Originally owned by author Ian Fleming, who wrote all his James Bond novels while wintering here, GoldenEye may be the most elegant small hotel in Jamaica. Music producer Chris Blackwell bought the original Fleming Villa and 19-acre estate in 1977 from Bob Marley, who had purchased it the previous year. Eventually, Blackwell turned it into a hotel that by 2010, when a major renovation was completed, had increased to 21 villas and cottages on 52 lush acres. Located at Oracabessa Bay, an hour and a half’s drive from the airport at Montego Bay, almost all the hotel’s accommodations either sit on a beach or front a lagoon, the latter with a dock for each villa. The original villa was modernized during the renovation to include such amenities as a high-tech media room, but Fleming’s original writing desk remains. The flagship of Blackwell’s Island Outpost hotel group, GoldenEye is no doubt the kind of place James Bond would have preferred to stay, if only it had a casino.
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For the kind of travelers attracted to the low-key sophistication of GoldenEye, there isn’t much nearby, even in Ocho Rios, that would compel them to venture onto the North Coast’s A3 highway. Without having to go anywhere, they’ve got kayaking, paddleboarding, snorkeling, jet skiing, two swimming pools, tennis, and, for the aggressively nonathletic, backgammon. That said, there’s no explaining the appeal, in Ocho Rios, of Dunn’s River Falls, one of Jamaica’s most popular tourist attractions, an experience which consists mostly of crowds of people scrambling over wet, slippery rocks. It does build an appetite, though, and one very Jamaican way to satisfy it is by ordering anything jerk at the Ocho Rios branch of Scotchies, which will be easy because there’s not much else on the menu. Or prepare to be surprised by Toscanini Restaurant, below the Harmony Hall Art Gallery, whose owners, brother and sister Mirella and Pierluigi Ricci, produce such consistently good Italian fare that only the local twists remind diners they are still in Jamaica.
Need to Know
Rooms: 21 rooms, including 11 one- and two-bedroom villas, 6 lagoon cottages, and the 5-bedroom Fleming Villa. From $620 low season, $925 high season. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: The open-air Gazebo is a treetop-level restaurant that nicely pairs rack of lamb, or lobster tail, or jerk chicken, with Caribbean sunsets. The more casual Bizot Bar serves breakfast and lunch from a menu that ranges from burgers to traditional Jamaican favorites. Spa and gym details: The FieldSpa may not have as diverse a treatment menu as spas at bigger resorts, but it is undoubtedly one of the few anywhere at which spa guests can arrive by kayak (or swimming, for that matter). The open-to-the-air treatment rooms are at the lagoon’s edge, and many of the infusions used in the treatments are created with flowers and herbs grown at Pantrepant, Blackwell’s 2,500-acre family farm. There’s no fitness center, but aerobic sessions include a guided morning run, self-guided lagoon swim, and, for those so inclined, kayaking to the spa.
Who’s it for: Couples and families who can afford to stay in one of Jamaica’s most exclusive hotels, preferably in the Fleming Villa, and who are not embarrassed to admit that they are fans of James Bond. Our favorite rooms: It’s nice to have a kayak waiting at the dock at one of the lagoon cottages, but what’s the point of visiting GoldenEye and not staying in the Fleming Villa? Bring a crowd, though, because the villa has three bedrooms and two stand-alone, one-bedroom cottages. What the crowd gets is a full-time dedicated staff, including chef, a state-of-the-art media room, a private pool, and a private beach. Music lore: To be considered the least bit hip, GoldenEye guests must know that the Bizot Bar is named for Jean-Francois Bizot, the French counterculturist who introduced “world” music, including Jamaican, to France through Radio Nova, whose broadcasts are played in the bar.