From Screechies (and a pit stop shower break back at the hotel), the Cane to Cocktail tour continued onwards and upwards into the mighty Blue Mountains for a taste of some of the world’s best coffee and sundowner with dinner at a cozy little boutique hideaway.
If your idea of a dream vacation in Jamaica involves little more than frying in the sun on the beach while downing all inclusive cocktail after all inclusive cocktail then spending time in the rugged and lush Blue Mountains might not be the thing for you. However if you’re keen to experience what truly makes this island so special and to introduce a bit of mountain air luxury in with your sea breeze break, you may discover that no stay in the Blue Mountains is long enough. I certainly didn’t get my fill.
The Blue Mountains aren’t the sort of place you simply happen upon. Reached from Kingston by panoramic drive up winding mountain roads, you’ve really got to want to go there to be there. The promise of visiting one of the world’s most celebrated regions for producing top quality Arabica coffee beans – UCC Blue Mountain Coffee Craighton Estate – and checking out low-key, upscale and historic hotel – Strawberry Hill – had me craving the winding ascent 3,000ft up from Kingston and wishing too soon that I’d never have to come back down.
UCC Blue Mountain Coffee Craighton Estate
Coffee grown in the Blue Mountains is considered to be among the very best in the world, and Craighton Estate is reckoned to be one of the most reputable and consistent producers. I loved visiting the estate, for the sweeping views of the mountains and looksee at the 19th homestead as much as for the opportunity to see firsthand coffee growing and learning about what makes this area ideal for growing finicky yet flavoursome Arabica coffee beans.
As excellent as the high altitude tropical conditions are for growing coffee in the Blue Mountains (not too hot/not too cold, plenty of sunshine/plenty of rain), they’re limited to a fairly small patch of the range set in a rather remote part of Jamaica. A small grow area situated up a twisty mountain road on a Caribbean island means a small yield with challenges bringing it to market. Add to that the fact that the vast majority of Blue Mountain beans are exported to Japan and you’ve got yourself a very expensive luxury good. Blue Mountain coffee can fetch up to 20 times the price of regular Arabica beans. Is it worth it?
Well, the cup I had at Craighton and the bag of beans (roasted at the estate) I brought back as a souvenir were the tasty brews I’ve ever had: mild and minimally bitter with caramel and subtly floral notes. Ah.
Find out more at ucc.co.jp/eng/company/about/estates.
Just up the road (like maybe a quarter of a mile) from Craighton is Strawberry Hill, an 11-room boutique offering a quietude and privacy hard come by these days.
A lofty little cluster of white wood-framed Georgian cottages, Strawberry Hill dates back to the 1700s, but its most celebrated era was more recent when it served as the residence of music producer and founder of Island Records, Chris Blackwell, the man credited with introducing the world to Bob Marley, Grace Jones, Tom Waits, U2, and a who’s who list of musicians – many of whom were regular Strawberry Hill guests. In the 90s, Blackwell shifted his focus from recording hit records to running luxury hotels and villas, with Strawberry Hill becoming the first hotel in his Island Outpost portfolio of Jamaican properties.
It’s a gorgeous place of rural tranquility and understated elegance, capitalising on stunning panoramas over Kingston and the Caribbean Sea. I was only there for dinner and drinks but got to snoop round some rooms, the lush gardens between cottages, the negative edge pool, and full-service spa. I got a strong sense that guests here are exceptionally well looked after and left alone as much as they’d prefer.
Dinner more than met my standards, presented at a table situated to yield romantic and evocative views with dishes served from a kitchen keen to celebrate Jamaica’s multi-cultural heritage and the best local fare and ingredients. Smoked marlin tartar? Yes please! Oxtail stewed in Jamaican spices? So delicious. Rum cake? Ye-aye-uh!
The bar was as laidback a place to bend my elbow as any I’d ever saddle up to. The bartender was a gracious craftsman, mixing a fine rum punch alongside an assortment of signature and classic drinks.
For more details go to strawberryhillhotel.com.