Stepping Stones is an airy retreat in Greenwich, the mountain hideaway enclave of Kingston's most fortunate, located just above Newcastle and a short hike from Holywell National Park and Catherine's Peak. The home sits at the center of expansive gardens boasting spectacular views of Kingston and the surrounding plains. An attentive staff and flexible rates (USD 500 for up to six guests in three bedrooms, USD 700 for up to 10 in five) make Stepping Stones one of the best options for comfort and relaxation on this side of the Blue Mountains.
The Blue Mountains
The highest mountain range in Jamaica, the Blue Mountains harbor a rich history, having provided refuge for runaway slaves, transplanted French-Haitian coffee farmers, and even Bob Marley, when he sought safety and seclusion at Strawberry Hill following the attempt on his life in 1976. Today the area attracts visitors principally for its lush nature, colorful birdlife, delicious coffee, and fresh air.
Blue Mountain Peak, the highest point in Jamaica at 2,256 meters, offers a stunning view of five parishes: Kingston, St. Andrew, St. Thomas, Portland, and St. Mary. The Blue Mountain range forms a physical barrier to the northeasterly weather fronts that frequently descend on the island, giving Portland and St. Thomas especially copious amounts of rainfall compared to the southern coastal plains of Jamaica, where drought is common.
During the rainy season (October and November), the mountain peaks often cloud over by mid-morning. Skies are clearest June–August and December–March.
Within an hour's drive from Kingston, Irish Town, Hardwar Gap, and Mavis Bank are great destinations for a quick escape from the urban jungle. This is where rural Jamaica is at its coolest. The elevation and lush greenery are a welcome retreat from the heat on the plains and foothills around Town. The road up and the rugged terrain are not for the faint of heart, but the prized Blue Mountain coffee, breathtaking views, diverse vegetation, and abundance of native birds are more than adequate rewards, and few are sorry for making the effort.
A few days in Kingston perfectly sets the stage for a nice break into the Blue Mountains. Most of the guesthouses in the mountains can arrange transportation to and from Town; once here, hiking trails abound, and local transport can be found easily with a little patience. Anywhere from two nights to a week should be allowed for a trip into the Blue Mountains, especially for those planning to do some serious hiking or birding. The main draws are relaxation, sipping coffee, and enjoying nature, and your length of stay should therefore depend on how much time you want to dedicate to these essential pastimes.
Turning left at the Cooperage onto the B3 leads up a series of some 360-plus hairpin turns that can leave unaccustomed passengers a bit nauseated. The windy road first passes through the lower hills and valleys of Maryland before reaching the principal hamlet along the route, Irish Town. Irish Town has as its centerpiece St. Mark’s Chapel, a quaint little church reached by a 15-minute walk along a footpath.
There are two main routes to access the south-facing slopes of the Blue Mountain range. The first, accessed by taking a left onto the B1 at the Cooperage, leads through Maryland to Irish Town, Redlight, Newcastle, and Hardwar Gap before the Buff Bay River Valley opens up overlooking Portland and St. Mary on the other side of the range.
The second route, straight ahead at the Cooperage along Gordon Town Road, leads to Gordon Town, and then taking a right in the town square over the bridge, to Mavis Bank. Continuing beyond Mavis Bank requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle and can either take you left at Hagley Gap to Penlyne or straight down to Cedar Valley and along the Yallahs River to the town of Yallahs.
The Blue Mountains are accessible from three points of entry: from Kingston via Papine; from Yallahs, St. Thomas, via Cedar Valley; and from Buff Bay, St. Mary, on the North Coast via the B1, which runs alongside the Buff Bay River. The last route is subject to landslides and has been impassable to all but four-wheel-drive vehicles for several years.
Getting to and around the Blue Mountains can be a challenge, even if keeping lunch down on the way isn’t. Only for the upper reaches, namely beyond Mavis Bank, is it really necessary to have a 4x4; otherwise the abundant potholes and washed-out road is only mildly more challenging to navigate than any other part of Jamaica because of its sharp turns.
A hired taxi into the Blue Mountains will cost from US$25 for a drop-off at Strawberry Hill, to US$100 for the day to be chauffeured around. Route taxis travel between Papine Square and Gordon Town throughout the day (US$2), as well as to Irish Town (US$3.50), but you must wait for the car to fill up with passengers before heading out.
To reach Whitfield Hall, the most common starting point for hiking Blue Mountain, four-wheel-drive taxis can be arranged through Whitfield Hall.
Colonel's Cottage (US$150) at Belcour Lodge is the perfect getaway located in the cool Blue Mountain foothills just 10 minutes' drive from the Kingston city limits. The cottage sleeps two in a queen bed and is surrounded by lush, verdant splendor with two verandas fit for breathing deeply and relaxing to the sound of the gurgling Mammee River below. It's located a stone's throw from the old great house of Belcour Lodge, home of Belcour Preserves, a cottage industry producer of jams, pepper sauces and honey.
The Ministry of Tourism, in partnership with The Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture & Fisheries has organized the inaugural Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Festival to promote the Jamaica Blue Mountain Culinary Trail, where a string of family farms and cottage industries dot the cool hills surrounding the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, designated a UNESCO world heritage zone for its history and natural wonders. The festival features delectable vittles of the region as well as the singular Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee and of, reggae music.
Blue Ridge Restaurant & Cottages offers three cottages on a bed & breakfast basis. Dragonfly Cottage (USD 110) sleeps two on a full size bed, with private bathroom and balcony. Peacock Cottage (US$145) sleeps two with a king bed and private bath with hot water and a private balcony.Butterfly Cottage (US$160) sleeps four with a king bed and a pull-out sofa bed in the living room. It too has a private bathroom with hot water and a balcony. Soap, shampoo and moisturizer are provided.
Prince Valley Guesthouse (US$35-40 per person night) is located on a small coffee farm in Middleton Settlement in the Blue Mountains. The property is managed by Bobby Williams and has five guest rooms, each with its own bathroom. Linens and towels are provided. A basic breakfast of coffee and toast is included. Dinner is available at US$12 per person. A common room has a refrigerator, books, couch, work table and Wi-Fi. The lodging is ideal for backpackers.
Cafe Blue: serves Blue Mountain Coffee and pastries and retails localsauces, candles, and soaps. Café Blue is ownedby the Sharps, who own Coffee Traders and offer tours on their farm, Clifton Mount
Clifton Mount is a well managed coffee farm owned by the Sharpe family which has created a vertically integrated business serving the entire spectrum of coffee buyers, from the premium green bean wholesale importers in Japan, to local hotels and direct exports. The company's Coffee Traders brand is among the most respected of all Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee estates, and its Café Blue coffee shops are among the island's most popular pit stops for the well-heeled on their way to work, or for a light lunch.
Cool Shade (USD 400 for up to eight guests in four bedrooms) is a charming, quaint English countryside-style cottage in the misty cloud forest just up the road from the Twyman's Old Tavern Coffee Estate and a short walk from Holywell National Park. This is an ideal spot for a romantic getaway or for groups of family and friends.
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