KINGSTON - Jamaica has pretty much been the Caribbean Island destination for lo these many years. It always ranks among the top 10 honeymoon vacations, and is usually on some travel magazine’s “Top 10” something list. Ever wonder why?
For the best answer, simply schedule a visit in October during the annual “Best of Jamaica” event staged at the AAA Four-Diamond Grand Lido Braco Resort & Spa in Trelawny on Jamaica’s north coast. This week-long extravaganza, which recently completed its third year, features everything Jamaican—from fascinating history, rich culture, delicious food and drink, to Jamaica’s signature export, reggae music. It’s a party from day one!
Grand Lido, with its cobblestone streets, central town square and gingerbread fretwork adorning the quaint buildings, puts its best food forward for this affair. For starters, a jerk pit is dug in a shallow trough and marinated meats are slowly grilled over embers; a roasting spit is constructed for basting and roasting a suckling pig while lobster, red snapper and conch from local waters are grilled and served with a fresh squeeze of lime.
There are traditional island favorites, such as roasted breadfruit, bammy, ackee and salt fish, Johnny cakes and goat curry, while executive chef Joseph Stephens delights guests with his daily creations during the six-day feast. For the culinary challenged, there’s a chance to join interactive cooking demonstrations such as the one that was hosted by Virginia Burke, author of a cookbook on Jamaican cuisine and marketing director for Walkerswood Caribbean Foods. The company was established in 1978 and was the first enterprise to export the highly sought after “jerk” seasoning, shipping it to U.S. ports in Miami and New York.
The company’s plant is near the Grand Lido, and plans call for the new facility to host group tours from hotels and cruise ships, giving visitors an opportunity to experience the wide range of sauces, spices, condiments and vegetables it manufactures. The planned expansion also will include a restaurant where local cuisine will be served along with Jamaica’s famous Blue Mountain coffee.
And speaking of coffee, one of the resort seminars deals with the art of coffee brewing. In “Mi Café, Su Café,” start the morning off right by learning the process behind creating the perfect blend of coffee for that memorable cup. Standard Products, owner of the first coffee plantation in Jamaica, is on hand to answer questions and provide samples of not only its coffee brands, but its coffee liqueur.
Left: The food is piled high during the festival. Right: The locals offer a colourful spectacle.
There is another brew that’s unique to Jamaica—Appleton Rum. A rum-blending seminar was hosted by Appleton’s Joy Spence, master blender, who challenged those in attendance to try their hand at blending to come up with the rum that best resembles Appleton’s finest. Is it bragging to say that my blend came in second?
I also had the opportunity to try my hand at steel pan lessons (groan); sit in on a class with Jamaican herbalist Sylvester Ayre, author of Bush Doctor, as he extolled on the virtues of the healing powers of native plants; and got my mojo working by learning outrageous dance moves from the Clark’s Town Maroons dance troupe.
The streets and walkways of Grand Lido Braco’s town square are filled with quaint “stations,” where vendors are busy making mint balls, brewing gimberline wine, popping coffee beans or showcasing Wassi art and woodcarvings, which are breathtaking with their intricate designs and attention to detail.
As you can well imagine, the action doesn’t stop when the sun sets. On the contrary, there seems to be a rebirth of energy and excitement that extends into the wee hours. One evening featured a beach bacchanal costume party with a pirate theme. Party-goers were treated to a buffet fit for a king and dazzled by local acts that included fire-eaters, jugglers, fortune tellers and prizes for the best pirate and wench costumes.
But, as with any festival, Grand Lido saves the best for last—the Village Fiesta Street Party. All around the Victoria Market Square, sparkling with Tivoli and multi-colored lights, were hot and cold gourmet food stations not only brimming with tempting cuisine, but arranged in such a way that they were truly works of art. The all-you-can-eat buffet was complemented with wine and spirits, while an engaging house band encouraged guests to dance the night away to their favorite Ska tunes.
Given the multitude of activities guests will experience during The Best of Jamaica festival, it’s little wonder there isn’t a desire to venture off property. But the resort does offer optional excursions into the countryside, including a refreshing inner-tube ride down the White River or a visit to the Bob Marley Museum, which tells a compelling story about this famed singer/songwriter, as well as capturing in words and pictures the essence of Jamaica.
It’s a story worth telling…and one worth hearing.