COCO SAN – THE CROWN JEWEL
The dream of a luxury Caribbean hideaway nestled amongst a coconut grove in the cool, secluded hills above a world famous beach is one we’ve all had at some point. There are some people who are able to manifest that dream to reality. In a forgotten corner of Jamaica, Portland parish has survived the mass tourism on the North Coast surrounding Montego Bay. In a strange quirk of fate, it also happens to be the most beautiful parish. Portland, or ‘Portie’ to those clued in, is backdropped by the mystical Blue Mountains whose undulating hills and valleys of verdant forest conceal bounteous springs, mineral rich rivers and iconic, cascading waterfalls. Its beauty is of the surreal, encapsulating kind. A deep, profound inner beauty that once seen, leaves its legacy imprinted in the psyche of one’s soul. The hills eventually give way to 80 kilometres of protected wetlands, rich with diverse wildlife and hidden coves ripe for exploration and picture perfect Caribbean beach idylls.
7km east of the parish capital Port Antonio, lies the exclusive Geejam hotel collection comprising seven on-site suites and two luxury villas in the surrounding hills. The emphasis is on an oasis marrying serious style with island cool. Islands don’t get cooler than Jamaica and hotels don’t come any more stylish than Geejam.
Geejam founder and Portland aficionado Jon Baker, the architect behind its renaissance and innovator of Cocosan, the jewel in the collections’ crown. Together with business partner and fellow record company boss Steve Beaver, their vision of a nirvana for creatives has been realised in this remarkable part of a special island.
The most striking aspect of the villa is its unique design. Dispensing with the ubiquitous colonial architecture the collaboration between Geejam and celebrated international Caribbean architect Vidal Dowding was a vision for what the future of luxury living in Portland could be.
“These Villas (including Panorama and Sanwood) needed a wow factor
. Not just in the context of Jamaica and Port Antonio but to be able to be compared favourably to anywhere else in the Caribbean and beyond.” Jon explained to me as he sat next to the iconic freshwater swimming pool overlooking the panoramic coastline in the distance.
“ I’d already started a partnership with Vidal Dowding a young architect with a young team we were onsite all the time with about five of my trusted artisans. We built a mill shop in the bush where we shipped in our equipment and dried the wood,” said Baker.
It doesn’t take long when entering Cocosan to recognise Dowding’s acclaimed design credentials and attention to detail. The sleek open interior is augmented with the local wood flooring harvested from the surrounding forest, bringing nature into the home. The cavernous entrance hall spills into the living area bathed in the mid-morning light of a December Caribbean sun. A perfect panorama of vegetation, azure skies and rippling ocean follows you, as a great work of art by a master would, as you move out to the patio dining area and elegantly shaped swimming pool. The design touches, from saxophone and trumpet sculpted chandeliers, to the red piano in the hallway, give it a tropical, urban living vibe. A large eclectic vinyl collection compliments the mixing decks in the living area. Gil Scott Heron jostling for space with Burning Spear and legendary funk musician George Clinton. Discretion is key, but it’s obvious this is a hang-out for scenesters, artists, and occasional royalty. Many famous recording artists have stayed here, whilst using the state-of-the-art recording studio at Geejam hotel. Steve explains why it is so popular:
“Most of the artists and songwriters who come are able to tap into the unquantifiable yet undeniable energy that exists both at Geejam and Cocosan. It definitely helps to alleviate ‘writers block’, just one reason why many of them return. But they also appreciate the local surroundings, including Drapers, our local village, where they can just hang out there by one of the sound systems and chat to locals – an experience that’s important and engaging.”
It only requires a short conversation with the Geejam collective impresario and record company entrepreneur to understand why his collaboration with architect Vidal Dowding was described as ‘the dream team’ by Beaver, such is the sense of majesty of the place. There is a garden suite on the ground floor with a specially fitted bathroom and a self-contained patio and five additional bedrooms accessed by the grand, open staircase including the master suite with its own cinema screen, a rain shower large enough to be confused for a monsoon and a colossal standalone bath tub. Although why anyone would do anything other than gaze endlessly at the mesmerising view is boggling. Four further bedrooms peel off either side of the corridor offering quantities of zen and creative energy.
Portland is a playground for the jet set, masquerading as an undiscovered gem. Jamaica can’t be pigeon holed to a microcosm. It moves unapologetically to its own rhythm and when the rhythm is the one that gave the world Reggae, recently awarded Unesco cultural heritage status, one really should listen up. Even for this island the parish of Portland is special. An unaffected rawness that makes Jamaica’s brand of cool ennui so special. In essence all are treated with respect and love whether you are the world’s biggest urban artist or a young adventurer passing through. You will be bothered as much or as little as you want. Nestled in the cool hills of San San, moments from the world-famous Frenchman’s Cove, Cocosan villa is the definitive coda in how and where to live in 2019. It’s the perfect foil of style and substance. Built in 2014, the villa’s restrained style is a hallmark that only those with a true understanding of taste possess. All touches, large or small add up to make this unique property a real, once in a lifetime opportunity for the right owner to live out their dream fantasy. Every angle has been thought of to provide a feeling of quiet assurance. The porthole windows juxtapose with huge, light and life affirming rectangles of glass flooding the villa with the islands’ vitality. On a perfect ‘Portie’ day, thirty-foot high coconut trees sway gently in the breeze, intricately brush-stroked and landscaped gardens give way to raw forest, before meeting the endless azure blue of white tipped ocean. The perfect Caribbean idyll you had in your mind’s eye.
“You’re in a beautiful part of Jamaica that avoids much of the baggage that mass tourism creates,” Baker explains.
Nothing usually lives up to the feeling of returning to a place of beauty, akin to chasing the memory of a first love. Yet, here, among the wood and water that gave Jamaica its original name, Xaymaca, you can’t quite believe a place like this exists in our shrinking world. No large crowds, no major resorts, just pristine empty beaches. Prime rainforest, exquisite views and waterfalls whose energy and soul are only matched by those that live there.
“It’s always been a playground for the more discerning traveller, as well as the rich and famous with style and edge who like the experience. It’s not white gloves, but the service is appropriate and if people decide to buy into the Port Antonio renaissance, as a number of our clients have already done, then this will continue to become more and more unique.” Baker adds.
Portland’s renaissance as a destination is in part due to its historical flirtation with high society. Notorious Hollywood star Errol Flynn was so enchanted he made it his home as did Noel Coward whose invite list was the envy of any host. Both left their mark. The Daily Gleaner commented on Flynn’s passing thus: “Though celebrities no longer cause undue excitement to our accustomed eyes, it is because of his irrepressible pursuit of adventure, his determination not to be restricted by the pressures of life, his real involvement with the island itself that the news of Errol Flynns death saddens particularly deeply. It is as though another colourful chapter in the islands romantic history has been closed”
A golden opportunity awaits to re-open that book and write new chapters in the story of a place that has beguiled and besotted for over a century. Fortune favours the brave.