Tropical Dining with a Jamaican Twist: Sustainable Mille Fleurs Restaurant

No good hotel is complete without an innovative restaurant, and Hotel Mocking Bird Hill’s Mille Fleurs is just such a place. I savored every mouth-watering bite during my stay there—and each was both sustainable and satisfying.

The romantic Mille Fleurs restaurant in Jamaica focuses on organic, island-grown foods. Photo courtesy Hotel Mocking Bird Hill

Unlike many Caribbean resorts that import the majority of their food, Hotel Mocking Bird Hill cooks with locally grown and harvested ingredients whenever possible, thereby supporting local farmers and putting fresh, tasty, and usually organically-grown foods on guests’ plates. Chef Melvin Laidlaw and the hotel’s owners also seek out foods that originate from within 50 miles, occasionally widening that to 90 miles when necessary.

The Mille Fleurs adventure begins before your first dinner at the hotel when Chef Melvin sits down to tell you what’s on the menu (it changes daily, depending on what’s in season). He also explains the origins of all the foods and describes Jamaican specialties such as callaloo (a green, leafy vegetable—like spinach—that’s simmered with coconut milk, chopped onions and garlic).

Chef Melvin also asks about your dietary restrictions or preferences. If you’re gluten intolerant, you’re in luck. Cassava, a starchy root that grows in the tropics, is a Jamaican staple—and cassava flour is gluten free. It’s the primary ingredient in Jamaican coconut-milk-fried flatbread called “bammy”—which is heaven!

Dreamy Dining

Candlelit by night, Mille Fleurs restaurant creates romantic atmosphere on its terrace overlooking the Caribbean Sea and rainforest—with the Blue Mountains on the horizon. I loved sitting with a rum drink as the sun set, feeling the cool night breeze and watching the fireflies glow.

To give you a sample of the outrageously good food, my first night’s meal include an orange salad with green olives and local feta* accompanied by fresh-baked herb rolls and scones. For the main course, I chose spiny Caribbean lobster, served with herb butter. (Note: I visited Hotel Mocking Bird Hill in late March, the last days before the close of lobster-catching season. April 1 through June 30 is the lobster’s breeding/egg-laying time, and if you eat lobster between those dates, chances are they’re poached—and I don’t mean in the cooking-method sense!)

To top off the meal, I reveled in a sampler platter of Mango Cheesecake and Papaya and Jamaican Apple & Coconut Custard.

Vegetarian Paradise

I also have to mention that Chef Melvin pampers vegetarians and vegans with Jamaican flavor. On any given day, the menu might include Stir-Fried Callaloo with Garlic, Breadfruit and Peanuts; Spicy Okra and Tomato with Yogurt; Herb Pancakes Filled with Ratatouille and Feta; or Homemade Pasta with Spicy Pumpkin Sauce.

Mille Fleurs participates in Meatless Mondays, a global initiative that promotes reducing your carbon footprint. (The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse-gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide.)

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

* I’m compelled to sing the praises of the artisan cheeses served at Mille Fleurs. They’re crafted at Jamaica’s Tamarind Hill Farm by Joanna Slimforte and they’re spectacular. I’ve never tasted such vibrant feta outside the Mediterranean, and the goat cheeses vie with Europe’s.

Originally posted on on May 21, 2010

Read more about my travels in Jamaica:

Chef Melvin Laidlaw hosts cooking classes at Hotel Mocking Bird Hill. During this one, we learned some classic Jamaican recipes: jerk chicken, fried plantain, grilled breadfruit, and red beans and rice cooked in coconut milk.

Room with a Jamaican View: Hotel Mocking Bird Hill

Yes, this was the paradise I reveled in every time I gazed out my windows at Hotel Mocking Bird Hill, an eco-friendly getaway in Jamaica.

Tucked into the forests and organic gardens above the town of Port Antonio is Hotel Mocking Bird Hill, an eco-boutique hotel that’s the epitome of Jamaica’s natural side.

Though not on the beach, the socially- and environmentally-conscious hotel overlooks the aquamarine water not far away. Though not in the mountains, you can watch the sun set behind the Blue Mountains from the hotel’s restaurant and rooftop observatory.

In short, Hotel Mocking Bird Hill is connected to the land, the sea, the sky and the community in a way that few places do.

The Luxury of Nature

“What is luxury? The definition has changed. It’s not just opulence; it’s having space and quiet.” –innkeeper Shireen Aga

Hotel Mocking Bird Hill does indeed provide the most beautiful of places to relax and forget the cares of the world. Curl up on a deck chair, a pool chair or a day bed hidden in the verdant gardens for some R&R.

Indoors or out, I feel nature’s pulse from the moment I wake until I fall asleep—which is perhaps when I enjoy the earthiness the most.

After a satisfying, sustainable meal in the candlelit Mille Fleurs Restaurant (see a future post for details about the wonderful cuisine), a hush settles over the hotel and the tree frogs sing their moonlight sonata. Fireflies (bigger than any I’ve seen before!) sparkle like fairies in the forest.

Night in the tropics: always relaxing when there’s mosquito netting and a soft bed.

While getting ready for bed each night, I kept all but one light off so as not to attract insects (there are no screens in the louvered windows so that nothing mars the view or separates you from the gardens and jungle surrounding the hotel.)

Then I would climb beneath the mosquito netting, which is rarely necessary if you turn on the ceiling fan above the bed; mosquitoes avoid the breeze.

Mosquito netting is one of my personal favorite luxuries: a diaphanous tent over my bed that assures that my sleep will be undisturbed by winged insects or the geckos who hunt for them.

To me, it’s a treat to sleep in a room open to nature, and mosquito netting over a comfy bed feels like a magic castle. On my first night at Mocking Bird Hill, I awoke to fireflies in my room. One settled on the canopy above me and winked me back to sleep.

The pool is a blue lagoon during the sun-drenched hours and lantern-lit at night.

There are many other luxuries at this 10-room inn:

  • sipping a Red Stripe and jerk-spiced nuts at sundown
  • meeting charming guests from England, Germany and the United States
  • taking trips to the beach
  • excursions for a raft ride or to Reach Falls
  • strolling through the gardens and watching the humming-birds
  • lounging in the hammock in my room (and drinking in yet again that view!)
  • and last, but certainly not least, enjoying a cool dip in the chlorine-free pool.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Originally posted on May 5, 2010

Read more about my travels in Jamaica:

The colorful lobby of Hotel Mocking Bird Hill is filled with tropical flowers and the sculptures of innkeeper/artist Barbara Walker.

Canadian Ski Holiday at Banff’s Eco-Friendly Juniper Hotel

The Canadian Rockies as viewed from Banff's Juniper Hotel. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The Canadian Rockies as viewed from Banff’s Juniper Hotel. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Once in a great while, you find a hotel that seems tailor-made for you—with just the right character, setting, and attitude. I found my kindred-spirit lodging at the Juniper Hotel on the hillside overlooking the lovable resort town of Banff, in the Canadian Rockies.

Casual and relaxed, located in an outdoorsy setting, and environmentally conscious, the Juniper Hotel welcomed my husband and me with open arms. For three nights we were at home in a room with a balcony vista of majestic mountains, frozen lakes, and snow-flocked forests.

Natural Décor in the Canadian Rockies

In the 1950s, the Juniper was the well-known Timberline Motel, located in spectacular Banff National Park. In 2005 it was renovated to preserve its retro style, while using contemporary nontoxic finishes and salvaging original materials.

Lobby at the Juniper Hotel ©Laurel Kallenbach

Lobby at the Juniper Hotel ©Laurel Kallenbach

For instance, the lobby floor is fashioned from broken patio stones, and old slate shingles from the former staff accommodations are reincarnated as room numbers. Most of the wood finishes are done in reclaimed timber.

The Juniper’s owner is an avid collector of First Nations art, and much of it is displayed in the hotel, which is perfect for a property that’s surrounded by nature. Hiking trails begin right outside the back door.

Although the hotel is less than 10 minutes from the heart of downtown Banff, it’s adjacent to a wildlife corridor, a swath of protected land where local wildlife—grizzlies, mountain lion, wolves, caribou, elk—have unrestricted areas to roam and hunt.

View from the nearby Vermilion Lakes ©Laurel Kallenbach

View from the nearby Vermilion Lakes ©Laurel Kallenbach

Native landscaping around the hotel enhances the forest atmosphere, and a vegetative roof—covered with native grasses—is an eco-friendly way to keep the building’s temperatures down during summer.

Sleeping Green

The Juniper Hotel and Bistro is a member of EcoStay, a North American initiative that helps hotels measure their carbon footprint, identify and fund reduction strategies, and balance their greenhouse gas emissions through carbon offsetting. The hotel collects two dollars per night from hotel guests, and these funds purchase carbon offsets, so that basically made our stay carbon neutral.

The program also supports environmental measures, including low-flow showerheads, energy-efficient compact-fluorescent lighting, and recycling.

Panoramic Dining in a First Nations-Themed Restaurant

One of the first things I loved about the Juniper Bistro was its wall-to-wall glass overlooking the Bow Valley. All those windows offer eye-popping views of the glorious Bow Valley and iconic Mt. Rundle, which towers above the town of Banff. Beneath a handmade, birch-bark canoe mounted in the dining area, we ate several meals, and the food was satisfying and delightful—just like the scenery.

A birch-bark canoe presides over the Juniper Bistro ©Laurel Kallenbach

A birch-bark canoe presides over the Juniper Bistro ©Laurel Kallenbach

The menu highlights locally and Canadian-sourced food with international influences. The in-house bakery provides tasty biscuits and breads. (Yes, there are gluten-free options.)

One morning, I opted for a healthy egg-white frittata with roasted asparagus, aged cheddar and pickled shallots served with gluten-free toast and cherry-tomato and arugula salad. Ken dug into homemade granola and fresh fruit to fortify himself for skiing.

Gourmet dining at the Juniper Bistro. Photo courtesy Juniper Hotel.

Gourmet dining at the Juniper Bistro. Photo courtesy Juniper Hotel.

Another morning, we selected the more decadent Roasted Tomato Benny: oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, pumpkin-seed pesto, and poached eggs on a sundried tomato biscuit with hollandaise and brown-butter hash (what we would call “home fries”). This is the way breakfast on vacation should be!

Après ski hot chocolate at the Juniper Bistro. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Dinner was also spectacular; of particular note was the Mushroom Gnocchi (roasted peppers, wild mushrooms, pistachios, goat cheese, romesco sauce, and arugula with brown-butter gnocchi). The wine menu featured many fine Canadian vintages from nearby British Columbia.

In winter, one of the best hours to visit Juniper Bistro is après ski, when the setting sun plays on the surrounding peaks. We arrived just days after the Mt. Norquay ski area opened. Because our stay was mid-week, we had the bar mostly to ourselves—no crowds. We enjoyed a hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps and toasted the sunset and moonrise indoors next to the roaring fire in the bar. The staff offered to build us a fire outside on the patio, around the pit fires, but we preferred to cozy up beside the Christmas tree rather than brave the sub-zero arctic blasts.

Out and About in Banff

Mt. Rundle, photographed from Vermilion Lakes Road ©Laurel Kallenbach

Mt. Rundle, photographed from Vermilion Lakes Road ©Laurel Kallenbach

While the Juniper was our home base for three nights, we did leave its pleasant premises for some adventures. Ken drove up to Mt. Norquay ski area for telemarking the Canadian Rockies.

We also visited Banff Upper Hot Springs  under the full moon. The dash from the dressing room to the outdoor pool was shivery, but once submerged in the geothermally heated, 100-degree mineral water, we relaxed and enjoyed being toasty while surrounded by icicles and steam.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

For visitor information, see Banff/Lake Louise or Travel Alberta.

Original post: December 4, 2015

Read more about Banff and Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada:

View from Mt. Norquay ski area ©Ken Aikin

View from Mt. Norquay ski area ©Ken Aikin

Cold Weather & Warm Memories at Canada’s Lake Louise

We sat at the center window of the Lakeview Lounge at Chateau Lake Louise. Photo courtesy Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

It’s a triple-treat kind of day in the Canadian Rockies. Feeling like royalty, my husband and I dine on an early lunch at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise’s Lakeview Lounge, where we’re seated at the picture-window table overlooking one of the most beautiful views on the planet. On the other side of the glass, steep mountains plunge into iced-over Lake Louise. The pines are flocked in white; a light snowfall whispers down over the scene.

Iconic landscape, iconic hotel, iconic window-seat on nature’s spectacle.

Though it’s barely 15 degrees outside, we’re lapping up epic beauty while slurping spoonfuls of steaming roasted butternut squash soup and biting into a savory pulled-pork barbecue sandwich (me) and veggie quiche (Ken).

It’s difficult to know what to focus on: tasty lunch or the view—especially for Ken, who has just returned from a brisk nordic ski through the surrounding woods. Back and forth we go, one minute exclaiming over the cuisine, the next marveling over the wintry wonderland outside. All the while, we can hardly believe we’re staying at the Chateau, a luxury Fairmont property located in Banff National Park.

The Fairmont Chateau perches on Lake Louise, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located within Banff National Park. Photo courtesy Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

We ask the waitress to take our picture; she snaps one, and then the camera battery goes dead. Ken and I have only scant photographic evidence of our good fortune, but the majority of our memories from this lunch-to-remember will be preserved on our human memory cards forever.

He Skis; She Doesn’t

Our trip to the Canadian Rocky Mountains in winter is a consolation trip in replacement for a June birthday vacation that was canceled because of my urgent hip surgery. What we needed was a wintertime getaway that allowed Ken to ski while I enjoyed the scenery from a non-slippery vantage point. We couldn’t have chosen a better locale than Lake Louise: for sunrise-to-sunset views of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, there’s no better place to stay than the historic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

(We chose to stay in a less-pricey forest-view room. Although our bedroom window didn’t overlook the lake, we watched the sun set on the snow-covered peaks and the full moon rise behind them without leaving the comfort of our well-appointed accommodations. The room was small, but well laid out so that we weren’t tripping over each other. And having a tea kettle and coffeemaker was convenient too.)

In the hotel’s posh indoors, we rubbed elbows with well-heeled folks on ski holiday, attendees of a spectrometry conference, and Olympic skiers (our trip coincided with the 2014 Women’s World Cup). The Fairmont Chateau was the perfect place to sigh over nature’s grandeur without donning thermal underwear and a parka.

The Walliser Stube restaurant at the Chateau also has a divine view of Lake Louise. Photo courtesy Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

I did venture outside with Ken on the Lake Louise trail, which had been plowed and packed down for easier walking. Thanks to ice-traction devices called Stabl-Icers (strap-on cleats for boots) and a couple of hiking poles, I strolled around part of the lake without fear of falling.

A shot of us during a winter walk around Lake Louise.

The rest of our two-night stay, I swam in the indoor pool and soaked in the warm whirlpool—and was overjoyed to spend a couple of idle hours (how often does that happen?) sipping hot tea in the Lakeview Lounge. I gazed out at icy Victoria Glacier spilling into the frozen lake and hummed along to classy 1940s and ’50s-era tunes piped through the sound system—and felt deeply content.

When Margaret Whiting crooned “If it’s a crime, then I’m guilty… guilty of dreaming of you,” I knew that was the theme song of our stay here. I’ll never hear that song without thinking of our dreamy vacation in the snow at Lake Louise.

Green, Even in Winter

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts embraces environmentally sustainable business and operations practices and takes proactive steps to reduce carbon output and help mitigate the effects of global warming by:

  • conserving water by installating low-flow showerheads, low-flush toilets, and tap aerators. All properties participate in sheet and towel exchange programs to reduce frequency of laundering guest linens.
  • using alternative energy. Fifty percent of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise’s electricity is provided by a blend of wind and run-of-river electricity generation.
  • minimizing waste produced and diverting waste from landfills through recycling
  • sourcing local organic produce and focusing on farm-to-table cuisine in its restaurants
  • supporting sustainable seafood by purchasing only non-endangered fish species harvested in ways that limit damage to marine or aquatic habitats.
  • valuing the natural and cultural heritage of its properties
  • building local partnerships in the communities where it does business

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Original post: January 10, 2015

Read more about my travels in the Banff/Lake Louise area: