Every story about this inn must begin with the words classic and authentic. I don’t see any other way around those two words when it comes to chatting about this elegant hotel on Jamaica’s north coast. The hotel made its mark on me from the moment I landed. I was greeted and escorted through immigrations and customs and because I had just returned from a part of the world where Malaria was a concern, I was even briskly walked through a nurse’s station where information was given to me about what to do should I suddenly feel any of the symptoms. What a great way to keep the island, its visitors and residents safe? Thankfully, I experienced none of the symptoms and enjoyed the best of Jamaica. Having grown up on the island, the name Jamaica Inn was synonymous with class and elegance, but now being Americanized and having the opportunity to see it like a native yet experience it as a guest, the perspective was different, or at least I hoped it wouldn’t be.
After clearing these entry points to the island, I connected with some friends who had flown in only minutes ahead of me. After a quick meet and greet, we were in the resort transportation and on our way. Not sure if it was kismet or just that I had my foot in the door first, but I got the front seat. The entire hour and a half drive from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios, I had a front row seat and a bird’s eye view to my past, brought current. While the road stretched out before us, the girls were enjoying the ride as much as I was, I felt awash with nostalgia. This was my home and the feeling was accentuated more pointedly as we passed my hometown of Discovery Bay. Had the car broken down and we could not go any further, the trip would have been enough for me, but alas, there was more history in store for me.
Drawing closer to where I knew Jamaica Inn sat, just on the outskirts of the busting business district of what most people know as Ocho Rios, I started to get a little more excited than I had been. Even more excited than when I asked the driver to make an impromptu stop at a road-side shack with a sign that simply said (through clouds of smoke) ‘roast yam and salt fish’, and trust me…that was exciting. Being on the side of the road, tasting the smoky flavors of your childhood, and sharing it with your friends who had not been privy to such delights was second to none. Now this. The subtle sign that we had arrived was exactly that. A simple, small sign on the side of the road indicating that one had indeed arrived. As we passed through the guarded gate, the driveway created a visual path that guided my eyes through the vegetation to my first glimpse of the famed Wedgwood Blue that predates Tiffany Blue by almost 100 years and, in my opinion, is far classier. My excitement to experience this Jamaican treasure continued to build. I wasn’t in my cottage yet, and just the approach had painted a smile on my face that ran from ear-to-ear.
Then there it was, beyond the front desk staff who had been awaiting our arrival. The ones who had greeted us and immediately asked, “Will you be having a rum punch or fruit punch?” The expression on my face let them know I was no teetotaler and ready to hop into Jamaican beverage consumption mode. All kidding aside, I hope the look on my face was genuinely reflective of what I was thinking. I had stepped out to be welcomed by more than the staff. There was an inviting view of the sea just beyond the croquet lawn. A swimming pool only steps from a lacquered wood beach bar, and soft golden sand framing the crescent beach that was all ours for the next week. My smile had to have broadened. By the time I had soaked in most of the view and started to plot my next move, be it lounge chair on the sand or one by the pool, I was escorted to my cottage. Jamaica inn, built in the 1950’s was made up of rooms and suites in the two main buildings but have since added cottages. The rooms and suites are spacious and classically appointed. The flooring throughout is the very recognizable, to me. The feel of the handmade local tile against your feet is as refreshing as a cool shower. The tiles don’t add to the authenticity of the Jamaica Inn experience, they are the foundation of it. Every inch of this hotel screams, very subtly, organic Jamaican luxury experience. Jamaica Inn has called out to many a celebrity over the decades. The famous Marilyn Monroe honeymooned here, right in the suite, frequented by Sir Winston Churchill himself. The rich history of the place and its past and current guests adds depth to the experiences shared and memories made here.
Although I could have had breakfast on my veranda, or in the air-conditioned comfort of my cottage’s living room, I chose, daily, to take my breakfast in Shanti, the seaside dining room outfitted with pink linens and lovely service. Hearing the water wash up against the shore below my table enhances the experience and you realize you couldn’t be having this sort of thing back home. In some of the over water suites you could, but most likely not back at home. With views that change with passing boats or swimmers and fish swimming by, breakfast can stretch on for quite some time. Butterflies and birds cruise by on their way to who knows where, probably just taking in all the beauty themselves. Looking out on the water as the morning comes to life is a treat and the fresh fruit, selection of breads, homemade marmalades and jams and traditional Jamaican breakfast foods all fill me with a feeling. Of satisfaction on many levels.
The Jamaican experience is very real here and the fact that today’s traveler is seeking out genuine connection to their destination, the hotel caters to experiential travel. There are trips to the local farmer’s market on Fridays with the chef, the rum mixology class at the beach bar and twice weekly garden tours. Bespoke activities, for a real taste of Jamaica, beyond these Wedgwood walls can be curated by the staff. Rafting on the White River, lunch in town or High Tea up at Noel Cowards estate, Firefly, can all be arranged. Even the more typical excursions here are elevated for the guests. Climbing Dunn’s River has got to be one of the island’s top attractions, making it quite a hectic scene. From Jamaica Inn, guests leave early in the morning before anyone else is at the falls and experience it in its most natural state. A boat picks you up and propels you to the falls in luxury and tranquility. You’ll get back to your essence here, I know I certainly have. Being at the hotel for a few days, I have noticed the chatter in my head subsided and the beauty and tranquility has taken hold. I am genuinely relaxed as the gentle trade winds blow.
Owner Peter Morrow believes the hotel brings guests back to their essence by quieting the mind. He says he sees it in every guest. There’s a difference between when they arrive and a few days of being here. When I told him I had experienced exactly that, he agreed that it was the gentle trade winds that help bring about the calming effect. I tend to agree with the gentleman. His family has owned the hotel since the 1950’s and he grew up here. He’s got history on his side. If he says it’s so, it’s so. The most interesting thing about my impending departure is that, although I will miss watching the staff and guests play croquet, I am not dreading heading home. I am in a state of total relaxation and will return to this classic hotel sooner than later.