers. And, who, in this era of baggy shorts topped with midriff bearing T-shirts emblazoned with slogans can’t salute this policy?
The kitchen turns out spicy jerk butterfish and simply grilled tiger shrimp under twinkling stars on the staggered terraces. A strong wine list, heavy on California offerings, rounds out the experience and keeps guests lingering at their tables well into the night.
Rooms are human sized. They aren’t sprawling monstrosities where your voice echoes through canyons of useless space. Bathrooms are shrines to function and simplicity, not ostentation and cheap thrills. No automatic toilets, no spritzing bidets or mega tubs.
Luxury here is found in details, small meaningful things, like a bouquet of freshly cut birds of paradise from the garden that find their way to your bathroom counter, a basin of cool water beside your veranda paired with a short stack of towels so you can clean your sandy feet.
Old school touches, like retro blue and red lightweight airmail envelopes tucked into the desks pluck at your heart and encourage you to write home. You will feel like you’re sitting amid history, and you are.
One modern addition is KiYara Ocean Spa, which has four treatment rooms, three of which are open-air tree houses over the ocean. Relaxation is brought to a whole other level when the only sound you hear is the slap of the waves against the shore and twittering birdsong overhead. Plan to stay a while after your treatment and take a glass of forceful iced ginger tea to one of the loungers and gaze out at the impossibly nuanced blues of the ocean.
You can leave Jamaica Inn and explore Ocho Rios, one of the most beautiful spots on the lush island. Nearby are rivers, waterfalls and a botanical garden. You can arrange a zipline adventure, scuba diving and sailing. There’s Ian Fleming’s house to visit, and Bob Marley’s. There’s the funky little town of Ocho Rios with its dive bars and authentic restaurants, like Miss T’s Kitchen, where locals pile in for dishes like spicy fish escovitch.
As for me, I had every intention of making an excursion 20 minutes away to Noel Coward house Firefly, now a museum. Furnished with his photos, chairs, teacups and beloved piano, it has been left to appear as though he just stepped out for a visit to friends down the mountain circa 1953.
I had planned to immerse myself in the life of those glamorous bygone days, but I didn’t make that excursion. In the end, found Jamaica Inn’s newest spin on old school glamour too beguiling to leave.
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