This 12-cottage luxury hotel, 3,100 feet up in the Blue Mountains, is Jamaica without the beaches. It is the Jamaica of misty mornings, cool, cuddle-worthy evenings, and a musical heritage recognized worldwide. First as a private estate belonging to music producer Chris Blackwell and then as part of his Island Outpost collection of hotels, Strawberry Hill has been a creative refuge for performers including Bob Marley, the Rolling Stones, and Willy Nelson. After Hurricane Gilbert destroyed the estate’s great house in 1988, Blackwell commissioned Jamaican architect Ann Hodges, who specializes in historic reconstructions, to build the cottages, a restaurant, and a pool, which were opened in 1994. Yet despite the rock and roll history, and the hanging with like-minded souls up in the mountain mists, what guests seem to remember most is the far-below views of Kingston, especially at night, when the lights glow and sparkle from what must certainly be another world.
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Strawberry Hill sits in the coffee-growing country of the Blue Mountains, where it is possible to hike through waterfalls and into clouds. Hikes are as easy as a 20-minute jaunt to St. Mark’s Chapel in the village of Redlight or as challenging as the 18-mile round-trip trek up Blue Mountain Peak (Jamaica’s highest), for which hikers usually set off at 2 a.m. in order to arrive at sunrise. Bob Marley fans will want to follow a different kind of trail, to the Trench Town Culture Yard, the tenement neighborhood where he learned to play the guitar and that he wrote about in “No Woman, No Cry,” and to the Bob Marley Museum at Hope Road, where he lived the final six years of his life. No matter where you go, there are always a few die-hard beach lovers. For them, there’s Fort Clarence Beach at Hellshire. It’s 50 minutes from Strawberry Hill, but it's the cleanest and quietest in the Kingston area.
Need to Know
Rooms: 12 cottages. From $295 low season, $355 high season. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: On its wraparound veranda, Strawberry Hill Restaurant offers a menu emphasizing contemporary versions of traditional Jamaican dishes, from salt fish and ackee at breakfast to callaloo-stuffed chicken breasts at dinner, all served with Blue Mountain coffee grown within walking distance (admittedly, it’s a steep walk) of the hotel. In the bar, evenings around the upright piano are made cozy by a fire in the fireplace and sips of Blackwell’s rum. Spa and gym details: The indoor/outdoor spa, with its five treatment rooms, bases its offerings on what it says are the five elements—earth, air, fire, water, and infinity. A sixth element, apparently, Blue Mountain coffee beans, is used for the spa’s signature treatment, the Blue Mountain Elixir Scrub. There’s a yoga pavilion, but no gym, a wealth of walking and running possibilities making one hardly necessary.
Who’s it for: Honeymooners and other couples who don’t need a beach, like to breathe cool mountain air, and can never get enough history of rock and roll. Our favorite rooms: For romantics, there is really no choice but the 1,500-square-foot Birdshill Cottage, with its own couples spa gazebo and a very private terrace with views that appear to extend to the edge of the world. Arrival adventure: Although the transfer from the Norman Manley airport to the hotel—a 50-minute, $180 round-trip drive through sketchy Kingston neighborhoods and along the 365 bends of the Irish Town Road—has some guests wondering if they shouldn't have gone to Miami instead, be sure you do endure it, or hire a helicopter. Both options will prove worthwhile.