Let me get one thing straight: I've never been a fan of all-inclusive resorts. Say all-inclusive and I feel like I'm about to be corralled into a bland resort with bad food served buffet style. Imagine my surprise when I found a resort that dripped with native foliage and offered top-notch cuisine, an all-inclusive escape from it all.
At Breezes Runaway Bay in Jamaica, over an hour from Montego Bay, I found an expansive property where it was easy to get away from those partying beside the pool bar or the Reggae Cafe. Instead, I walked through the tropical gardens to a jacuzzi where I was often the only one lounging in the warm waters. When I tired of this palm-draped locale, I wandered to one of a handful of hammocks set among a copse of rubber trees with their tangle of aerial roots. This was a perfect shady hang out for reading or meditating. Again, I never ran into a soul.
I became quite infatuated with the towering trees with their buttress roots as well as the blooming flowers in a rainbow of hues. So much so, in fact, that I jumped at the opportunity to sign up for the early morning garden tour with Robert Watson, the grounds manager. Over the course of an hour I received a botanical education on all things tropical planted on this property. He told my small group that the Christmas palm -- one of the 10 palm varieties found here -- is given its name because of the visible red and green seeds that hang beside the trunk. Turns out you can eat every part of the soursop tree -- the leaves make a tea that's good for your nerves -- which produces a five-pound fruit. Hibiscus used to be referred to as "shoe black" because elderly Jamaicans would use the petals to buff their shoes and the June plum is used at their bar to make a lemonade-type drink when it's combined with ginger and sugar. The things you learn.
I was pleasantly surprised by how many food items came from the garden: coconuts, mangoes, bread fruit (they serve it with acai), herbs (such as rosemary and cilantro), bananas, callaloo and much more.
With a handful of restaurants to choose from, I never tired of the cuisine. There were too many options for everyone from hardcore carnivores to conditional vegetarians (like me). The two reservation-only restaurants, Martino's (Italian-focused) and Munasan (Japanese), offered some of the best choices. But, hearing that Munasan specialized in hibachi (teppanyaki) cooking, I didn't have grand expectations.
After devouring all of the delicate white tuna and salmon sushi, I feasted on perfectly prepared fried rice with grilled snapper and shrimp. The fish was moist and flavorful and is the best hibachi-cooking I've ever experiences. (Yes, there are plenty of superlatives to be had at Breezes.) The home-made pineapple-orange ice cream was a perfect finish.
But if sushi and hibachi isn't your thing, Martino's offers an intimate, candle-lit setting where I found its salad bar -- anchovy fillets, breaded shrimp and grilled leeks and pineapples -- a real stand out. In addition, the Reggae Bar produces some fine spicy patties stuffed with either jerk pork or chicken. Finally, the vast buffet at the Beach Terrace included plenty of Jamaican dishes which I sampled, such as oxtail stew, conch soup, fresh sardines, spicy ackee and rice and peas. Of course, if you wanted standard soup, salad and sandwich fare, they had that too. But it was all fresh, homemade and flavorful.
With its perfumed air and delicious foods, Breezes Runaway Bay changed my view on all-inclusives. I thought an all-inclusive would never be able to offer a garden retreat or flavorful cuisine or reasonable prices. I was wrong.
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