The Half Moon resort near Montego Bay is an idyllic location on the north coast of Jamaica for those in search of sea, sports, adventure, invigorating fitness workouts – and even a spot of swimming on horseback
Clutching onto a horse’s tail as the beast swims through the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean, in the general direction of Cuba, has a pretty surreal quality. Especially if you weren’t even aware that horses are as happy in the surf as they are on the turf. But that was the centrepiece of day two of Director’s short but restorative four-day trip to the northern shore of Jamaica – an island Columbus referred to as “the fairest isle that eyes have beheld”.
The Half Moon resort’s Equestrian Centre – which has 28 meticulously groomed steeds and a jumping and dressage arena, all managed by former show jumper Trina DeLisser – lays on this once-in-a-lifetime experience, which involves a trot through the resort premises, along the beach and into the shallows. Having cantered into deeper waters about a mile from shore, the horses have their saddles removed and take the plunge, their riders sliding along their backs and into the sea for the
ride of their lives. The Equestrian Centre also offers a ‘positive empowerment’ programme – a mindfulness exercise that demonstrates how to use body language to communicate with the horses – but for now the ‘turf and surf experience’ is the major talking point.
There’s plenty else to recommend this resort to visitors seeking invigoration and respite. Named after the shape of the slither of coastline on which it sits, seven miles to the east of Montego Bay, the Half Moon has 398 rooms (many with private pools), as well as stables, tennis courts, a spa, a shopping centre, a children’s area and a golf course spread over its 400 acres. Most appealing of all, though, is the extent to which it suits visitors of every ilk. While families can occupy an entire villa (maid and waiter included) and enjoy beach barbecues, not to mention the Anancy Children’s Village, honeymooners benefit from the life-affirming sunsets, dolphin lagoon and private beach dining options. Paul Newman, Joan Crawford, John and Jackie Kennedy, Prince Charles and the Queen are among those to have enjoyed the warm but unfussy service on offer.
But we came in search of a sport and fitness-driven sojourn, which began in earnest with some exercise – the resort’s in-house personal trainer putting us through a vigorous workout with bikes, treadmills and elliptical trainers (spinning, yoga, aerobics and Pilates classes are also available for those who prefer communal fitness). This was followed by a sports massage at the Fern Tree Spa where traditional Jamaican treatments are applied using only concoctions made from the produce – apples, plums, grapefruits, naseberries, pineapples, aloe, ginger, pimento, rosemary, sage and lavender – grown in the 68,000sqft haven surrounding the treatment room.
Dining at the Sugar Mill – widely considered the best restaurant in Jamaica – didn’t undermine all that good work in the gym. Using locally grown fruit and vegetables, director of food and beverage Giorgio Rusconi and his team serve up authentic Jamaican flavours tinged with international influences. The resort has four restaurants – five if you include the Jamaica Beach barbecue that takes place on a Friday – serving specialities such as stewed snapper fillet with prawns, scallops and tomato bisque and the rack of lamb with tangelo fruit chutney. Then again, the vast tray of rum brought out after dinner for a tutorial in the various local vintages may have shaved a fraction of enthusiasm off the next morning’s workout.
A glorious stay was rounded off perfectly by two more rarefied experiences on the final day. Next door to the resort’s dive centre is a wood carver, Bollite Hines, who offers lessons to would-be sculptors. Director can attest that sanding and painting oak, cedar and mahogany is as therapeutic and hypnotic an experience as any you’ll have on a beach holiday. Shortly afterwards, we visited the SOS Children’s Village, a charity sponsored by the resort, where 12 families provide a home for local children without parental care. Visitors to the village – which was inaugurated in 1972 by Johnny Cash, a big supporter of the cause – can donate gifts and play sport with the children residing there.
What could be more refreshing than balancing a steady fitness regime with a trio of life-changing experiences – the type that have you walking back into the office with renewed vigour – during your beach holiday? Assuming you don’t get too well acquainted with that tray of rum, of course.
Director flew on the thrice-weekly Virgin Atlantic flight from Gatwick to Montego Bay, with return economy fares starting from £725 per person including tax.
Deluxe rooms at Half Moon start from around £290 per room, per night; Deluxe Ocean rooms from £350; Imperial Suites from £990. Guests will be met at the airport and transferred either by shuttle or private car.