Among the highest rates in Jamaica, and they're not all-inclusive
No fitness center on-site
Nothing within walking distance and a good drive from any of Ocho Rios' attractions
Expensive and long drive from Montego Bay International Airport
The 21-room GoldenEye is hands down Jamaica's hippest and most luxurious resort. It's also one of the island's most historic, as the former home of Ian Fleming, and the hideaway at which the author scribed all 14 of his James Bond novels. Today, the property includes stunning cottages and villas overlooking a private beach and lagoon, as well as two happening restaurants, two pools, a tree house spa, and an extensive roster of on-site activities. The rates might cause some to flinch, but those who can afford it will find little cause for complaint.
Luxurious and full of history, this beautifully restored resort is virtually flawless, with exceptional decor, lush grounds, and amazing service -- but the rates are easily Jamaica’s highest.
GoldenEye is drastically different than many Jamaica resorts. On an island filled with all-inclusive megaresorts hermetically sealed from the nature and culture that lies just beyond their cement parking lots, GoldenEye is a rare gem, taking advantage of its 52 acres of lush vegetation, rocky oceanfront outcroppings, and serene lagoon. The beach hasn’t been widened to fit more tourists (with just 22 rooms, space is hardly an issue) and nary a calorific all-you-can-eat buffet is to be found. Rather the resort, which reopened in 2010 following an extensive two-year renovation to the tune of $50 million, is serene, understated, and even covert.
The property’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it front gate in Oracabessa just outside of tourist-packed Ocho Rios is exactly the type of entrance one would expect to find in a James Bond flick. A simple gate with a massive flag bearing a palm tree overhead features a terse “PRIVATE” sign in bold red letters. Guests must pause here for a moment to allow the guard to check their identities and ensure they're on the list, and then he’ll wave them on, pointing toward a winding jungle path that leads to GoldenEye’s modest front desk. Here, the lobby is so un-lobby-like that any interlopers who might make it past the guard -- perhaps via a covert scuba operation or by stealthy chopper -- would remain in utter confusion at the lack of resort-style environs.
This Bond-like setting is no accident. In fact, 007 himself was born right here on GoldenEye’s lush grounds, back when the property was under writer Ian Fleming’s ownership. Every year, the scribe spent several months in his ocean-side villa, writing all 14 of his famous tales of the sleek and sophisticated spy. When Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Chris Blackwell bought the property in the 1980s, he realized the appeal of the historic estate as well as its untouched surroundings and converted it into a resort. Today, the massive Fleming Villa remains intact, featuring its own private pool and even the writer’s original desk over which he slaved year after year.
But the Bond similarities aren't taken too far, and guests shouldn't expect tuxedos and opulence; the resort embodies laidback luxury. The remaining villas and cottages line either the lagoon or the beach, and feature an authentic Jamaican style augmented with high-design details such as Renzo Piano-designed appliances and gorgeous claw-foot soaking tubs. At the restaurants, the scene is mellow and hip, with France’s famous Radio Nova playing at Bizot Bar, and local fare served at the treetop Gazebo Restaurant. In lieu of a fitness center, the resort offers an expansive activities program featuring mountain bikes, jogging trails, yoga, and “wata sports”; kayaks are available outside of each cottage and villa, and a tiny private island swimming distance from the mainland is completely uninhabited, providing a slice of absolute isolation.
All of this comes at a price, which is precisely why the list of past guests is littered with notable names, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Jay-Z and Beyonce, and fittingly, Mr. Bond #5 himself, Pierce Brosnan. Still, the attitude isn’t pretentious in the least. Those who can afford it will find little to complain about.
For all of its cultural and musical influence around the world, many tourists to Jamaica choose to stay within the confines of their megaresorts. So to say that GoldenEye Resort is isolated is hardly to put it in a category all of its own. Nonetheless, GoldenEye is more secluded than others, located about 15 miles east of Ocho Rios just past the town of Oracabessa (meaning “golden head”). Fifty-two acres may encourage plenty of exploration within the property, but with just one restaurant serving dinner, not to mention a non-inclusive dining policy, the desire to wander might be greater for guests here. Thus, car rentals (for the daring) or taxi hires (for the less adventurous) are the only way to get around. Even then, there’s little nearby. But then, for many couples or notable guests, the level of privacy this property offers is one of its main attractions.
4-minute drive to Ian Fleming International Airport (with very limited flights and few carriers)
2-hour drive to Montego Bay International Airport (where virtually all flights arrive and depart)
2-hour drive to Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston
18-minute drive to Ocho Rios’ central port, with restaurants and a few shops
Spacious villas, cottages, and suites overlooking a lagoon or the ocean
GoldenEye’s cottages and villas are hip and stylish without seeming out of place in Jamaica. Jalousie shutters and hardwood floors add an authentic island feel, while luxe details such as clawfoot bathtubs, outdoor showers, and kitchens featuring designer appliances are a cut above what is found at most other Jamaican resorts. All units have views of either the serene lagoon or the ocean, and come with a private porch equipped with lounge chairs, a table and chairs, and even kayaks.
Private porches with lounge chairs and tables overlooking either the lagoon or the ocean
Remote-operated air-conditioning units and overhead fans
Bathrooms feature clawfoot bathtubs, outdoor showers, and large botanical toiletries specially made for the resort.
A private white-sand beach, and an isolated island within wading distance
GoldenEye's private beach is placid when compared with the tourist-filled sandboxes that line most Jamaican resorts. A devoted beach staff is happy to set up lounge chairs throughout the day. Meanwhile, the entire strip is so empty that it's almost shocking to run into a fellow guest. Those looking for even more privacy, however, should swim to the resort's tiny island. The chunk of land is close enough that anyone over five feet tall could wade right to it. Once there, guests will find a few chairs and a bit of sand.
Two oceanfront pools with food and beverage service
Two oceanfront pools sit side-by-side outside of the resort's Bizot Bar. The main pool is expansive with an infinity edge overlooking the beach. For more privacy, guests can opt for the GoldenEye pool, which sits on an outcropping just above the ocean and features a graphic eye at its bottom. Everything is designed to a T, and padded lounge chairs are topped with beautiful beach towels. Guests can request food and drink service at the pools or saunter to the Bizot Bar for a barefoot lunch or cocktail.
A lagoon-side spa with three treehouse-style treatment rooms
The FieldStone Spa is comprised of three open-air treatment rooms overlooking the resort's peaceful lagoon. Guests can even kayak from their cottages to the dock if so inclined. Treatments range from massages and salt scrubs to facials and wraps. The spa also coordinates active routines for guests, including sunset yoga and core fitness classes.
Cottages can fit families, and there are plenty of family-friendly services
Despite its ultra-hip vibe, GoldenEye Resort is indeed family-friendly. Large cottages can accommodate couples with children, and have fully equipped kitchens, separate living rooms, and and expansive outdoor spaces. Rollaway beds and cribs are available for free, and nanny services can also be arranged. Additionally, extra-large families will find plenty of space and privacy at the Fleming Villa, which sleeps 10 and includes its own private pool, private beach with barbecue pit, and media room.
Well-executed Jamaican fare in a tree-top restaurant or a beachfront bar
Bizot Bar and The Gazebo have trendy decor, with the former featuring a cool blue bar and walls plastered with album covers, and the latter high above the resort's lagoon with modernist furnishings and jaw-dropping views. Both serve the same fresh Jamaican fare; Bizot serves breakfast and lunch, and Gazebo opens for dinner. The Jamaican fare is expertly created here, featuring the usual jerk chicken and grilled lobster, augmented by fresh vegetables, fruits, and spices sourced from the owner's 2,500-acre organic garden. The chef's tasting menu is the surefire way to sample the day's freshest ingredients.
The resort also serves a limited room service menu, featuring salads, burgers, pastas, and classic Jamaican cuisine.
Rum punch is about as run-of-the-mill as it gets in the Caribbean. That is, unless you have tried GoldenEye Resort's take on the island classic. Called, what else, but the GoldenEye, the resort's welcome drink is a blend of Blackwell Rum (GoldenEye owner Chris Blackwell's own label) and a secret fruit mix that definitely features pineapple juice and perhaps orange juice.
At the oceanfront Bizot Bar, named for the French DJ that founded Radio Nova and introduced reggae to the world, an array of rum-based cocktails tops the menu, though skilled bartenders can fulfill virtually any request. The vibe at the bar is cool -- it's open-air, and features a blue bar crowned with a sculpture of driftwood and walls plastered with album covers (a shout-out to Radio Nova as much as Mr. Blackwell's Island Records label).
No fitness center, but an extensive list of outdoor activities
The GoldenEye Resort doesn't have a fitness center, but offers outdoor activities that take place throughout its 52 acres. An expansive "wata sports" pavilion provides access to glass-bottom boats, paddle boards, jet skis, and snorkel gear. Also available: tennis courts, jogging paths, morning yoga, mountain bikes, and fitness classes that can be arranged through the resort's FieldSpa. Additionally, each room comes with its own kayak for use at any time, whether to explore the quiet lagoon or venture out into the Caribbean. The resort's lush grounds are also a haven for bird watching.
GoldenEye Resort is a celebrity magnet. Between its history as Ian Fleming's original estate, and its current ownership under Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer Chris Blackwell, the resort is the kind of upscale, low-key oasis that the rich and famous flock to. Sometimes the big names are friends of Mr. Blackwell's (Bono, Melissa Ethridge, Mick Jagger) and other times they are paparazzi magnets looking to escape the limelight (Jay-Z and Beyonce, Johnny Depp). Throughout the grounds, guests can wander a garden filled with flora planted by celebrities, from a Royal Palm Tree planted by Bill and Hillary Clinton, to fittingly, a Julie Mango planted by Pierce Brosnan.
The former estate of Ian Fleming lives on as a stunning 007-worthy resort
GoldenEye was first purchased by Ian Fleming in 1946, and the writer eventually penned all 14 of his James Bond novels here. In the 1980s, the private estate was purchased by music mogul Chris Blackwell and turned into a resort. A massive renovation started in 2008, during which several new units were added and all aspects of the property underwent an overhaul. The resort, reopened in 2010, honors its past as home to one of the greatest spy writers ever -- Fleming's Villa has been beautifully preserved (including his original writing desk), and the overall property is so luxurious that 007 himself would surely feel at home.