Freelance writer Claudette Covey journeyed to Jamaica to check
out a sampling of Villas by Linda Smith properties. Her report
o say I was stunned is an
understatement. Until I sampled the goods, I had no idea that
Jamaica had an array of luxury villas.
The term "villa vacation" usually evokes thoughts of Italy's
Tuscany region -- or it did for me, until I visited and stayed in
some of the products offered by Villas by Linda Smith.
If you or your clients think that Jamaican villas are little
more than A-frames on a beach, think again. Spartan they
I can only speak for the properties represented by Villas by
Linda Smith, which operates 50 such accommodations in Jamaica,
primarily in the Montego Bay/Runaway Bay area.
The driving force behind the company is its namesake, Linda
Smith, whose hands-on approach to villa representation accounts for
much of the firm's success. (For more on Linda Smith, see
related story, Smith vouches for villa vacations.)
For her part, Smith has been compared with Martha Stewart
(although not for insider trading). She is smart, tenacious and
fully committed to ensuring that each property meets her standards.
Martha Stewart would be well-served to stay out of Smith's way. I
should know -- I spent five days with this villa maven.
When Smith decides to take on a new villa -- these houses
typically are second homes for the affluent -- she makes her policy
crystal clear to the owners. Simply put, it's her way or the
Owners must agree to Smith's terms for renovations and for a
thorough re-training of villa staff.
Smith actually moves into each house while assessing the
"I spend a minimum of three days when the home already is
virtually perfect," she said. "The longest I stayed while
renovating someone's home was 19 days. I moved the furniture out on
the lawn and started all over again with the guts of the
While at the villa, Smith trains the staff "in the services my firm
promises," she said. "At the same time I write the fact sheet that
goes on the Web site throughout my stay. It's very detailed and
accurate. There are no surprises."
There certainly aren't. The villas I visited came in all shapes
and sizes, and, when the math is done, they are relatively
"The biggest misconception is that villa vacations are too
expensive," Smith said. "The economy of the villa vacation kicks in
when multiple parties share the cost.
"For example, I have one group of 13 people sharing a house with
six bedrooms and five-and-a-half baths for $7,000 per week, or
$1,000 per night for seven nights.
"Divide that by 13 people and the per-night rate comes to $76.92
a person, including a cook, butler, housekeeper, gardener and
Granted, some villas are more expensive than others. Silent
Waters, for instance, which can accommodate 20 guests, costs
$24,750 per week in the low season and $29,150 peak season. On the
other end of the spectrum, the three-bedroom Serenity sells for
$4,100 and $6,000 per week, respectively.
Rates also fluctuate depending on the number of guests. The
price for one couple renting Serenity in the high season is $5,000
per week, but drops to $3,100 in the low season.
Silent Waters is flashy but classy, an elegant Balinese
wonderland that sits on a mountaintop amid 18 acres overlooking
Montego Bay. The property contains a main pavilion, a dining
pavilion, five freestanding villa suites and an owner's villa.
Carved Balinese, Burmese, Thai and Chinese statues accent the
gardens while lily ponds and pools separate living spaces.
The heart of Silent Waters is a 900-square-foot main pavilion
featuring an 80-foot reflection pool. Paths lead from the pavilion
and weave through the gardens to individual villa suites.
The suites also are reminiscent of the Far East, particularly
artwork from Thailand and Indonesia and accents such as granite wet
bars with coffeemakers (and, of course, Jamaica's Blue Mountain
Coffee) and marble bathrooms larger than many Manhattan studio
Amanoka mirrors the Indonesian elegance of Silent Waters, albeit
on a smaller scale, although the 9,600-square-foot home on the
beach at Discovery Bay holds its own among the finest of Linda
Smith's roster of villas.
Amanoka can accommodate a maximum of 12 guests. Like Silent
Waters, its interiors and lawns are designed with an Indonesian
flair, including lily ponds, fountains and gardens.
From the pool and veranda, guests look out on a pastoral lawn
that leads to a beach and waterfront gazebo. Agents, take note:
Amanoka will not host weddings or allow families with more than two
children under age 12.
Just a stone's throw from Amanoka is Fortlands Point, located on
a promontory that once served as a stone fort. Seven cannons stand
guard over stupendous views.
Fortlands Point's interior exudes more of that Indonesian
ambience with Persian rugs scattered over marble floors.
The house has seven bedrooms, five for adults and two for
children, and sits on three levels. Many of the rooms contain
The villa even features a freestanding squash court and a gym
with universal equipment and an elliptical cycle. The nearby reefs
are ideal for snorkeling.
Good Hope is all about Old World charm. I felt to the manor born
at this 2,000-acre estate, with its riding stables and stone
We traveled up a circuitous, bumpy road to reach Good Hope,
which sits 600 feet above sea level, affording views of the Queen
of Spain Valley and the Martha Brea River.
There are 22 species of birds at Good Hope, which also is a bird
The stone buildings on the estate include a four-bedroom,
Georgian-style Great House, built in 1755; a five-bedroom carriage
house; and the Counting House, directly behind the Great House,
which is popular with honeymooners.
My favorite was the three-bedroom River Cottage. Good Hope can
accommodate a total of 35 guests.
The aptly named Noble House, a four-bedroom/six-bathroom
oceanfront estate on five acres, is located eight miles west of
Montego Bay and tailor-made for elegant parties and clients who
plan to entertain while in Jamaica.
The 6,000-square-foot main pavilion features a great room with
56 glass doors and a wraparound veranda. Stone walls add to the
property's castle-like feel -- as does a massive crystal chandelier
in the main dining room.
Noble House also has a 2,000-square-foot pool cottage on its
Two of Noble House's neighbors, Tranquility and Serenity, appeal
to travelers (such as myself) who want a less formal environment
for their vacations.
Tranquility was Linda Smith's first villa, which she renovated
as her second home.
The four-and-a-half-bedroom house comes with a pool, a seaside
dining gazebo and a tennis court. It is marble-floored throughout,
and the great room overlooks an 86-foot veranda. This house also
contains a two-story guest cottage.
After Tranquility came Serenity, the second property in Smith's
This cozy house was the most modest of the properties I
inspected but one with great appeal. Each room in the three-bedroom
house opens onto the water, and the villa's interior is a series of
octagonal gazebos with rafters and beamed ceilings.
For a taste of old Hollywood and Broadway, there's Highland
House, the Oscar Hammerstein Estate, also in the Montego Bay
This 7,000-square-foot, six-bedroom house, set on 17 mountain
acres, is glamorous, with chandeliers, flower-printed couches and
Dorothy Hammerstein played bridge with Lady Sarah Churchill,
Noel Coward and his male secretary on the back porch. As Oscar
Hammerstein wrote in South Pacific, "So this is what it's like
living on an island."
• • •
Villas by Linda Smith
Address: 8029 Riverside Drive, Cabin John, Md. 20818
Phone: (301) 229-4300
Fax: (301) 320-6963