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The beautiful beaches and ritzy resorts are a given – but Barbados has so much more to offer, says Fred Mawer, from its rich history to elegant new hotels and a buzzing, inventive cuisine.
Sun, sea and sand – these are the fundamental ingredients of pretty much any Caribbean holiday, and Barbados delivers them in spades. Expect temperatures in the high 20s in the winter months, and turquoise waters gently lapping long golden strands on the island’s glamorous west coast.
But the thing about Barbados is that it offers so much more. History, for starters. The old core of the bustling capital, Bridgetown, and its garrison – in empire days the British military headquarters for the Eastern Caribbean – have recently been placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Attractions include the oldest synagogue in the western hemisphere and the handsome Georgian house where George Washington stayed during a visit in 1751. The garrison’s former parade ground is now the island’s horse-racing track, and an afternoon at the races is a highly recommended way to mingle with Bajans from all walks of life.
You should also take time to explore the rest of the island. Speightstown, now a languorous backwater, used to be an important port called Little Bristol because of its close trading associations with the British city; pop in to the imaginative Arlington House Museum to learn more. A short drive through rolling fields of sugar cane brings you to St Nicholas Abbey, a beautiful Jacobean plantation house, where a home movie provides a fascinating insight into island life in the 1930s.
Food is another high point. No other Caribbean country can match Barbados for the quality and choice of places to eat out. The latest see-and-be-seen place is Cin Cin on the west coast (food pictured, below right), where you dine facing the sea through a wall of giant glass windows, or on an open-air terrace over the ocean, on inventive dishes such as gnocchi with jerk pork. Not that the west coast has the monopoly on great restaurants in great locations – try buzzing and informal Tapas, on a section of the south coast’s mile-long boardwalk, which does delicious Asian/Mediterranean small plates such as spicy Thai fishcakes and smoked marlin.
Barbados also boasts some of the Caribbean’s best hotels, such as the renowned Sandy Lane and the classy, considerably more understated Coral Reef Club. But there are much more affordable, appealing alternatives. Consider the recently revamped Atlantis, a 19th-century property on the sleepy east coast, which now has a colonial-chic look. Meanwhile, the place to stay on the south coast is the new Ocean Two Resort, whose swanky suites are within walking distance of the nightlife of St Lawrence Gap.
An off-the-radar favourite of mine is Bayfield House, an upmarket guesthouse in an elegant, plantation-style home on the west coast. It has a lush, tropical atmosphere – green monkeys often appear in the garden at breakfast time. And if it’s sea and sand you’re after, the stunning Gibbes Beach – a preposterously pretty golden arc shaded by soaring trees and backed by luxurious mansions – is just a five-minute stroll away.
It’s these hidden gems that make Barbados such a special holiday destination. Even if you’ve been before, it’s worth another visit.
Caribbean specialist Tropic Breeze can book packages to Ocean Two Resort and The Atlantis.
January to April is the driest and least humid period on Barbados, although hotels rates are highest then. Prices are lower, and the weather often as good, in early December and May.
Find out more at Visit Barbados.
This feature was published in the autumn 2012 issue of Square Meal Lifestyle.