I knew it was time to get away and unplug when I cried about the can opener not working as I tried to open a tin of tuna. It was the last straw in a six-month period that had drained my last bit of energy. It was a tap on the shoulder that said, “You need to slow down and shed the stress that’s weighing on you.”
Over the past couple of years, I’ve really amped up efforts to look after my physical self: cutting back on bad carbs like sugar, eating less meat and getting more exercise. But I had overlooked a critical element of wellness, and that’s emotional health. It took a temperamental can opener to realize that, and I was grateful for the reminder.
And, in one of those moments, where the stars line up perfectly, a timely email gave me a chance to go to Jamaica with a bunch of girlfriends and colleagues. I said “Yes” right away. This was a chance for me to put family drama, deadlines and home renovations on the back burner for some me time.
Montego Bay may be Jamaica’s financial centre, but it is surrounded by resorts – from budget to luxe – in sizes ranging from small to extra-large. Half Moon Resort definitely falls in the latter category, stretched out over 400 acres that include a nature reserve, beautifully landscaped gardens, an equestrian centre, 13 tennis courts and an 18-hole championship golf course. Though expansive, it’s the type of property that never seems crowded, even when all 197 of its rooms and suites and 31 villas are occupied. There’s always a quiet nook where you can curl up with your e-reader and be alone with your thoughts.
I openly confess to being a global spa junkie, experiencing massages and other treatments in at least 40 countries, from Egypt to Bali. It’s a blessing and a curse that I notice the tiniest details, from the volume of the music in a treatment room to how guests are greeted at reception to the design of the robes (I like pockets on mine!). A visit to the resort’s Fern Tree Spa (nestled between the ocean and the mountains) – the largest in Jamaica at more than 68,000 square feet – was high on my to-do list.
Its spa menu is dizzying, with a wealth of choices, including 11 massages, seven facials, 10 body therapies and eight types of bath soaks. Many incorporate local organic herbs and ingredients, such as lemongrass, coconut and aloe. Things like that really help differentiate one spa from another, adding to their uniqueness. I opted for the Fern Tree Spa’s signature massage, which leans heavily on scents from the island: lemongrass, allspice and orange. It ticked all the boxes for what I expect from a treatment. It started with a warming footbath (nice, even though it was 35°C outside!) and shifted to the massage table, where my therapist deftly used a mix of firm and gentle strokes to coax me into a blissful state.
What happens after a spa treatment is just as important as pillow talk shared by lovers, post-frolic. You need to be eased slowly and gently back to reality. The Fern Tree Spa has some remarkable chill-out areas, from cascading waterfalls to a relaxation room filled with lounge chairs separated by gauzy white curtains that dance under the breeze. I was alone while I sipped fruit-infused water, eyes closed, basking in the afterglow of my massage. It was such a treat to be still and to disconnect.
When it comes to unplugging, vacationers don’t do a good job of it. About 61 percent of employed Canadians check their work email while on holiday. That’s bad news if you want to reap the health benefits of being away, including a lowered risk of heart attack, more deep sleep and lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). We need to work harder at our relaxation skills.
There was so much more to discover about Half Moon Resort including more ways to nurture your body and soul, from croquet and yoga to spin classes and horseback riding. As well, the restaurants are wellness minded, with an eclectic mix of Italian, Jamaican and Continental cuisine, so you can find jerk chicken and grilled Caribbean lobster alongside honey-glazed duck breast. Menus also feature organic and local ingredients, as well as vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
My favourite activity, above all others, was just staring at the ocean from a cozy, comfortable room with luxurious bed linens and a great view. It let me press the pause button on the craziness of life back home, allowing me to appreciate the joys that come with travel: the sound of tropical rain as you sleep, and the shower of fragrant frangipani blossoms along a path. I vow to return long before burnout threatens to strike again.
Top 5 Jamaican Wellness-Boosting Moments
1. A morning yoga class in the open-air pavilion at Round Hill Hotel and Villas, with ocean breezes cooling the sweat on your brow. Follow up with a spa treatment next door in a restored, 18th-century plantation house, complete with an outdoor Vichy shower and treatments like a signature pineapple body buff to get your skin glowing.
2. Dinner at Stush in the Bush near Ocho Rios, a farm-to-table experience that highlights organic produce grown on site over 15 acres, with dishes like Chilled Avocado & Basil Soup, Grilled Pizzas, and Vegan Chocolate Cake created by Chris and Lisa Binns, perhaps the most gracious hosts on the planet.
3. An aromatherapy massage just feet away from the ocean at Jackie’s on the Reef, an eco-friendly holistic healing centre created by a former New Yorker in search of meaning and health in her life, located outside of Negril. If detoxing is the goal, this is the place, with simple, pretty rooms and culinary offerings that focus on clean eating.
4. Catching waves at Moon Palace Jamaica Grande on a FlowRider, a surfing simulator that is both fun and challenging and works your core. The perfect accompaniment is dining at Momo for stellar Japanese fare that taps into the freshness of local seafood.
5. The serenity of a sunset catamaran cruise off Montego Bay to watch the sun sink into the horizon as it leaves behind a kaleidoscope of colours.
If you go…
Air Canada Vacations offers daily non-stop flights from Toronto to Montego Bay, Jamaica, year-round aboard Air Canada rouge and seasonal direct flights from Halifax and Montreal with convenient connectors from 66 Canadian cities. From $969 CAD, plus applicable taxes and surcharges of approximately $460*.
*This price is based on 7-night all-inclusive stay at the Grand Bahia Principe from Toronto for travel in summer. Rates are valid at time of print and subject to change.
Did you know?
Since the launch of the new leisure airline, Air Canada rouge, the capacity to Montego Bay, Jamaica, from Toronto has increased by more than 50 percent.
WIN this trip! Find out how to enter this prize draw at besthealthmag.ca/jamaicagiveaway