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Author Topic: Jamaica's true treasure  (Read 4029 times)

Offline Bulldog

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Jamaica's true treasure
« on: March 27, 2008, 03:19:54 PM »
Legend has it that in the 1750s, Rose Hall was the home to white witch Annie Palmer who murdered three husbands and countless slaves. (Sun Media/Tom Godfrey)

ROSE HALL, Jamaica -- History and tradition run deep in this region and locals say it all has to do with that old haunted house up on the hill.

The Rose Hall Great House in its heyday in the 1750s was headed by a so-called British "white witch" Annie Palmer, who kept a firm hand on the 2,000 slaves who worked the 2,670 hectare seaside plantation.

Legend has it that Palmer, at 4-foot-9, killed her three husbands and countless slaves who tried to escape her grasp. The house is now a museum where the sounds of footsteps can still be heard 250 years later.

As it was then, the Caribbean Sea is still sun-swept and turquoise. In this setting, the Iberostar Rose Hall Beach Hotel is one of the newest five-star resorts to join the island's all-inclusive resort scene.

Rose Hall, on the island's north coast, is about a 20 minute drive on a new two-lane highway from Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. There are many hotels, resorts and pricey condos dotting the beach along the island's popular tourist strip.

Opened this past May, the resort is part of the Spanish firm Grupo Iberostar and is the chain's first foray in Jamaica. The firm already has more than a dozen all-inclusives in Mexico, Dominican Republic and Brazil.

The luxurious resort, which straddles the beach, doesn't stray from the taste of European vacationers who favour the Iberostars for its elegance and charm. Here, like the other properties, it's the staff that makes the difference. And, it's one of those places where it seems everyone has a favourite staff person.

The hotel has 366 spacious rooms, 32 junior suites and a presidential suite with two bedrooms, Jacuzzi and wrap-around view of the ocean among the many trappings. The views from the rooms are excellent and many nights from the balcony I'd watch cruise ships sailing from Ocho Rios to other ports of call in the Caribbean.

The complex boasts large swimming and infinity pools with swim-up bar, and four restaurants. Three of these are reservation-only and include a family style steakhouse, Japanese and Cajun cuisine.

There are four bars, including theatre and cigar bars that I favoured while making the rounds late at night. During the day there are a range of activities like aerobics, volleyball, table tennis or maybe dance lessons to choose from. The gym has all new equipment and all the water sports from scuba diving to sailing are well represented. For the kids, there's Lucy's Mini-Club, which offers an array of entertainment for the younger ones.

The hotel is set in rows of plants grown in landscaped terraces that lead to a main lobby with a huge gallery that overlooks kilometres of blue ocean and skies. Unlike other Iberostars, missing here are the colourful flamingos and peacocks that roam the other properties. Hotel officials said the birds may not survive in this climate.

Iberostar managing director Philipp Hofer says most visitors are from Spain, Germany, Britain and North America, and are people who love good food and want to be pampered.

"We get a lot of Canadians who come down in the winter," Hofer says. "Europeans tend to travel all around the year."

Hofer said the Rose Hall is the first of three Iberostar hotels being built on a massive beachfront site. Next to be completed is the Iberostar Rose Hall Suites Hotel, which will have 375 ocean-view suites. A third-phase, the ultra-luxurious Grand Hotel Rose Hall will be completed in two years.

He said the Grand will be an adult-only, all-suite hotel with six restaurants and is slated to be the most luxurious of the three.

Sasha Hlozek, of Florida-based Cheryl Andrews Marketing, which represents the hotel, said Iberostar is known for its top-quality service and has 14 resorts in the Caribbean.

"Jamaica is a popular destination for Canadians," Hlozek says. "We have a large amount of guests who are repeat customers."

She says Iberostar guests return multiple times because of the good food, service and smiles from workers.

"Most of our staff remember the names of our guests," Hlozek says. "They make an extra effort to greet them and cater to their needs."

Iberostar operates five resorts in the Dominican Republic, eight in Mexico, a cruise ship in Brazil and resorts in nine other countries. Grupo Iberostar employs 8,000 people worldwide and owns tour operator Iberojet, travel agencies Viajes Iberia, incoming agencies Iberoservice and airline Iberoworld.

The Great House, and the exploits of Palmer, is an interesting side-trip to catch up on local history of the days when Britain ruled the world.

Incidentally, Palmer was killed by a slave in 1831, leaving behind underground tunnels used by slaves to enter her bedroom to have sex before they themselves were killed, says guide Theisha Nelson.

"The night she died the slaves burnt all her belongings," Nelson says. "All the memories of her were burned in a fire."

More upbeat day-trips include a visit to Ocho Rios, a busy little town where the Jamaicans say "the heaven spills into the sea." The town gets busy when cruise ships arrive and tourists pour in. It features a crafts market, some good jerk chicken restaurants, shopping and sightseeing.

You'll want to visit the world-renowned Dunn's River Falls, where you can climb 182-metres of gently terraced waterfalls, which is cool fun on a hot day.

"We love Canadian people down here," says Clive "Super Clive" Matthews, a Rastafarian street vendor outside the Falls selling trinkets and wood carvings. "Canadian people are cool. I have no problems with Canadian people."

Matthews gives me his pager number, I'm not sure why, and a tour of his roadside home. I buy another Jamaican trinket, the third of the day.

Interesting eco-tours include Coyaba River Garden and Museum, where you can learn about island history, and Shaw Park Gardens, a 7-hectare park with waterfall overlooking Ocho Rios.

"For 32 years I've toured people from all around the world," Shaw Park guide Nathaniel MacCall says proudly as he points out a Banyon tree. "It is through them that I have learned about the world."

MacCall points out tropical flora and fauna that includes pimentos used for making hot sauce, nutmeg, and Jamaica's national tree; the Blue Mahoe.

I also love the birds in Jamaica, which is home to 200 resident species. Of these, 25 species and 21 subspecies can't be found anywhere else. The national bird is the Red-Billed Streamertail Hummingbird, dubbed the Doctor Bird, which is a national symbol that appears on bank notes and as part of a logo for Air Jamaica.

And for those looking for some history, you can hire a cab to take you to Nine Mile, the birthplace of reggae icon Bob Marley, whose birthday this past Feb. 6 spawned a trek to his grave by fans. It is well worth seeing the legend's humble beginnings. Nine Mile is in the hills of St. Ann and off the beaten track so it may be costly to get there. But, it is worth a day trip.

Michelle Carter, of the Jamaica Tourism Board, says the industry is the island's number one employer, providing thousands of jobs and bringing millions of dollars into the economy.

"We regard every single visitor to Jamaica as our special guest," Carter says. "We are proud of our tradition of hospitality."

Her sentiments are repeated by proud Jamaicans -- and non-Jamaicans -- around this country.

"This is a great country and I love Jamaica," says Marsha Jarrette, 31, a real estate representative. "I don't think I would leave here for anything."

Transplanted Canadians John Marcocchio, and his wife, Maria, have been living in nearby St. Ann's Bay for 17 years and don't plan on returning to cold Etobicoke anytime soon.

"Life here is sweet," says Marcocchio, whose firm designs and construct buildings. "Life here is laid back and the locals are great people."

"Jamaica is a beautiful country with nice people," says Devon "Newsman" Daley, 36, who sells me copies of the Jamaica Gleaner and Observer newspaper outside the airport. "I just want to sell a few more papers but I am staying right here."

Daley, and the many others, remind me that Jamaica is the birthplace of spicy Pickapeppa sauce, Tia Maria, Blue Mountain coffee and some of the best jerk chicken you can taste with a cold Red Stripe beer. Irie.




Air Canada flies to Jamaica daily from Toronto. The Jamaica Tourist Board in Toronto can be reached at 416-482-7850 or Iberostar resorts can be reached or booked at The loonie is worth around 55 JA dollars. It is well-worth seeing Dunns River Falls, the busy town of Ocho Rios and Bob Marley's birthplace Nine Mile, which are all on the island's popular north coast. It's hot on the island so all you need to pack are sunscreen, shorts, sandals and your swimsuit.

Offline Gambitt

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Re: Jamaica's true treasure
« Reply #1 on: March 28, 2008, 12:51:08 AM »
For anyone thinking of this area, for a holiday, Lauren and I would give it two thumbs-up. :icon_thumright: :icon_thumright:

We stayed about 5 min away at the H.I. Sunspree for our honeymoon, and 2 yrs. later, It's where I was certified for Scuba Diving.
If at first, you do not succeed; You Obviously did Not use a BIG enough Hammer!!!
If at first, you Do Succeed.. try not to look tooo Astonished!

Offline flopnfly

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Re: Jamaica's true treasure
« Reply #2 on: March 28, 2008, 04:32:49 AM »
thanks Bulldog   :icon_thumright:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.