Like us, you might think you know Jamaica: Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Negril.
All boast beachfront all-inclusive resorts with any kind of activity you can imagine. “Party All the Time” could be the soundtrack of a vacation here. Yet, a totally different vibe awaits if you drive about two-and-a-half hours southwest from Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport.
Our journey takes us over mountains that dominate the central part of the island. Major road construction promises a shorter drive, but regardless, the scenery is captivating and passing through small towns offers a glimpse of local life.
Our final destination is Treasure Beach in St. Elizabeth Parish, where we’re eager to check into a lesser-known, beachfront resort, the family-owned Jakes Treasure Beach. This area is Jamaica at its roots; some call it the “Real Jamaica.”
The area’s welcome sign affirms we’ve arrived at the “Home of Community Tourism,” and over the next two days, we start to learn what that means in this rural, rocky and tremendously friendly side of south Jamaica.
Our insight begins as our little bus hired through Paradise Tours stops in front of an antique, four-door, London taxi-type vehicle (actually a Ford) with the hotel’s name painted on its sides. Next to it is a fanciful, mosaic entranceway, the resort’s name spelled out within the pink stucco block wall.
The unique property was obviously built with care—full of creative architecture and thoughtful, personal touches. Bohemian, yes, in all the best ways.
Love letter to Jamaica
Jakes Treasure Beach is an intimate, one-of-a-kind seaside property. A virtual love letter to Jamaica courtesy of the Henzell family, the resort takes its name from a beloved pet parrot.
Casual-chic Jakes sports dazzling colors and sweeping architectural curves resonating with patterns and shapes of Barcelona artist Antoni Gaudi. From reception to the pool, spa to rooms, oceanfront bungalows to flower-embraced cottages, it all fuses with nature. The result is a setting that’s peaceful, colorful, creatively functional, organic, joyful and totally welcoming.
We’re delighted with our waterside, coral-colored bungalow where earth and sea seem linked by design.
Inside, traditional West Indian flare prevails, like louvered windows and doors, wood floors and mosquito netting over beds. (It is wise to pack your favorite repellant. Ours was a brand named Proven, which proved quite effective.)
Most intriguing is how Caribbean colors reflect off the unusual walls, headboard and outdoor shower half walls—unusual because each element employs upright colored bottles inlaid in thick mortar. They reflect changing hues depending on sunlight and sky cover.
Jakes Treasure Beach offers 33 rooms on the property and an additional 33 rooms and villas off-property—some owned and others managed. Most rooms have showers rather than tubs; in oceanfront rooms like ours, those open-air, outdoor showers encourage stargazing come nightfall. Jakes’ own brand of Jamaican-made toiletries, Driftwood, takes its name from its stand-alone Driftwood Spa. Inside our room, the louvered French doors lead to a private wooden sun deck (sans railing) offering an unobstructed view of Frenchman’s Bay. A quick change into bathing suits and we are water bound.
A whimsically adorned, kidney-shaped, saltwater pool sits a few steps below the courtyard (just off the lobby area). It’s here in the courtyard where farm- and sea-to-table meals are served amid lush foliage. Nearby Dougie’s is a tidy bar and late-day gathering spot. Alongside it, guests can rent snorkeling equipment.
A small pier juts out into a cove protected on each side with rocks. Water access is via a little sandy beach but we opt to jump off the pier and are soon sharing refreshing, cool waters with a family from England, here on a return visit. They encourage us to keep this little paradise a secret. A Canadian couple agrees.
Keeping an eye on the sky, we head to our private deck in time to watch a stellar Jamaican sunset and toast our arrival.
Driftwood Spa at Jakes Treasure Beach
Arriving at Jakes Driftwood Spa is a little discovery down a stepping-stone path with foliage surrounding us. As it comes into view, the spa’s ocean blue stucco exterior stands in contrast to all the surrounding green plants and bushes and the lighter blue sky above. At one side, a curved staircase with mosaics fronting each step leads to an upper platform deck. The open doors bid us welcome as do the staff.
Inside, it’s hard to focus on the new guest form; we’re too busy studying the colorful patterns in the unique, over-door, Gaudi-esque, stained glass windows. In our couples massage room, a door beyond the side-by-side massage tables is open to the sea beyond. Within the first few moments of our session, we know we are in good hands as the travel stress starts to melt away.
The next morning we get a treat when we take a yoga class led by Empress Thandi Wise of the nearby Rasta Wellness Centre. Her smile fills the space as she instructs us to go at our own pace.
How this treasure came about
Over dinner with General Manager Jason Henzell, we meet his mother, Sally, the designer behind all this funky fun—those bottles in the walls and headboards, the curved architecture, the decision to make each room and villa unique. Her love of Barcelona architecture is apparent throughout.
Always a writer, artist, art lover and designer, she and her husband created this little tropical escape. That husband, the late Perry Henzell, was a screenwriter and director widely known for his movie The Harder They Come, which introduced reggae music to the world. Sally designed the costumes. Post-dinner, Sally regales us with stories of old-style Jamaica that she and Perry joyfully explored. Among their friends were Bob Marley and record producer Chris Blackwell, who founded Island Records.
Jason Henzell is the property’s third-generation owner. His grandparents came from Devon, and eventually purchased the resort’s original one acre (for a thousand British pounds) and built a two-bedroom, getaway cottage they named “Treasure.” When the grandparents passed away, the cottage went to Sally. Jason is hopeful his son will be the fourth generation in charge.
Treasure, indeed. We completely surrendered to the vibe at Jakes in a less-traveled part of this tropical island. As to keeping it a secret? Sorry, this place has to be shared.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- Seeing a totally different side of Jamaica in a unique spot far away from the large all-inclusives
- A slower paced getaway where guests don’t feel compelled to do anything except relax
- Simple meals using fresh local seafood, produce and fruits plus the chance to try local specialties like breakfast ackee and codfish or steamed callaloo
- Available classes in painting, mosaics and cooking
- A quiet, two-story spa with daily yoga on its upper deck offering outstanding views
- Warm, welcoming staff who quickly make you feel at home
- Supporting a local, family-owned, multi-generational endeavor with heart
- Some villa sun decks jut out over rocky edges and have no railings, and there are uneven surfaces around the property.
- There’s no direct water access from waterfront rooms and villas.
- Access to the ocean is via a metal ladder with rungs a bit far apart; otherwise, enter from land via a few low steps.
- The small pool is shared by local crabs and is often sandy.
- Don’t forget the bug spray.
- There are four beaches within walking distance.
- Jakes oversees popular tourist spot Lovers Leap, a 20-minute drive away and home to the highest lighthouse in the Western Hemisphere at 1,700 feet.
- Popular boat excursions are available to overwater Pelican’s Bar and an outing with Capt. Joseph Brown who can arrange a fresh, lobster lunch at his private, seaside hideaway called Seagrape.
- For meals off property, there’s Jack Sprat next door and a limited number of other local spots in this rural location.
All photo credits: Fletcher/Newbern (except two lead photos, Brie Williams Inc. for Jakes Treasure Beach)
Disclosure: The authors’ trip to Jamaica was supported by the Jamaica Tourist Board.
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