Finding aquatic bliss at GoldenEye Hotel and Resort, Jamaica.
For over 2 years I have not set foot on my native soil, Jamaica. I was becoming homesick and would often dream of home. Oh how I longed for some natural coconut water, home cooked ackee and salt fish, not that these cannot be found in various Caribbean communities throughout the U.S. Unfortunately it is just not the same. As this yearning and nostalgia build up inside, secretly Gary was planning a getaway to appease me.
Upon return from work, he announced that we were heading to Jamaica to release my inner Bond Girl. This year is the 50th anniversary of the iconic spy series, James Bond, and I was excited to have my Bond Girl Experience – Grace Jones revival where it all started. The secret was out. While summer maybe over for most, for us our adventure continues with a three night stay at the ultra exclusive and posh island retreat, GoldenEye Hotel and Resort, an oasis British novelist, Ian Fleming puts on the world map through his literary contributions of Secret Service Agent 007: James Bond. The spy cult series that has morphed into a successful movie franchise with ambassadors like Sean Connery, Daniel Craig and others.
After Ian’s death, the property was obtained by visionary, entrepreneur and a man with an eye for talent, Chris Blackwell. Chris is the founder of an independent record label, Island Records, that is associated with some of the world’s greatest talents, U2, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Grace Jones and others. Chris used the property as a private entertainment den hosting artists, actors, heads of state, close friends and family. A place where Bono, Kate Moss, The Olsen sisters, Naomi, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones, Jay-Z and Beyonce and others relax and totally chill out when they visit Jamaica.
This private estate is no longer an invitation only respite; it now has an open invitation to indulge in Chris’s luxurious playground, garden of relaxation and hidden comforts.
Hidden within a forest of towering mahogany, mahoes, Poinciana, almond and royal palm trees, a part of the philosophy at GoldenEye is privacy and exclusivity. The highest order starts at the aged stone wall with only a plaque on its iron gate that says, PRIVATE. It bears no insignia or references to indicate that a resort lies beyond. One cannot gain access to the property without being on the list at the guard gate.
Our check-in was beyond the ordinary desk, agent and lobby area. We were escorted to the Fleming Lounge an open seating area with games, literature and James Bond memorabilia and a sweeping view of the Caribbean Sea. While we took care of housekeeping, we were greeted with an island punch spiked with the Blackwell rum named after, Chris Blackwell.
Looking out from the lounge, we immediately felt a sense of release. The break our body and minds needed. Like Ian Fleming, we felt a sense of peace, silence and cut-offness from the rest of the world.
The GoldenEye closed its doors in 2010 to improve the property with a massive and beautiful beach village extension. A sturdy bridge made of cables and wood now connects the main land to the beach village, Low Cay Beach and the lagoon cottages. In this village, there are 1 and 2 bedroom wooden island style cottages dotted along the 500ft of sands on Low Cay Beach, hammocks, lounge chairs shaded by almond trees, Bizot Bar and restaurant, a fresh water pool, two peninsulas that defines the inlet that’s now a private beach. On one side of the slip guest can lounge on brightly painted Adirondack chairs and on the other is a salt water pool overlooking the ocean. If you stay close enough to the edge when the tide is high, there is a refreshing sea spray as the waves splash against the wall. Between the peninsulas is a small sunbathing island that can only be reached by swimming across, paddle boarding across or just walking across. It is set up more like an entertainment pit where guests can host wet parties.
Another breathtaking feature of the beach village, with only a short swim you are atop of a beautiful coral reef. Our neighbors Cora and Chris from New York took full advantage. Every morning they were first to reach the reef viewing some of the most beautiful underwater creatures that patrol and live around Jamaica.
Gary and I occupied a one bedroom beach cottage with an open air feel that looks out to sea with an almond tree and coconut palm acting as a shield from the sun. The cottage was chic and modern with elements reflecting the island’s culture. A bottle of Blackwell rum and a fresh fruit basket were our GE welcome to Jamaica gift. Inside was a claw footed bath tub for indoor baths. Down a few steps at the back of the cottage was the most distinctive feature on all the cottages and villas on the property; an exotic shower garden. A rainforest shower, and a towel ladder were surrounded by tropical plants and leaves, lizards and our privacy was protected by a bamboo fence. At times it felt like we were in the wild under natural rain showers sound tracked with leaping lizards, chirping birds and tiny sea crabs crawling from their holes for a fresh air. After showers we wrapped ourselves in the light, breezy luxurious batik bathrobes; blue for males and pink for females.
Water is essential to our everyday living and is a symbol of purity and a source of live. It is also recognized worldwide for its healing and therapeutic benefits. We all know that it is important to drink at least 8 glasses of water each day to maintain good health and for various essential body functions. For example, getting rid of wastes, maintaining proper muscle tone, and for absorption and digestion of food. Water was everywhere and maintained a certain balance throughout GE. Its water channels act as a natural energy force with continuous movements circulating throughout the property as it does in the body and on earth. Every single cottage, hut, villa and structure is forward facing and looks out over a body of water. Every step we took presented an opportunity to be immersed in it from the calming qualities of the ocean to the invigorating water of the lagoon. And for the first time I find myself with a childlike enthusiasm wanting to take a dip every hour.
The property has several inlets, 2 serve as private beaches, Low Cay Beach and Fleming Beach while the third runs inward to create one of the most unique feature of GoldenEye, The Lagoon. The lagoon, a natural pool where salt water mixes with fresh water; the sea water enters one end of the lagoon and deposits in the ocean through another end. It functions as a wildlife sanctuary, a nursery to smaller fish and a recreational area for guests. Though many may consider a lagoon as a murky, unsuitable body of water. Here it is fresh and perfectly fine to frolic in. While splashing around in the water we also noticed several schools of fish spawning which appeared at times dramatic watching larger fish prey on the newly born.
The Lagoon is also used as a transportation passage for water lovers. Instead of trekking across the sand or up the steep bridge to connect to the mainland, kayaks, and paddleboards aided our lagoon-sea navigation. Since we were staying on the lagoon/beach side, it was very easy to dive into the water and swim across to the deck of the field spa or vice versa. Paddle boards are another great mode of transportation. I learned to paddleboard here and it was amazing. Another option is to exit the lagoon below the cliffs at Wata Sports and ride the waves to low cay beach for lunch at Bizot Bar. It is very easy to transit from island to mainland by water.
Although our stay was short, Gary and I created our own tradition one we intend to continue. Our GoldenEye Aqua Ritual (The Triple S) included an early morning soak in the fresh water pool outside our cottage to watch the sunrise; an afternoon splash in the lagoon and a late night skinny dip in the salt water pool at the tip of the peninsula.
GoldenEye Aqua Ritual (Triple S)
-Before breakfast, soak in the fresh water pool and watch the sun come up as it bounces off the glimmering water of the Caribbean Sea.
-After lunch, splash around in the invigorating water of the lagoon
-After dinner, skinny dip in the salt water pool with a glass of gold finger. Bare it all under the Jamaican starlit sky.
An aqua ritual that was refreshing and fun to do.
The Jamaican taste I hoped for was served at Bizot Bar I had a belly full of traditional Jamaican meals from ackee and salt fish with fried dumplings, bammy to curry fish and fresh coconut water. The bar has a laidback, mellow and urban vibe. The restaurant was an acknowledgement of Chris Blackwell to his close friend and lover of Jamaica and the GoldenEye, Jean Francois Bizot. Bizot who passed away in 2007 was the founder of a cutting edge French magazine, Actual. Record covers and clippings from his magazine with faces of Grace Jones, Bob Marley, Don Drummond are plastered all over the columns giving the space a funky look. The menu covers follow the same theme. Mellow beats of reggae and jazz from musicians from around the world rocks out on Radio Nova from mourning til’ night. And of course the staff was very attentive and helpful.
The GoldenEye is a community of free spirit where you set your pace. For us it was IRIE meaning at a laidback and relaxed pace. NO Problem, Mon. Shaded by hundreds of tropical plants and trees, it is easy to find a spot to relax and tek it easy. Armed with a book, an iced cold red stripe beer, the blue beach hammock was the best hangout spot on Low Cay Beach for me. It is very easy to settle in and as we later learned that, an endangered species of turtle found this coastal habitat a safe haven to nest under the shades of the almond trees and coconut palms, undisturbed. I witnessed the send off a batch of baby turtles that were founded on a neighboring beach. This is a part of a developing program (The Turtle Release Program) to encourage guests to participate in the release of hundreds of baby turtles back in the wild.
We were very luck to have checked in after a flood of guests had checked out of the resort. We were two of 11 guests on the property. This was as intimate as it gets. We had the entire resort to ourselves with little run in with other guests. We could have roamed naked if we wanted to-no bother.
Each morning I absorbed the early morning sun and sights at the tip of the peninsula on a lounge chair on the shoulder of the asymmetrical salt-water pool that mirrors the Windex blue water of the Caribbean Sea. The sun to my right subtly peeps through the coconut palms, two island birds hopping and singing next to my chair hoping I would toss them a bite of what I was not eating. Out in the distance along an imaginary line set up to protect the reef from over fishing and spear damages, sits a lone fisherman who seemed to have camped out all night. To my left, the picture was complete with two brightly painted fishing boats waiting to make a final pull of their nets and to sail home with the day’s catch.
When Ian Fleming first bought the property, I do not think he had imagined it would take on such a storyline that is now embedded into the minds of millions. There is a certain mystique about the GoldenEye and the way it is carved along the ocean and lagoon that is somewhat difficult to explain.
For a man who created high octane, adrenaline driven books of adventures in 007, it is an interesting contrast to his personal life and surroundings. Interestingly, he has created a sanctuary of tranquility and calmness. Fleming House is the main house that Ian Fleming built which serves as a retreat and private area for those who require extra exclusivity. The original structure is a 3-bedroom home that has been updated with modern furnishings with a few of Ian’s original pieces including his desk and chair.
As I sat in the very chair he penned portions of his 14 novels including, Casino Royal (1952), I had a Fleming moment and an immediate understanding why he chose this special location to chronicle his legacy. Fleming buried himself in a place where ideas flowed freely. However, it is said that whenever he sits down to write, he would close all the windows and doors of his cottage to block out any distractions. The wide window cutouts from the master bedroom and living area framed the picture perfectly with the Caribbean Sea as a magnificent backdrop.
Rooms 007, 008, 009 are named after his characters in his novels. Outside the main house are two additional one-bedroom cottages, an entertainment room that houses an entertainment system, games and more. Secured in a glass top table is a handwritten journal, a picture frame and Fleming’s favorite swimming trunks on display. Also on display is a gold record presented to Chris Blackwell from Sting. While spending time at the resort, Sting wrote the song, “Every Step You Take.” The property has a swimming pool, a sunken garden, Fleming beach-a private beach, a dipping pool and several other dug outs that can be reached by steep steps descending the sides of cliffs. The Fleming house serves as a VIPs pad for the likes of Beyonce and others who require more exclusivity and travels with an entourage. The house is available at a premium and is catered to privately by a cook, personal butler, and its own staff.
Again, a unique and attractive feature of the property is its Exotic Bathing Garden, and the ones at the Fleming House are more luxurious. The master garden has an emerald bathtub that is elevated to the back of the garden with a rainforest shower surrounded by tropical plants and flowers.
The décor and furnishings may have changed in the cottage; however, the man himself seems to linger on within the halls. Not the pictures on the walls or his favorite swimming trunk or chair at his desk–the spirit of Ian Fleming, that is. While touring the grounds a door between rooms 007 and 008 suddenly shuts closed unaided and with ease. What seemed at first as a normal act, I later discovered I was not the only one to have experienced it. It so happened that our guide, Candice witnessed it as well.
The GoldenEye is the perfect template for peace of mind. It was less about doing stuff and more about immersing ourselves in a relaxed environment. Parts of our days were spent blissfully laze around in hammocks, while the remainder was spent splashing around in a fresh body of water on the property.
Sheltered under a giant canopy of trees on the lagoons edge is the Field Spa, next door to Chris Blackwell‘s cottage. A villa that was transformed to offer guests a place for spa services and treatments. Formerly Royal Palm Villa, now notoriously known as Naomi’s Pad, the three bedroom villa is comprised of a king, queen and single hut, a bar that sits directly below the king bedroom and an entertainment lounge just steps from the lagoon which now serves as a gathering area for spa guests.
Directly in front of the Field Spa, is a thick forestry undeveloped island. Gary and I wanted to hike through but when we inquired about the land we were told that there are considerations for a wellness center that will house a gym, spa or other cottages without destroying its natural beauty. So, soon, guests will be able to swim to wellness from their lagoon cottages.
Generally Gary and I have a travel philosophy that we rarely indulge in spa treatments on our vacation. It is very stressful for us getting to and from our destination, so we would normally reserve our pampering until we return home. We have a dedicated massage therapist who kneads out our post vacation stress whenever we return home. This way we are more relaxed and refresh to go back to work. This trip was a bit different. Gary reserved some time for a sound, vibration and meditation.
When we arrived at the spa, Newton was prepared and ready with 2 mats on the floor separated by a T formation with Tibetan bowls. The mood and atmosphere was measured calm and peaceful. At first I wasn’t convinced because I was already having a relaxed day. We were told to lay flat on our backs with our heads facing the lagoon and just breathe. The meditation is intended to quiet the mind and awaken the energy within. For the first five minutes my mind wondered then silenced. Then it happened, with a gentle ding on the bowl placed at each of our chakra sending off varying vibrations that drowned out the noise in our heads. After an hour I was awaken with a gentle touch signaling the end of my moment of calm. “Just another minute, please,” I begged. Unfortunately, it had to end. I walked away feeling a sense of balance. I needed this to feel centered and to fully appreciate the slow pace, No Problem environment.
The once 19 acres is now 52 acres and developing. There are still lots to discover and explore without leaving the grounds. While browsing the garden I noticed the names of some famous people attached to tropical fruit trees and exotic plants with the dates they were planted. U2, Grace Jones, President Clinton and Mrs. Clinton, Harrison Ford, Sir Richard Branson, Martha Stewart, Kate Moss, Johnny Depp, Alonzo and Tracy Mourning were all contributors to this massive Celebrity Tree Garden. This is a GoldenEye tradition that began decades ago and continues to be a part of the GE culture. The donation of US$1,000 helps to fund The Oracabessa Foundation founded by Chris Blackwell to promote Jamaican culture through locally grown goods and restoration.
Because the water and trees act as natural cooling agents, most cottages have cooler temperature in the evenings and early mornings. Shutters and windows may be left open to allow the natural breeze through. If you forego using the air conditioning system during your stay, the hotel offers a $20 per day rebate.
There are no secret codes or passwords here, just an open invitation to relax and tek it easy. This once 19 acres donkey racetrack has expanded into a beautiful garden oasis attracting jetsetters, rock stars, and actors. GoldenEye breathes calmness and encourages one to dissolve in its solitude. This is truly an island outpost.
To view photos from our trip, visit our Facebook page, here.
By: Daedrian McNaughton and Gary Sandelier | Premier Guide Media
Date visited: September 2012