Jamaica’s Gold Coast
As my butlers, Gary and Amos, serve up a breakfast of fresh-cooked aki and saltfish on the patio overlooking my private beach, I’m trying to figure out what’s more bizarre — that I’m camped out, alone, in a seven-bedroom compound with two butlers (and four other staffers) tending to my every whim, or that this is all happening in Jamaica. In St. Thomas, sure, but Jamaica, where tales of being conned or robbed are as plentiful as ganja? Forget those stories — this hideaway, and a slew of other private villas like it that line Jamaica’s shoreline, is the setting for a fairy tale.
Fortlands Point overlooks the Caribbean at the tip of Discovery Bay — about an hour east of Montego Bay, near Ocho Rios — and is one of 52 houses and cottages along the Jamaican north coast rented through Villas by Linda Smith. These luxury homes range from quaint two-bedrooms all the way up to Silent Waters, a 10-bedroom mountaintop spread, complete with helipad, often rented for weddings (and, memo to my employer, once for a Rolling Stone magazine retreat). A week in one of the smaller houses is cheaper than a duplex in Sea Isle; seven days at Silent Waters could put you out $29,000.
Fortlands is available for $9,000 for a week in low season (April through December). That may sound pricey, but with two or three families splitting the cost and a nominal fee for food, you’ll never need to leave the grounds — especially with chef Pauline in the kitchen, cooking steaks, seafood and desserts far better than at any resort. It’s the newest home on the bay, and sits on the site of an old stone fort; antique cannons guard the borders of its two acres. The four-level house is sophisticated — teak and cedar, Italian tile floors, Persian rugs, and dark-wood bed frames handcrafted by the family that owns the property. There’s also a black granite bar on the veranda, five open-air dining spots, and a formal room with a 100-year-old, 12-foot mahogany table. There’s a small gym with free weights, benches, an elliptical machine, and a squash court.
My days began with breakfast and kayaking across the bay, then lounging in a hammock on the point before lunch and a swim in the pool overlooking the bay before dinner. Shabba the groundskeeper took me for a snorkeling trip around the point, where sea turtles, stingrays and vibrant fish of all stripes drift by.
Though I could have spent every hour of my trip behind Fortlands’ walls, I felt an obligation to explore the island. My driver, Binns, pointed out a few locations featured in James Bond films, and just having a driver named Binns made me feel like 007. That sensation disappeared quickly at Dunn’s River Falls, where, as a lone white dude among a throng of tourists, I was less a secret agent than an easy mark. My guide offered to take me solo, so we sprinted past vacationers who were linked arm in arm, slowly scaling the boulder-strewn rapids. Our X Games route seemed chosen solely for my guide’s amusement in watching me tumble, then taking my picture at the most embarrassing moments.
My nighttime search for an authentic reggae band in Montego Bay’s tourist traps was fruitless, so instead I thought perhaps I could help some stunning islander or sun-soaked vacationer get her groove back. Unfortunately, the blonde, tongue-studded beauty who took a liking to me had to leave when, ahem, her mother fetched her from the bar. A visit to Margaritaville was notable for the threesome I met on the dance floor: a bronzed brunette, a Kylie Minogue look-alike, and what appeared to be their grandfather, trying to keep pace with their gyrations. The elderly Brit happily informed me that the brunette worked in his bank, while Kylie was an actress whose mortgage he covered. “We’re here on holiday!” he shouted over some deafening hip-hop. “The sex is great! Keeps me young!” Acknowledging that I need to get a finance degree and move to England, I found Binns outside and retreated to Fortlands.
The trip ended as it began, with Gary the butler handing me his signature rum cocktail before I could hint my thirst, and with what seemed to be a competition between myself and the staff to out-polite each other. Spend a week at Fortlands, and you’ll never return to a resort vacation again.
(Villas by Linda Smith, 301-229-4300; www.jamaicavillas.com)