Ian Fleming and Noel Coward's Jamaican roots explored
...If there is one thing more luxurious than falling asleep to the sound of a stormy sea, it is waking up to a tropical morning. By 7am I have swum in the pool and am sitting on the terrace looking at a now limpid turquoise sea, listening to birdsong and crunching toast spread with the most delicious marmalade Busha Browne's, says the butler, made by a local company run by the enjoyably named Winston Stoner. The aroma of fresh coffee mingles with the scent of frangipani, and the warmth of the sun soon dries my swimsuit. Jamaica hasn't taken long to begin to work its magic.
The villa is separated from the hotel by a bridge over a gully shaded by trees that must be almost 100ft tall. After breakfast, I wander through beautifully cultivated gardens filled with hibiscus and hummingbirds into a cool world of mahogany floors and wicker chairs. The hotel opened in 1957, with Churchill one of its early guests, and having picked up The Noël Coward Diaries to read on the plane I am thrilled to discover that the old black Steinway in the drawing room is the very one Coward used to play when he brought house guests over for cocktails.
Like his great friend Ian Fleming, who dreamt up James Bond in Jamaica, the playwright first visited the island from a bleak, blitzed-out London in the 1940s. Enchanted by its languorous beauty and sunny climate, Coward copied Fleming in building a house there, entertained everyone from Truman Capote and Frank Sinatra to Cecil Beaton and the Queen Mother, and did much to put Jamaica on the map as the ultimate glamorous holiday destination of the Fifties and Sixties. His house, Firefly at Port Maria is only a few miles away, so I take a trip there that afternoon.
Firefly, on a hilltop with what must be one of the best views in the Caribbean, is owned by the Jamaican National Heritage Trust, but run by Island Outpost the hotel group owned by Chris Blackwell, who launched Island Records and made Bob Marley a star. It appears just as Coward left it. There are his 78s on a turntable, his short-sleeved Hawaiian shirts and silk PJs in the wardrobe, his medicine bottles in the bathroom cabinet (I shut the door quickly) and a smell of mildew. I feel
I have stepped back decades. "The table is set as it was when the Queen Mother came to lunch on February 28, 1965," intones the caretaker, who worked for Coward. The author, who died in Jamaica in 1973, is buried in the garden and his presence is almost palpable.
Read the complete travel journal at telegraph.co.uk
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