Strawberry Hill, Jamaica: Room service

A fresh take on Jamaica

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The Independent Travel

In 1943 Ian Fleming flew from Miami to Kingston as an assistant to our Director of Naval Intelligence, to investigate allegations that Axel Wenner-Gren, a Swedish tycoon with rumoured Nazi sympathies, was building a submarine base in the Bahamas. It was his first visit to Jamaica but his recollections make clear that on the basis of what he saw in just a few days, he would make a life on this golden island, from where he gave the world James Bond.

Fleming travelled with Ivar Bryce, an old mate from the world of intelligence, whose wife had recently bought the house in which they would stay. It was not in St Mary, where Goldeneye, perhaps the most garlanded writing pad in modern literature, would be built; nor in the bustling streets of Kingston, whose addictive rhythms dazzle every visitor. Fleming travelled rather to the Blue Mountains, 45 minutes' drive by modern transport from Jamaica's capital.

The cliché has it that Jamaica, perhaps the archetypal Caribbean island, is all rum, reggae and romance. Being in favour of all three, I found the island to be nothing less than exquisite; but the Blue Mountains were a genuine surprise. They have a geography, climate and lyrical quality that are all their own.

The pot-holed but safe approach roads snake up a long, and at times steep, ascent through coffee plantations, shacks, and inevitable whiffs of ganja, before reaching something like their highest point – in both a physical and cultural sense – at Strawberry Hill. Three thousand feet above sizzling Kingston, and built on the site of an 18th-century coffee plantation, this hotel is a Caribbean jewel rich in pedigree and panache. Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, bought the place in 1992 as part of his Island Outpost chain (he now also owns Fleming's Goldeneye itself). His charisma and social network – not least as the man who gave the world Bob Marley – have brought an endless stream of celebrities to stay here.

Location

The only way to approach is by car. As the road gets steeper, and the air more rarefied, the sense of dislocation from urban grime increases – as does the anticipation. I had heard chatter about the view from high up in the mountains, but nothing had prepared me for the spiritual Lucozade of what Gregory Shervington, the smart, charming and very helpful manager, led us toward. As the mountainside beneath tumbled away, what hoved into view was simply the most beautiful vista I've ever seen: a landscape of city, port, sea and sun, with the teeming tenements of Kingston sprawled across our eyes and bleeding into the waters of the Caribbean.

By night, as the street and office lights came on, this inky panorama would become dotted by bright flashes and sparks; by day, even a hazy sky cannot conceal the most majestic of views, which was best seen from the edge of a glorious infinity pool, whose ledges were ready receptacles for the rum punch served up by the bar.

Comfort

If you can bear to take your eyes away from it – and by the way, being south facing and high up, the hotel is perfectly stationed for both sunrise and sunset – there is endless relaxation to be had. A spa offers massages and all manner of cleansing treatments; I turned up having had one rum punch too many, and couldn't help but fall asleep. Most of the rooms are cottages, effectively log cabins that cut into the side of the mountain, giving a magical sense of sleeping within an enchanted forest. You feel this most strongly when having breakfast or a drink on your private balcony jutting into the trees, which is cleverly designed to retain the privacy that, in my experience of the Caribbean, isn't always foremost in planner's minds.

The altitude means that mosquitoes, a huge nuisance in much of the region, are less abundant (there are good nets); which can't be said for the extraordinary birds that tweet and chirrup amid the trees. You get a mobile phone to ring reception with; we found the telephone reception was fine, and there was strong Wi-Fi.

Most likely the clientele will include Americans down for the weekend, but we also met European yachting types, other honeymooners, and young families who worked in the creative industries. All this happens at a celebrated restaurant whose ackee and saltfish is unbeatable, or a long, wide lawn toward the back of the hotel that looks on to mountains.

I know these reviews should stop short of sycophancy, and I have tried to think of a bad word that could justifiably be said of Strawberry Hill. I can't. Naturally, it could be cheaper, but then so could everything that costs.

One of Marley's best and most neglected songs is called "I Know a Place". Its lyrics run: "There's a place in the Sun / Where there is love for everyone". He could have been talking about Strawberry Hill, a favourite haunt of his, high up above the most celebrated city in the Caribbean. Marley, Fleming, Blackwell and, in his much humbler way, Rajan have known this place, and loved it. So will you.

Travel essentials

Strawberry Hill, New Castle Road, Irish Town, Jamaica (001 876 944 8400; strawberryhill hotel.com).

Rooms *****

Value ****

Service *****

Doubles start at US$415 (£259), room only.

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