Round Hill, Jamaica: Pineapple Perfection
It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I booked my trip to Jamaica but my worries about safety were totally unfounded. It appears that we’ve been swamped with misinformation – the island and its people are a showcase for the Caribbean at its best. Our first tastes of Round Hill were delicious. Blissful tranquillity, twenty-first-century comfort and luxury without pretension, combined with privacy and that precious commodity, peace. Well, that was until my entourage of daughters arrived on the beach. Squeals of excitement and laughter ensued as the warm Caribbean Sea licked their ankles. They couldn’t wait to go snorkeling with the baby rays, kayaking over the reef or have a bounce on the giant water trampoline.
Lord Monson’s century-old sugar and pineapple plantation was transformed in 1953 by the illustrious John Pringle into a haven for the rich and famous, and what a delightful spot in which to build a hotel. The hundred-acre peninsula of lush Jamaican countryside encompasses twenty-seven villas and thirty-six beachside suites in a whitewashed building appropriately named Pineapple House set in a moon shaped bay overlooking crystal clear water. To this day the hotel has retained its clubby atmosphere and guests still greet each other, welcome newcomers and regularly join tables at mealtimes.
Managing Director Josef Forstmayr modestly confesses to tempting away Sandy Lane chef, Trevor Duncan, but his sin is easily forgiven by guests who enjoy delicious meals al fresco – either by the pool or on the restaurant veranda. Adult fare includes a delectable choice of local and international dishes, a fresh daily catch of local fish, and an irresistible selection of fruit sorbets and deserts. Consistent high standards extend to the kids’ menu where children are treated to fresh gougons of chicken or fish, pasta and crudités. And with all the swimming and castle building there’s a satisfying spread of clean plates all round.
Some guests make an effort to dress for dinner and there’s a certain theatrical bent to evenings as the cocktail hour gets underway and the pianist performs an eclectic repertoire of classical, Disney and Bob Marley songs. There’s no doubt that Jamaica’s golden era was the 1950s. Ghosts of glamorous gatherings live on in the black and white photographs capturing Round Hill’s most celebrated guests and moments. No one’s allowed to take themselves too seriously though and oil portraits of dignitaries with pineapple heads highlight Jamaican humour.
Pineapple House has been refurbished by Round Hill villa owner, Ralph Lauren. The ocean-fronted bedrooms have brilliant white ceilings, walls and upholstery with an occasional dash of strong colour such as a fuchsia pink sarong or a scattering of royal-blue cushions. Comfy mahogany-stained bamboo four-posters are draped in white toile and dressed in 300-count linen sheets. The white bathrooms are also spacious with huge oblong baths, walk-in showers, double vanities, and yummy local soaps and balms including pure aloe vera. What you’ll love best though, is the view through the broad jalousie windows, across the banana and palm tree fronds to the distant headland. Most dusks provide spectacular sunsets when a hazy swollen sun melts into the sea.
For something even more luxurious, private and spacious you could rent one of Round Hill’s privately owned villas. Nearly all have their own swimming pool and come with personal maid service and in-house meals prepared in your own kitchen. Glowingly elegant, decorated by the world’s most renowned designers, these properties possess the personal imprint of generations of owners who have stamped an enticing home-away-from-home comfort. Their provenance is undeniably impressive; yesteryear’s owners were the likes of Noel Coward, the Hammersteins, Rothermeres and Astaires.
Surly service has long been my bugbear of the Caribbean. Not so here. The service is so good you don’t even notice it. Staff are copious, present, cheerful and helpful. It all comes down to one man, the ever-present Josef Forstmayr, who has been looking after his staff and overseeing the minutiae for the past fifteen years. The good news is he’s here to stay. You’ll see him walking around, taking personal interest in his guests’ needs; constantly chatting, introducing and dream-fixing – never has a manager been so hands-on.
The excellently run Pineapple Kids’ Club, open seven days a week from nine until five o’clock, is complimentary for children aged between three and twelve. Tennis clinics, nature walks, reggae lessons, grass weaving taught by a local Rastafarian and myriad arts and crafts abound. Each day has a different theme: T-shirt and rock painting; nature and treasure hunts; beach Olympics and shell hunting; environment, science and paper craft; followed by an assortment of outdoor games, glass-bottomed boat rides, dancing, drama and cultural programmes. You can rest assured that even when the children aren’t with you they’ll be getting a true taste of Caribbean culture.
If you book the family suite an additional five hours of nanny-service is there whenever you want it. Thankfully, the proximity of the amenities means that older children are safe to wander between the rooms, beach, pool and kids’ club at their will.
Getting out and about
Many spend a whole week lazing by the cascading infinity-edged pool, waiting for a visit from one of the bay’s resident dolphins, or being pampered in the spa, which is housed in a handsome Jamaican Great House, but there’s plenty to explore outside the hotel. Some fifty minutes from Round Hill, the Mayfield falls and mineral springs cascade down the hillside forming natural pools and Jacuzzis. They’re one of the least known but most picturesque waterscapes Jamaica has to offer. The trip can be easily combined with lunch at Cosmos on Negril’s seven-mile stretch of sand followed by tea at Rick’s café where fearless athletes perform acrobatics over the cliffs before diving fifty feet into the cerulean blue sea below.
Swimming with dolphins in Ocho Rios and riding bareback through the surf are favourites with children; as is the spectacular canopy tour, zip-wiring a thousand feet over the jungle roof. Tubing through the rapids or gently rafting along the Great River taking in the plant and bird life offer an unspoilt insight into the island’s abundant beauty. Or for something a little more sedate a tour round the eighteenth-century Greenwood and Rose Hall Great Houses. There’s plenty to choose to suit all ages and abilities.
The longer you stay the more special it becomes. I’ve become Jamaica’s number one fan – well number four actually, after my three daughters who loved it even more.
IDEAL AGE: 0–16
FYI: 36 rooms, 27 private villas with pools.
Kids Club: Pineapple Kids’ Club for children aged three to twelve, open daily 9.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. Kids tennis clinic available in July and August