Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Jamaica: No Problem!

Saturday: Getting There

What is better than a trip to Negril, Jamaica?  Nothing!

The plane touched down at Donald Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay (nonstop from Boston on Jet Blue) around 3pm.  From the sky, we could see the usual amazing colors of the ocean and we couldn’t wait to feel the warm sun.  The month was March and the Boston winter had been brutal.

Stepping off the plane, we hauled our carry-on bags inside the small airport and out the front door, where we searched for a representative from Clive’s Transport Service.  We were quickly greeted by hot and humid air and a very friendly driver carrying two very cold Red Stripes, one for each of us. We had arrived!

We hopped in the shuttle and off we went, stopping once along the way in Montego Bay to take out some Jamaican currency (called Js).  While at the bank, our driver pointed out a great jerk chicken shack so we picked up a snack for the road. 

The mostly scenic, 90-minute drive west to Negril took us past ruins of sugar estates and great houses and through the town of Lucea.  We caught glimpses of the Caribbean on our right as we neared Negril. We chatted with our driver, who gave us a pretty decent tour as we drove the winding roads, listening to Stephen Marley and talking about Jamaica.

Our Amazing First Night

The shuttle pulled into our home for the week, The Palms Resort Negril, a small boutique hotel situated on the beautiful seven-mile beach.  Check-in was quick and painless and we received a complimentary welcome rum punch.  A friendly employee named Richard escorted us to our room and we were pleasantly surprised!  The room was large and beautifully but simply decorated, with a fresh flower and a towel twisted into the shape of a swan on our bed.  Wooden shutters that opened as doors lined the walls, and one set of doors opened to a small terrace.

The sun was about to set so we quickly changed and walked the tropical path through the grounds leading to the hotel’s ocean-side beach bar, restaurant and pool area.  We felt like we had just entered paradise…what an amazing place!

We ordered two rum punches at the bar and decided to eat at the Palms' restaurant, Krystal’s.  The service and food were good, the scene was very romantic.  We sat at a table next to the pool overlooking the ocean.  The sun set and was soon replaced by the moon, which was almost full and lit up the night.  We watched folks strolling up and down Negril’s amazing strip of beach while we ate, taking in our new tropical surroundings.

After dinner, we strolled down the beach, stopping in beach bars along the way – my favorite was Tony’s Hut Bar, which had hammocks and swings and very tasty rum punch. 

We heard live reggae music in the distance and we walked for well over an hour before we found its source, Bourbon Beach.  We paid the cover and went inside, joining the crowd at this open-air music venue.  To our amazement, out came Yellowman!  We couldn’t even believe our luck, stumbling onto this amazing performer on our very first night in Jamaica.  Yellowman is a Jamaican reggae and dancehall deejay, widely known as King Yellowman. Click here to learn more about Yellowman. 

On the way back to our hotel, we asked our cabbie to stop for some jerk chicken.  He called ahead to his friend who worked a cart (grill) on the side of the road, and told him we wanted a half and a quarter of chicken.  We picked up our bag of food and paid.  Back at the hotel, we sat on our bed and devoured the coco bread and chicken like two animals.   Tasty.

Sunday: Discovering Blue Mountain Coffee and Seven-Mile Beach

We woke up Sunday morning to sunshine and the turquoise-colored ocean lining Negril’s white-sand beach.  We sat down to breakfast on our hotel’s color deck, about to discover yet another fabulous thing about Jamaica:  Blue Mountain coffee.  Quite simply, it is the truly the best, smoothest, most flavorful coffee I have ever had in my life!   We drank our coffees and ordered two lobster omelets, which were so good that we ordered them three more times on vacation, even though there were plenty of other places to eat within a short walk from our hotel.

After breakfast, we lounged on the beach in front of the hotel.  Ramsey, the hotel’s security guard, brought us fresh beach towels and lounge chairs.  There was a small store (not associated with our hotel) that sold tall frozen bottles of water, which were perfect for staying hydrated in a hot day in the sun. 

If you love a walk on the beach as much as we do, Negril’s seven-mile beach is the place for you.  Imagine a seemingly endless strip of beautiful beach, dotted with small hotels, little restaurants, beach bars.  Locals walk up and down the beach selling things that we loved to buy including coconut, freshly squeezed juices and banana bread in the morning, boiled lobsters, reggae CDs, Jamaican patties, jewelry, bananas, to name just a few.  

Everyday, a man walks up and down the beach announcing the location of that evening’s reggae show, “Come to the live show at Alfred’s Ocean Palace, it’s going to be HOT HOT HOT!”  Click here to see a video. Almost every night there is live music at a different place in Negril so it’s helpful!

Later in the day, we took a walk along the beach, checking things out in the daylight for the first time. We passed by a restaurant called Sun Beach Restaurant Bar and Jerk Hut, which advertised a $38 (USD) for two lobster tails, two bowls of bisque and two rum drinks on a small sign in the sand.  Sold!

Before dinner, we experienced an amazing Negril sunset.  Every sunset in Negril is an amazing sunset.

The food at Sun Beach was delicious and we sat at a candle-lit table for two on the sand, could not have been more perfect! We also enjoyed hanging at the bar during the beach or during happy hour for ice-cold beers while sitting on the unique plastic chair swings. Great place and great value!

While in Negril, we were lucky to have a full moon with us which lit up the entire beach at night, and we walked everywhere and felt safe.   Because you rarely leave the beach, there is almost no reason to wear shoes at all, except in some restaurants.  To me, the laid-back vibe is one of Negril’s main selling points.


This morning we discovered a little gem of a breakfast restaurant (The Inn-Thing perhaps?) with good, cheap food next door to the Palms.  I believe it was part of Donaldson’s Bed and Breakfast.  Two friendly women seated us and cooked us homemade breakfast. The coffee was not as amazing as the coffee at our resort but still good. 

After breakfast, we spent some time on the beach, people watching.

Around noon, we walked across the street to Ossie’s Jerk Center, home of the best jerk we tasted all week.  Ossie’s is basically a small shack with a grill in the back.  Some locals played dominoes on a nearby picnic table.  Enjoying the shade, we ordered some jerk pork and jerk chicken and it was so juicy and delicious.  Fantastic rice and peas too.  And ice cold beers.  During our trip, we ate at Ossie’s several more times; it was by far our favorite jerk joint.

After the sun set, we took a long walk down the beach and stumbled upon Kuyaba.  We split a salad, a pasta entree and a dessert.  The restaurant, with its view of the ocean, wooden decks and candle-lit ambiance, felt very tropical and romantic.  One of the more pricey meals we ate but excellent food and service.

That night, we found an awesome little beach bar.  I believe it belonged to the Yellow Bird Hotel.  It was small and round and covered by a thatch roof.  I really loved all of the unique tiny beach bars on seven-mile beach, never crowded, just mellow and laid back.


More sunshine!  For breakfast, we bought some fresh coconut and banana bread from a friendly guy walking along the beach.  We read our books and swam in the ocean, which had a lot of small waves.  I actually like water with waves but we were told that a storm at sea created the small surf.

For lunch, we grabbed patties from a really great Jamaican patty shack not too far from the Palms and before the Negril Tree House Resort.  We went here several times; the patties were filling enough to make a pretty decent lunch!

After the beach, we flagged down a taxi and ventured over to Negril’s west end to check out the famous cliff-side Rick’s Cafe

Inside the restaurant, we had some drinks and entertained ourselves by watching tourists and very talented locals diving from the cliffs into the ocean below.  The highest cliff is 35-feet high! 

By the time sunset rolled around, Rick’s was packed and a live band played reggae. Little boats lined the cliff; their passengers watching the diving show as well as the setting sun. 

After Rick’s, we walked down the narrow West End Road, checking out the shops and restaurants.

We ate at a small restaurant called Erica’s; there were only a handful of tables.  We sat on the screened-in deck and had an amazing meal of chicken and goat curries.  The owner sat down with us and we had a great conversation, again showing us the great hospitality of Jamaicans. After dinner, she kindly helped us flagged down a cab at a really cheap rate and we headed back to the beach to find more live reggae.  We stopped at Tony’s again for a couple of his delicious rum punches and a few rounds of Connect Four.


We walked down the beach in search of a new restaurant for breakfast.  We came upon Country Country Bar and Grille.  The food was great and the view was spectacular but paying the bill at this restaurant involved some serious patience.  Island time!

As a special treat, we booked massages for ourselves at Jackie’s on the Reef.  It was a little hard to leave the beach, but we showered up and took a cab to Three Dives for a taste of their amazing jerk chicken.  It did not disappoint!  While waiting for our lunch, we walked around the grounds and checked out Negril's rugged west end cliffs.  We heard that the cliffs and caves are great for snorkeling but we did not get a chance to see for ourselves - next time!

After stuffing ourselves, we got back in the cab and headed to Jackie’s - what an incredible, peaceful place!   Jackie’s is a small boutique wellness guesthouse and spa located in the far West End of Negril.  The grounds were so beautiful, so full of natural beauty.  We enjoyed talking to the staff and checking out the grounds.

Our massages took place in a small covered area adjacent to the ocean.  We fully relaxed listening to the sound of the waves repeatedly hitting the cliffs.   If you do decide to get a massage at Jackie’s, be aware that it’s cash only and it’s a pretty decent ride from the beach area.  But it’s worth it!

That night, Jason and I walked past the strip of all-inclusive resorts on the beach to Cosmo’s Seafood Restaurant & Bar for dinner. The food was simple and authentic and we ate outside on a picnic table.  I had a steamed whole fish and Jason ate pork, rice and beans.  After dinner, we hopped in a cab that took us to Alfred’s Ocean Palace, where we enjoyed a few cocktails and live reggae before walking home in the moonlight.  We set the alarm for our trip to YS Falls in the morning.


Our driver picked us up in front of our resort and we headed to YS Falls.  En route, we pulled over to check out a chicken farm and to photograph the gate in front of Peter Tosh’s grave site.  The scenery on the ride became more beautiful and in the distance, we saw the Sandals Whitehouse Resort, which looked like absolute heaven on earth. As we approached the falls, we saw the working cattle and horse farm that is YS Estates.

We paid our entry fee and took a shuttle up to the falls area. The scenery was jungle-like, lots of waterfalls, flowers, gardens, wading pools and swimming holes.

We had fun taking photos and swimming in the little pools of water, which were clear and so refreshing.  Jason had a great time on the rope swing in the one of the pools. 

On the way back to Negril, we pulled over to some food stands and bought steamed crawfish and roasted corn on the cob for a snack.  Back at the resort, on beach chairs again, Jason ran across the street to Ossie’s to buy us some jerk chicken. We watched the sunset and I discovered that the Palms' beach bar makes a most delicious pomegranate mojito – highly recommend!


Our last full day in Negril!  How sad.  We slept in and ate breakfast at the little restaurant next door.  We lounged on the Palms' deck for a while nursing two bloody marys. I laid on a raft in the pool and read my book.  Bliss!

Around noon, we grabbed a few chicken, beef and shrimp patties from the shop down the beach.  Red Stripes in hand, we began out last (for this trip!) walk down the beach.  We walked and walked, checking out little beach bars along the way.

Prior to the trip, I had read about White Sands, a hotel with a happening bar featuring two-for-one drink specials.  We walked past the hotel and decided to grab two bar stools and two Friday drink specials:  The Dirty Banana!  Why had we only discovered this drink now?  Fresh bananas, coffee liqueur, rum cream, milk, simple syrup, ice, oh my!  I wish I had a picture of this drink but below is the view from the bar at White Sands.

Later, we stopped at a jerk hut on the beach for some chicken.

Back at the Palms, we lounged on the deck and watched our last amazing sunset in Jamaica.  We also spent about 30 minutes in the hotel office trying to change our flights home as we wanted to hear Shaggy perform on Saturday night.  We wanted, as Busy Signal says "One More Night."  No luck.

After a nap, we ate at Norma's on the Beach for our last dinner and both agreed it was our favorite meal in Negril. We wished we had eaten there earlier in the trip because we would have eaten there twice, if possible. We shared the coconut shrimp for an appetizer and the flavor was amazing. My husband had the jerk chicken pasta which had the tastiest sauce; we were practically licking the bowl. I had lamb chops served with goat cheese and really flavorful veggies.  The atmosphere could not have been any better, steps from the beach, very romantic. 

After dinner, we walked down to Alfred’s Ocean Palace for some live reggae tunes.  We sat at a picnic table, drank a few Red Stripes and danced in the sand before heading back to the hotel.  On our walk back, we noticed that the spring breakers were starting to pour in.  Margaritaville was really hopping! 


Saturday morning we packed our bags, ate one more lobster omelet at our hotel and sat on the beach for a few hours, since our plane didn't depart until later in the afternoon.  To kill some time, we paid for a jet ski for an hour, but it was kind of a waste because the ocean was still so choppy.  The hotel gave us a complementary room in which to shower and change before a driver from Clive's Transport Service arrived to pick us up and bring us back to Montego Bay. 

Why we LOVE Negril:

The People 
(Jamaicans take great pride in what they do and want to make sure you are happy!) 
Jerk Chicken & Red Stripe
Live Reggae Music
Endless Beach for Walking
Amazing Sunsets

To learn more about Negril, please click here or for historical information, click here.
Thanks for reading!  Where to Next?  Tuscany featuring Orvieto, Siena and Montelcino.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Positano Honeymoon

On September 24, 2011, I married the love of my life in Boston.  Two days later we were on a plane to Italy for our honeymoon.  First stop: Positano!


From Boston, we flew direct to Rome on Alitalia.  After some minor delays in Rome, we flew to Naples, where we met our driver who brought us to the Albergo Miramare in Positano.  Driving through Naples was not all that scenic, but in the distance we saw Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples.  We drove through tunnel after tunnel, into Sorrento and suddenly the magic of the Costiera Amalfitana began!

To our left we saw lemon and olive trees and beyond, theTyrrhenian Sea sparkled.  The roads twisted and turned and as we approached Positano, the switchbacks combined with our driver’s high speed and the height of the coastal cliffs, turned our stomachs.  We needed food and a nap in the worst way but we couldn't believe what we were seeing in terms of landscape and beauty. 

Finally in Positano, our driver stopped along the main road (and the only road!) and unloaded our luggage.  A friendly porter with the strength of ten men put our four heavy pieces of luggage on his back and disappeared down the 100 stairs that led to the Hotel Miramare.  We paid our driver and began our descent to our hotel, which was built into a cliff.

Miramare is the red building, center.
Nicola at the front desk welcomed us warmly and an iced bottle of champagne awaited us in our room.  Our room, 210, was large (by European standards), bright and spacious.   Almost one whole wall, facing the sea, was glass.  Our very private terrace had a table with two chairs and two sunbeds – this is where we spent most of our time, enjoying the view.  We especially loved the shower which overlooked the ocean and the harbor filled with tiny fishing boats. The location of the hotel was a challenge to the legs, about 100 steps down from the main central road and 200 steps down to Positano’s beach but good for working off all the food we ate!

Our shower

Our room

200 steps from the beach to Miramare
Jason and I quickly changed and headed back up the 100 stairs.  Our honeymoon officially began at a table for two at Caffé Positano.  Perched on the side of a cliff, we ate roasted eggplant and ravioli, washed down by delicious red wine while trying to keep our eyes open.  We needed a nap!

After a very painful wake-up call and one bottle of champagne (enjoyed on our terrace in the warm September air), we were shuttled to our 8pm dinner reservation in the hills above Positano in Montepertuso.  The restaurant’s complimentary shuttle climbed and climbed up a mountain before reaching La Tagliata, which is located on a cliff overlooking Positano and comes with a fabulous view of the mountains and ocean!  We were very happy we dragged ourselves out of bed.

Our server started us off with a complimentary glass of prosecco to celebrate our marriage and then the food began arriving (no menu here) in various courses – all fresh ingredients grown and produced on the restaurant’s adjoining farm.  Homemade buffalo mozzarella, fresh vegetables, homemade pastas, grilled meats, desserts – you name it, we ate it, course after course, washed down with two bottles of La Tagliatia’s own house wine.  Live music also added to the fun, and guests sang along, passing around a tambourine between courses.  After the after-dinner limoncello drink, the whole restaurant erupted in dance, including me and Jason.  What an awesome way to begin our honeymoon!  To see a brief video of the live band and a glimpse of the view over the bay, click here.


After a much-needed sleep, we ate breakfast on our terrace, overlooking the ocean and the colorful buildings built into the cliff.  Breakfast included fresh juice, assorted pastries and croissants, cappuccinos, cheeses, meats, eggs and yogurt to our balcony. 

After breakfast, Nicola gave us beach towels and we hiked down the 200 steps to the beach, passing residences, little cafes, shops and hotels.  We spent a few minutes exploring the beach area, which was home to a ferry dock, gelato shops, restaurants and folks selling watercolor paintings and boat trips to Capri, Ravello, Sorrento, etc.

Our hotel offered a complimentary boat ride and we figured we’d start our day with a tour of the coast.  We boarded O' Sole Mio with six other passengers.  I will never forget, as we puttered away from Positano, how the town looked from the water, just incredible. 

Stopping a few times to swim and explore coves and caves, we boated past Praino, Amalfi and Ravello, picturesque villages built into the cliffs. Our captain, Garibaldi, did not speak English but somehow gave us an excellent and very animated coastal tour.  It was wonderful!

Back on land, we hiked the path to Fornillo Beach, which is smaller and quieter than Positano’s crowded Spiaggia Grande (main beach).   Beach bars lined the quiet beach and we ordered fresh mozzarella and basil paninis, a couple Peronis and spent the day swimming and reading in sun chairs.  The sand on both beaches was quite pebbly; you almost need water shoes.


On our way back to the hotel, we walked up the Via dei Mulini, Positano's main shopping street, instead of taking the 200 stairs, passing tiny shops selling colorful silks, limoncello, shoes, painted tiles, wine, souvenirs, gelato. I bought a lemon-scented candle and a bar of lemon-shaped and scented soap, which I used the entire honeymoon.  We headed back to the hotel and after a long siesta, we enjoyed a glass of wine on our terrace.

That night we ate dinner at Ristorante Il Ritrovo, up in Montepertuso.  A complimentary shuttle transported us up to the cozy restaurant high in the mountains above Positano.  After a very long and relaxing feast of homemade pastas, veal and wine, we headed back to Positano.  We followed the sound of live music to La Zagara, a bar with a beautiful garden of orange trees and colorful flowers.  We each had a drink and danced to a song or two before heading back to Miramare for the night.

Another glorious breakfast on our balcony.  It didn’t take long to realize that today was going to be HOT.  We had planned to ferry over to Ravello and Amalfi to see some sights and have lunch but quickly realized that we wanted to be near the water instead.

We decided to rent our own motor boat for a half day, which turned into a whole day when we realized how much fun this was!  We grabbed our snorkel gear, waters, towels and off we went!  Led by Captain Jason, we circled around Li Galli, a small set of islands which according to Greek legend were home to three mermaids or sirens who tempted Ulysses on his way back home.  

We boated along the cliffs to swim and snorkel but grew afraid after seeing a flock of menacing jelly fish swarm our small boat after we anchored.  We decided to head south of Positano, stopping to swim and snorkel in various coves, past Maiori and Minori, making it to Salerno before we turned around. 

On the way back, we docked in a tiny harbor in Cetara and I ran into town to find us some lunch. 

All shops were closed except for a tiny butcher shop where I met a woman who sautéed some sausages and broccoli rabe for us, which she placed in the most amazing bread.  We bought a couple of ice-cold Peronis, boated out a bit and enjoyed an amazing lunch together lazing in the sun before heading back to Positano. 

That evening, after a full day in the sun, we took naps on our terrace sunbeds and enjoyed yet another very happy hour, before heading to Chez Black, a restaurant on the Spaggia Grande.  We split a delicious pizza and some amazing pasta while watching the beach area buzz with action. Sitting at the table next to us was Kirstie Alley and a small entourage, who bothered us with their cigarette smoke the entire night.  We watched the town stray dog romance another dog, but I’ll spare you the details on this! 


At our request, the Miramare booked us on a boat trip to the Isle of Capri.  We left early in the morning, stopping to swim in the most amazing turquoise water before checking out the Green Grotto.  Our captain also boated past the Faraglioni, three blocks of rocks located off Capri.

The line to enter the Blue Grotto was too long so we docked and took an open-air taxi up to Anacapri – I loved the taxi ride and the views were phenomenal as we climbed up the island.  After a very long lunch, we took the chairlift to the top of Anacapri to admire the view and the island. 

After that, we walked around the town, checking out the local shops.  Capri was an interesting experience but it was mobbed with tourists and not very relaxing in the blazing heat.  I hear it’s a beautiful place after the sun goes down and everyone leaves for the day.  Maybe someday we’ll come back to experience that.

Back at the hotel, we realized we were starving so we asked the front desk to deliver a snack.  A beautiful tray arrived with Italian cheeses, prosciutto, salami and bread.  We drank prosecco and sat on the terrace, admiring the view.

I wanted to check out the Hotel Poseidon, so we hiked the 100 stairs to the main road and then more stairs and up an elevator and finally we arrived at the Poseidon’s beautiful pool and restaurant area.  In addition to candle-lit ambiance, the view of the town and bay was stunning.   We each ordered a drink and snacked on the complimentary olives and nuts while listening to live music. 

For dinner, we ate at the restaurant in Bucca di Baco, a hotel where I considered staying at in the beginning stages of my honeymoon research.  We split a tomato soup, twisted pasta with pesto and taggliatelle with boar ragu.  The dinner was tasty, despite the table of 10 very noisy, and very drunk, Americans sitting next to us.

After dinner, we relaxed and listened to music at La Zagara, such a wonderful spot.


Being our last day in Positano, we decided to head back to Fornillo Beach for some reading and swimming, eating lunch at one of the beach bars.  We knew the next portion of our honeymoon in Tuscany and then Rome would involve lots of sightseeing, and we needed some down time to relax together.  On the way back to the hotel, was stopped in our favorite market for a bottle of wine and some grapes.

We asked for a pizza recommendation from Rosita at the front desk at Miramare.  Rosita recommended Lo Guarracino, a restaurant along the seaside walkway to Fornillo Beach.  The restaurant’s ambiance and view of the ocean was so pretty and we loved the house wine.  We split a caprese salad, some pasta and a pizza.  On the way home, we grabbed gelatos and sat on our terrace, admiring our beautiful view one last night and cherishing this beautiful place where we spent the first five nights as husband and wife. 

Next stop: Tuscany!

To learn more about Positano, visit Wikipedia here.  To learn more about the Amalfi Coast, click here.