Jamaica’s must-sees from Bob Marley museums to the world’s most expensive banana

Our tour of Sun Valley Plantation started off at a sedate pace as Lorna, our guide and the plantation’s co-owner with husband Nolly, pointed out the bounty of spices, tropical fruits, vegetables and flowers that flourish on this 34-acre farm, lying just 10 miles from Ocho Rios, in the town of Oracabessa.

We learned about their far-ranging medicinal and therapeutic properties. From the highly hydrating potassium-rich coconut jelly – said to be a great hangover antidote, to Jamaica’s own nutrient-packed Otaheite apple – nature’s pharmacy seems to have a remedy for just about every ailment.

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But it was when we lingered by a nutmeg tree that the tour took a saucy spicy turn, as Lorna, with a twinkle in her eye, shared with us not only how this splendid spice works its magic in the kitchen but also in the bedroom – as an aphrodisiac.

Lorna plucked a vanilla bean pod and as we inhaled the heady scent, grinning, she told us that gentlemen find a sniff of this alluring spice on ladies very irresistible. The second most expensive spice (after saffron) is certainly worth its weight in gold as a prime ingredient in the creation of perfumes.

At the end of our tour we were invited to an alfresco tasting of some of the farm’s wonderful produce, including a chance to find out why Gros Michel is the world’s top banana.

Candy-sweet and creamy, no wonder it’s the world’s most expensive banana, though you won’t see them in supermarkets as they’re no longer commercially grown.

As platefuls of breadfruit chips and fried plantain were brought out, accompanied by exotic mango juices, an iridescent flash of colours announced the arrival of one of the plantation’s feathered residents. Entranced we watched as the tiny hummingbird hovered over a little pot of sugar water before taking a swift sip and darting straight back into the foliage (email [email protected], $20pp).

There were more culinary delights in store the next day as we headed into the island’s capital, Kingston, for a private lesson courtesy of chef Liyah T.

She cooked up a storm starting with the island’s national dish and Jamaican breakfast staple, saltfish and ackee. Although ackee is a fruit it’s used in dishes as a vegetable and cooked resembles scrambled egg.

The mains of red snapper with a pumpkin, okra and carrot sauce served with fried bammy (cassava soaked in coconut milk) didn’t disappoint either, washed down with a refreshing sorrel drink.

Lunch was in the lush grounds of the Devon House Mansion which is also home to the award-winning I-Scream parlour. We scooped a crocodile line of schoolkids to the flagship store and then had the delicious dilemma of deciding which of its 27 flavours – from classic vanilla, to the famous Devon Stout – to choose.

Devon House Mansion itself is worth a visit – and not just for the ice cream. Built in the late 19th century by George Stiebel, Jamaica’s first black millionaire after making his fortune in the gold mines of Venezuela, the residence at 26 Hope Road, was declared a National Heritage Site in 1990.

Furnished with exquisite antiques, from the ornate chandeliers, four-poster beds to the elegant ballroom complete with grand piano, the tour takes you on interesting journey back in time.

Just little further down Hope Road, at number 56, is another celebrated home, the former residence of the Hon. Robert Nesta Marley. The island’s most famous son lived here from 1975 until he died of cancer at the age of 36.

Transformed into a museum and shrine showcasing the life and countless musical achievements of the reggae legend, the house has been left virtually untouched since his death in 1981, from the modest bedroom with a Les Paul guitar casually slung on to the bed, to the tiny kitchen and the blender he used to make his morning fix of fresh juices – in keeping with his Rastafarian beliefs, he was a vegetarian. You can even see the bullet marks in the wall from a failed assassination attempt on Marley in 1976.

But the tour ended on a high note, when the enthusiastic guide brought us to Marley’s personal recording studio and cajoled us into giving a rendition of One Love.

And this being the 60th year of Jamaica’s independence, I like to think it was our tuneful celebration of the big anniversary.

Our cultural appetite duly sated, the next day we hit the road heading to the north coast for Ocho Rios, at David’s behest. Our personable tour guide was keen for us not to leave the island without partaking of lunch at Miss T’s Kitchen. Tucked down a cul-de-sac off Main Street, Anna-Kay Tomlinson’s restaurant is a feast for both the eyes and the palate.

I opted for Miss T’s Famous Oxtail. Simmered for hours with butter beans, carrots and spinners (dumplings), the meat was so tender it fell easily off the bone. Happily replete, I confess I may have dozed off for a short time as David drove us 70 miles eastward to Portland parish.

A few miles from Portland’s capital, Port Antonio, one of the locations for latest Bond film No Time To Die, we drew up at the Blue Lagoon. And beaming boatman Boxer was waiting to whisk us away in James Bond style, on a thrilling ride across this translucent and seemingly bottomless pool (actually 200ft deep), surrounded by jungle-covered cliffs.

It’s no surprise Jamaica has long been a filmmaker’s dream location and at Frenchman’s Cove I could see why. Stepping on to this idyllic beach of powder white sand, dotted with palm trees, it was like I’d strayed on to a movie set. As part of a 45-acre estate there is an entrance fee of £13 (children £7) – a small price to pay for a taste of paradise.

Book the holiday

Sackville Travel offer flights with Virgin Atlantic to Montego Bay from £745 return.

A night at the four-star Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston starts at £220 in a Deluxe Room based on two sharing with breakfast. Book through sackvilletravel.com, 020 7274 2242.

British Airways flies from Gatwick to Kingston with return fares from £704. ba.com/jamaica

Doubles at the three-star Hotel Tim Bamboo in Port Antonio from £52 a night on B&B. hoteltimbamboo.com;visitjamaica.com


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