JAMAICA can do strange things to you.
Straight-laced housewives get the urge to braid their hair in corn rows, unco-ordinated dads start dancing to reggae and uptight office workers take to responding to questions with a casual ‘yeah man’. And I found myself eyeing a tie-dyed sarong.
At The Caves in Negril, though, fashion crimes can start to feel completely natural – the place really brings out the latent hippie in you.
Negril was a haven for flower children of the 1960s, who flocked there to soak up the laid-back atmosphere.
Forty years on and Negril’s seven-mile long beach now features all the big-name hotels associated with the Caribbean such as Sandals, RIU and Couples.
But venture out to the cliffs at Negril’s west end and you’ll find a stretch of little hotels and restaurants that appeal to an altogether cooler customer.
The hippies of the 1960s are now doctors, lawyers and the like, but they return for a slice of sun-soaked solace reminiscent of headier days, staying in the west-end hotels that offer luxury with a laid-back twist.
I stayed at The Caves, part of the Island Outpost hotel collection founded by Chris Blackwell, who set up Island Records, the label of legends such as Bob Marley and U2.
At The Caves, little stone paths snake from the cliff-top guest cottages to caves below, in which couples can sunbathe or take a candlelit meal, and one has even been converted into a bedroom.
Most accommodation is in wood and stone-thatched cottages, with names such as Sun Dancer and Moonshadow.
My cottage was called Two Birds, entered through a bright blue wooden-slatted door. Inside, a huge ceiling fan rotated above a bed with a batik cover.
The CD collection included Island Outpost’s own compilation. The shuttered windows could be flung wide open to let in breezes from the tropical gardens and an open-air shower with wooden walls for privacy was the perfect place to cool down.
The difference between The Caves and a large hotel was how quickly you felt at home – not just in your room but throughout. We were greeted like old friends by a staff member called Elvis, whose infectious smile did everyone the power of good.
By the end of the first day, we’d met most of the other staff and, as there were few other guests (24 at full capacity), we were soon on nodding terms with them too.
This is the relaxed Jamaica you hear so much about. All-inclusive here means helping yourself to a beer behind the bar or a freshly-baked brownie.
The spa was a simple room stocked with Aveda products, but an open-air massage on a secluded cliff point was far more refreshing than the artificially-lit rooms found in other hotels.
Most guests – a mix of middle-aged couples and cool New Yorkers during my visit – swim in the sea, as the pool is small. For the brave, there are points along the cliff edge where they can jump into the water below.
Other properties on the stretch include The Rockhouse and Tensing Pen. All are small, relaxed hotels which, by refusing to kowtow to the glitz of other hotels, have created a fashionable niche of their own.
The Caves has a bar next door, where locals chill over a cocktail, or for a livelier atmosphere guests can head up the road to Rick’s Bar where as the sun goes down, the party heats up.
Apart from roadside souvenir stalls there’s not much else on the strip to entice visitors from their hotel. Many pop into other hotels for dinner or to try out their bar, just for a change of scene.
But I warn you, once your customers have enjoyed a few days of peace, love and sunshine, they will feel so relaxed that the reality of going back to work will hit very hard indeed. And take my word for it; it won’t be any easier in a tie-dyed sarong.
Sample product: Abercrombie and Kent offers seven nights at The Caves from £1,675 per person, twin-share, including flights and transfers, based on all-inclusive accommodation staying in the One Drop cottage, which is the closest one-bedroom cottage to the ocean. The price is valid for November.
If your clients love The Caves, also suggest…
Tensing Pen is a friendly, quiet hotel that sits on the cliff front, offering thatched cottages with simple but stylish and comfortable interiors. Guests can laze in hammocks, chill out with a spot of yoga or take a dip in the sea accessed by ladders down the low cliffs.
Alternatively, guests can indulge in one of the treatments available on the spa menu.
When relaxing over a meal in the open air restaurant, notice the Tibetan flags sent from a US based descendent of Tenzing Norgay, the Himalayan Sherpa who accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary to the Everest summit.
The hotel got its name because the original owners had a Tibetan Lhasa Apso dog, called Tensing.
Sample product:Virgin Holidays has seven nights at Tensing Pen in November from £799 per person, twin-share, on a bed-and-breakfast basis, including flights and transfers.
Rockhouse is a fashionable boutique hotel in Negril’s west end. Accommodation is either in rooms, studios or villas.
Here guests lounge by the pool or on sundecks, or dive off the rugged cliffs. The hotel’s restaurant has a particularly good reputation, serving what it calls modern Jamaican food, which is lighter than traditional dishes.
Guests eat in the decked, thatched restaurant, which is suspended over the water’s edge. Here indulge in spa treatments such as facials or massages or take your morning exercise on the yoga deck or in the pool.
Sample product:Caribtours offers one week at Rockhouse from £994 per person, twin-share, excluding meals in November. The price includes return flights, transfers and a lounge pass for London departures.
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