An Island Runaways reader contacted me a couple of days ago, and suggested, “Maybe you could talk about some of the places [in Jamaica] where you can get away from all the tourist stuff and talk about the real deal.”
First of all, we’re thrilled when one of our readers reaches out to us. Thank you, Claire! Secondly, there’s nowhere we love writing about more than Jamaica, since one of us (Zickie) hails from Jamaica. This is an island we both adore and visit regularly.
We have lots of posts to come about getting “away from all the tourist stuff” when it comes to Jamaica. Today, let's start off with a special place to stay on the north coast. It’s not an all-inclusive resort. You won’t get individual butler service (not that there’s anything wrong with a bit of pampering). It’s not a four-star hotel complex with soothing muzak pouring from hidden speakers. This is authentic Jamaica. The real deal. Plus, the view is priceless.
I discovered Te Moana, just east of Ocho Rios (or Ochee as Jamaicans call it), while looking at the Harmony Hall website. (Harmony Hall is a famous Jamaican art gallery, housed in a charming 19th century building, and it’s also home to a much-praised restaurant, Toscanini's.) It turns out that the couple who own Harmony Hall also rent out their two guest cottages on an idyllic compound known as Te Moana. This isn’t within the hustle and bustle of downtown Ocho Rios (which is, for better or worse, tourist central).
This is the real Jamaica. They have friendly dogs who greet you as you roll in. School children amble by the gate on their way home from school. Outside your windows, native trees and flowers flourish.
You have two choices. There’s the Garden Cottage, which is set back from the water. This is where we stayed with our daughter (which comfortably slept two adults and one child).
(The Garden Cottage)
There's also the seaview cottage, a two-story retreat just on the ocean.
The vibe at both is funky, eclectic, and bohemian. The art on the walls was created by some of Jamaica's most venerable artists.
(The sitting room in Seaside Cottage)
The architecture owes a lot to Jamaican vernacular, with international influences.
(The groovy bathroom in Seaside Cottage)
One thing the three of us liked about the Garden Cottage: you have your own space, your own privacy, and your own kitchen. I like drinking my coffee and eating breakfast while lounging in my pajamas, instead of a hotel restaurant. Not to mention it can save some money!
One real benefit of staying here is that your hosts are Annabella and Peter Proudlock, an English couple who know as much about the north coast of Jamaica as any two people you will meet.
You want real, authentic jerk chicken? They’ll direct you to the right place. You want a secluded, gorgeous beach, without a lot of noise or bother? Annabella and Peter know just where to send you.
Te Moana does not front a sandy beach, but a natural rock seawall, with a sunbathing deck and swimming platform overlooking surreally aqua-blue water.
(The Caribbean Sea in front of Te Moana)
You can borrow their kayaks to explore. Or dive in and simply swim.
My experience leads me to believe that Te Moana suits independent travelers who value privacy, and also folks who are physically comfortable with clambering down a few steps to the swimming platform. If you have a little toddler and want to walk straight from your hotel room onto the sand, and into calm, shallow water, I might recommend Country Country in Negril. If you genuinely want to encounter very little tourist infrastructure, perhaps head to Jake’s in St. Elizabeth.
But one convenient thing about the Te Moana cottages is that the Montego Bay airport isn’t that far. And nearby you have a whole range of dining options, including the aforementioned Toscanini’s, one of Jamaica’s best fine dining restarants. Amazing lobster! (We’ll post about this terrific place in the future). There's the Roxborough Bar & Restaurant in St. Ann's Bay, with beautifully fried whole snapper. Great Jamaican home-cooking overlooking the ocean. What's not to love? In the mood for watersports, Dunn's River Falls, or horseback riding? You needn’t go far.
The nights we spent here, just before Christmas, were so relaxing. There was no hype, no sell. Just a couple of cottages on a tranquil compound facing the Caribbean. Birds twittered from deep within the shade of trees. Our daughter befriended the family pets.
At Harmony Hall, Annabella and Peter’s gallery on a different property, we purchased an “Annabella box,” handcrafted in Jamaica of cedar wood with a print of a Jamaican painting on the top. (Annabella has developed a cottage industry producing keepsake boxes. Jamaicans craft them, and Jamaican art illustrates the lids. Definitely not a Made in China souvenir.)
We loved Te Moana's view so much, that when we started our blog, we chose it to be featured on our Facebook page. What did we find when we ventured away from hotels and stayed at Te Moana? A world apart from Jamaica’s “tourist stuff.” And definitely the island's "real deal."
(Photos: 1, 2, and 6 by Zickie Allgrove. Remaining photos courtesy of Te Moana/Harmony Hall.)