Sharon McKee from Oasis Travel Howard Street, explores this jewel of the Caribbean as the sun-loving guest of BA and Barbados Tourism
Barbados is one of the most developed and popular of the Caribbean islands, offering its visitors culture, tradition, plus a dazzling array of things to see and do …. and then, of course, there are the beaches … seemingly endless stretches of impossibly white palm-fringed sands set against azure blue seas. Was I keen to go to Barbados? You bet your life I was!
I jetted off courtesy of BA, with a Club Class upgrade giving me ideas way above my station as I was cocooned in luxury for the eight and a half hour flight from London Gatwick to Grantley Adams International Airport. (If you’re a bit of a name nerd, or just super-curious, Sir Grantley Herbert Adams, CMG, QC, was a Barbadian and British West Indian statesman, named in 1998 as one of the National Heroes of Barbados). With12 BA flights a week, getting away to the Caribbean couldn’t be easier and, if your budget will stretch a little, check out the options for upgrading. It may cost less than you think and the added luxury really sets you up for the relaxed mood of the Caribbean.
Barbados is an eastern Caribbean island and an independent British Commonwealth nation. Bridgetown, its capital, is a gloriously scenic cruise-ship port with stunning colonial buildings, and a vibrant commercial heart. Local traditions include afternoon tea, a passion for horse-racing and cricket, the national sport – enjoy them all in this friendly city. Chances are you will choose Barbados for the glories of its sun, sea and sand, but do make time to explore this diverse island and, in particular, visit its lush interior. The Barbados coastline is just sixty miles, but a circular tour will give you a great taste of a variety of land- and sea-scapes. Beaches on the West are calm, while on the South coast the surf is up.
Barbados appeals to a vast range of holiday-makers as the dream destination for a family holiday or a romantic getaway, wonderful wedding or honeymoon. The range of hotels reflects the range of visitors and their holiday styles, as I discovered.
My first stop was The Bougainvillea Beach Resort set in tropical gardens on tranquil Maxwell Beach, 5 mins from the St. Lawrence Gap district with its buzzing nightlife, cafes and restaurants. The hotel was split into two blocks with a wide range of rooms to suit couples or larger families. Featuring furnished balconies or terraces, airy studios and 1-bedroom suites come with complimentary Wi-Fi, iPod docks, and flat-screen TVs with premium channels. All include kitchenettes or full kitchens, plus living and dining areas. Children age 15 and under stay free.
The resort has 2 restaurants, and 2 outdoor pools (1 with a swim-up bar). Other amenities include a spa, a fitness centre and a tennis court. A kids' club, a game room and water sports equipment are available. Its grounds offer picture prefect locations for intimate weddings and small group events - we witnessed a gorgeous wedding during our stay.
The food in the hotel was fabulous, but we also ventured out to sample a different take on local cuisine at the traditional Oistins Fish Fry. Oistins is a small fishing town on the South coast and is a hub of activity every Friday night, with locals gathering to enjoy great food, music and even a bit of a dance. The food as the star attraction all cooked on the spot in front of you, but the village is packed with entertainment and attractions, with stalls selling arts, crafts, clothing and jewellery and plenty of music to add to the atmosphere … literally dancing in the streets!
The Sea Breeze is a four-star, all-inclusive resort on the south coast of Barbados, set within over two acres of tropical gardens alongside 700 feet of beach frontage. It currently has 78 rooms but is being extensively refurbished and extended to 122 rooms, due for completion in the latter half of 2017. The hotel provides access to two separate beaches which are safe for swimming and have sun loungers and shades, one non-motorised water sports including sailing, windsurfing, body boarding and snorkelling. There are two swimming pools, one of which is great for families while the other is adults-only, as are the Jacuzzis. There are three restaurants, a gym and Children’s Club.
I loved the wedding gazebo overlooking the ocean where you can have an exclusive reception for up to 18 people, happy in the knowledge that you’ll be centre-stage, for the hotel has a policy of catering to just one wedding per day.
The Oceans Two is an ultra-cool and sophisticated aparthotel overlooking Dover Beach, and close to the lush mangroves and tropical forest of the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary.
Upscale rooms offer free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs and rainfall showers, as well as furnished balconies with sea views. Upgraded rooms have whirlpool tubs, while airy 1- and 2-bedroom suites add kitchens and living/dining areas. Amenities include an open-air beachfront restaurant, and an outdoor pool with a swim-up bar and lovely comfy signature sun beds, plus a rooftop terrace featuring a bar/lounge and a plunge pool. There's also a 24-hour gym. Instead of a reception there is a bar area to welcome guests to make you feel at home and nice touches a pre arrival grocery service to fill your fridge if you opt to stay on a room only basis.
A beautiful roof deck is the perfect location for weddings or receptions and there is a private villa on site available for private hire – again perfect for a wedding party.
The Hilton Barbados is situated right on Carlisle Bay, arguably the best beach in Barbados and just a short stroll away from town. It is a large family resort featuring 350 rooms, some with totally stunning floor-to-ceiling windows with ocean views. Complimentary Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs, as well as minibars, coffeemakers and furnished balconies. The hotel has 2 restaurants, a lobby bar and a bar by an outdoor pool. There's also a hot tub, a spa and a gym, plus 3 tennis courts.
Casual food such as great grills and seafood abounds in Barbados, but the island is also justly famed for fine dining. It can prove expensive to go high end, but the odd holiday extravagance is always justifiable I feel. We dined in Tides Restaurant in Holetown and found the service as remarkable as the great ambiance and wonderful food.
Some culinary experiences proved even more remarkable ... such as The Gospel Brunch at The Crane Resort and Residences. A must-do island institution, this historic hotel celebrates everything that is wonderful about Barbados with a Sunday Gospel Brunch, featuring some of the island’s most gifted singers. Delightful, uplifting and totally memorable.
The hotel itself – a little off the main tourist track - is wonderful with spectacular views from the restaurant and grounds. Set on Crane Beach along the Atlantic coast, its chic assets include rooms with 4-poster beds and 1- to 3-bedroom apartments with full kitchens, as well as dining areas and washer/dryers. Some even offer private plunge pools. Upgraded apartments have roof terraces, hot tubs and/or BBQs. The resort has five restaurants and a bar. Other amenities include five (yes, five!) outdoor pools, plus a spa and fitness centre. The hotel hosts one wedding per day but you must be a guest at the property.
Following our visit to the Crane we took a tour around St Nicholas Abbey plantation house, museum and rum distillery followed by a fantastic dinner cruise on the luxurious ‘Seaduced’ catamaran watching the sun go down.
At nearby Port Ferdinand there was a luxury romance brunch experience featuring floral demonstrations, make up demos and information sessions, followed by sumptuous Bajan brunch by Caribbean villa chefs, all reinforcing my enthusiasm for Barbados as a wedding destination.
Making the most of my time, I was also able to fit in a whistlestop tour of still more great hotels, each with a very different style, but all united by great service and attention to detail.
Fustic House – Dating back to 1700, this privately owned 11 acre estate is set on a ridge above the St Lucy coastline, just a few steps from the beach. Re-designed in the late 70’s by Oliver Messel, Fustic has fantastic views of the Caribbean Sea and the west coast. A true tropical escape, it features a private lagoon style pool set into the coral ridge while its cuisine is amongst the best on the island. There are just seven double bedrooms in this exclusive setting where weddings are a speciality with the option of the wedding party ‘taking over’ the entire house.
Apes Hill Country Club and Spa – on the Platinum Coast with panoramic views of the ocean, this super-chic resort features villas which can be booked for a minimum stay of three nights. Billed as ‘the only Golf, Polo and Tennis community of Barbados’ it is a byword for style.
Sugar Bay-All Inclusive Resort Set on Drill Hall Beach, this relaxed all-inclusive resort is suitable for couples or families. Charming, casual atmosphere with excellent amenities including six restaurants and bars ranging from a steakhouse to a swim-up bar two outdoor pools, a spa and a 24-hour fitness centre, plus water sports, a Games Room and Kids’ Club.
The House – This small boutique, adult-only hotel is perfect for a tranquil escape. Recently named one top 100 Hotels in the world by Travel & Leisure Magazine, it features so many of life’s little luxuries … champagne buffet breakfast, complimentary afternoon tea, jet lag massage … you name it. Tasteful elegant décor and service to match: you won’t want to leave.
Tamarind Cove (beside The House) is a more family orientated property with 103 rooms, although it thoughtfully includes some escape-from-it-all zones for adults only. Wjitewashed buildings and terracotta roofs create a charming backdrop to some great Caribbean flourishes. Facilities include watersports and beautiful landscaped gardens with courtyards dotted with fountains ... or head to the adults-only pool and relax as 'pool ambassadors' (the hotel's words, not mine!) ply you with cold, eucalyptus scented towels, drinks and coconut ice lollies. Rooms vary from simple Pool/Gardenview Rooms to spacious One Bedroom Suites which are ideal for families and groups. Opt for an Oceanfront Room or suite for teh chance to watch fiery sunsets over the sea from your balcony or terrace.
Fairmont Royal Pavillion - Overlooking Alleynes Bay beach on the Caribbean coast, this upscale hotel is geared towards couples. Elegant rooms feature balconies or terraces with sea views and Junior Suites are available, each with their own private decked area with sunbeds looking onto the beach. Amenities include two refined restaurants and a bar, a super pool with hot tub and a spa, watersports and access to two tennis courts.
Barbados is an island packed with choices, with everything needed to turn your day-dreams into reality; from high end to surprising value, this really is the perfect retreat … and it you’d like to chat with me about how to plan your Bajan escape, just give me a call or pop into our Howard Street offices!