Strawberry Hill was once the site of a British naval hospital and remains a place where people seek health and refuge from the heat and dusty air on the plains below. Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records and Bob Marley’s first international producer, bought the property in 1972. Shortly thereafter, Marley took a retreat here after an attempt on his life during a spell of particularly heated political violence in 1976. Strawberry Hill is the highest of St. Andrew’s limited high-end market, both in ambience and elevation (945 meters).
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.
Dustry Bed & Breakfast (US$100 d) offers rustic accommodation at the home of expats Andrew and Lisa Gordon, self-described hippies who have been living in the Blue Mountains since the 1970s. The rustic homestead cannot be seen from the road and is best suited for the fit and adventurous, as it requires a 10-minute walk uphill to reach.
Mount Edge Guest House, run by Michael Fox, has six units with hip names: Gong (US$60) is a stand-alone cottage with a double bed and private bath. Rock (US$50) has a double bed and a single bed and private bath. View (US$60) has a king bed, space for an additional single and a private bath. Roost (US$60) has a double bed with private bathroom, mountain and city views. Revolution (US$45) has a double bed and a single bed in a loft, shared bathroom. Adventure (US$40) has two double beds sleeping up to four and shared bathroom. Internet is included.
Starlight Chalet & Health Spa (US$80) is a quaint retreat past Hardwar Gap. Reach Starlight Chalet by heading north from Hardwar Gap. Where the road forks, keep to your right and go straight ahead until you reach Section. Turn right at Section and travel along the dirt road until you reach Starlight Chalet & Health Spa at Silver Hill Gap adjacent to a Wallenford Coffee farm. The kitchen on property serves Jamaican dishes at reasonable prices (US$10-25), bakes cakes and pastries from scratch, and prepares natural juices with seasonal fruit.
"Barbeque" Heritage Gardens of Cold Spring (US$250 for entire cottage with up to 6 guests, US$120 for two in the Master Suite, US$90 for single room, add US$10 per person for breakfast, US$20 per person for three meals) is an old coffee estate with large barbecues, the flat areas where coffee is laid out to dry, hinting at the property’s illustrious past as an important coffee processing estate. Irish naval officer and botanist Mathew Wallen established the coffee farm when he came to Jamaica in 1747.
Holywell National Park provides cabins and tent sites bookable through the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT). Book at least two weeks in advance for a weekend stay in one of three self-contained cabins (two one-bedroom units with open layout for US$50, one two-bedroom unit for US$70; resident rate US$34 for one-bedroom, US$45 for two-bedroom). Campers (US$10 nonresident, US$2 resident) can use the shared showers, toilets, and barbecue pits on-site (US$5 nonresidents or US$1 residents).
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