It was a lazy Wednesday by temperature standards in Jamaica when I eased into my seat in a quiet corner of Sangster International Airport. If not departing, I would surely have been back on the beach with the book I’d almost finished. My four-day excursion felt like a week on my body. I was rested — the kind of catching up that gives you a peace about getting back to everything — and the sun had been good for my mood. Jamaica, on the right terms, does that. When I found myself suddenly surrounded by agitated travelers who had been shuffled from another gate — comparing notes about loud parties and damp musty rooms — I was unfazed. They’d had seven days to my four; I was better off. Even on my way off the island, I was still at Jamaica Inn in my mind.
I arrived midday Sunday to the resort in Ocho Rios for just a few days of sand-infused replenishing. Gauzy garb, bathing suit and sun screen in tow, my itinerary was purposely light — eat, sleep, read, repeat. Of note, no living space in the resort has a television or alarm clock. That alone makes planning for travel to one of the north coast’s foremost getaways feel like a special occasion. But Jamaica Inn receives you as if you’re returning to it after a long journey. It’s familiar at hello and the premise is simple — retreat. Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller honeymooned here — evidenced by a photo of them in the library and a signaling that there are others; you just won’t hear any names dropped.
What you will grow accustomed to hearing is the sound of the ocean sweeping the shore and at times the buzz of a boisterous jet skier mingled with faint laughter coming from the beach bar. These are not the sounds of regular life. We travel to Jamaica Inn for nothing less … and nothing more.
I’d been to the quaint resort a few years back and believed my accommodations in Cottage 4 near the beach the best to be offered until the porter stepped aside in the foyer of Cottage 7 to give me a clear view of my vacation home. He asked where I’d like my bags, pointing to an upstairs landing. “Two floors?” I inquired. “Yes,” he laughed. Cottage 7 was new, “brand new.” And it was actually the resort’s best. At that moment, I wondered if I’d be able to break away; if I’d want to leave the cottage. It was easily conceivable to have all of my meals delivered to the terrace and only leave the living room that sprawled onto its patio and infinity spa to enjoy KiYara Ocean Spa next door or to venture into the ocean via the private stairway at the foot of the deck. The consideration was as dramatic as the introduction to Jamaica Inn’s elaborate offering.
Alas, I did leave for other areas of the surf and sand property — namely the restaurant and a hammock at the beach’s edge. Typically quiet in May, Jamaica Inn (an assemblage of 48 suites and cottages) was at capacity with guests I imagined on spur-of-the-moment escapes from the unseasonably cool spring. It would be easy to say we were all there for Jamaica; it’s lush and beautiful, and sunny. But Ocho Rios just happened to be the locale … We were there for the Inn. Each of us, I’m sure of it, sojourning to gated seclusion along the Caribbean Sea for the nuances: a certain veranda or balcony suite, the cottage we favor, a treehouse massage suspended over the ocean, croquet with resident expert Rupee, vanilla corn — a chef specialty reserved only for
the beach cookout on Friday nights (corn on the cob soaked in sweetened vanilla milk).
When I met Severina Mladenova over cocktails, this was her story. For the past year, she had been working feverishly with friend and traveling companion Elizabeth Blalack, on two fundraisers in Washington, D.C. The first one, held in February, was Heroes Curing Childhood Cancer for the Children’s Medical Center. A success, $700,000 was raised for the Dream Clinic project, which will provide children struggling with cancer and their families with the opportunity for better care and quality of life. The other event, a scholarship auction for Beauvoir – The National Cathedral Elementary School, where Mladenova and Blalack’s daughters are students, produced $500,000. These efforts called for a particular kind of refueling. “After all of the hard work, we were ready to ‘close shop’ for a few days and recharge,” she says. “Jamaica Inn was the perfect location.”
Jamaica Inn is significant for Mladenova and her husband, Matthew Nicely who own a week in one of the resort’s cottages. Their first visit was a decade ago, an experience that woo’ed them back for a destination wedding. “We returned the next year for our wedding and have been going since almost every year,” she says. “We are extremely fond of the location, serenity of the surroundings, the impeccable beach and ocean, and of course — Mary Phillips.” If you didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Phillips, the luxury resort’s synonymous general manager who left the property in June, you missed a treat.
“Being lucky to have traveled throughout the world and to have visited many beautiful places, we had not come across a place that better fulfilled one’s need for a cathartic experience and a positive detachment from the busy world. Jamaica Inn was a hidden and an understated gem,” Mladenova trails off.
The impression is well-made. The obvious never needs to be oversold.
This story was curated by Katrice Mines.