Ocho Rios: a Caribbean hideaway on Jamaica’s north coast | Travel

Jessica Ogden has just finished applying a fresh lick of paint to the holiday cottage, one of two she rents out at Te Moana, close to Ocho Rios, occupying a scenic position on a cliff 30ft above the Caribbean Sea.

Unlike other luxurious and more opulent villas in the area, these cottages feel rustic, cosy and uniquely personal. That’s because they are. For Jessica, a fashion designer, they are an extension of her work, following in the footsteps of her mother, Annabella, who moved here in the 1960s. When her mother died two years ago, Jessica moved out soon afterwards to live at the family home. Although she has lived abroad for most of her adult life, her roots in Jamaica run deep. Annabella ran an art gallery here, Harmony Hall, which she opened in 1981, displaying the work of local artists – the gallery is still thriving today in a former 19th-century clergy house. Now Jessica has taken on the family business with her brother, looking after the two cottages at Te Moana, and adding a few touches of her own.

Jamaica map

I’m here with my husband and on the first night we decide to stay over in Kingston to appreciate the scenic drive to Ochi, as it’s known to locals, during daylight. A port town that started out as a tiny fishing village, Ocho Rios is on the north coast of Jamaica. After the heady energy of Kingston, our 80km drive along the north-south highway, framed by the dense greenery of inland Jamaica, feels lush and tranquil.

Within two hours we reach Seaside Cottage, originally built by Annabella, with stunning views of the sea from the living room. If you can tear yourself away from the scenery, the interior is lovely, too. Each room is vibrant and colourful, complemented by quilts and cushions designed by Jessica, as well as textiles and works of art by Jamaican artists.

Room with a view … a garden cottage at Te Moana. Photograph: Syd Shelton

Both cottages at Te Moana share landscaped gardens sprawling across an acre of land and there’s also a cliffside deck. Once you’re on the veranda relaxing in the hammock, it’s difficult to believe you’re only a mile from the centre of town. My favourite vantage point is the terrace, ideal for an early morning tea, listening to the waves and watching the sun come up.

If you’re feeling restless, there are plenty of ways to explore the coastline, including kayaks and a paddleboard. Wooden decks just above the sea are a great place for your yoga routine or sunbathing. There is also a local boat trip to the Dunn’s River Falls – a 180ft waterfall that is terraced into giant stairs with several small lagoons.

Once you do venture out, there are memorable places to eat, too. Lyming in Walkerswood, a 10-minute drive from Te Moana towards the hills of St Anne, serves traditional Jamaican food such as jerk or curried meats, rice and peas, festival, and fruit punches or Red Stripe. Stush in the Bush, the vegetarian farm-to-table venture of Chris and Lisa Binns, high up at the pinnacle of Free Hill, is surrounded by their 15-acre organic farm. It’s a hands-on experience, visiting the farm with Chris to plant seeds, then returning to the restaurant for a delicious communal meal of many different dishes from yam croquettes to beet carpaccio and Thai and Asian slaw.

Tourists climbing the Dunns River falls in a lush tropical landscape. Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

Tourists climbing Dunn’s River Falls. Photograph: Sergio Pitamitz/Getty Images

Back towards Ocho Rios, Scotchie is famous for serving the best jerk chicken on the island and it is full of locals. My passion for ice-cream is sated at Devon House I-Scream, at the Island Village shopping centre in Ochi, well known for making some of the best ice-cream on the island – I love its rum and raisin. We also enjoy a meal at Toscanini Italian restaurant and bar at Harmony Hall, a colonial villa serving delicious seafood, including locally caught marlin, tuna and south coast prawns.

Since the guesthouses are self-catering, it is easy to live cheaply, stocking up at local supermarkets in the town, while the Friday morning farmers’ market in White River, a few miles east of Te Moana, sells classic fresh produce such as pineapples and plantains, yams and sweet potatoes, green bananas and breadfruit. You can also buy fruit and veg galore from a mobile local supplier who sells at Te Moana on Saturday mornings.

Market day: fresh farm produce in White River.

Market day … fresh farm produce in White River. Photograph: Syd Shelton

Meanwhile, the wonderful Breadfruit Tree Bar and Shop, just a couple of minutes’ walk from the guest cottages, is worth a visit to view the breadfruit tree around which the shop is built.

The temptation is to enjoy the idyllic surroundings of Ta Moana and the cottages – but once you do take time to explore, it is the vibrancy and richness of the surrounding area that really wins you over.

Way to go

Return flights from Gatwick to Kingston from £692 with British Airways. Rates for each of the two one-bedroom cottages at Te Moana from £135 a night and £811 a week (minimum stay: low season three nights, high season five nights). For more details, go to harmonyhall.com

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