Some of the world’s most rare and sought after coffee is grown in The Blue Mountains, an impressive range of peaks running along Jamaica’s eastern end. Now, in addition to taking in the stunning scenery and awesome coffee, visitors can explore The Jamaica Blue Mountain Culinary Trail, a self-guided tour of eateries and attractions nestled within the natural beauty of a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site. These picturesque mountains grow flavours found nowhere else. Along the trail, cafes, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, hotels and spa retreats, invite visitors inside the community to experience the diverse culture and cuisine of this unique region.
The highest peak in The Blue Mountains is 2250 metres above sea level. In contrast to the scorching temperatures of the coastal regions, the mountains are pleasantly cool, with lots of sunshine, regular rainfall and rich soils that promote luxuriant vegetation. While most visitors rightfully head for Jamaica’s beautiful beaches to soak up the sun, there is so much more to discover by heading for the hills.
Just a short drive from Kingston, the Jamaica Blue Mountain Culinary Trail begins, following a 19.5-kilometre route that ascends high into the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Visitors can sample their way along the trail to experience fine dining, relaxed cafes, coffee tasting sessions, and locally inspired dishes, learning about Jamaica’s cultural history while taking in magnificent 360-degree views of misty mountains, lush terrain and the city of Kingston far below.
The trail passes by Newcastle, a training camp for soldiers and recruits of the Jamaica Defence Force. The barracks were established in 1841 by the British Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica at the time, Major General Sir William Maynard Gomm, who realized that the incidence of infection with yellow fever was much lower among soldiers stationed in the mountains than those who lived in the lowlands. He convinced the British Government to purchase a coffee estate and establish a base in the mountains. When Jamaica achieved independence in 1962 Newcastle Barracks were given to the JDF.
Not far from Newcastle is Mount Edge Guest House and Food Basket farm. Their EITS (Europe in the Summer) Cafe has a rustic laid-back feel and offers an appealing fusion of gourmet European-Jamaican food. Most of the food is grown on-site or sourced from other local farms making this a true Jamaican farm-to-table dining experience. The cool climate of the Blue Mountains allows the growing of herbs and vegetables which are not widely available in Jamaica, giving British chef Robert Thunder and his Jamaican colleague Chef Kingsley the opportunity to expand their culinary repertoire beyond the usual Jamaican standards.
Belcour Lodge is a beautiful private, colonial-era home set in a lovely, little river valley amid expansive gardens. Orchids and a host of other flowers attract a wide variety of birds, most notably beautiful hummingbirds. Robin and Michael Lumsden offer visitors culinary tours of the property which includes an apiary with around 100 bee colonies, a citrus orchard, and several different types of fruit trees. The Lumsdens make and sell Belcour Blue Mountain Honey, as well as fruit preserves, chutneys and spicy pepper sauces, produced on a cottage-industry scale from all natural, local ingredients. The garden tour is accompanied by a gourmet brunch, lunch, or high tea. A swimming hole in the river is perfect for a refreshing dip.
Situated just outside the entrance to Holywell Recreation Park, the rustic Gap Cafe is the perfect place to stop for fine food and coffee before (or after) hiking around the park. It is said that they serve the best cup of coffee in the world, with fresh beans taken from the surrounding plantations and brewed to order. The menu features traditional Jamaican cuisine and homemade pastries and many diners make the trip from Kingston just to eat at the cafe.
The Gap Cafe was built in the 1930s and is famous for its stunning views and wildlife. It is rumoured that Ian Flemming wrote Dr No here, surrounded by the hummingbirds that the area is known for. Feeding stations outside the cafe windows give visitors the opportunity to get up close to these charming little birds. There is also a cottage that offers bed and breakfast accommodation.
Located 3,000 feet above sea-level in the cool, tropical mist forests of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, Holywell Recreation Park is an idyllic escape from the tropical heat. A world of verdant forests, panoramic vistas and silent clouds, it is the largest recreation area within the National Park, and the closest to Kingston. There are four marked trails for hiking, bird watching and generally immersing yourself in the mountain ecosystem amid waterfalls and a rich variety of flora and fauna. Trail guides are available, but not necessary.
Holywell also offers expansive picnic areas with barbeque pits and gazebos. It is also home to the Blue and John Crow National Park Visitors’ Center, where you can learn more about Jamaica’s only national park. There’s a Children’s Discovery Zone, and coffee and farm tours are also available. There are also three cabins available for rent. Originally built for forest rangers in the 1970’s, each has a living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom and covered porch with an impressive view of Kingston and the sea. You can also rent a tent, and camp within the park’s scenic grounds.
Clinging to a cliff in Irish Town, Blue Cafe was established by the Sharp family, who have been involved in coffee production since 1985. Their breathtaking Clifton Mount Estate is located in the heart of the Blue Mountains at 4,300 feet above sea level, and is the oldest functioning coffee estate in the World, with a rich history of coffee production. Their farms are Rainforest Alliance Certified and they follow an eco and bird friendly policy. Their coffee is produced under banana, Inga, mango and many other shade trees and weed control is done by hand. This protects the soil and river basins from erosion. They also actively support Jamaican suppliers by using locally sourced ingredients, furniture, artworks, ceramics and other supplies in their cafes.
Craighton Estate offers a coffee tour to that explains the origins, cultivation and processing of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee. The flavourful beans are grown in limited quantities and by far the largest purchaser is Japan. Craighton Estate is the first Blue Mountain coffee estate to be directly operated by a Japanese company and was also the first coffee estate in the Caribbean to be Rainforest Alliance Certified. The Blue Mountain area may be the ideal growing environment for coffee, but it has a challenging climate for people to manage. As a mountainous terrain located 800-900 metres above sea level, there are places where the inclination reaches a steep forty degrees. These precipitous paths are treacherous for even experienced climbers, so the work is physically demanding. Visitors can hike within the estate and observe coffee farming practices first hand, from seedling to harvest.
A former coffee estate is now the site of Heritage Gardens, a beautiful setting for wandering, meditation, retreats, writing, painting and cultural events. Irish naval officer and botanist Mathew Wallen established the coffee farm when he arrived in Jamaica in 1747. Wallen is credited with bringing several exotic plant species to Jamaica, including watercress, dandelion, nasturtiums, and bamboo. The cottage on the property sleeps up to six and has a rustic but comfortable feel with hot water and a cool breeze. The gardens are well cared for, and the entire property boasts spectacular views. The cottage makes a good base for hiking in the western section of the Blue Mountains and is a short walk to Newcastle, where the road up Catherine’s Peak begins.
The romantic Strawberry Hill Jamaica Luxury Resort stands on the estate originally owned by the 18th-century British man of letters, Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford, the son of Prime Minister Robert Walpole and cousin of Admiral Lord Nelson. In 1780, the Royal Family granted Walpole the Blue Mountain property in the Crown Colony of Jamaica. Walpole was delighted to discover that the property’s elevation was ideal for growing strawberries.
In the late 18th century, the property became a Foreign Officers’ Naval Hospital and then a hotel serving British-style Sunday High Teas, offering homemade scones and estate-grown strawberries with cream. Many Kingstonians made the winding drive up the mountain to Strawberry Hill, including a young Chris Blackwell, whose elegant mother, Blanche, would take him to tea. As founder of the Island Records label, Blackwell went on to become an innovative music industry icon. In 1974, he fulfilled a childhood dream when he purchased Strawberry Hill. It became a haven for musicians, including legendary Jamaican artist, Bob Marley.
Today Strawberry Hill offers accommodation in luxury cottages and a restaurant featuring a gracious bygone era ambiance and New Jamaican cuisine. Traditional dishes, such as lamb curry and fish stew, get a contemporary twist; a classic omelette aux fines herbes is localized with just-picked thyme and a fragrant side of callaloo, Jamaica’s sturdy spinach. Cocktails are enjoyed on a wraparound veranda with stunning mountain views. Sunday Brunch at Strawberry Hill has become a treat and ritual for local families, romantic couples, visiting tourists and hotel guests.
The Jamaica Blue Mountain Culinary Trail is an initiative of the Jamaica Tourism Board. www.visitjamaica.com