During a recent trip to Jamaica with my extended family, my wife and I managed to steal away to spend some private time at GoldenEye resort on the island’s north coast. One of three Jamaican properties owned by legendary record producer Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, it was the home of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, up until his death, in 1964.
GoldenEye is located close to the town of Oracabessa, which lies a two-hour drive east of the international airport at Montego Bay. (Nearby, the tiny Ian Fleming International Airport takes mainly private planes.) We were welcomed in the Fleming Room, which is a visual homage to the famous author; given a tour of the 49-room property; and then escorted to our Beach Villa. Two welcome drinks — Blackwell Rum and pineapple blended with ice — were delivered promptly.
Some of the accommodations have two stories, but ours was a sizable stand-alone one-story, one-bedroom villa, set about 20 yards back from the Caribbean. Its front porch came with a table and a built-in L-shaped banquette. Out front were personal chaises longues and an umbrella.
Inside, we found high-beamed ceilings, wood floors and a living area with a cushioned daybed. A small, fully equipped kitchen provided a bowl of local bananas, pineapples and papayas, plus complimentary coffee, teas and water. And a fully-stocked minibar and fridge included snacks and drinks for purchase, including a pint of Blackwell Rum.
Beyond the living area, three steps led to the bedroom and bath area. Pleasing touches in the bedroom included Sonos speakers and a selection of Bond thrillers. The bath, which came with a tub and a smallish double vanity, was open to the bedroom, an arrangement that will not appeal to everyone. (The toilet had its own door.) Although the indoor tub had a hand-held shower, there was no curtain. An outdoor shower was located in a private fenced area at the rear of the villa.
During the day, we left the windows and doors open to admit the sea breeze, but at night we relied on air-conditioning and a mosquito net. Overall, we found our accommodations to be comfortable and spacious. However, the light fixtures were difficult to figure out, and covers on both the daybed and chaise longue were in need of replacement.
Before lunch, we set off to explore. It was impossible not to appreciate the raked sand and the flaming-red poincianas, as well as the many trees planted by notable past guests, each of them representing a $1,000 donation to the local Oracabessa Foundation (established by Blackwell to aid the town’s sustainable development). We soon discovered the Bizot Bar, clearly the social hub of the property, next to both a saltwater and a freshwater pool. And upstairs we found the open area where yoga classes are offered. Afterward, we strolled across to the Bamboo Bar on Button Beach, next to the still waters of a lagoon, to check out lunch options at the grill. However, the afternoon heat seemed oppressive there, so we retraced our steps.
Lunch back at the Bizot Bar consisted of crispy fried calamari and a mozzarella salad, followed by a light chicken curry, served with potatoes, carrots, peas and white rice, plus a side selection of chutney, cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced hot chiles. Everything was fresh and delicious, and the service was friendly and authentic. GoldenEye sources all ingredients locally, including meat from Blackwell’s Pantrepant, a working cattle farm where guests can take a tour or book an overnight stay.
After lunch, we headed to the Wata Sports club on Button Beach to check out the activities and day excursions offered. GoldenEye offers a panoply of water sports, including paddleboarding, snorkeling, kayaking and guided sailing. We opted to snorkel and had the lagoon to ourselves. Alas, the service was neither instructional nor helpful. We would have welcomed assistance in lowering ourselves into the lagoon with our fins and snorkeling equipment, but it was never offered. And upon our return, our “guide” was nowhere to be seen, so we left our equipment on some rocks and returned to our loungers.
During our brief stay, by far the most memorable activity was assisting in the release of baby hawksbill sea turtles. While relaxing outside our villa, we were summoned by Mel Tennant, a retired British schoolteacher and local wildlife enthusiast who has partnered with GoldenEye to protect Jamaica’s sea turtles.
As it happened, he was recruiting a crew of guests to help him. Having washed the sand off the turtles, we then set them free to struggle over 10 yards of sand into the ocean. Although their future seemed precarious at best, Mel assured us that a healthy percentage would grow to some 180 pounds. More would survive than not, he said, and depending on what current they caught, they might travel thousands of miles before returning to the same beach to begin the cycle anew. This hands-on experience was highly rewarding and educational, and we felt extremely fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time.
At nighttime, the ambiance of GoldenEye is enhanced by tiki torches, as well as colorful strings of lights that decorate the pedestrian bridge connecting the villas to the Fleming Room. Tired after a day in the sun, we decided to retire to bed soon after dinner. Alas, the inhabitants of Oracabessa were in a weekend party mood, and their music echoed loudly over the lagoon, making a good night’s sleep impossible. Even earplugs did not greatly help to drown out the incessant thumping of the bass.
Overall, however, GoldenEye is a Caribbean refuge of some flair, with an unusually colorful backstory. Given sufficient time, it would be a delightful place to finish a Bond novel or two.
The constant reminders of the Ian Fleming-era and of Chris Blackwell’s many ties to music and the arts.
The proximity of the property to the town of Oracabessa, which prevented a peaceful Saturday night’s sleep.
Though GoldenEye was once known chiefly as a celebrity hangout, today it feels like a couple’s resort — and don’t be surprised to see families with children.