Most people think of white sand beaches and Bob Marley when asked about Jamaica. I recently did an unscientific poll of American friends over dinner, and people said, “reggae! or “horses on the beach” and “relaxed tropical vibe”. All of these descriptors are true, but no one has mentioned Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, the UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with rarefied coffee farms, 8-inch-wide giant swallowtail butterflies and more than 300 species. of iridescent birds. If you go to Jamaica, don’t skip the beaches, but definitely include the Blue Mountains. In particular, Strawberry Hill in the Blue Mountains is a must-visit resort, worth every hairpin bend to get there.
The most magical places are usually not easily accessible. Mongolia’s Three Camel Lodge and Explora’s Easter Island Hotel are two of my favorite examples. Another on my list now is Strawberry Hill, the lush, gumdrop-shaped 26-acre property surrounded by the spectacular Blue Mountains, so named for the lingering mist that blankets the area. Although less than 10 miles from Kingston, Jamaica’s capital, the drive to Strawberry Hill is tedious due to the often one-way road that skirts the mountains past jerk shacks and tiny cafes on stilts. You will pass a small sign for Strawberry Hill, and it is only through the white wooden gates of the property that you realize you have arrived at the top of a very special hill.
A few steep stairs lead to stunning views of Kingston and the Caribbean waters beyond. Receding edge pools further accentuate this exclusive view as tropical flowering vines and exotic trees frame the deck. Further back, the restaurant and bar offer panoramic views from the spacious terraces. There’s certainly no loss of such a view, a feature that likely earned Strawberry Hill a coveted spot in the popular book A 1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz. Given
the station square on top of a hill, the views continue throughout the property. My room, one of 12 Georgian cottages and villas, offered a captivating panorama of the Blue Mountains changing hues from sunrise to dusk as mist rolled over the mountain ridges. I asked the staff if travelers do extended stays at the property; Strawberry Hill would be ideal for writers and creatives to let their minds drift like the fog in such a lush oasis. The staff confirmed my hunch and mentioned that the resort had a long history of nurturing creations dating back to the 70s, a clue I further picked up from the rich array of vintage photos in the bar.
It turns out that Strawberry Hill took in Bob Marley for a few months after he was shot in Kingston in the late 70s. Marley had a long-standing relationship which made the long stay particularly welcoming: the owner of Strawberry Hill is Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records which launched Reggae music onto the world stage. Blackwell also created Island Outpost, the resort group with three properties across Jamaica, known for celebrating the Jamaican essence and relaxed island vibe Jamaica is known for. The resort band, Marley’s career, and music legends associated with Blackwell, including U2 and the Rolling Stones, Blackwell have built quite a lively career that has stretched beyond the beaches of Jamaica. His memoir, “The Islander,” debuts today and showcases Strawberry Hill in a way that no other station can attest to.
Along with unparalleled views and history as rich and dense as the Blue Mountains jungles themselves, Strawberry Hill has plenty of reasons to stay awhile. My favorite reason is the spa, an indoor and outdoor oasis just below the pool with mountain views everywhere. I was delighted to find manicures and pedicures on offer (I’m usually a bore after days of hiking and banging my nails with luggage and backpacks), plus an assortment of wraps, scrubs and massages. The spa staff have years of wellness experience, and if you’re lucky you might book Keri who will breathe new life into your feet and polish your entire body with Blue Mountain coffee, which is part of the Blue Mountain Body Care Elixir which uses locally grown coffee grounds and brown sugar.
A body treatment is usually restorative, but it’s especially satisfying after a long hike. Strawberry Hill offers several with local guides, many of whom have lived in the area for generations. One morning my guide was an ardent birdwatcher and pointed out several species including the vervain hummingbird, the 2nd smallest bird in the world at two grams. After a couple of half-day hikes, I opted for a quick stroll one day to Craightons Coffee Farm, a Japanese-owned coffee farm that exclusively exports to Japan unless purchased directly from the farm.
The magic of the Blue Mountains and its Strawberry Hill cannot be underestimated. A creative respite looking for respite, a bird lover looking for a unique spot, a coffee lover looking for exotic beans, or a spa lover relishing the soundtrack of reggae can all be delighted in this precious complex. This array of amenities is rare for a property, but it’s another reason Strawberry Hill earns its place on A 1,000 Places to See Before you Die.