In an (unsuccessful) attempt to reduce the amount insta-spamming I did in Jamaica, I started a blog post while we were there. But then I relaxed so much that I didn’t even get around to posting it… so here it is now.
On arrival into Kingston, we headed to Strawberry Hill, a boutique hotel owned by Chris Blackwell of Island Records. Bob Marley played gently on the taxi car stereo as we wound our way up the hills. The views were nice, but I was distracted by thoughts of whether the driver is, like, contractually obliged to play a Marley compilation for all arriving tourists. Not for the last time in Jamaica, I wondered whether the hospitality workers are secretly sick to death of One Love. Like if it were perpetual Christmas and you worked in a shopping centre and had to listen to Michael Buble’s Christmas album all year round.
We get to the hotel, and oh my God! It’s so pretty and cool. The owner of Strawberry Hill, Chris Blackwell, is perhaps the ultimate Trustafarian done good. A British-Jamaican public school boy who grew up between Harrow and Jamaica, as a young man was rescued by Rastas after a boating accident. He then acquired an affinity for Rastafarian culture that led him later in life to advance money to the Wailers without requiring them to sign a contract, thus helping pave the way for Bob Marley and the Wailers’ introduction to the world stage. The place is accordingly stuffed with gold and platinum records, and black and white photos of Island Records celebrities. (More details about Strawberry Hill below.)
Mostly we chilled out at the hotel marveling at the beautiful views and enjoying the spa treatments. However, we did interrupt our cocktail and lounging routine to go ‘hiking’ (which is American for go on a little stroll) in the Blue Mountains. While superficially the area looks quite remote, there are in fact loads of bars with supremely friendly bartenders. As a side note, I am amazed and impressed by how many bars there are in Jamaica. It feels like every third building along a country road is a brightly painted bar.
After an extremely relaxing few days at Strawberry Hill, it was time to head down into Kingston.
We checked into Terra Nova, in New Kingston. Our suite was upgraded to a suite with a spacious terrace shaded with black and white awning. The Bell Boy explained that the contents of the minibar were complimentary. Lush. (More details about Terra Nova below.) As it was Thursday, we enjoyed afternoon tea, feeling a bit like we had gone back in time.
From Terra Nova, it was easy to walk to a few museums and shops. We did pop into the Bob Marley museum but the tour situation looked a bit hectic so we just had a Sprite in the café and pootled off to the Sovereign Shopping Mall. This was a good place for me to scratch my itch of shopping in the Caribbean: I love exploring non-chain shops and since being away from the BVI I had missed that. I bought a printed jumpsuit that I wore that night, and two dresses that have become firm favorites. We also stopped for coffee and book buying at indie bookshop Bookophilia, a perfect place to hang out and drink great coffee.
In the evening we checked out Usain Bolt’s Tracks and Records Bar (again, on foot). It was playing our favourite Saturday night music (i.e. rap, reggae and dancehall classics) and there were huge murals of Usain all over the place. The food was surprisingly good (for what could be a tourist trap) and the drinks were strong. Wonderful.
After two nights in Kingston the next stop was Treasure Beach, where we stayed at Jake’s. There, it seems everyone is smoking weed. People call blessings to us as we walk around. It’s hippy heaven. It’s easy to forget the Caribbean I know: the Caribbean carpeted with Seventh Day Adventist, Baptist and Catholic churches, with prohibitions on drinking, conservative dress codes, wishing everyone ‘good morning’ and ‘good evening’ and avoiding swearing. By contrast, this is picture-postcard ‘yeah man’ territory.
The most well known restaurant in Treasure Beach is Jack Spratt’s, serving fresh seafood such as lobster and sea puss. But it’s worth venturing beyond the (admittedly good) Jack Spratt’s, as there are a fair few other options. We tried a beach bar called Fisherman’s Reef set behind what we Brits would call a ‘beer garden’ with steps down onto the beach.
The garden stank of ganja, a smell I can readily identify ever since I was a child and my mum’s friend explained that “it smells like vegetable soup”. A band called Mystic Vibes were playing. A small group of Rastas sat on chairs nodding along, while two gorgeous Swedish girls sprawl on nearby blankets. A solitary girl danced all alone in the sun.
When eating out in Jamaica the food often takes a while. It’s perfectly possible to polish off a bottle of wine between two while waiting the 90 minutes that it invariably seems to take for food to come. This was one of those occasions, and we found that we had ploughed through a bottle of white and some rum punches before there was any sign of our lunch. The band started to sing about a sea of love. I thought: the garden does feel like a sea of love! A big green sea of love. Then I thought: can you get high from passive smoking?
When the food eventually came, the lobster curry was a thing of absolute beauty. At least I think it was.
If you haven’t been to Jamaica, go. It is the only island in the Caribbean that I have been to that really gives BVI a run for its money when it comes to natural beauty. It may even be (whisper it) more beautiful than the BVI.
Strawberry Hill, Irish Town
Strawberry Hill is so beautiful that it makes you want to hold yourself straighter, or write a novel at the writing desk in the room. (Or you can just drink cocktails and take Instagram photos.)
The rooms themselves are white painted wooden cabins tucked up against the hill with dreamy views. The beds are high and comfortable, crowned with mosquito nets. Nearly everything is painted white, with a dark wood desk and dresser. I think Tim got a bit fed up of me saying ‘hashtag interiors goals’ every three minutes. There are electric blankets to keep you cosy in the chilly Blue Mountain evenings. I liked turning mine up hot and stuffing my face at the restaurant, then getting in and announcing I was a pig in a blanket, or alternatively, happy as a pig in shit.
Location: in the blue mountains, overlooking Kingston.
Best for: relaxing with a cocktail and a cigar while pretending you are part of a swinging 70s cool set (rather than a boring old lawyer).
Think twice before booking if: you want a telly in your room, you think that an hour and a half is too long to wait for food to arrive at a high end hotel. Or you want to go to the beach. If you have the kind of boyfriend who gets grumpy if ask him to take photos, I would steer clear of this gaff, as it could place a major strain on your relationship.
Terra Nova, Kingston
Terra Nova is a boutique hotel in Kingston, with all the traditional old fashioned hotel trimmings such as uniformed porters and a chandelier in the formal dining room. It was a borderline faded vibe, and the retro feel is perhaps slightly unintentional. I can imagine a murder mystery being set here a la Death in Paradise.
Location: New Kingston i.e. one of the posher parts of Kingston.
Best for: Enjoying a belly busting buffet breakfast of johnny cakes, eggs, bacon, saltfish and callalloo whilst browsing the newspaper. Exploring Kingston on foot (no, you won’t get shot).
Think twice before booking if: you are looking for a beachy time or you like your hotels modern. This ain’t Miami.
Jake’s, Treasure Beach
This is an extremely pretty, low-frills boutique hotel, right by the sea. There are beaches within walking distance and a waterside area for swimming and sunbathing right in front of the hotel. At night it twinkles with fairy lights and feels magical.
The room we had was quite small with its own front terrace looking onto the sea (and an outdoor shower). I would love to be the kind of natural, carefree girl who enjoys outdoor showers, but I’m just not. I like my shower indoors, preferably with posh shower products that smell like a spa. Outdoors showers are up there with beach barbeques in my list of things that I’m sure people are only pretending to enjoy when actually they would much rather be indoors. NB I’m fine with outdoor Jacuzzis, though.
Location: an unspoilt fishing village on Jamaica’s South cost. Not an American hotel in sight.
Best for: hippy beach vibes and relaxing. The world of work feels a million miles away.
Think twice before booking if: you are looking for a big shiny resort with room service and TV. Or you are offended by the smell of weed smoke.