Jamaica’s Round Hill Hotel & Villas offers luxuriously simple pleasures.
You know something very good is happening to your soul when you awake with a single worry: Will the woodpecker linger at the palm tree outside your window long enough for your eight-year-old daughter to catch a glimpse of him?
This is one of the many simple pleasures at Round Hill Hotel & Villas, which is tucked into a cove in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
My daughter Maxine and I have come to this lush island to spend time together. This becomes infinitely easier without the distractions of television, computers, smartphones and iPods. (Although there are no TVs in the rooms at Round Hill, there is superb Wi-Fi connection, but we banned it from use in our room.)
It turns out plenty of mother-daughter duos seek refuge here. During our short stay, we met a white-haired mother and her nearly retired daughter, along with a 40-something mom traveling with her daughter, a newly minted college grad.
With 36 rooms and 27 villas that clamber up green hills, this is an iconic property, one that’s hosted legions of bold names, such as Noel Coward and Oscar Hammerstein, both of whom owned villas here, and John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy, who honeymooned in a villa. (JFK was so inspired by Round Hill that he later returned to write his inaugural address here.)
The resort remains simple, understated and calm. It is the perfect antidote to the mega resort.
Our room was a whitewashed cocoon with a palm-fringed view of the Caribbean. Its low-key interior was designed by Ralph Lauren, who happens to own two villas and a partnership in the property. Hotel rooms are clustered in a sun-bleached building known as The Pineapple House, which was built in the 1950s. Up in the hills above the beach, villas have multiple bedrooms, soaring ceilings, vertiginous views, private pools, and a morning staff to cook breakfast. But for us, our snug room was perfectly located in puttering distance of the beach and the pool.
We fell into some sweet routines, including twice daily pilgrimages to one of Maxine’s favorite hangouts at Round Hill, a rocky beach where the ocean tosses glittering sea glass in dozens of hues of green and where tiny crabs scurry about the sand. Nearby sits my favorite perch, a duo of four-poster beds planted amid 10 acres of impossibly green lawn that jet out towards the sea. Look out: undulating ocean. Look up: fluffy white clouds casting theater into the sky.
Round Hill offers all kinds of water sports, from paddle boarding to sea kayaking, SCUBA diving to snorkeling. There’s even a daily glass-bottom boat that sets out in search of vibrant schools of butterfly fish, darting stingrays and pink-tinted conch.
I wiled away an afternoon at the breezy spa, housed in an 18th century plantation house. The treatment menu features local ingredients like crushed pineapple, coconut milk and lime-ginger, so fresh they could be featured at a smoothie bar.
Meanwhile, Maxine escaped to the kids’ club. There, she worked with a Jamaican artist named Errol Allen on a plein air painting of a tropical flower. She also created a pair of glass bead earrings so sophisticated that for the rest of the trip I got questions about where I bought them.
Round Hill can help arrange excursions off property to visit dolphin parks and hummingbird farms, historic homes and shopping complexes. Perhaps, if we had stayed a week, we’d have ventured out, but for our three-day mother-daughter trip, swimming in the warm sea, playing mermaids in the pool and chatting about everything from Harry Potter to reggae over long al fresco dinners kept us occupied.
Cast aside any notions of hotel food. Round Hill does things differently. At night, the sound of surf below and lights in the trees above transform the Seaside Terrace into a fairyland. It’s a perfect backdrop for Chef Martin Maginley’s culinary prowess, which showcases the best of the island, including organic (property-raised) produce, along with Caribbean grouper, snapper and mahi-mahi cooked simply on a pimento wood fired grill.
Every Monday a beach barbecue–complete with tiki torches, table cloths, a bonfire, and feet plunged into the powder soft sand–delivers traditional Jamaican cooking, such as grilled spiny lobster and guava-glazed pork.
More adventurous palates will lean toward more unusual local offerings. One evening we started with yam balls stuffed with marlin, which lured us from our comfort zone. Ditto with breakfast, which, for me, was the ackee (a custard-like fruit that resembles scrambled eggs once cooked) and salt fish paired with callaloo, shredded greens enlivened with scotch bonnet peppers, onions and garlic.
Back home, I asked Maxine what she missed most about the resort. It was the rustic swing that hangs from a gnarled almond tree, where she’d pump her legs with abandon, soaring high enough for a view of the Caribbean Sea. And, thinking back, it may well be what I miss most, too. For her, it was fun. For me, it’s a symbol of Round Hill’s simple pleasures.