Famed as a home of Caribbean chill, there’s more to Barbados than palm-lined beaches and rum. KATIE THOMSON discovered its culinary heart, unparalleled vistas and why people can’t help but catch the Bajan bug…
There are few places in this world that really live up to those turquoise watered, palm-tree-dotted, white-sandy-beach perfect postcard shots. Barbados however, could well be where the image was conceived. With 97 kilometres of pristine coastline and a friendly population with a happy-go-lucky approach to life, this is certainly the place to unwind.
I was lucky enough to visit St Lucia when I was a girl, but this was my first trip back to the Caribbean for over 20 years. Barbados brings together a marvellous mix of the familiar and the far flung – Anglican style churches and village greens stand in juxtaposition to palm trees, monkeys and the ever-present glittering water. The Queen is still the head of state (you can wave at her portrait in the arrivals hall!) and red post boxes adorn the streets of Bridgetown.
Barbados brings together a marvellous mix of the familiar and the far flung – Anglican style churches and village greens stand in juxtaposition to palm trees, monkeys and the ever-present glittering water.
When thinking about Barbados it is easiest to imagine the island as five distinct areas. First, there’s the luxurious, resort strewn west coast, where the narrow, picturesque beaches are lapped by the gentle, crystalline water. Second, you have the more heavily developed south coast, where the sea off the beaches is sometimes too rough for safe swimming – the bars and restaurants here tend to attract the younger crowds.
Third, is the quiet and unspoiled east coast. Buffeted by Atlantic breakers, it is beautiful and offers amazing surfing opportunities if you like your thrills on the waves. It does have limited accommodation though. Fourth, is the island’s interior, where you can see those more classic sights like plantation houses, botanic gardens and caves nestled among the fields of sugar cane. Lastly, there’s Bridgetown and its surrounds: the capital isn’t an obvious spot for exploration, but it is often the best port for water-based activities and the nearby Garrison area (recently placed on Unesco’s World Heritage List) is certainly worth a visit, ideally on a guided tour.
For such a small island, Barbados has certainly cultivated a reputation as a foodie hotspot – where fine dining meets great produce and even better settings. With so many wonderful places to choose from, the main issue was deciding which places to dine in only a week-long visit. Stalwarts of the local cookery scene like The Cliff were a must, but in there too were beach-side bars, beautiful twinkling dinner spots and urban options where food trends abound.
Before any such gluttonous revelry though, I was keen to get out on the water, and a catamaran trip, promising the chance to swim in the warm Caribbean sea, fitted the bill perfectly. Operators of this kind are numerous. We opted for Elegance Catamaran Cruises, one of the longest established crews in Bridgetown. The team offer a range of cruises, perfect for seeing the island in its changing lights. We went for a lunch trip and set off from Bridgetown in search of an iconic Bajan marine animal – the Green Turtle.
Smooth waters and a gentle morning sun made for a fantastic outbound leg, and before long we’d found the perfect snorkelling spot. Heading into the water with our guides, we entered the turtles’ world, but admired them from a respectful distance, catching sight too of a sting ray skirting along the sea bed and a Hawksbill Turtle, alongside shoals of iridescent fish. Before long it was back on board to find a secluded cove, where we could swim out to find ourselves the only people on a white sandy beach. On the swim back, a tray of cocktails was floated into the water – nothing was too much trouble for the crew.
After all the exertion, some rum punch and a delicious lunch featuring crispy flying fish, spicy jerk chicken and coleslaw was served. In a convivial atmosphere, we got to know our fellow wayfarers and together delighted in a fantastic feast in a truly unrivalled setting.
While there was no concern about any real exertion on this holiday, save the snorkelling, I always love a spa trip, especially when a treatment geared at beating jetlag is on offer. I opted for The House, part of the Elegance Hotels group. The spa offers a full range of massages and facials, using products from Elemental Herbology, but I was keen to try their Fire & Ice Jetlag Massage. Included for every resident to kick off their holiday, the treatment includes muscle release stretches and a rebalancing massage with energising oils – perfect to reset the body. I combined that with a restorative shea butter head massage which left my hair soft and shiny – the perfect antidote to all that sea water the day before! If all the relaxing leaves you with an appetite, you can dine on site too, or at the neighbouring Treasure Beach hotel.
If each Caribbean island is defined by one of its famous resorts, then Sandy Lane is the definitive article of Barbados. Its smattering of rosy pink sun umbrellas punctuating the white sandy cove is one of the classic views on the island and, if budget doesn’t permit a stay, a visit for lunch or cocktails is still a must. As well as its beaches, Sandy Lane is famed for its world-leading golf courses – the Country Club and the exclusive Green Monkey (playable only by residents). Ranked amongst the best in the world, the Country Club is an unmissable course for any golf enthusiast, not least because of its beautiful scenery and carpet-like fairways.
After a day on the golf course, the evening meal beckoned, at the lovely Tides, one of the must-try dinner spots on the island. A beautiful courtyard decorated with contemporary art makes way for an open terrace, illuminated by dramatic chandeliers and gently buffeted by the cooling sea breeze. This classic seaside home is finished with local Bajan coral stone and mahogany, and as the name would suggest, it is known for its wonderful seafood, cooked simply and to perfection.
The final night called, and a visit to the charming Lone Star beckoned. Like the Cliff and Tides, it enjoys a picture perfect setting right on the beach, with plantation style cladding and a breezy open plan bar and tables. Cheerful waiters bedecked in 1950s style mechanic’s jumpsuits serve up fresh plates of flying fish, crumbed shrimp and perfect steaks, classic cooking executed beautifully.
Barbados is a place of many faces – it’s a glorious island escape, a taste of home abroad, a foodie’s delight and a golfer’s paradise. It’s a place where you aren’t restricted to a resort – you can get out and explore, making the most of the food scene and the boundless good nature of the locals. Cultural sights come together with natural wonders, and whether you’re three or ninety three, there is something to captivate and enthral. Truly, it’s a place that will make a mark on your soul, and you’ll be longing to head back.
High season for Barbados runs from December to April. BA flies from Gatwick 12 times a week, while Virgin Atlantic flies daily from London and weekly from Manchester. Flights cost from around £650pp return. Make flying feel much more fabulous by securing lounge access in the UK and Barbados through Holiday Extras – from £24. holidayextras.co.uk