A love letter to the Rockhouse Resort & Spa.

By Kate Donnelly
July 12, 2020
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Rockhouse Resort & Spa

Editor’s Note: Travel might be complicated right now, but use our inspirational trip ideas to plan ahead for your next bucket list adventure.

Last spring, when the world was a different place, a small group of friends and I landed in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The sun was shining as a friendly driver appeared at the airport with a medium-sized cooler filled with cool towels and “iced cold” Red Stripes. We hopped aboard his van and 90-minutes later arrived at Rockhouse Resort & Spa, the iconic, 40-room boutique hotel (and one of Travel + Leisure’s Top 25 resort hotels in the Caribbean, Bermuda, and the Bahamas) in the sleepy, bohemian-fringed town of Negril.

At its core, Jamaica seems to lack any agenda, other than to ensure you “keep the vibes calm.” Rockhouse follows the same mantra, asking you to unplug and stay a while. The contour of the hotel, which just turned 25 years old, looks like a faded ‘70s postcard; its namesake rocks perched high above the Caribbean Sea with red ladders and curved stairs emerging from the water. The best rooms are the cluster of hexagonal, thatch-roofed cottages with wraparound terraces, built by a Frank Lloyd Wright protégé, and seemingly blending into its volcanic-cliffed milieu. I’m also a sucker for those old-school places where rock stars like the Rolling Stones and Bob Marley used to party and sleep, and where, today, televisions and mobile phones are shelved in favor of reggae LPs and rum cocktails.

Rockhouse Resort & Spa

While I’ve traveled to some far-flung places, my favorites subscribe to a formula where analog charms still reign: Montana’s Rock at Ranch CreekFour Seasons Tented Camp in Thailand’s Golden Triangle, Suttle Lodge in Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest, Francis Coppola’s Belizean escape Blancaneaux Lodge, and my friend’s summer house on New York’s Lake George, to name a few. Really, the best places are those that are like summer camp: deceptively simple rooms, hearty home cooking, and choose-your-own adventures.

At Rockhouse, start with cliff jumping — a rite of passage. Here’s the rub: nestled between a few villas, you’ll find a high wooden bridge from which to jump. One morning, even as I stood terrified of heights, I made the jump. The rookie mistake here — and perhaps a larger metaphor in life — is looking down. Friends, whatever you do on that bridge, don’t look down. And don’t look back. Just jump. Once I hit the invigorating waters below, I felt a giddy swerve of endorphins and sheer relief. Immediately the sentiment is two-fold: “oh-that-was-fun” and “oh-shit-I-will-never-do-that-again.”

Of course I would — and I did.

Other mornings might include a Hatha yoga class or a swim in the sea followed by a favorite Jamaican breakfast, the “national dish” of ackee and saltfish served with callaloo (a mineral-rich, kale-like green) and bottomless cups of local Blue Mountain Coffee. Or head to the on-site juice bar for a detoxifying callaloo, bok choy, cucumber, pineapple, ginger, and lime concoction. Later, find yourself at the spa for a reiki treatment, or sitting in an open-air, standalone room for a warm “bathing ritual.” Day loungers hit the pool grill and bar, turning out snapper salad and grilled chicken sandwiches on cocoa bread, all paired beautifully with Red Stripes.

Later in the afternoon, plunge in the infinity pool, preferably on a floatie, and in the company of your friends — and chilled goblets of Whispering Angel rosé.  The only time you’ll want to leave the hotel is for a community-focused sojourn visiting local schools, thanks to the veteran Rockhouse Foundation, whose efforts have helped build a half-dozen schools (guests are encouraged to make monetary donations or bring school supplies). You can also visit the hotel’s tropical-vibed sister, Skylark, along the white powered sands of Seven Mile Beach for a light lunch (grilled fish and live music) inside the sunny outpost of New York City’s Miss Lily’s.

Rockhouse Resort & Spa

Back at the Rockhouse, four of my athletic friends line up for a synchronistic sunset dive. The reggae music is dialed up, and the Appleton rum cocktails are out. Soon it will be dinner time. Speaking of meals, chef Andre Fowles' menus read like a greatest hits of Jamaican grub. There’s regional street eats at Pushcart — think peppered shrimp, homemade jerk sausage, steamed fish with bammy (Jamaican flatbread) and, of course, tropical cocktails and live music. Meanwhile, elevated grilled jerk lobster and blackened mahi mahi with mango chutney reside at Rockhouse Restaurant. Stay for a night cap and checkers or retreat back to your villa for a warm outdoor shower before relaxing in four-poster timber beds with muslin netting. A ceiling fan gently rocks and woos you into sweet slumber. That’s a good thing too, you’ll want to be up at first light to jump off the bridge again.

Looking out onto the endless horizon, there’s not much movement or noise. Maybe because you’re on island time or perhaps because you’re tipsy on rum drinks, everything seems to stop. You can’t be busy being somebody, because you have nowhere to be; Rockhouse asks you stay barefoot and watch time pass. And while I never went to summer camp, I can only imagine this would be the best adult version of it — a place banding together a group of people that otherwise might not gather in one place. These days, the best places are those that don’t require much in the way of planning and, if you’re lucky, have you acting like a kid again.

I pull out a pen and paper. My postcard from Rockhouse starts like this: Dear Mom, I’m not coming home from Negril.

Rockhouse Resort & Spa will reopen to guests starting July 17, 2020.