St Mary isn’t considered a tourism mecca, but the parish has its own quiet charm. Long known for its sprawling banana plantations, St Mary’s idyllic beauty once attracted the likes of Ian Fleming, famed author of the James Bond series and his counterpart Noël Coward, celebrated playwright, composer, director, actor and singer.
In recent years, with the decline of the banana industry, parish officials have been rebranding St Mary as a tourist destination.
The estate was purchased sight unseen by Scotsman Sir Harold Mitchell in 1936. Mitchell cultivated large areas of the 1,000 acre estate with crops such as pimento, coconut, lime, banana, pineapple, coffee and sugar cane, which thrived alongside native hardwood trees such as mahogany and cedar. Many of these cultivated areas have been maintained and form part of the daily Prospect Plantation tour.
The property was later developed into a luxury resort with five villas. However, the estate, with the great house and grounds still intact, is open for tours to guests and visitors alike. The guides are uniformed members of the Prospect Cadet Training Centre, which Mitchell founded in 1956 to provide skills training for young Jamaican males.
Brimmer Hall Great House
Situated in Port Maria, Bimmmer Hall Great House was built during the 18th century. The single story dwelling lies on almost 5,000 acres of land, which was once a part of four adjoining estates: Tryall, Trinity, Roslyn and Brimmer Hall, all of which was owned by Zachary Bayley.
The property also features six stalls of the former stables that have been converted into souvenir shops, a pool, a bar and a restaurant.
This lovingly renovated 18th century Methodist manse is located east of Prospect Plantation and west of Couples Hotel. Harmony Hall is dedicated to promoting excellence in art and broadening the appreciation of Jamaican art and craft. It boasts a popular gallery, which represents more than 100 local artists. The property also features a pub, restaurant and craft shop.
Lovers of the James Bond thrillers and the movies spawned from them should already know that GoldenEye was creator Fleming’s Jamaican home, where he wrote the popular 007 books. The property is now owned by businessman Christopher Blackwell, as part of his Island Outpost chain of villas and hotels. Blackwell has since expanded the property into a world-class tourist getaway, with several villas and cottages. Fleming’s house is now operated as a five-bedroom villa, featuring a private beach, pool and garden.
Coward rented GoldenEye for a vacation in 1946 and promptly fell in love with Jamaica. He purchased property 10 miles away and created his own retreat, Blue Harbour. However, growing tired of the constant social whirlwind of entertaining his glamorous guests, which included Hollywood’s elite at the time, Coward purchased another property high in the hills called ‘Lookout’ and renamed it ‘Firefly.’ Here he lived most of the year, painting and writing in peace. Firefly is now owned by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust. Coward is buried in the garden there.
The famous Castleton Gardens was established in November 1862 and became one of the great gardens of the western hemisphere with its rich variety of plants. In the past, the gardens had more than 4,000 species of plants from the great English Garden at Kew. Many plants introduced in the island in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were planted here, including the poinciana, Bombay mango, the spathodea, navel orange and tangerine. Castleton Gardens is a haven for nature lovers. It features an added attraction, the Wag Water River, where visitors may have a swim.
Have you taken the time to ‘play tourist in St Mary?