What do Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe and Meghan Markle have in common? They’ve all been guests at Jamaica Inn, a family-run boutique hotel in a secluded cove just east of the port town of Ocho Rios. Celebrating its 65th birthday this year, the classic blue-fronted, plantation-style hotel overlooks a 700ft-long champagne-coloured beach, one of the few private beaches on the island.
There are 55 suites at Jamaica Inn, 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 “James Bond” writer Ian Fleming would drink his martinis. Naturally, the hotel puts on weekly “Bond” film screenings on the beach, which you can watch while sipping on 007’s signature drink. But I recommend opting for the hotel‘s Plantation Rum Punch, a perfect tipple for those hot Caribbean nights.
Eating and drinking
At breakfast, there’s everything from waffles and eggs every which way to 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.
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.
Facilities and experiences
For the active among you, paddle boards, kayaks, sailing and snorkelling equipment are available. Coral reefs surround the cove, so snorkelling is a particular pleasure as you can watch the colourful fish dart around.
That the fish exist at all is thanks to the White River Fish Sanctuary, founded by Belinda Morrow, the wife of the hotel owner, which 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, and this 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. A “turtle concierge” works with conservation groups to watch where the eggs are being laid. In June, guests can witness the baby turtles making their dash to the sea. You may even be lucky enough to see adult turtles swimming in the water – we saw them coming up for air while we were on the boat trip.
The Ocean Spa is nestled within the cliffs of Cutlass Bay and has a salt water pool cut directly into the rock. 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 you through the tropical gardens to forage for the natural ingredients used in the treatments. We made a pineapple and coconut skin scrub that smelled like piña colada and left my skin amazingly smooth. The massage oils are all from Jacana Life, a local organic cannabis farm.
Jamaica Inn is close to Dunn’s River Falls and the Konoko rainforest, but you may not even want to leave the hotel. We met guests who have been coming here for more than 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 the pandemic, when Jamaica Inn temporarily closed, the hotel kept paying all the staff, many of whom have worked here for decades. The hotel 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 visitors 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 (£439) per night per couple, including breakfast and taxes. Room-only rates start from $469.50 (£379). Main Street, Ocho Rios, Jamaica; jamaicainn.com