Editor: Nice article here about beautiful Portland, my favorite parish! When in Jamaica, I spend most of my time in Long Bay, Manchioneal, Port Antonio and all points in between. I'm sharing this WSJ.com article because it gives you a good idea about the spirit and beauty of Portland, Jamaica.
There's at least one error to point out: Brooke Shields' movie, Blue Lagoon, was NOT filmed in Jamaica. Despite Portland's being home to the world-famous Blue Lagoon, the movie was apparently shot on Nanuya Levu, a privately owned island in Fiji, while the blue lagoon scenes were shot in Champagne Bay, Vanuatu. HOWEVER, there have been thousands of movies filmed, at least in part, in Jamaica. Here are some of the most prominent ones you may recognize that WERE filmed in the Port Antonio area! (source: IMDB.com)
- Lord of the Flies (the original in 1963 & the remake in 1990)
- Club Paradise (1986) with Robin Williams and Peter O'Toole
- Clara's Heart (1988) with Whoopi Goldberg
- The Mighty Quinn (1989) with Denzel Washington
- Instinct (1999) with Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding, Jr.
- Knight and Day (2010) with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz
One more small thing: At the end of the article, the author tells you that Port Antonio is "three hours overland from Kingston's Norman Manley International Airport." This is true if you travel through Saint Thomas (a lovely but slower drive because of the road conditions). It's more like a 2-hour drive when you take the Junction route to Port Antonio through the parish of Saint Mary, also a beautiful drive. If you go this way, get directions and don't drive it yourself at night.
If you're not an "upscale" traveler and want to stay in Portland to enjoy the beauty, check out our page about other lodging options in & around Port Antonio. If the Alligator Head property the author mentions interests you, you can stay at one of three homes located there. Visit them on the web for more information. Now, enjoy "The Roots of Heaven"!!
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The Roots of Heaven
On Port Antonio's jungle-wrapped beaches, you won't worry about a thing
By DAVID KAUFMAN
MUCH LIKE HEMINGWAY'S HAVANA or the Rockefeller compound in Puerto Rico, the tiny Jamaican hamlet of Port Antonio is where society, Hollywood and luxury came together during the Caribbean's 1950s heyday.
Back then, "Porty"—as the town is affectionately known—was a sleepy, banana-shipping village on Jamaica's isolated northeastern coast, quietly favored by an adventurous slice of the global elite. Errol Flynn arrived on his schooner in 1946 and established the cattle and coconut estate that his widow, Patrice Wymore, still calls home.
German Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza bought land on Alligator Head, a short drive from downtown, where his daughter, Francesca von Habsburg-Lothringen, now throws legendary seafront New Year's Eve parties. Even Queen Elizabeth II came to town as an early visitor to Frenchman's Cove—a 17-hectare compound that opened in 1961 as one of the world's first all-inclusive luxury resorts. Nineteen years later, Brooke Shields immortalized the region's raw beauty when she shot "The Blue Lagoon" a short drive from Port Antonio's Lilliputian downtown.
Despite its pop- and high-culture connections, Port Antonio remains much as Ms. Shields and Her Majesty left it. Blame it on the terrain. Unlike land-and-lounge resorts like Negril or Montego Bay, Port Antonio is a good three hours by jeep from Kingston airport, across a 100-kilometer slice of the rugged Blue Mountains. The journey is bumpy but breathtaking—past Kingston's sprawl and tiny fishing villages, along snake-slim roads lorded over by towering king palms and dense with snack-shacks, taxi-vans and uniformed schoolchildren. There are brief tropical downpours—but what else could you expect en route to the parish of Portland, the lushest and wettest of Jamaica's 14 districts, of which Port Antonio is the capital? The ride ends with a coastal hug along the Caribbean, past rolling pastures and farmland to one side, clear sapphire shallows to the other.
Private charter flights (€230-€300 one-way between Kingston and Port Antonio; US$300-$400) are an easier alternative, as is docking by yacht at Port Antonio's modern Errol Flynn Marina. But until a long-promised airport upgrade and scheduled air service arrives, most visitors still travel overland.
This mix of regal and rustic sets the tone for much of Port Antonio, where the action is dictated by the landscape and local culture rather than resort attractions or cruise-ship excursions. "Port Antonio is the 'other' Jamaica, with little crime and incredibly welcoming locals eager for foreigners to join their community," says British-born hotelier Jon Baker. "This is a place whose renaissance is firmly in play."
Much of that renaissance can be attributed to Mr. Baker himself, a former Island Records executive who opened Geejam, a resort with just four suites and one villa, plus a state-of-the-art recording studio, back in 2008. Shrouded in towering rain forest, with a tiny private beach, cozy al fresco nightclub and secluded hilltop guest-villa, Geejam's low-key luxury appeals to pop stars, actors and artists ranging from Alicia Keys and Scarlett Johansson to the elusive graffiti phenomenon Banksy.
Mr. Baker says he sees Port Antonio as a potential successor to more established island idylls such as Anguilla or St. Bart's, where yachters, creative types and financiers will gather precisely because of its isolation and exclusivity. To expand that appeal, Mr. Baker has recently joined with Jamaican-Canadian billionaire Michael Lee-Chin to open two more properties: the 13-villa Trident and nearby Trident Castle, a restored eight-bedroom château-esque compound once favored by paparazzi-shy power couples like Daryl Hannah and the late John F. Kennedy Jr. Mr. Baker's holdings—along with a handful of private villas, including a pair owned by Francesca von Habsburg—currently represent Port Antonio's plushest accommodation.
The crescent-shaped beach at Frenchman's Cove remains as inviting as ever, wrapped in jungle and popular with young Jamaicans and Europeans, but the resort's rooms feel a bit dated. Though still functional and comfortable, the hotel has lost its former sense of luxury.
Not that this really matters—these resorts are just where you sleep after a packed day in Porty. In its densely packed downtown, for instance, the 19th-century courthouse and red-and-white brick Portland Parish Church stand as proud remnants of colonial-era grandeur. Nearby, the Musgrave Market heaves with tropical fruits, colorful hand-woven textiles and music merchants selling custom-mixed CDs by pan-Caribbean reggae, calypso and soca artists. The market also offers mento music, the mostly acoustic precursor to reggae that was practically invented in Port Antonio. Back at Geejam, the Jolly Boys, local legends "discovered" by the Flynns more than half a century ago—perform regular mento sets when not touring Europe and Asia.
If you're looking for something a bit quieter, try the almost silent, slow-motion raft rides down the Rio Grande, 45 minutes from downtown, where Errol Flynn is rumored to have romanced his many mistresses. More than 6 meters long and handmade from local bamboo, the rafts glide gracefully past the jungle, gently propelled by the churning currents and a lone oarsman balanced worrisomely upon their bow. Halfway down, the rafts stop along the river's edge for passengers to enjoy a healthy lunch of stewed crayfish and steamed bok choy. Much heartier eating, meanwhile, is found at the jerk chicken and pork shacks above Boston Bay, a major surfing spot where, legend has it, the modern incarnation of Jamaica's fiery national dish was invented in the 1960s, and where Errol Flynn's fashion-model grandson still hits the swells.
Today, the scotch-bonnet-spiced meat is piled high and served with flash-fried hush-puppies and fresh tropical fruit juices. Of course, as a staple of Caribbean-styled eateries from Brooklyn to Brixton, jerk has lost much of its exoticness. But the dish—if not Jamaica itself—doesn't come more authentic than in its Port Antonio incarnation.
The Lowdown: Port Antonio
GETTING THERE: Port Antonio is three hours overland from Kingston's Norman Manley International Airport, which is served from Europe by British Airways. Most Port Antonio hotels will arrange car transfers.
WHEN TO GO: Avoid the hurricane season between August and October.
STAYING THERE: Geejam (from €303 a night; US$395), Trident and the Trident Castle (from €346; US$450) are the upmarket leaders and can be reserved through geejamcollection.com. Far more spartan, though clean and comfortable, is Frenchman's Cove, with its unrivaled beach (from €85 (US$111) a night, frenchmanscove.com). Villas can be rented from jamaicantreasures.com.
WHAT TO PACK: T-shirts, swimming trunks, flip-flops and sun hats. Unless traveling during the Christmas-to-New-Year's social swirl, leave the jewelry and designer clothing at home.