A long drive across the north-east coastline of Jamaica will take you to Oracabessa, the artist town Christopher Columbus once sailed to, little over 500 years ago. It is an unassuming location, with a population somewhere north of 4,000 – yet, given its waters of heavily saturated blues and its beaches that wouldn’t be amiss in a Sports Illustrated centrefold, it is easy to envisage it as a place where James Bond, that quintessential fictional superspy, would hole up to escape the ruthless, unblinking demands of being a living gun for hire.
It should come as no surprise, then, that this tropical spot was where the man who immortalised him in words, Ian Fleming, chose to build his renowned GoldenEye estate, perhaps the most iconic location in Bond lore.
It was while serving in the Navy during World War II when Fleming first ventured to Jamaica, under orders to investigate the activity of U-boats in the Caribbean. As kismet would dictate, the task offered him the opportunity to appreciate and eventually be enamoured by the lush surroundings; so, when a 15-acre estate – a former donkey racetrack in the banana port town of Oracabessa – came up for sale in 1946, he shot at the chance to acquire it.
For an author that possessed the mastery of bringing to life such glamorous tales of espionage, you would be forgiven for expecting his own estate – whose moniker comes from the operation that took him to Jamaica – to possess the same levels of opulence that he writes about. Yet, GoldenEye was quite the opposite, possessing a pared-back functionalism that was worlds away from the gilded five-star decadence so closely tied to the Roger Moore era, or the futuristic, clinical lines of Spectre’s Hoffler Klinik, in the Austrian Alps.
Instead, Fleming designed the villa himself, drawing up an architectural plan that suggested the structure should be composed simply, with the eventual result being a modest three-bedroom property fitted with shuttered jalousie windows, as well as the wooden terrace in a corner of the building where he wrote all 14 Bond novels.
However, that’s not to say that Fleming’s house was completely absent of any glitz or allure. Throughout the 1950s, GoldenEye became a social hub, playing host to a number of notable celebutantes that flocked to the estate for a sun-soaked escape, from Lucian Freud to Truman Capote, Katharine Hepburn and Sophia Loren.
12 years following Fleming’s death, in 1964, the property was bought by Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records and the man who first guided the career of Bob Marley. Notably, it was Blackwell who made the decision to build on the property, gradually adding a number of huts and lagoon cottages, with the estate eventually expanding to 52 acres. In 2011, following an extensive refurb, GoldenEye opened as a resort, a design feat courtesy of Ann Hodges, a Jamaican architect, who helped make available this slice of idyllic island living to those who wished to jet to this corner of the world.
Indeed, it may now look far from Fleming’s initial vision, but the original villa – which sleeps ten, and features a pair of guest cottages, sunken garden, bijou private beach and the desk at where he authored his books – remains spare and is the anchor of the resort. Perhaps more impressive is that despite the allure of the tourist dollars, a Disneyfied, paraphernalia-heavy scheme is eschewed across the grounds, where a medley of 49 villas, cabanas and cottages, located either along the lagoon or beaches, or throughout the gardens, are largely awash in a white palette and filled with hardwood furniture.
The spa, whose treatments draw upon local leaves and herbs, offers a moment of recovery following a session of deep-sea fishing, or a day undertaking any one of those classic island activities of snorkelling and stand-up paddle boarding, and guests refuel on BBQ classics at Bamboo Bar. Finally, at sundown, libations are sipped at rooftop lounge Shabeen. It is an experience certainly worth considering. After all, you only live once.
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