Spa Zen Vacation

By Jane Muller

There was a time when a Caribbean vacation meant endless fruity cocktails consumed on the beach of an all-inclusive resort.

That was 30 years ago and with age has evolved a more healthful holiday. Instead of late night dancing at the disco, there are sun salutations overlooking the turquoise sea during a morning yoga class. Lounging on the beach with cocktail in hand is so much more relaxing after a healing body treatment.

The beauty of the resort spa experience is that the pampering doesn’t end when your treatment is over. You are in vacation mode with all the time in the world for yourself and the things that make you feel good.

Things like a massage in a cliff-side cabana with a quintessential Caribbean ocean view. Instead of recorded mood music, the lapping waves and singing birds provide the soundtrack at KiYara Spa on The Cliff in Negril, Jamaica. The soothing scent of Jamaican herbs and botanicals and a massage at the hands of Carolyn Jobson ease the muscles awakened during a yoga flow practice at the ocean front yoga pavilion. One of three resort-based yoga sessions during a health and wellness themed media tour in Jamaica, Jobson tailored it to our skill level. Based on the experience at The Cliff, Round Hill and Half Moon, a relaxed approach to the practice, combined with encouraging instruction makes a resort an ideal place to dip into yoga as a beginner. Back at home, no yoga studio can replicate the amazing locations that take full advantage of the tropical setting.

At Half Moon in Montego Bay, there are private yoga sessions on the beach that spans more than three kilometres or in one of two over-the-water bungalows that feature an open side for unobstructed ocean views and fresh breezes.

The open-air studio in the spa area at Half Moon, is nestled in a Japanese inspired garden complete with a tranquil water feature in front. Our meditative session ended with a serendipitous visit by a hummingbird to the pink flowers on the hibiscus tree that graces one side of the pavilion.

To reinforce the fact that holding a yoga pose with the Caribbean Sea in sight is a slice of heaven, was the practice enjoyed at the yoga pavilion at Round Hill resort in Montego Bay. Even during the heat of the day, the shade from the roof and the light wind off the ocean made this a comfortable hot yoga session. Situated on 10 acres of beachfront lawn, the pavilion is flanked by a new, stateof-the-art fitness centre and a spa gazebo and is overlooked by the spa that’s housed in a beautifully restored 18th century plantation house. The spa features a front terrace with a pool and lounge area, and amid tropical greenery, a secluded outdoor private massage area and an outdoor therapeutic Vichy shower. The treatment menu reflects natural and indigenous influences like the Jamaican Coffee Bean Body Scrub that is rigorous but highly effective. Who knew coffee was so great for your skin?

Cultural influences are evident at Half Moon’s Fern Tree Spa that offers treatments with delicious names like Coconut Milk and Honey Wrap and Jamaican Allspice and Sugar Scrub. The amazing amenities include luxurious baths, sauna and steam room, meditation gardens and labyrinth, over-the-water bungalows and a private Fern Tree Cottage. The spa was temporarily closed during our visit due to some construction in the vicinity but we did get a tour and a chance to see the courtyard with a relaxation pool complete with a waterfall. Spa treatments had been moved to a luxurious cottage where the massage experience didn’t appear to suffer from a change of location.

The cottage-style accommodation is one of the options at Half Moon where there are also beautifully appointed deluxe rooms, suites of various sizes and palatial seven-bedroom villas ideal for extended families or groups of friends. Complete with private pool, cook, butler and housekeeper it’s like staying at a grand private home but with all of the resort amenities. The resort offers horseback riding on the beach, tennis, golf, water sports as well as a variety of yoga options, Pilates, barre fitness, Zumba and guided meditation.

Meanwhile, The Cliff is a much more low key experience where the spa vibe continues in the spacious luxury suites with their modern clean-lined furnishings. Balconies beckon with their views and hand-woven hammocks. With just 22 suites and four private villas the boutique hotel is a perfect escape within five acres of lush greenery and fronted by limestone cliffs and the Caribbean sea beyond. The serpentine pool is meant for a relaxing swim or fl oat on an inflated tube. The Cliff’s proximity to Negril’s attractions like the iconic Rick’s Café and Seven Mile Beach gives guests at the tranquil retreat a chance to liven things up.

When you are handed a gold key with a sculpted pineapple on the glistening fob, you know it’s going to unlock something magical. At Round Hill Hotel and Villas, it fit the arched double door that opened to my bedroom within an exquisite villa that boasts President John F. Kennedy as one of its guests. The living and dining room, three bedrooms and expansive open-air living and dining space are all impeccably furnished with traditional dark mahogany pieces. The spacious patio around the private pool is a lookout to Jamaica’s green mountains while flowering trees and gardens afford seclusion that belies the close proximity to the lobby.

While the 36 oceanfront guestrooms, designed by resort co-owner Ralph Lauren are luxuriously serene in their crisp whiteness, adorned in signature Lauren royal blue accents and stripes, the villas are spectacular and offer the services of a staff to cook, clean and take care of the grounds. Choose from one of 27 villas ranging from two to six bedrooms with varying amenities.

A vacation for body, mind and soul needs to be fuelled by amazing food and at Round Hill, the dining experience satisfies all three. Treated to a tasting menu, served in the open-air, Ralph Lauren inspired dining room, the meaning of its promised “light, clean Caribbean cuisine” was showcased in everything from tuna tartar with coconut ranch dressing to Scotch Bonnet ice cream.

The Cliff’s Zest restaurant offers gourmet dining that lends Caribbean flavour to classic dishes like traditional Italian penne pasta with the addition of jerked chicken, or a fresh fish encased in a tropical breadfruit taco. Zest is perfectly situated for amazing sea views and breezes and overlooks the lovely patio dining area.

Lunch at the Seagrape Terrace at Half Moon provided a satisfying sample of the hotel’s quality dining that is showcased in elegant style at The Sugar Mill, an award-winning restaurant where unforgettable dishes like ox tail ravioli and other modern reinventions of Jamaican cuisine are served. Private dining, beach barbecues, an Italian restaurant and casual café are also on the dining menu.

Whether enjoying a meal, practicing yoga or luxuriating in a massage, a tropical location helps to bring on the Zen.