Some seven years ago, I spent a night not just finding my thrill on Strawberry Hill, but finding my bliss there. The stellar boutique property nestled in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, an hour above Kingston, is as flawlessly, quintessentially Jamaican as it gets. There’s setting: elevated more than three thousand feet, surrounded by mystical mountains that look alternately green or blue, depending on the position of the sun. There’s storied history: Reputedly built in the 18th century by a cousin of Admiral Lord Nelson, Strawberry Hill became a Foreign Officers’ Naval Hospital, then a pied-a-terre for prominent Kingston families, then a music retreat for Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, who hosted everyone from Bob Marley to Mick Jagger there before turning it into a hotel in 1994. Winding up the steep mountain, cottages and villas take rustic chic to new heights—literally—with four-poster beds, finely carved fretwork by legacy local artisans, white bed linens accented with bright African prints and, of course, that view, dwarfing all else with its majesty. Food is locally sourced and, thankfully, very locally inspired: think escoveitch shrimp, plantain-wrapped callalloo, curry goat stew, crab cakes with cabbage and pineapple slaw, Jamaican oxtail shephard’s pie and rum cake for desert. Indulge me as I keep raving: about the Spa’s Blue Mountain Body Elixir treatment, which includes a coffee and brown sugar scrub, warm hydrotherapy Vichy massage and invigorating rain shower; about the hotel’s infinity pool and heavenly 360 view, which leaves you uncertain as to which glorious direction is most worthy of your gaze; about the stubborn sunsets, which linger for over an hour, dusting the sky in electric pink.
Strawberry Hill’s newest offering—Blue Mountain Coffee & Culinary Weekends, offered on the final weekend of each month—gave me reason to return to bliss. And bliss it was: a true feast for all senses. Here’s the itinerary.
THURSDAY It’s more than a welcome drink, followed by a welcome dinner and wine pairing. It’s a chance to savor a Jamaican delicacy: rum. And not just any rum: Blackwell Rum, a rich, flavorful spirit that lives up to the legacy of its namesake, Chris Blackwell himself. Odds are you’ll see the music icon at the table next to you, sipping one on the rocks.
FRIDAY The Blue Mountains is feted for its coffee estates, producing some of the finest beans in the world, most of it for export only and thus not easy to find elsewhere on island. Visit Kingston and Coffee Traders Ltd., one of the island’s top exporters, a family-owned company that takes on all aspects of coffee production—from bean to cup. Shop for callalloo and yam at Coronation Market in Kingston, Jamaica’s largest produce market; sample it at Life Yard Ital Café, which serves delectable vegetarian food, per Rastafarian dietary laws. En route back to your Stawberry Hill bliss, visit Belcour, the private home of Robin and Michael Lumsden—and their bees. An onsite apiary with over 75 bee colonies produces Belcour Honey, the critical ingredient in their incredible line of jams and sauces (my favorite: the impeccable Belcour HoneyJerk Sauce). Sample their creations at an elegant-meets-local Belcour Tea, with all the trimmings.
SATURDAY Today you earn a Ph.D. in coffee. Get schooled at Twyman’s Old Tavern Blue Mountain Coffee Estate and, after that, Clifton Mount Coffee Estate, with its sweeping views of the Yallahs Valley and the grand ridge of the Blue Mountain range. Go back in time at The Heritage Gardens Of Cold Spring, a meticulously landscaped old coffee estate housing ruins of the coffee works, including barbecues, floating ponds, channels and remnants of the pulping house. Finally, devote an afternoon to the Strawberry Hill pool, lost in reveries of misty blue beauty and humming Bob Marley's "Kaya." After all, he wrote the song right here.
SUNDAY Follow the ringing church bells to St. Mark’s Chapel, a charming 18th century Anglican Church. Then savor a Sunday tradition: Strawberry Hill Brunch, where the ackee and saltfish keeps coming, and the old-school reggae keeps playing, and the rum keeps pouring—until your blissful Blue Mountain weekend comes to a sumptuous close. Strawberryhillhotel.com
Baz Dreisinger , CONTRIBUTOR
I am: writer, globetrotter, professor, culture-hound. Born and raised in New York City, with one foot fixed in the Caribbean, I have written about travel, the arts and identity politics for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and many more; I produce on-air segments about global music and culture for National Public Radio (NPR). I am ceaselessly curious, fearless in my journeys, relentlessly ravenous to see and learn more. My global routes marry luxury with local, which is the essence of this travel blog: Welcome to a place where wanderlust meets culture-lust, where otherworldly high-end meets rootsy down-home.