What do Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, Ian Fleming, Noel Coward, Kate Winslet and Meghan Markle have in common? They’ve all been guests of Jamaica Inn, a family-run boutique hotel in a secluded cove just east of Ocho Rios, which is celebrating its 65th birthday this year. The classic blue-fronted, plantation-style hotel overlooks a 700-foot Champagne-coloured beach, one of the few private beaches in Jamaica.
There are 55 suites, including Suite 21 on its own peninsula (Churchill’s room of choice), along with beachfront bungalows and seven stand-alone cottages with private plunge pools and direct access to the sea. The rooms are supremely comfortable, furnished in a simple and elegant style with views of the glittering Caribbean Sea.
The landscaped gardens feature an immaculate croquet lawn and in the main building there is a library and games room, terrace restaurant and bar where Ian Fleming would drink his Martinis. Naturally, the hotel puts on weekly James Bond film screenings on the beach, which you can watch with Bond’s signature vodka Martini. But I recommend opting for the hotel’s Plantation Rum Punch – perfect for those hot Caribbean nights.
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In the evenings, dine out on the terrace for the cooling sea breeze and music from local bands, while you eat fresh fish, curried goat, or grilled lobster. Alternatively, there’s Teddy’s Beach Bar and Grill for pizza straight from the wood-fired oven.
At breakfast, there’s everything from waffles, eggs every which way and a daily Jamaican special. Don’t miss the ackee and saltfish, Jamaica’s national dish. I’ve had it in Britain, but here it’s made with fresh ackee rather than tinned, flavoured with scotch bonnet and the salt fish. The other unmissable breakfast item was fresh mango – Jamaica grows 17 different varieties.
Snorkelling among the reefs
For the more active among you, paddle boards, kayaks, sailing and snorkelling equipment are available. Coral reefs surround the cove, so snorkelling is a particular pleasure, watching the colourful fish dart around. That they exist at all is thanks to the White River Fish Sanctuary. It was founded by Belinda Morrow, the wife of the hotel owner, and works alongside local fishermen to protect and re-seed the reef.
A trip in a glass-bottom boat allows you to see White River’s work in action, guided by the fishermen who will proudly show you the difference the project has made. No fishing takes place on the cove side of the reef, which has allowed fish to thrive in its sheltered nursery environment. In the space of a few years, fish numbers and coral have started to recover, making a difference to the lives of the fishermen who now work to protect it and educate others. Meanwhile, the beach is home to nesting Hawksbill turtles.
They have their very own “turtle concierge”, who, working with conservation groups, watches where the eggs are laid. In June, guests can witness the baby turtles making their dash to the sea. You may even be lucky enough to see adults swimming in the water. We saw them coming up for air on the boat trip.
To recover from all the sun, rum punch and marine activities, I visited the Ocean Spa, nestled within the cliffs of Cutlass Bay. The open-air, thatched-roof treatment huts overlook the sea, providing a blissful setting for an exceptional massage, using CBD and lemongrass oil.
Guests can be taken on a “Farm to Skin Foraging” tour where the spa staff will guide guests through the tropical gardens to forage for the natural ingredients used in the treatments. We made a pineapple and coconut skin scrub that smelt like piña colada and left my skin amazingly smooth. The massage oils are all from Jacana Life, a local organic cannabis farm, which can be visited.
Cannabis production is legal under licence in Jamaica and the farm produces various CBD-infused massage oils and products and an array of cannabis both for the local and international market. Over a delicious vegan Caribbean lunch we were taught how to roll a pure cannabis spliff, but it put me in mind of the “Camberwell carrot” from Withnail and I, so I stuck to the CBD products and rum punch instead.
Jamaica Inn can arrange various trips. There are the famous Dunn’s River Falls and the Konoko rainforest close by, but you may not want to leave the hotel. We met guests who have been coming here for over 40 years, choosing each year to stay in the same room so that it feels like a home from home. The staff manage to be both relaxed and efficient at the same time and they seem genuinely happy, possibly because they actually are.
During Covid, when Jamaica Inn closed, the hotel kept paying all the staff, many of whom have worked here for decades. It has also been Green Globe certified since 2012, thanks to a recycled grey-water system to keep the gardens lush, along with solar panels and a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2025.
I’ve stayed in more obviously luxurious hotels before, but despite the attempt at perfection they can often feel soulless. Jamaica Inn pulls off that rare trick of making all guests feel like one of the family. It’s not often I’ve watched guest after guest in floods of tears at having to leave this small patch of Caribbean heaven.
Natasha Langan was a guest of Jamaica Inn. Rates start from $544.50 per night per couple, including breakfast and taxes. Room only rates start from $469.50. Visit jamaicainn.com, or call +1 855 441 2044
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