GoldenEye: A retreat to remember
Laura Tanna LETTER FROM LAURA
I'd read about Ian Fleming's home on the north coast where he wrote the James Bond novels having been turned into a 22-unit complex, cottages both on the beach and a lagoon. It sounded expensive, so when at an American Friends of Jamaica charity auction I saw Chris Blackwell's Island Outpost had donated three nights at GoldenEye and two nights at Strawberry Hill, raising funds for health, education, and development in Jamaica, I signed up for the minimum bid.
No one else signed up and I got a bargain! (Watch out for the AFJ.org online auction coming up in October; you might get a bargain too.) If you go, spend time in the reception lounge with photographs of everyone, especially Sean Connery meeting Ian Fleming, and browse through Paul Duncan's historic The James Bond Archives where I learned that Blackwell had been location manager for the movie Dr No! History abounds in that room.
For days after I left GoldenEye, I wanted to go 'home' again. I'd succumbed to the quiet beauty of waves rolling into the secluded cove, to cocks crowing among the wooded walkways, to just living on a beach with all amenities at hand if so desired but otherwise remaining in the background among seagrapes and flowering shrubs.
At first, I was dismayed that I couldn't wear my high heels. Walking on the beach to get to The Gazebo restaurant at one side of the cove or Bizot Bar at the other is de rigueur unless you follow the longer gravel path/roadway; even then you have to traverse some sand. It takes time to adjust to 'beach' life, especially if one is used to big city hotels.
We had a truly harrowing drive through St Catherine and St Ann, taking almost four hours to reach the 52-acre seaside estate surrounding a lagoon - the Junction road is much quicker. But once ensconced in our beach cottage gradually decompression set in, especially after an absolutely superb dinner at The Gazebo, which has a high roof and open sides so one feels part of the trees and Caribbean Sea beyond. A wooden bridge connecting the hillside restaurant, lounge and reception room with the beach and beach cottages is alight with coloured bulbs creating a festive atmosphere. We're seated above the lagoon entrance where green, blue and red reflections of the lights ripple in the water as occasional boats and kayaks pass beneath.
Our waitress, Nardia Angus, and supervisor Troy Scott looked after us with natural warmth, immediately creating a soothing ambiance. Coconut crusted shrimp in mango sauce for a starter and Angus beef tenderloin in carmelised onions with crisp fresh vegetables from Pantrepant farm made me certain we'd encountered one of the best restaurants in Jamaica.
Stumbling over tree roots, sinking into soft sand - none of this matters finding our way back to our cottage as I sit in a deck chair, alone on the beach, the eternal pounding of the waves on the shore beneath a starry sky. Music softly drifts over from Bizot Bar in the distance.
Next morning, I awake at 5:50, pull on Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt to walk the property, shaded by breadfruit, lime, Julie and East Indian mango, brilliant orange/red poinciana trees - a forest of greenery. Along the way, painted white plaques inscribed in black describe the date and patron who donated each tree: Johnny Depp, Willie Nelson, Martha Stewart, Pierce Brosnon, the Duchess of Devonshire.
There were many prominent visitors between 1995 and 1998 and the tradition continues with scores of guests each donating US$1,000 to the Oracabessa Foundation, founded by Chris Blackwell in 1995 to support educational, environmental, skills training and sporting activities in the community adjoining GoldenEye. It's fascinating to scour the woods reading the occasions commemorated: a honeymoon, an anniversary, a family reunion, and so on. People return to see how large their trees have grown amid the flowering red ginger, coral mussiana, blue plumbago, which decorate pathways, heliconia dripping over the occasional dark green shed or fence. I come full circle, past a fishing beach, a boat just leaving for the morning's catch and then the shore again, the gentle rustle of waves rolling in.
Breakfast at Bizot Bar proves just as delectable as last night's dinner. Selecting saltfish and spicy ackee, fresher than any I've tasted after decades on the island, I opt for real French croissants slathered with guava jelly rather than johnny cakes, all washed down with freshly squeezed orange juice and blue mountain coffee.
Bizot Bar is a trip in itself, reflecting Chris Blackwell's deep involvement with decades of counterculture music and life. named for his friend Jean-François Bizot, a Frenchman born in Lyon in 1944 to upper middle-class parents, well-educated in engineering but becoming a journalist and documentary film-maker who embraced America's hippie generation of rock, drugs, and sexual liberation. Bizot co-founded avante-garde Actuel magazine in 1970, then the multicultural Radio Nova in 1981, promoting le rock psychedelique, rap, reggae, and African music.
Though Bizot died in 2007, Blackwell keeps his friend's memory alive with collages of laminated L.P. album covers, floor to ceiling on pillars supporting the bar's ceiling, decorated with hanging driftwood creations. This is a museum not only to Bizot, but to Blackwell's roots in Jamaican music: blues, jazz, mento, ska, rocksteady, streggae, reggae.
Yoga at sunset takes place looking across to Ocho Rios, swim in the pool or out to GoldenEye's small island. I felt as though I owned the world, alone there with the wind whipping through my hair and surrounded by sea. Take jet ski journeys to Dunn's River or Tacky Falls, go kayaking, stand up paddle-boarding or a complementary glass bottom boat ride at 9 a.m. Captain Shereif taught me about six different kinds of coral. Don't forget reflexology or massage in Fieldspa opening on to the placid lagoon. Or just laze in a hammock reading a book; each cottage has one.
On our last morning, Chris Blackwell came to have coffee with us at Bizot Bar and said he had wanted to create a place that felt like home. He has certainly succeeded.