Author Ian Fleming wrote more than a dozen James Bond novels from a villa now part of the glamorous GoldenEye hotel on Jamaica’s Oracabessa Bay, which gave its name to the Pierce Brosnan Bond film. This collection of cottages and suites surrounds an idyllic beach, treetop restaurant, swim-up spa and well-appointed bedrooms. If you're feeling especially flush, spring for the five-room former Fleming villa for you and your fellow well-heeled spies.
The hotel is expanding in 2019, so you might see or hear construction work 6 May–19 December. It'll be daytime only, and rates will be discounted by up to 40 per cent to make up for any inconvenience. All pool and beach areas, all restaurants and a section of the lagoon will stay open throughout; the spa will take up a temporary residence in the Beach Huts. You'll also be able to take advantage of various free and discounted activities, both at the hotel and in the surrounding landscape.
Forty-nine, including 26 Beach Huts, eight one-bedroom cottages, five two-bedroom cottages and the Fleming villa, which sleeps up to 10.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from $315.00, excluding tax at 20 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional government tax of $2.00 per room per night on check-out.
Rates include daily breakfast, all non-motorised watersports, a flask of Blackwell Rum, 15 minutes added to any spa treatment booked within 24 hours of arrival and nightly turndown.
The Oracabessa Foundation have helped to keep the resort gloriously green by planting hundreds of trees, funded by donations. If you want to contribute to the Foundation's community and environmental programmes you can at www.oracabessafoundation.org.
GoldenEye is expanding in 2019, so you might see or hear construction work 6 May–19 December. It'll be daytime only, and there'll be reduced rates and free activities on offer to make up for it.
At the hotel
Spa, watersports centre, tennis court, glass-bottom boat, mountain bikes to borrow, lagoon, gardens, library, CD library, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV with Apple TV, Sonos sound system, minibar (stocked with Red Stripe, naturally), iPod dock, Bodum coffee press and kettle, Frette linens and Blue Mountain Aromatics bath products.
Our favourite rooms
All of the hotel's cottages and suites are light and bright, but we like the One-Bedroom Beach Villas for their straight-to-sand access, garden-shaded outdoor showers, vast verandas, full kitchens and Smeg fridges stocked with local treats. Lagoon Suite 8 is particularly private behind the beach, and has a balcony that juts out over the lagoon. Villa 21 is a beachfront two-bedroom set on a prime spot of sand, close to Bizot Bar. The Fleming Villa, once home to the author himself, is the picture of luxury. The spacious house has its own pool, private beach, series of satellite cottages and dedicated staff. One-Bedroom Beach Huts 23, 27, 36 and 44 stand out for their outdoor showers.
The main fresh water infinity pool lies at the far end of the beach, in front of Bizot Bar. There is a smaller salt-water pool by the ocean, where the hotel hosts torch-lit dinners to celebrate the full moon, and a freshwater pool by the Beach Huts, in between Snorkelers Cove and Shabeen. The massive salt-and-fresh water lagoon may be the most unique swimming spot of the bunch.
Walk, swim or kayak right up to FieldSpa, GoldenEye’s open-air spa cottage by the lagoon. The spa offers massages, salt scrubs and wraps, along with a fitness programme of guided runs and self-guided open-water swims.
Download Shazam before you go: GoldenEye’s owner, Island Records music mogul Chris Blackwell, ensures that each room has an extensive selection of reggae and island music. Bring yoga pants for sunset salutations overlooking the water.
Baby cots and rollaway beds ($75 a person a night) can be added to One- and Two-Bedroom Beach and Lagoon Villas. The hotel can arrange a nanny for $10 an hour with a day's notice. The restaurant has a children’s menu.
Outdoorsy kids over five will get the most from the activities on offer.
One- and Two-Bedroom Beach and Lagoon Villas each sleep up to two children. Beach Cottages have queen-size sofa beds that can sleep two small children. Each Cottage has a full kitchen, too.
Beach babes will love the fishing lessons, sails and kayak trips. Kids ages six and over can ride jet skis. On land, the staff have dozens of ideas for child-friendly activities, and will happily arrange star-gazing, nature walks and scavenger hunts for young explorers. Crafty little ones can learn to carve a coconut monkey using shells they find on the beach. After dinner, older children should check out the DVD library for an extensive selection of James Bond movies.
Lifeguards watch the pool from 9am until 5pm each day. There’s also a shallow end for little ones.
High chairs are available in both restaurants, and the children’s menu will appeal to tiny diners. The kitchen can also heat bottles, and pack special lunches.
With a day’s notice, Goldeneye can arrange for a local babysitter ($10 an hour).
GoldenEye was built to minimise energy usage and take advantage of natural light and wind. The restaurant uses organic ingredients, and the staff is working to restore the local coral beds and fish populations.
The most romantic tables at the Gazebo overlook the lagoon. Choose your own dining adventure. The staff will set candlelit tables on the beach or host a barbecue on the sand.
Laid-back by the lagoon – kaftans, sarongs and coverups at the bar; maxi dresses and linen at the Gazebo.
Two: the elegant Gazebo is set in the treetops, reached by an illuminated drawbridge. The chefs use ingredients grown on owner Chris Blackwell’s 2,500-acre organic farm to create upscale Jamaican curries and fresh vegetable dishes to accompany jerk chicken and grilled lobster. Bizot is a beachy, casual restaurant serving breakfast and lunch and Bamboo Bar, right on rustic Button Beach, is where you can sample the smoky flavours of Jamaican jerk BBQ – expect grilled fish straight from the sea and sand underfoot.
Music posters plaster the sides of the open-air bar Bizot on the beach. Listen to French music station Radio Nova, and drink rum punch. Rum is the drink of choice here: GoldenEye gives guests hipflasks of the house brand, Blackwell (from the owner’s distillery), on arrival. Seafront bar Shabeen has a rooftop lounge and games room; it's steps way from a freshwater pool and Snorkeler’s Cove, the spot where guests swim out to sea.
Bizot is open from 7.30am until the last guest leaves, Shabeen pours out drinks from noon until 8pm, and dinner is served until 10pm at the Gazebo.
Room service is available during restaurant hours; the menu includes salads, burgers, pastas and classic Jamaican cuisine.
GoldenEye sits beside the village of Oracabessa outside Ocho Rios Jamaica’s northern coast.
Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, served by Caribbean Airlines (www.caribbean-airlines.com), United (www.united.com) and Virgin Atlantic (www.virgin-atlantic.com), is the nearest international airport, nearly two hours’ drive away; Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston is two and half hours away by car. Private domestic flights can also be arranged into the nearby Ian Fleming International Airport, a 10 minutes' drive from GoldenEye.
GoldenEye is a 20-minute drive from Ocho Rios and offers free parking.
Worth getting out of bed for
Feeling sprightly? Wake up for an 8am run along the coast. Tailored to suit all skill levels, the hotel-sponsored activity is organised by Oracabessa Foundation, a US Peace Corps-supported project that benefits local economic development and children’s activities. Gallop through the waves on a horseback ride through Chukka Cove, and stay for an afternoon swim. Dinner can’t get more local than a fish you help to catch. Hit the water with local Oracabessa Bay fishermen and help haul in the morning catch of wahoo, mahi mahi or tuna. If you find a fish you like, bring it back to the chefs at GoldenEye to cook for dinner.
Climb Firefly Hill, east of Ocho Rios, for pristine, postcard-perfect Caribbean views at the national heritage site that was once Sir Noël Coward’s vacation home. The country converted the home, which once hosted Churchill, Queen Elizabeth and Laurence Olivier, as a museum to the author.
East of Ochos Rios on the North Coast Highway, Toscanini’s (+1 876 975 4785) serves Italian classics with a focus on fresh, local seafood and shellfish. Drive up the hill of Eden Bower Road in Ocho Rios for the best views from the verandah of Evita’s(+1 876 974 2333). The Jamaican-Italian fusion restaurant serves jerk spaghetti, Carib-alfredo fettuccine, and curried shrimp and chicken.
Don’t leave Jamaica without a taste of jerk chicken. Open-air cafe Scotchie’s (+1 876 794 9457) on North Coast Highway in Ocho Rios smokes not only chicken, but seafood, pork and sausages, all made even better with a dash of fiery sauce.
Here is what Mr Smith and I knew at the outset of our romantic weekend: we were sneaking off to one of Jamaica’s most exclusive resorts. That was the extent of our planning and research. As the parents of two young boys, such escapes are rare, so why bother with too many questions? They had us at ‘no kids’.
Motoring along the north coast of Jamaica from the Montego Bay airport in a van driven by a chatty reggae fan, however, we wondered if our retreat might resemble one of the countless Cancun-style pleasure palaces we passed along the winding road. Would it be one a giant stucco monolith towering above the glittering blue sea? Perhaps we’d find ourselves competing for cocktails at a swim-up pool bar serving 100?
Pulling up to entrance of the GoldenEye Hotel and Resort on Oracabessa Bay, however, it was clear how wrong we were – not a speck of stucco in sight. Instead, we spied a gate overgrown with tropical flora bearing a sign that whispered ‘Private Property’. It appeared more akin to a reclusive mogul’s private hideaway.
Turns out, that’s not far from the truth. The former estate of Ian Fleming (where the spy scribe wrote the James Bond thrillers), this little jungle-clad cove now functions as the de facto playground for local legend Chris Blackwell (the founder of Island Records who brought Bob Marley to the masses) and his globetrotting friends.
You won’t find a climbing block of hotel rooms here, but rather, a clutch of oceanfront villas, lagoon cottages and, for high rollers: the former Fleming Villa itself. Exclusive? Yes, but not a snobby way. GoldenEye is one of Jamaica’s coolest running parties and, better yet, we’re all invited.
The welcoming vibe was evident from the moment we were met by Clayton, a manager with an easy, deadpan air and a glorious mane of dreadlocks. We were tired from an early flight and a bit carsick, so Clayton, tapping his inner doctor, quickly diagnosed us as being rum deficient.
Wise Clayton escorted us to the open-air Bizot bar so we might alleviate our travel-induced symptoms (read: dive headlong into lazy debauchery).
Traversing the palm-studded property, we stopped to chat with another manager, Naudia, who handed us the sweet fruit she’d just plucked off the sea grape trees found sprouting in abundance here, for a taste of local flavor. We quickly learned that this a friendly, first-name-basis kind of place.
Wandering the grounds, we were struck by the charmed air of make-believe hovering over everything. With its thatched palm roofs, colorful Adirondack chairs, infinity pools and wooden suspension bridge spanning a lagoon—it’s something like a hipster’s reinterpretation of Pirates of the Caribbean.
In a sense, this is a kiddie park for grown-ups, with the signature feature being a treehouse. Perched in the treetops, the open-air Gazebo restaurant overlooks the main grounds and is surrounded by a four-acre teal lagoon. The mod interiors are styled with sleek white decor and walls adorned with framed stills from the first Bond film Dr No.
Heeding the words of the good Dr Clayton, we let the gentle ocean breezes kiss our cheeks as we settled in for a spell at the Bizot bar, its columns wallpapered in classic reggae and jazz album covers.
We paired a late breakfast of ackee fruit and salt fish, with the mellow Bond-themed Golden Gun house concoction of dark and white rum (from Mr Blackwell’s private distillery, of course), guava and lime juice. With drinks in hand and the pristine private beach in our sights, we slipped into a profoundly Jamaican state of mind. ‘It’s always five o’clock at GoldenEye,’ Mr Smith mused, tipping back his glass.
Underscoring the private-party atmosphere, Mr Blackwell himself was seated next to us, dining with a friend, who just so happened to be a top New York chef. There we were: the music-industry legend, the celebrity chef and us. Here, even the famous and fabulous feel like old friends.
The sunshine, mixed with the celebrity wattage and topped off with the Golden Gun cocktails, proved an intoxicating brew. Padding off in a happy haze, we fantasized that we were trapped on this island. Mr. Blackwell, bring down that bridge! Never let us cross back into reality!
Making our way to the Lagoon Cottage – a breezy bungalow with plantation shutters, custom batik throw pillows and dark hardwood floors – it was an easy enough daydream to maintain. As the name would indicate, there were wooden steps that led directly to the crystal-clear lagoon below. Jumping right into the water, Mr Smith and I hopped on board the kayak moored at our private dock and set off for an exploratory paddle.
Back in the room, I left Mr Smith to thumb through a coffee table book on James Bond, and I kayaked over to lagoon-side FieldSpa. There, I settled in for an hour-long warming ginger and spicy pimenta massage. Before I departed, the massage therapist wrapped me in a big embrace, as if we were longtime friends.
Lounging on our private porch later that day we watched the sun sink on the golden horizon before hesitantly pulling ourselves away from our little lagoon-locked haven. Thankfully, it was for no reason other than dinner at the Gazebo.
Crossing over the bridge to the restaurant, we paused to peer down into the shimmering lagoon. Below us, a school of fish crowded together, lazily flapping their fins, without any apparent need to progress elsewhere. Content to chill right where they were, they clearly had the GoldenEye spirit just right... and so did we.
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