Travel: How to stay in Jamaica where James Bond books were written – LA Daily News

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Starting to write this travel feature at the very desk where James Bond was born has me shaken like 007’s favorite drink. Come to think of it, an unstirred Vesper martini, introduced in “Casino Royale,” would be the perfect remedy to calm the nervous excitement of a journalist humbled by his current workspace that overlooks Jamaica’s gorgeous northern coast.
My once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sit where Ian Fleming wrote 14 Bond novels and short stories must be brief as guests rich and/or famous are arriving at any moment to occupy the British author’s former estate. After all, when you’re paying upwards of $10,000 a night to stay at the huge and hallowed Fleming Villa, you want your first view from inside the main house to be of Jamaica’s stunning coastline, not a stranger tapping away on his laptop in what will be your home away from home for a week.
GoldenEye, as the author named this seaside sanctuary after a World War II operation he devised as a naval intelligence officer, enjoys a literal storied past. Before the posthumously published “Octopussy and The Living Daylights,” the last of his works, Fleming ran his island paradise in Oracabessa like the Hearst Castle of the Caribbean. In between visits by hobnobbing jet-setters, Fleming penned what would lead to one of the most successful book-to-film franchises in history. For 007-playing Sean Connery, David Niven, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig, their vacations at Fleming’s winter home must have seemed more like pilgrimages.
Craig’s fifth and rumored final turn as Bond will be released Friday, Oct. 8 — a delay of 23 months due to the coronavirus pandemic. “No Time to Die,” the 25th movie in the successful spy franchise, is the first to be filmed in Jamaica since 1973’s “Live and Let Die.” For an economy that relies heavily on tourism, the movie in which Jamaica plays a strong supporting role is expected to give the hard-hit country a boost.
Occupancy at GoldenEye (goldeneye.com, 800-688-7678) does spike with each release of a Bond film, be it set in Jamaica or not, according to property sources. So, while the U.S. State Department is discouraging Americans from traveling to Jamaica at present due to COVID-19 concerns, citizens set on visiting GoldenEye and other parts of the island nation have a choice of ways to get there. American, Delta, JetBlue, Spirit and United are all flying out of LAX and other domestic airports to the home of reggae, Rastafarianism and rapid Usain Bolt.
Fleming is buried at St. James’ Churchyard in England, but his legacy lives on in Jamaica thanks to the thriving movie franchise and reverential development of GoldenEye as a secluded resort.
The 15-acre GoldenEye that Fleming knew has expanded to 52 acres, and since 1989 has operated as a high-end Island Outpost resort owned by Chris Blackwell, the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer who founded Island Records. Besides launching the careers of U2, Steve Winwood, Cat Stevens and other recording artists, he introduced reggae music, Bob Marley included, to the non-Rasta world. The man also has Bond bonds as old as GoldenEye itself. Among other ties, Blackwell worked behind and in front of the camera for 007’s movie debut.
“James Bond has been a big part of my life, from my childhood lunches with Ian Fleming at GoldenEye to being a location scout on the first movie, ‘Dr. No,’” Blackwell said.
The British-born, Jamaica-adopting businessman also had an uncredited role in the movie, playing a henchman who jumps off a wharf to escape an explosion. Blackwell’s dock-diving days are done, the 84-year-old at GoldenEye told me during my stay, but not his love for the property.
Between Fleming and Blackwell owning the deed, GoldenEye has undergone more facelifts than the actresses who’ve played “Bond girls.” The latest renovations were an expansion of the spa before COVID-19 and three new villas opened in summer 2020. An ambitious makeover in 2016 changed the look of the resort more dramatically than all those disfiguring accidents suffered by many a Bond villain. In addition to new places to drink, eat, snorkel, swim and frolic, 26 one- and two-bedroom beach huts were added to the lush, tropical landscape.
Staying in one of those octagonal freestanding beach huts, the smallest averaging about $600 a night across the seasons, a life of luxury is at your sandy feet while lounging on a private veranda looking down on picture-perfect Snorkeler’s Cove.
Borrowing from the theme song to “The Spy Who Loved Me,” nobody does it better than at Fleming Villa with its five bedrooms, private beach and swimming pool, 64-inch TV-furnished media room and dedicated chef, butler and housekeeper. No wonder the vacation home has drawn the likes of Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Sir Richard Branson, Bill and Hilary Clinton, Will Smith and family, and Harrison Ford, who probably got his Indiana Jones on with all the outdoor adventures the place has to offer.
The deluxe digs were so inspiring to Sting during a vacation in 1982, he woke up from the king-sized four-poster bed in the master to write The Police’s biggest hit on Fleming’s precious blue mahoe wood desk. “Every Breath You Take” — a framed gold record with hand-written lyrics by Sting hangs in the media room — is the perfect title for a song written where almost every view is breathtaking.
Almost every bite is delicious, too, at the eclectic eateries on the property. Unusual for a non-all-inclusive resort, none is open to the public. Not that they could find the place; the entrance off the main road is a nondescript gate overgrown with tropical flora bearing a “private property” sign. So, it’s guests only at the treehouse-style Gazebo, bougie Bizot Bar, beachy Bamboo Bar and seaside/poolside Shabeen. Hours and days of operation fluctuate among the places except for breakfast, the only meal that’s included with your stay, and lunch at Bizot.
Each morning you can try a local spin on breakfast, like their version of oatmeal — a yummy peanut porridge with nutmeg, toasted coconut and green plantain. For lunch, have Red Stripe-braised oxtail stew washed down with the namesake local pale lager. Dinner might start with Jamaican pepper pot soup, leading to a main course of butter-roasted lionfish or coconut-poached mahi mahi caught that day in local waters.
You won’t find such thrills as recreational crocodile jumping, as stuntman Ross Kananga did for real in “Live and Let Die,” but plenty of other activities are at your feet, bare or otherwise. “Wata sports” include kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, sailing, snorkeling and swimming.
Outside GoldenEye is an island waiting to be explored, although some activities, especially Dunn’s River Falls, may be overrun by visitors coming by ship; GoldenEye is within two hours of all four of Jamaica’s cruise ports — Montego Bay, Falmouth and Ocho Rios to the west and Port Antonio to the east — and all the cruise lines are back.
The last-mentioned port is the smallest, least touristy and most authentic. These qualities make the old seaside town a favorite among celebrities needing an escape. Let’s see how good a getaway destination it remains after “No Time to Die” opens. Port Antonio, a scenic 50 miles from GoldenEye, acts as a stand-in for Cuba. Locals won’t recognize the T-intersection of Harbour and West streets with all the post-production magic, but townsfolk I spoke with inside the busy post office there said the road closures and other inconveniences in spring 2019 will be worth it from a pride and profit perspective.
Other scenes for the latest movie were shot where filming was done for the oldest, “Dr. No.” Ocho Rios, 13 miles west of GoldenEye, is the location of cascading Laughing Waters and the small beach where a bikini-clad Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder famously rose from the waves to an ogling Bond. The other legendary scene was the blowing up of Dr. No’s bauxite mine and lair. The wharf where this fiery climax was filmed has since been renamed James Bond Pier.
The best way to see these famous filming locations is by boat, and Jamaican native Tony Scott of Sunshine Water Sport (sunshinewatersport.com, 876-295-6918) can take you there on his motorized eight-person canoe. “Captain Tony” will even point out which ships in the harbor were used in Bond movies, and when drifting up to the former bauxite mine, he can describe the explosive ending shot by shot.
For the climax to this story we take you back to the beginning with the recipe of Bond’s signature drink. Kina Lillet is no longer produced, but since 1986 GoldenEye bartenders have been using a close match. Straight from its birthplace, here’s the official recipe of the Vesper Martini: 3 ounces Gordon’s gin, 1 ounce vodka (any top brand, but the default here is Stoli), 1/2 ounce Lillet blanc. Combine in a cocktail shaker, shake well and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with a thin slice of lemon peel.
The “shaken, not stirred” thing wasn’t written just to make Bond sound suave; with the drink being so heavy on alcohol, the shaking action enhances palatability by diluting the cocktail, according to GoldenEye bartenders. Their claim was verified more than a few times during my stay.
After all, you only live twice.
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