Most people think of white sand beaches and Bob Marley when asked about Jamaica. I did an unscientific poll of some American friends recently at a dinner party, and people said, “reggae!” or “horses on the beach,” and “tropical laid back vibes.” All of these descriptors are true, but no one mentioned Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, the UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with rarified coffee farms, 8-inch wide Giant Swallowtail butterflies, and 300 plus species of iridescent birds. If you do go to Jamaica, don’t skip the beaches, but absolutely include the Blue Mountains. In particular, the Blue Mountains’ Strawberry Hill, is a must-stay boutique resort, worth every hairpin turn to get there.
The most magical places are usually not easy to get to. Mongolia’s Three Camel Lodge and Explora’s Easter Island hotel are two of my favorite examples. Another on my list is now Strawberry Hill, the 26 acre lush gum drop shaped property shrouded in the dramatic Blue Mountains, so named for the lingering mist that cloaks the region. Though less than 10 miles from Kingston, Jamaica’s capital, the drive to Strawberry Hill is tedious because of the often one way road that hugs the mountains, passing jerk shacks and tiny cafes that sit on stilts. You’ll pass a small sign that points to Strawberry Hill, and only past the white wooden gates of the property does one realize your arrival atop a very special hill.
A few steep stairs lead to an overwhelmingly sweeping view of Kingston and the Caribbean waters in the distance. A vanishing edge pools emphasizes this exclusive view further as tropical flowering vines and exotic trees frame the deck. Further back, the restaurant and bar offer wrap around views from spacious decks. There’s certainly no wasting of such a view, an asset that probably earned Strawberry Hill a coveted spot in the popular book, A 1,000 Places to See Before you Die by Patricia Schultz. Given
the resort’s place atop a hill, the views continue throughout the property. My room, one of the 12 Georgian-style cottages and villas, had a captivating panorama of the Blue Mountains which changed hues from sunrise to dusk as fog poured over and out of the mountain ridges. I asked the staff if travelers ever do extended stays at the property; Strawberry HIll would be ideal for authors and creatives to let their minds drift like the fog in such a lush oasis. The staff confirmed my hunch and mentioned the resort had a long history of nurturing creatives since the 70s, a hint I further gathered by the rich array of aged photos in the bar area.
As it turns out, Strawberry Hill hosted Bob Marley for a few months after he was shot in Kingston in the late 70s. Marley had a long standing connection that made the extensive stay particularly welcoming: The owner of Strawberry Hill is Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records which pushed Reggae music onto a global stage. Blackwell also created Island Outpost, the resort group with three properties throughout Jamaica, known for celebrating Jamaican essence and the relaxed island vibe Jamaica is known for. The resort group, Marley’s career, and the music legends Blackwell associated with including U2 and The Rolling Stones, Blackwell built quite a vivid career that stretched beyond the beaches of Jamaica. His memoir, “The Islander” debuts today and showcases Strawberry Hill in a way that no other resort can attest to.
In addition to the unmatched views and history as rich and dense as the jungles of the Blue Mountains themselves, Strawberry Hill has plenty of reasons to stay a while. My favorite reason is the spa, an indoor and outdoor oasis just below the pool area with mountain views throughout. I was delighted to find manicures and pedicures offered (I’m usually a wreak after days of hiking and banging up my nails with luggage and backpacks), as well as an assortment of wraps, scrubs, and massages. The staff at the spa have years of wellness experience, and if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to book Keri who will scrub new life into your feet and polish your entire body with Blue Mountain coffee, part of the Blue Mountain Body Elixir treatment that uses locally grown coffee grounds and brown sugar.
A body treatment is usually restorative, but it’s particularly satisfying after a long hike. Strawberry Hill offers several with local guides, many of whom have lived in the region for generations. My guide one morning was an ardent birder and pointed out several species, including the Vervain hummingbird, the 2nd smallest bird in the world clocking in at two grams in weight. After a few half day hikes, I opted for a short stroll one day to Craightons Coffee Farm, a Japanese owned coffee farm that exports exclusively to Japan, unless one buys it directly at the farm.
The magic of the Blue Mountains and its Strawberry Hill cannot be undersold. A creative seeking respite, a bird lover searching for once of a lifetime spotting, a coffee buff hunting exotic beans, or a spa goer who relishes the soundtrack of Reggae can all be delighted at this treasured resort. This array of appeal is rare for a property, but that’s another reason Strawberry Hill earns its place on A 1,000 Places to See Before you Die.