PORT ANTONIO, JAMAICA
TASTE OF THE PLACE: SPICY JERK CHICKEN AND FRESH-PRESSED TROPICAL FRUITS
DIG IN: In the northeast shore Portland parish, a two-hour drive from Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport, the capital of Port Antonio has a star-studded history. The cradle of Jamaican tourism, “Porty” was a banana-boat port at the turn of the 20th century when American millionaires like Alfred Mitchell and his Tiffany-heiress wife Annie Tiffany built vacation estates here. In the 1940s, during a hurricane, Errol Flynn’s yacht was blown off course to Jamaica where the silent-film star discovered Port Antonio and moved there part-time, running hotels and inviting influential friends to visit. Though the rich and famous followed (think Noel Coward and Elizabeth Taylor), the rain forest coast known for its many rivers and waterfalls was eclipsed by the beaches of Negril and the party scene of Montego Bay. Now, former Island Records producer Jon Baker and partners including financier Michael Lee-Chin have teamed up to resurrect the north shore, opening two hotels. They plan to open a restaurant and botanic garden at the Blue Lagoon, a well-known swimming hole. Portland may be lesser-known in Jamaica’s travel realm, but it’s responsible for one of the island’s most iconic foods: jerk barbecue.
FOOD PILGRIMAGE: In Port Antonio, hit Musgrave Market to wander aisles lined in tropical fruit. Then head out to Boston Bay, a surfer’s beach renowned as the home of jerk chicken. The fiery fowl, marinated in scotch bonnet peppers and proprietary blends of herbs that jerk men carefully guard, is served at barbecue shacks that fog the roadside in wood smoke.
BASE CAMPS: The new Trident Hotel features 13 oceanfront villas, most with plunge pools and outdoor baths. For a small hotel, the amenities are outsized, including a supper club serving Japanese-Jamaican fusion (think locally caught sushi) with a centerpiece red 1917-vintage Steinway piano, as well as a cocktail bar. Nearby, the lavish white-washed Trident Castle houses eight rooms and a guests-only restaurant. Drivers shuttle guests between the two.
CAN'T MISS MEALS: Destination dining here resides in either small hotels or beach shacks. Among the former, Mille Fleurs Restaurant in the Hotel Mocking Bird Hill fuses Jamaican ingredients and European technique in seasonal dishes that draw on the bounty of the sea and the on-property kitchen garden. And among the beachside diners, Wi Yard Anna Banana (876-715-6533) offers hearty specials such as curried goat.
BRING BACK: Port Antonio sits at the northern base of Jamaica’s lush Blue Mountains where the island’s famed coffee is grown. Look for Mavis Bank Blue Mountain Coffee blends.
HOIST A RED STRIPE BEER: The breezy-chic Geejam resort, founded originally by Baker as a recording studio for musicians like Gwen Stefani and Alicia Keys, remains a locus of area nightlife. Its Bushbar hosts the popular Jolly Boys who play mento music, an early version of reggae, at the outdoor bar regularly.