''Welcome to Goldeneye," says Clayton, our major domo during our visit, as he hands us two lethal rum drinks called "Goldeneye Specials." We immediately decide we like this place. A lot.
Spread over 15 acres, Goldeneye is spectacular, pricey and very, very private, as befitting the birthplace of master spy James Bond. It's on Jamaica's north central coast, near the old banana port of Oracabessa. In this isolated spot, nestled under shade trees sprouting from the cliffs, author Ian Fleming, an ex-spy himself, dreamed up his stories of beautiful, scheming women, evil geniuses, and precisely mixed martinis. Climb down the steep stone steps to the beach and you'll be standing where Ursula Andress and Sean Connery filmed scenes from the Bond film, Dr. No, in 1961.
Fleming built his white concrete bunker of a house in 1947, using it to entertain the bohemians of the post-war glamour crowd. Noel Coward, Katharine Hepburn, Errol Flynn, Truman Capote, Elizabeth Taylor, Evelyn Waugh and Cecil Beaton all popped in for cocktails, dinner or a few blissful weeks.
One who came to stay was Lady Ann Rothermere, the prominent wife of a British media baron. The scandal sparked by their relationship didn't bother Fleming and Lady Ann at all, and the two married, making Goldeneye their home. Coward eventually built his own house, Firefly, nearby, which Blackwell also owns and has opened as a museum.
Today, Fleming's three-bedroom house is part of an all-inclusive resort that includes four other villas. Each has its own private staff to cook meals and pamper the guests, although the casual open-air gazebo restaurant serves seafood and Jamaican specialties on its romantic deck, complete with breath-taking views. While most guests quietly occupy just one of the villas, you can rent the entire resort for a mere $6,000 per night.
We check into Villa 3 which is on a rocky point overlooking the Caribbean, and a short walk away from Fleming's house. Our villa is actually a compound of four buildings tucked beneath gumbo limbo and royal poinciana trees around a rustic stone courtyard. The dining room is a picnic table under a thatched roof.
Early November isn't quite high season, so the place is deserted except for a young German couple. Even when full, Goldeneye can accommodate only 22 people in its 11 bedrooms, guaranteeing privacy to high-profile guests that have included Katie Couric, Harrison Ford, Roger Moore and Yoko Ono.
After a dinner of chicken in a thyme and ginger sauce over Jamaican rice and peas, we explore Goldeneye by flashlight. Below the Fleming house, a treacherous flight of leaf-covered stone steps leads to a slim half-moon of sandy beach rimmed by sea-carved grottoes. There is no one in sight and no sound except the murmuring surf.
At bedtime we veil our four-poster with mosquito netting and leave the French doors wide open. Beyond the doors, the night sky and water merge into a vast spangled canvas.
The next morning, Ramsay Dacosta, who has worked at Goldeneye since Fleming hired him in the 1950s, brings a boat around to take us across a narrow river to Goldeneye's new beach. As he maneuvers the boat across the mouth of the river, he points to where the incoming tide bubbles around a line of rocks.
"Sometimes for his guests' amusement, Fleming would put a dead donkey on a hook out there by the reef, and they'd watch the sharks come by to feed," says Bacosta, watching our faces for his own amusement.
We land on Low Key, a stunning man-made expanse of sand embraced by the protective arms of twin rock jetties. A third jetty jutting out to sea is a folly, like a decorative gazebo in the garden. Fortunately, there are no sharks or dead donkeys in sight, and we sun and swim comfortably.
At cocktail hour, we stroll through the gardens, discovering trees planted by famous guests. British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden stayed here in 1956, ducking as his constituents saw it the Suez crisis, thereby costing him his job. Since then, guests ranging from Princess Margaret to Pierce Brosnan to Martha Stewart have added to the landscape.
After the next morning's breakfast of papaya, watermelon juice, toast and thick, dark Blue Mountain coffee, we leave to a chorus of "safe journey," a standard Jamaican farewell that's more prayer than platitude considering the terrifying combination of daredevil Jamaican drivers and steep, pot-holed mountain roads.
Posted online 07/23/01.