A while ago, I wrote a blog post about my very first experience Traveling Vegan in Jamaica– that covered everything from Ital cookshops, fresh produce markets, snacks & juices. Today, I’m really excited to share another wonderful experience I had at the whimsical boho boutique Jake’s Hotel conveniently located in Jamaica’s “bread basket”, where all the best produce grows!
Of note: Jake’s is a celebrated establishment that has been reviewed, praised & written about countless times by locals and travelers alike. A ton of things happen at this magical place such as the monthly full moon farm-to-table dinners , off-road triathlons and the annual Calabash International Literary Festival. Instead of repeating what’s already out there, this getaway story* is my personal recollection as a plant based nature & culture lover.
It starts like this:
I had a really rough week and I was dying to get out of Kingston for some peace of mind. Everyone in Jamaica knows that one’s sanity can only be salvaged in “country”- a word locals use as reference to anything outside of the capital city. After a three hour drive, dotted with scenic views, the occasional cow and herds of goats, I finally made it to the parish of St.Elizabeth- specifically Treasure Beach, right along the Caribbean Sea. This Southern part of the island is a little less untouched than tourist hubs Ocho Rios, Montego Bay or Negril- and that’s what makes it really special. Many gems can be found here, namely Jake’s- which is one of the most creative spaces I’ve stayed at throughout all my years of travel.
In fact, by the end of my stay, it was a little difficult leaving this dreamy place which appeals to so many of my values: sustainable, nature-inspired, wildly artistic and sourcing kitchen ingredients that are both seasonal and that never grow too far away… just a few highlights of Jake’s active eco-tourism history in the region.
One of the distinctive features about Jake’s is the far from generic hotel sign. Painted on a vintage car, it sets the tone for all the unique aesthetics awaiting guests inside: an accumulation of details born out of of Sally Henzell’s unique vision. Sally is a notable artist & the founder of Jake’s- and she’s clearly extraordinarily talented.
In this tropical heat, there’s nothing nicer than being welcomed with a fresh glass of watermelon-ginger juice (stunning- and with no added sugar). I drop my bags off in my fuchsia, blue & purple oceanfront bungalow and immediately head out to the sea. The first order of things is jump into the refreshing turquoise water that is just foot steps away. Spending time in salt water is something I try to do as often as I can living in Jamaica: it’s mineral rich content is therapeutic and excellent for skin and overall health. Bonus points: there is no wifi when you’re under water, which makes for a great occasion to disconnect and just breathe. So important in this time & age.
With that out of the way, I’m now dying to explore this seemingly magical space.
Immediately evident at Jake’s is the playful use of colours and the effort put into all the details. I want to think it’s no coincidence that the reception area is a contagiously joyful pink and that outdoor seatings are thoughtfully placed facing the sea. All the colourful details seem to blend in so well on the natural canvas of lush green & marine turquoise. Every area evokes an emotion- and as an art & design lover myself, I can appreciate the imaginative effort.
On the walls, fabrics, tiles & cleverly re-purposed glass bottles, these hundreds of colours subtly remind me of something. We’re in Jamaica, and if there’s one thing that’s uniquely Jamaican its the brightly painted homes, cookshops and the countless bars & aptly named “chill out spots” across the island. All sorts of kaleidoscopic tonalities that I had always noticed since my first trips to the island and that have inspired me in my own respective way.
But the unique artistic touch here makes for an unbelievably gorgeous setting- great for those million Instagram worthy pictures you might want to take! (Clearly, Sally was ahead of the trend before the term “Instagram worthy” was even a thing!) Every corner feels cinematic- which is no coincidence as Sally’s love happened to be a film director. I can only imagine how their union must had fueled so much of the creativity here.
With that said, there’s a chunk of culture at Jake’s, hinted by all the posters and memorabilia celebrating one of Jamaica’s most acclaimed movies The Harder They Come. In effect, Perry Henzell (Sally’s late husband) directed this 70’s classic- which has without a doubt, served as an inspiration board of what “cool” looks like for various creative industries: be it fashion, music and more. That coolness I’m talking about is no reconstructed forced kind of thing. Anyone who has been to Jamaica must have noticed the flair that oozes around here, where so many trends in mainstream music culture find inspiration from (side note: patois adopted by international music artists is a story for another day). The uber-groovy Jack Sprat Restaurant is a prime example of that “effortless cool” I am referring to!
Since we’re on the subject of eateries: one of my highlights was cooking with Chef Chevane. Jake’s Restaurant offers cooking classes – and even for someone who cooks all the time like myself, I never underestimate what you might learn out of a class. Chevane drew inspiration from a Jamaican classic known as “rundown”, an aromatic coconut milk based specialty. In it’s vegan inclination, there were a ton of gorgeous local vegetables: pumpkin, carrots, zucchini, eggplant, pak-choy- to name a few. And of course, you can’t capture Jamaican flavour if you don’t include (local) scotch bonnet, thyme, garlic, scallion & ginger. Oh, the ginger! You can never miss a Jamaican ginger- with its satisfying burn and zing at the tip of your tongue.
For that final Caribbean vegan-soulfood touch, Chevane prepared some grilled ripe plantains, that were rubbed with coconut oil and a pinch of S&P. Interestingly enough, they were sliced and placed on the fire with the peel on- a great way to “hold” each slice on the grill. This detail caught my attention. Many of my blog readers know my odd fascination for ripe plantains and the recipes I’ve churned out to help me explore the million and one ways to use this locally staple ingredient. I didn’t grow up in the tropics, so ripe plantain was never a part of my diet- and that’s probably why I’m curious of what to do with it, beyond fried ripe plantain & plantain chips. Now, it’s become one of my favourite ingredients 🙂
Cooking always puts me in a good mood and is a platform for great conversation- so with the sizzles & smells, I got chatty and talked about all sorts of food related subjects with Chevane, who is pictured below!
I became very excited to try all of this mostly because I knew all the ingredients were fresh and local. This is a huge deal for me. Homemade coconut milk, for instance, is a pleasure in itself. Especially in this time & age of hyper convenience. And indeed, when we were done cooking, I picked a spot facing the sea and I sat down to savour my dish. Each bite reminded me that no matter what, great flavour is ALWAYS made from good quality ingredients. This is what I loved most about my stay at Jake’s: that everything tasted REAL. From Chevane’s dish to the fruit juices, the delightful Watermelon Gazpacho- and more. Change may be a constant- but the idea of what locally sourced fresh ingredients can bring to a dish (and do to a community) is something to never underestimate. Especially in Jamaica where the soil & sunshine is so good.
If you’re looking for a more casual bite, there’s always vegan pizza & cold jelly (coconut) water at Jack Sprat’s– accessible to both hotel guests & visitors alike. Obviously, I don’t need to remind you that pizza is meant to be eaten with your hands, even though Jake’s has the courtesy of providing you with a knife & fork 😀 For my occasional gluten/wheat indulgence, the staff were extra accommodating to make a cheese-less pizza, with local veggies, on a light crust- that for once, wasn’t swimming in oil that would put me to sleep. A good pizza should be big, never greasy and always easy to digest. I learned this years ago at some of the best pizzerias in Napoli (in my pre-vegan life) where I gobbled pizzas twice the size of my head and yet still had the pep to move on with my day 🙂
In my final hours, I left feeling refueled & so inspired- and with a few mosquito bites 😉 Don’t forget your mosquito spray because there’s no way you’ll want to miss out on gorgeous sunsets with the sound of waves and roots, reggae & ska classics in the backdrop. Ask for a freshly made fruit punch (non-alcoholic & no added sugar) at Dougies Bar. The staff are always extra friendly too!
Find out more about Jake’s Hotel & the plethora of ways it supports eco-tourism on their official website.
*Disclaimer: For this review, I paid to stay at Jake’s Hotel, with a discounted rate and a complimentary cooking class. As always, all thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own and never influenced by the company, and/or its affiliates, in any way. Words & Pictures by me.