Having been to some of the very best all inclusive resorts and non-all inclusive resorts around the globe, I must say that I tend to be extremely discerning. Visiting S Hotel this year came just at the right time. Needing a little R&R before delving back into the fray of a hectic travel month, I thought that slipping S Hotel in would be the perfect respite that I was seeking. The last time I visited, the hotel was in its pre-opening days. I remembered the vision of Chrsitopher Issa, the owner, being conveyed to me as we walked (briskly) through the matte white walls that rose above the famed “Hip Strip” of Montego Bay. It was a bright idea to create the hotel’s foundation as a blank canvas. Once you visit you’ll see exactly why. It not only lets the guests have a perfect backdrop to the glistening Caribbean Sea but allows the artwork that is rampant throughout the property to pop and stand out. Uniquely Jamaican statuary and art pieces are everywhere. The sense of place is unmistakable and as a Jamaican, I smiled at every turn. National heroes, and iconic legends pointed the way to my next S Hotel moment. Sometimes literally pointing as in the Nanny of the Maroons, the first and foremost leader of the Windward Maroons of Jamaica, an autonomous community of self-emancipated, formerly enslaved people. Seeing her statue point me in the direction of the elevator was very fitting. I was there to emancipate myself from what Bob Marley could easily have been referring to as “mental slavery” where my every thought was filled with the next step at work. His statue, Mr. Robert-Nesta Marley was also moving us along. Guitar in hand, right leg off the ground, his dreads cascading down his denim-clad shoulder was motivation for us to get up, stand up, and head right for the Irie Baths. These cleverly crafted grotto pools in a dimly lit underground setting helped me ease my way into the day. The series of three pools, each having its own temperature is designed as a hydrotherapy experience for guests. Since you have to make a reservation just to secure a time slot to use the bath, there’s never a fear of overcrowding or feeling like a swimming pool. This is a very intimate and tranquil experience. The design is deliberate. The intention is to have you grounded in what surrounds this hotel. The beach upon which S hotel is built is called Doctor’s Cave Beach. The spring fed waters of this beach, just steps outside of these baths, have been known for their healing properties. You feel that sense of healing within these walls.

HISTORY – According to the beach club itself.

“It began in 1906 when Dr. Alexander James McCatty generously donated his beach property to found a bathing club in Montego Bay. The Club got its name because it was used by Dr. McCatty and his friends, who were mainly from the medical profession and at that time, they entered the tiny beach through a cave. The cave, however, was destroyed by a hurricane in 1932. The water which is crystal clear has a temperature range, winter and summer, from 78 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit, 22 to 28 Celsius.

In the end of early 1920’s, Sir Herbert Barker, a famous British Osteopath, visited the beach and later published an article boosting it by declaring that the waters have curative powers and that he was restored to good health after bathing there. He said the waters could cure several ailments. This heightened the allure of the beach and Doctor’s Cave became famous overnight as foreigners, many rich and famous, came to try the water. Hotels were built in the immediate vicinity and thus began the tourist trade.  We are a lot more than just a great beach. We are located in the middle of Montego Bay’s ‘Hip Strip’.”

You are immersed in Jamaica at S Hotel. Luxury is not spared while offering guests a totally Jamaican experience.  I know that phrase can conjure up numerous images for each person reading the story. As a Jamaican though, I can tell you what it means to me. It means you are experiencing the authentic Jamaica. There are certain tastes, smells, colors, and textures that I associate with my childhood, growing up in Jamaica. Those to me are the real Jamaica. A specific shade of green that is undeniably JA. The smell of the rain as it begins to drift over the mountain top and head your way. This is Jamaica. There’s a way of turning every song into a revised reggae hit–this is Jamaica. The taste of the food (beyond jerk) lets you know it’s really Jamaican.

Looking back on the first meeting and tour that I had of this hotel and its infancy, I recall sitting in what is now called Rocksteady, with Mr. Issa and his team including Andres Cope. There was brainstorming going on, debates on whether to make the resort all-inclusive or not, but the one common thread that kept stitching everything together was authentic luxury. Now, sitting in the very same space, the fine dining restaurant called Rocksteady that offers a feast for the senses, I see the manifestation of Mr. Issa’s vision. This dining establishment offers classics with freshly sourced Jamaican ingredients. A white baby grand piano is being played while dinner is served in this reservations-only establishment. The white leather seating, pristine against the black walls, proudly holding framed artwork by the famed Jamaican artist Michael Thompson. The natural coral stone pillars shooting up through the white ceiling are the same natural stone found in the Irie Baths and throughout the hotel; local coral stone for the local feel. Remember that specific shade of green I mentioned? Hopefully you can see it in your mind’s eye. It’s the one from the flag, the same one when you see the Rasta colors for red, green, and gold. It’s painted on pushcarts, wooden signs, zinc siding, and one of the great things about it is it gives me a sense of place. Scenes of classic Jamaica painted on zinc, lining the walls of this restaurant on the roof deck keep you grounded in the destination. Serving up authentic Jamaican classics, ackee and saltfish, jerk chicken, and oxtail and more, all with the innovative S twist in this artful space. This Rohan Blair-designed restaurant is a celebration of the island’s musical heritage and showcases some of the country’s most influential personalities. You really cannot get more Jamaican without hitting the streets. That’s the luxury of this place. You need not do that. The essence of Jamaica is found here at S.

Bobbing in the clear warm waters of the Caribbean and looking back at the white structure against the blue sky we glance up and spot our suite. Taking in the hotel from this vantage point is just as glorious as being within its walls. From the tranquil sea, the brilliant red umbrellas on the pool deck pop. The glass-walled pool on the roof is an inviting exclamation mark from any angle but from below, the cube of floating water beckons. Answering the call and venturing up to the glass encased pool surrounded by a broad wood planked deck overlooking the Caribbean Sea, this pool is a glorious testament to Jamaica being called land of wood and water by its original inhabitants. At every turn and from every angle, S Hotel captures Jamaica.

What is island life without delving into island nightlife, you ask? The answer is Club S! This isn’t your typical club dolled up and housed within the confines of your resort. This is the epitome of a Jamaican club. Guests of the hotel are invited to partake in a truly immersive Jamaican nightlife experience. When we asked the concierge where Club S located, he pointed out towards the guard gate and said, “It’s just over there.” Pointing towards the guard gate. When we approach the guard gate and asked about the club yet again, he politely motioned us toward what looked like the entry to a shopping plaza. In true Jamaican fashion, there was no big sign on the door, and there was a well-dressed gentleman standing at the ready to open the door for us. He had seen us come directly from the hotel and knew exactly what we were looking for, and what that was a good night out. As the door swung open and the reggae tunes drew us in to what can only be described as a perfect replica of local Jamaican dance club, my jaw dropped, and turned to my husband, and said, “This is legit.” The deliberate lean-to feel with plywood walls, made to look dusty, a single bar area, stacked speakers against one wall, two intimate upstairs areas to overlook the dancefloor make this one of the best Jamaican nightclubs I have encountered in decades. S puts its stamp on everything it touches and that indelible stamp is authentic luxury. Say it with me, authentic luxury! Not sure if you read this piece wondering just how I feel about the Small Luxury Hotel, but I love it here! Well done Christopher Issa and team.

The land of wood and water. Seen as you enter the lobby, enter your suite, swim, eat, and sway to the beat.


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