Barbados is pleasingly green with a fabulous tropical climate, that much we know. But what surprised me was that I could smell the humidity in the air, making everything seem so fecund, from the palm trees lining the roads to the dazzlingly colourful blooms on the frangipani trees.
This compact island, measuring just 21 miles long and 14 miles wide, is the most easterly of the Caribbean islands. The national language is English and driving is on the left, so it’s easy to see why it’s a popular choice for British and Irish tourists.
The further north you get, the fresher the air feels and at the most northerly tip of the island you can breathe in the sea air and stand in awe of the roaring, crashing waves and crisp horizon.
On a recent trip to the island with my husband, we stayed at the Ocean Two resort, located in the parish of Christ Church, on the south coast of the island. Our gorgeous suite had views of the hotel’s secluded and intimate beach, just steps from the hotel itself, and the dazzling blue sea beyond.
Out of the many highlights we experienced during our stay there, the best, and most romantic, came as dusk fell when the last of the sun loungers had been cleared away. Staff decorated a part of the beach with lanterns and a table for two on the sand, and we enjoyed champagne and delicious food while listening to the sound of the sea.
Ocean Two really is the perfect location for families as well as couples and is handily located for a wealth of nearby food and souvenir shops. Outside the hotel grounds there were the ever-present hawkers selling their wares to tourists, although guests are advised not to purchase the fresh aloe vera which, while being perfect for soothing sunburn, smells terrible and can leave indelible stains on towels and bedding! So beware.
Although everything required for the perfect holiday is readily available at Ocean Two, we were keen to go exploring and the hotel arranged a day’s car hire for us. Because Barbados is relatively small, most of the island’s attractions can be visited on a day trip.
We headed north, right up the western coast, through the capital Bridgetown, and onwards to the Paynes Bay area. Bridgetown is a must-see, a great place to soak up the atmosphere and what passes for hustle and bustle in this famously laid-back Caribbean island. Shops are open from 8am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday and on Saturdays from 8am to 3pm, and you can pick up souvenirs or the famous local ‘hot sauce’ to take home.
We arrived at 10am and the weather was already scorching hot as we wandered around the city’s bustling streets, including the shopping mecca that is Baxter’s Road, taking in sights such as the historic Parliament Buildings, the George Washington house – where the eponymous 19 year-old spent two months with his brother – and the Barbados Garrison, a former 17th century British military base, now open to the public.
Barbados is also famous for its watersports and diving centres, as well as its famous Mount Gay rum factory. A visit to the 300 year-old distillery is highly recommended as it offers an insight into the island’s rich history which includes the horrors of slavery, various wars over the valuable sugar plantations and, of course, a crash course in how the island’s signature liquor is made. The $10 entry fee includes a guided tour as well as some samples of the factory’s unique blends, so make sure there’s a designated driver willing to forego the tasting session!
Perhaps the most famous hotel on the island is Sandy Lane, much loved by the likes of Simon Cowell and the late Michael Winner. Sadly our budget didn’t stretch to sampling their afternoon tea, let alone the price of a room. But an equally-famous celebrity hang out is Daphne’s Italian Restaurant, down by the water’s edge in Payne’s Bay which, while not as cheap as the snacks available from the numerous curried goat and roti stalls, is still more affordable than you might think, although getting a table at short notice might be tricky.
Although we had the use of our hire car until the following morning, we took a fairly inexpensive taxi to Daphne’s from our hotel as we had heard the cocktail menu was one of the best on the island and not really compatible with a drive back to Ocean Two! Sure enough, the mostly rum-based concoctions lived up to their reputation and the food was exceptionally good, but any visiting celebrities were obviously otherwise engaged on that particular evening. However, it’s not all about fine dining and celeb-spotting in Barbados. For an authentic, island experience and there’s nothing better than indulging in a spot of liming which, in the local vernacular, means simply chilling, hanging out, shooting the breeze, taking things easy. If the Dwarf Poinciana is the national flower of Barbados, then liming must surely be its national characteristic.
There’s no better place to go liming, than Oistins fish fry on a Friday night. It takes place on Thursdays and Saturdays too, but Friday is the big night. It’s the night that everyone heads to Oistins, near Dover Beach, once the sun has gone down, to promenade, stop off for a bottle or two of the local beer, Banks, in one of the many bars, and, most importantly, sample the delicious, freshly-fried fish of many varieties served up from stalls, cafes and make-shift restaurants. As an introduction to the true flavour of Barbados, it couldn’t be more perfect.