As befits the birthplace of James Bond, Goldeneye is a secret, a place hidden from view on a quiet stretch of winding road in Oracabessa, on Jamaica’s North coast. An unassuming iron gate and a long lush drive guarded over by a territorial rooster lead unexpectedly to a clandestine spot that combines sophisticated glamour with total serenity. Here, in a one-story bungalow on a secluded cove, Ian Fleming created Agent 007. Fleming worked as a journalist as well as a spy, and wrote his first book, Casino Royale at Goldeneye, then went on to pen here the 13 other Bond adventures published by his death in 1964. Fleming had begun his romance with Jamaica when he traveled there on a mission for British Naval Intelligence in the 1940s. He named his house Goldeneye, legend has it, after a top-secret intelligence operation in which he had a key role during WWII.
Fleming’s recreational activities were known to include women and cards, and he also became an avid swimmer during his winters in Jamaica. His private beach, perfect for covert encounters, is accessible only by the steep stairs carved into the cliff that lead down from the house; or, of course, by speedboat. With its unspoiled natural surroundings and intimate location, Goldeneye is a place that’s effortlessly sexy. With a view from this beach out to the wide Caribbean waters, it’s easy to see how Fleming was inspired to create characters like shell hunter Honey Ryder in Dr. No, played by bombshell Ursula Andress in the film, and write the provocatively droll dialogue that made the Bond stories a sensation. Watch the famous Dr. No scene in which a bikini-clad Andress emerges resplendent from the sea and encounters Sean Connery’s Bond. It was shot not far from Goldeneye, and offers a glimpse into the glorious feel of this unique, unspoiled place.
Today, those who come to Goldeneye live out their own Caribbean fantasy in one of the intimate villas, built in the style of traditional Jamaican wooden houses and shaded by tropical trees on the 15-acre property. Or, in Fleming’s former house, where the clear ocean and the umbrella-shaped sea almond trees the author described inOctopussy lie just outside immense picture windows open to the sweet breeze. From time to time, wooden fishing boats pass, marking the slow rhythm of the island and carrying their own mysteries.
Chris Blackwell, best known as founder of Island Records and the record producer who made Bob Marley a household name, now owns Goldeneye. While Fleming hosted guests that are said to have included Sophia Loren, Charlie Chaplin, and British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, under Blackwell’s custody it has become a retreat for another generation of celebrities seeking relaxation. Jude Law, Harrison Ford, and Cindy Crawford have visited Goldeneye, as well as Sting, who wrote “Every Breath She Takes” while staying here. Photos of both Fleming and Marley are on display in the main house, where you can read one of the paperbacks from a library of James Bond novels or flip through a coffee table book on reggae while lounging in one of the overstuffed batik-covered chairs. There’s a sound system in every room, and a supply of the cool global music CDs produced by Palm Pictures, the entertainment company Blackwell owns today.
Part of present-day Goldeneye’s inspiring allure is the bon vivantspirit of its history, which remains as enduring and seductive as Agent 007 himself. My companion and I feel a thrill when our houseman, Mofi, hands us the key to room 007, and we can’t resist giddily pronouncing our names last name, full name, a la Bond. James Bond. We might have asked for a martini - shaken not stirred of course - if Mofi (who has kindly endured our clichéd Bond dialogue with a smile) had not already appeared with the Goldeneye cocktail, a frozen rum ambrosia that goes down smooth as the surface of the Caribbean waters in our sightlines. Soon old-school society superlatives like “marvelous” and “superb” start to spill from our lips. I have never heard the word “wonderful” spoken so much by as many people as during my visit to Goldeneye.
Although it has been architecturally renovated and redecorated, the Fleming house maintains the feel of a time when class was synonymous with subtlety. The house as well as the villas seem not so much decorated as art directed, with every quiet detail as carefully thought of as on the set of the best Bond movies. In what was once Fleming’s bedroom, a huge bed enveloped in white gauze seems designed more to encourage romance than repel mosquitoes (it does both). The house and villas are furnished in laid-back tropical style, with bamboo furniture and woven floor mats. Ian Fleming’s efficient writing desk, polished to a sheen, remains in the corner, upon it a guest book in which visitors are invited to record their own Goldeneye stories. The bedroom, like the other two in the main house and in all of the villas at Goldeneye, opens out onto a private garden, and there, a sublime outdoor bathing area. It’s the epitome of simple luxury, with a shower and claw-footed tub, chairs for reclining, and supplies of plush towels and scented body and hair products. This inner sanctuary has been thoughtfully equipped with soft lighting for evening bathing.
Wrapped in batik robes, we lay silently by the sculpted pool, as if waiting for Andress to ascend its white stone steps. In the cabana that serves as the house’s rock-n-roll rec room, we choose DVDs from a long list that includes all of the Bond films, and watch them on a multiplex-size screen. With its huge plush sofas and chairs covered in terry cloth, plus a bar at our disposal, and views of the sea and pool, this is possibly the most comfortable room in the hemisphere. Such easy settings are found all around the property, where chairs and tables and lounges are placed in unexpected corners for relaxed conversation, or simply for staring out to sea. For more action, jet-skis and kayaks are at guests’ disposal, and a glass bottom boat ferries passengers to the exclusive James Bond Beach across from the property.
Eating at Goldeneye is also a relaxed affair. In the morning we wake to find the dining table set for breakfast, and with a cook in the house kitchen waiting to make our eggs. Lunch and dinner are served in an outdoor pavilion overlooking the ocean, where the few tables have just the right amount of space between them to make meals both a sociable and private occasion. The fish is freshly caught, and traditional Jamaican dishes like run-down shrimp and jerk chicken are slightly refined but no less hearty. No spice is spared. We start our meals with a Goldeneye cocktail and end with jolts of the smooth Blue Mountain coffee.
Flaming took 007’s name from a book, Birds of the West Indies, by American ornithologist James Bond. The Bond creator must have had many occasions to consult the book at Goldeneye, where birds provide an exotic soundtrack at all hours and nature has a cinematic presence. When a full moon rises, slowly, dramatically, and in close-up, I feel as full of wonder as if I’d never seen the moon before. When a tropical shower leaves a perfect rainbow in the sky, a fisherman appears underneath, as if posing for a painting.
“What I want to portray is that you’re a guest of nature,” says Blackwell, whose hotel company, Island Outpost, owns other similarly luxurious eco-friendly properties in Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Utah, and several Art Deco hotels in Miami Beach. “To take the reasons that this is so great and just make it comfortable to be here. I want you to feel at home.”
Blackwell first visited Goldeneye as a young man, accompanying his mother, Blanche Blackwell, a renowned Jamaican hostess who was an intimate friend of Fleming’s. Blanche enjoyed swimming off the private beach at Goldeneye, and when Fleming died and the property became available, her son wanted to buy it for her. He was short of cash at the time, and Bob Marley paid the down payment to put the house under contract. Blackwell later took over the deed.
Padding around the property in sweats and bare feet, Blackwell greets passing fisherman in Jamaican patois and conducts his international business by cell phone. A hut on stilts at Goldeneye serves as his main office. Here he runs his affairs for Palm Pictures, a film and music company, and oversees his properties and other business interests. Blackwell plans to expand Goldeneye on surrounding land. He foresees a village that will include residential villas as well as a small hotel.
One night, Blackwell decides to throw an impromptu cocktail party for the handful of guests currently at Goldeneye, as well as Jamaican friends. We all go up to Firefly, a nearby estate that belonged to the famous British playwright and composer Noel Coward, a friend of Fleming’s. The house is owned by the Jamaican government but maintained by Blackwell as a local attraction. Nestled in the hills with a breathtaking view of the water below, Firefly is another incredible surprise, revealing that the glamorous Jamaica that artists like Fleming and Coward were so enchanted to discover in the 1940s still exists today.
Returning, we are tired and eat a quiet dinner of broiled lobster in the house. After watching Dr. No, we return to our room to find a flashlight and mosquito repellent on Fleming’s desk. Was someone suggesting a late night tryst on the beach? In bed, watching the full, yellow moon hover above the water, I think I hear jet skis running in the cove. I fall asleep to the sound of tree frogs - or were those whispers in the night?
Jamaica on Film, Bond and Beyond…
The first James Bond movie, featuring the beauty of Jamaica’s beaches and the jet-set glamour of a tamer Kingston, circa 1962. 007’s assignment is to find the mysterious Dr. No, who is out to destroy the U.S. Space Program. Bond must travel to Jamaica where he encounters the beautiful Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress), the first Bond girl, and confronts the evil villain. Current Goldeneye owner Chris Blackwell can be spotted dancing to a Jamaican band in one of the opening scenes
Live and Let die
Roger Moore was introduced as the new James Bond in this 1973 production. 007
Battles an international drug dealer in the streets of Harlem, the Louisiana Bayou, and in Jamaica. The theme song by Paul McCartney and Wings was a hit.
The Harder They Come
This classic expose of the record industry and one of the greatest music movies ever made, The Harder They Come revealed the ghettos of Kingston and reggae to the world in 1973. Starring reggae star Jimmy Cliff as a struggling small town singer who moves to the city to seek his fortune and falls prey to the marijuana trade in an attempt to survive. With a fantastic soundtrack by Cliff, Toots & the Maytalls and others.
A revealing glimpse into the rough and flashy world of contemporary dancehall music, which has replaced reggae as Jamaica’s most popular sound. In this 1998 movie, an impoverished single mother sees winning the title of dancehall queen as her only way out of the ghetto. Realistically captures the daring dancing and flamboyant fashions of the Kingston club scene.
Third World Cop
The highest-grossing film in Jamaican cinema, Third World Cop(2000) is an action thriller that provides a gritty glimpse of present-day Kingston. Paul Campbell stars as the gangster-hunting Capone determined to clean up the town. The rousing reggae soundtrack is by Sly and Robbie, Jamaica’s hottest producers.
The Air Up There
Perched high in the mountains above Kingston, Strawberry Hill is a former 18th-century coffee plantation turned retreat for total renewal. The delicious air will clear your head even faster than a shot of the strong Blue Mountain coffee served each morning. And the view at 3100-feet above sea level to Kingston and the sea down below will give you a new perspective on everything.
Cozy villas built into the cliffs in the traditional style of Jamaican houses in the mountain towns have balconies shaded by tangles of banana trees and tropical flowers. On the typically cool nights, beds are heated by built-in foot warmers for snuggly comfort. When you venture out in the morning sun, of the surrounding hills you can take a tour on bike or foot, or visit a neighboring coffee plantation. Strawberry Hill is the site of an Aveda Concept Spa, where services include the signature sauna ritual as well as individualized detoxifying massages, facials and body treatments.
A few days stress-busting at Strawberry Hill together with a visit to Goldeneye make for the ultimate total terrain Caribbean vacation.
Strawberry Hill, Irish Town Jamaica. One and two bedroom villas, $325- 775. 1-800-OUTPOST www.islandoutpost.com