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Ian Fleming`s Goldeneye getaway reviewed as a hotel

13-Apr-2008 • Literary

Fleming's Caribbean villa is now a 12-roomed hotel. Ben Hoyle packs his linen suit and bowtie for The Times.

Nowhere on earth is more tightly bound up in the James Bond story than Goldeneye, the beautiful Jamaican villa where Ian Fleming wrote all of the original 007 adventures.

It stands by the side of a former donkey racetrack on an overgrown plot of land that Fleming bought in 1946.

Six years later, badgered by his friend and neighbour Noel Coward and desperate to take his mind off his impending marriage to Ann Rothermere, he started work on Casino Royale.

He was deep into hangdog middle age and after stints in the City, in journalism and in naval intelligence, apparently becalmed in a career notable for overindulgence and underachievement.

But “007”, as his sea-facing bedroom at Goldeneye is now known, became the scene for an extraordinary late outpouring of creativity.

In the last 12 years of his life Fleming bashed out 12 Bond novels and two collections of short stories in this room, typing fast with the shutters on the enormous windows closed “so that I would not be distracted by the birds and the flowers and the sunshine outside.”

There are few spaces anywhere in the world more intimately associated with a literary character and even fewer that you can spend the night in.

Today Goldeneye is an idyllic 12 bedroom hotel, and the sort of celebrity bolt hole where the local staff can’t decide whether their favourite guest is Bill Clinton or Scarlett Johansson “because she likes to go out and party with us whenever she comes to stay”.

It is on the fringes of the village of Oracabessa on the north coast of the island, two and a half hours from the capital Kingston on a good day and approached via a potholed road that climbs through a creeper-strewn forest of African Tulips, coconut and banana palms before gliding the last mile downhill to the turn off.

A small wrought iron gate with no sign leads through more tropical trees to Fleming’s villa, perched on a cliff above a discreet coral beach.

In a tradition begun by Anthony Eden when he spent three weeks at Goldeneye after the Suez Crisis, labels at the foot of the trees record which famous guest planted them. Contributors range from Jonny Depp, the Clintons and Naomi Campbell to Dawn French and Lenny Henry.

The simple pace of life and the understated feel of the place were what Fleming loved about Goldeneye. He spent his days here writing, swilling Martinis and snorkelling in his private lagoon.

Chris Blackwell, the current owner, has honoured that inheritance, although Goldeneye now offers the sort of humble, homespun experience that costs hundreds of pounds a night to sample and is only possible because staff outnumber guests by at least three to one.

As the founder of Island Records, Mr Blackwell is responsible for another of Jamaica’s greatest gifts to popular culture: he was the man who made Bob Marley a global star.

He is now at least as well known as a pioneer of socially-aware, very upmarket boutique hotels in the region. His Island Outposts chain helped turn Miami’s South Beach into the fashion crowd’s favourite hedonistic destination in the 1990s and made the Blue Mountains Jamaica’s most exclusive destination with Stawberry Hill, a converted colonial mansion perched high above the Kingston suburbs.

Standards at Goldeneye are just as dizzy.

Fleming’s home was so spartan that Coward called it “Goldeneye, Nose and Throat” while the food food dished up by Violet the housekeeper was “so abominable I used to cross myself before eating it.”

No longer.

In the main villa the airy living room and three bedrooms (007,008 and 009) are stuffed with African tribal art and extremely comfortable if slightly incongruous Indonesian bamboo sofas and four poster beds.

The outdoor bathrooms are their crowning glory. You step out of the back of your bedroom into a private tropical garden half the size of a tennis court.

Halfway along there is a rainforest shower and at the back, on a raised wooden podium, a Victorian style roll-top bath. Goldeneye might not do designer label indulgence, but it is pretty hard to improve on a hot tub beneath palm fronds and a glowing canopy of stars.

The cottages, made of wood and stone and nestling amid giant banyan trees and thickets of banana palm, are rather more luxurious. The bedrooms are named after Bond girls- Honey Chile, Domino, Solitaire etc- and they are every bit as gorgeous.

The food has come a long way since Fleming’s day too. Unlike Bond, who fancied himself as a gourmet, Fleming had simple tastes, centred on a few classics like scrambled egg and steak. The ability to make a good Bearnaise sauce was one of the qualities he most prized in a woman, alongside double-jointedness, he once said.

Today’s visitor to Goldeneye enjoys a grand take on traditional Jamaican homecooking using market fresh seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs. Fresh fish and lobster are purchased daily from local fishermen. Janga or freshwater crayfish are caught in nearby rivers. Meals can be served intimately in your room, on your private terrace or at the clapboard gazebo overlooking the water.

Breakfast might be Ackee and saltfish, Garlic Callaloo served with roast breadfruit or Coconut mackerel rundown with yam. Favourite lunch and dinner options include the island’s spicy trademarks Jerk chicken and Jerk pork, curry goat, snapper cooked in foil with okra and tropical seasonings, Smoked marlin or Grilled Tenderloin of Beef in natural juice with mushrooms and onions followed by rum cream pie or a tropical fresh fruit salad.

There is plenty to do if you need to work up an appetite. The Fleming villa’s tranquil private beach is one of the great swimming spots of the world regardless of its literary contribution and there is another larger beach on a spit of reclaimed land across from the main estate. It is reached by glass-bottomed boat or, in true Bond style, a 100 yard swim across a narrow channel that Blofeld would almost certainly fill with piranhas.

Jetskiing and deep sea fishing are also available but there is a sense that, if you are here for an action-packed adventure then you have slightly missed the point.

Goldeneye is a place to imagine that you have just completed one of Bond’s most arduous missions, not that you are half way through it. And after surviving Her Majesty’s Secret Service you deserve to wallow in your reward.

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