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Vacation Rentals: Jamaica

Divide and Conquer

Sharing costs at Bluefields Bay villa

April 12, 1998|ROGER PIANTADOSI | WASHINGTON POST; Piantadosi is a travel writer for the Post

BLUEFIELDS BAY, Jamaica — If you're the type to book luxury all-inclusive vacations without a second glance at your checkbook, then just take my word for this and skip down to the telephone number now. You will never stay at a Caribbean resort so seriously, memorably indulgent--and yet so congenial with the neighborhood, both socially and ecologically.

The rest of you come with me (and bring at least two friends), and we'll figure out how--and why--regular people would, and should, also spend some time at the Villas on Bluefields Bay, on Jamaica's still-untouristed southwest coast.

We were able to stay at Bluefields--at the Hermitage and adjacent Cottonwood Cottage--because my wife, Charmaine, gathered a group for a retreat in April, in the semi-off-season. There were 11 in all, bringing the cost down to just over $1,000 per person for a week in paradise. (In high season--January-March--the same 11 could have the same two cottages for about $1,400 per person per week, including the 12% charge for gratuities and taxes; tipping is verboten.)

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Most of us know Jamaica as a land of resorts, ever more of which are lands bounded by fences, inside of which entrepreneurs--of a different scale, if not sensibility, than the ones invariably hawking jerk chicken and less legal smoked goods outside the gates--endeavor to meet vacationers' every need for a week or two. Maybe because Jamaica is perceived by many as a wilder place than its Caribbean neighbors, the all-inclusives flourish here.

The Villas of Bluefields Bay, five homes perched among the dense green-on-green above a serene bay in a part of the island where most people still either fish or grow things for a living, certainly fit the all-inclusive category: The rates cover all meals and open bar, full staff and airport transfers. But the similarity ends here.

Unlike the north coast, the southwest coast's attractions are largely natural--narrow, haphazardly paved country roads in the area lead to deserted, narrow beaches, farms and small villages, and such sublime daytime destinations as the 120-foot, multitiered Y.S. Falls.

At the Bluefields villas, you are meant to--and, unless you rent a car or hire the villas' van for a day trip, pretty much forced to--relax and take in the fundamental wonders: the sea, the sun--and, in this case, the staff.

Probably because they consider Jamaica their adopted home, Bluefields villas' owners, Braxton and Deborah Moncure, have taken evident care in developing their string of resort villas. Jamaican antiques, including exquisitely carved mahogany four-poster canopy beds, grace the rooms.

All the wood, stone and other materials used in renovation are local (as they were in construction of the Hermitage, the Bluefields villa designed by architect Deborah Moncure and surely one of the world's most seamless, sigh-inducing integrations of nature and shelter). And all of the staff--from sharp and sunny manager Birdie Walker Simms to almost every cook, waiter and nanny--are from the area.

Meals are eclectic and wonderful, routinely served among china, crystal and linen.

There are plans for several large north coast-like complexes in nearby Whitehouse and Savannah-la-Mar. If you want to know what a Caribbean island looks like before Sandals, you might want to visit Bluefields soon.

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GUIDEBOOK

Villa Tips

Getting there: There's connecting service only L.A.-Montego Bay, on American, Delta, Northwest and US Airways; round-trip fares begin at about $530. Car transfer included for all except Cottonwood Cottage; cab $60.

Where to stay: Villas at Bluefields Bay; contact Braxton and/or Deborah Moncure, 726 N. Washington St., Alexandria, VA 22314; telephone (202) 232-4010, fax (703) 549-6517.

For more information: Jamaica Tourist Board, 3440 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 805, Los Angeles, CA 90010; tel. (213) 384-1123, fax (213) 384-1780.

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