What it's really like to stay in Ian Fleming's GoldenEye resort

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Photo credit: Courtesy of Airbnb
Photo credit: Courtesy of Airbnb

There is no sign at the entrance of GoldenEye, the former home of Bond author Ian Fleming. Today, it is Jamaica’s most famous high-end resort, a sprawling 52-acre estate that manages the delicate balance of stylish, relaxed luxury while never straying far from the identity of its destination. Guests drive down a winding track shrouded by thick tropical fauna to the informal, airy reception. Outside a wooden suspension bridge, which drapes over the seawater lagoon, leads to the resort - a mix of photogenic villas, cottages and beach huts. It feels like stepping into fantasy island, but with a resolutely Jamaican energy.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Airbnb
Photo credit: Courtesy of Airbnb

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It’s hard to talk about the appeal of this idyllic retreat without delving into its story and the characters behind it. Fleming’s love of Jamaica came through unexpected means. Working for the British Naval Intelligence, Commander Fleming was sent to investigate rumours of Nazi U-boats in the Caribbean in 1942 - an operation called Goldeneye. After becoming enamoured with the island’s aesthetic charms, he returned four years later to buy an abandoned donkey racetrack in the small yet lively banana port of Oracabessa Bay. On the headland of his 15-acre plot of land, he built his dream house - a spartan, yet light-filled home almost entirely surrounded by tropical greenery with the exception of one side that looked out to sea. The windows facing the ocean were glassless with only wooden shutters to keep out the occasional storm. It was here with this view that Fleming sat at his desk dreaming up what would become the world’s most famous secret agent, James Bond. All 14 of the 007 books were written here.

Photo credit: Harry Benson
Photo credit: Harry Benson

Fleming escaped England’s bleak winters at GoldenEye and in 1956 - much to the upset of his wife - he met Blanche Blackwell, a Jamaican heiress whom he ended up becoming romantically involved with. To say Blanche was just his muse undermines her influence (although she is said to have inspired Bond character Pussy Galore), giving her a passive, subordinate role in the writer's life. A tomboy with a strong spontaneous streak, she also acted as his guide to the island, showing him the best coves to swim and snorkel in and the most exciting spots to climb, activities the two did together. She also reportedly told him the story that inspired Quantum of Solace. When the author died of a heart attack in 1964, his Jamaican home was bought first by Bob Marley and a year later by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell - at the bequest of his mother, Blanche, who - by this point - had too many happy memories there to let it slide away.

Photo credit: Roy Rochlin - Getty Images
Photo credit: Roy Rochlin - Getty Images

Although the property has come far from its origins as Fleming’s villa (now available to rent via Airbnb), it is no less impressive to visitors now as it was when the author hosted guests, such as Lucian Freud and Princess Margaret, back in the 1940s and '50s. The No Time To Die cast posed for pictures outside the property for one of the film's first photocalls back in 2019, and several scenes were filmed in neighbouring Port Antonio. Kate Moss, Grace Jones and Pierce Brosnan have all holidayed here. The property itself sleeps 10 across five bedrooms; three in the main house and two in standalone cottages that flank a private pool and luscious gardens. Guests also have access to a secluded beach - also known as Fleming Beach - via stone steps built into the headlands. Fleming’s original desk still sits in the same corner as it once did all those years ago.

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

For those with less money to burn, Blackwell has developed the estate to include whitewashed cottages and villas, all of which are steps from a sandy shoreline or lagoon swim. The interior decor is colourful, full of batik prints and bamboo lamp shades. The beach huts are all built at various heights around Snorkeler’s Cove and Button Beach, most of which have private verandas that overlook vistas worth telling everyone you know about. These simple yet well designed octagonal spaces all come with louvered windows so you can see the stars as you sleep.

GoldenEye has plenty of relaxed dining options should you not wish to travel the 10-minute car journey to Oracabessa (and really everyone should try the Anthony Bourdain-approved Chris’ Cook Shop once). Choose Bizot for breakfast, lunch or dinner; Bamboo Bar for potent rum cocktails and excellent jerk chicken. You won't find Michelin-starred, highfalutin food here, but rather authentic flavoursome Jamaican dishes, as well as pastas and burgers for those less keen on spice. For a truly special experience, book a candlelit private dinner on the far edge of the peninsula. Unsurprising from the man who gave Bob Marley his big break, Blackwell ensures that only the best roots reggae is played in his restaurants. If there’s no time to hear the sound systems of Kingston first-hand, this is the next best thing. The final point that indicates that this retreat is truly great, is how happy the staff look - they have an easy, warming demeanour without any of the pomp or pretension associated with luxury hotels. Whether waitress, barman or receptionist, each looks like they genuinely enjoy working there; they dance their way over to tables, quietly sing along to Toots and the Maytals and laugh behind the bar. Everyone, everyone, is full of praise for their boss, fondly known among the team as Mr B.

There are few hotels in the world that remain as true to its heritage as GoldenEye, a place with such a strong sense of place without ever feeling cartoonish. It may now be bigger than Fleming could have ever imagined, but it is still a sanctuary for all those - like him - seeking sunshine, nature and escapism.

Book the Fleming Villa at Airbnb, or browse GoldenEye resort at Goldeneye.com.

No Time To Die is out in UK cinemas now.

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