Beautiful Barbados

The signs are unmistakable. It’s wet, windy and dark at four o clock so it must be time to head abroad and bask in some winter sun. If the daily grind is getting you down and you need to recharge your batteries in a tropical paradise, may we suggest Barbados?

When in Britain the sky is the colour of porridge , the leaves are falling and everyone is succumbing to the  cough-ice, in Barbados it’s hot. Not sweltering sunstroke hot you understand, but blue skies, smattering of clouds, top up the tan hot.

Only a handful of places on earth are more seductive and beautiful in the flesh than on the postcard but, in my mind, Barbados is one of them. Even better: it doesn’t require a string of vaccinations to get there and you’re guaranteed sun and spoken English.

The majority of Brits make a beeline for Barbados’ fabled west coast which isn’t nicknamed the Platinum coast for nothing: this lap of luxury is where the jet set (think leggy models, real estate gurus, playboys and socialites) hang out. For people watching at its most intoxicating, look no further than Lime Grove – a new, overdraft shattering shopping mall packed with people who look like they are living in an Armani holiday advert.

Yes the west coast is good at showing off, but sometimes less is more right? So if, like me, you can survive a holiday without bumping into Simon Cowell and co, head south where you’ll find pockets of paradise that have not yet been lost.There’s no such thing as a bad beach in Barbados, but Brownes beach, Miami beach and Accra beach – all on the sun kissed south coast – are exceptionally fine spots to toast on a sun lounger and then spend longer in the paint box turquoise water than a dolphin. From a distance, the ocean appears a tantalizingly unnatural aqua but, up close, it’s as clear as if poured from a tap.

The three S’s – sun, sand and sea – are invariably Barbados’ biggest headline grabbers but, while undeniably beautiful, they tend to divert from the island’s equally enticing interior. Here you’ll find rolling hills, traditional chattel houses the colour of mint ice cream, beautiful botanical gardens, magnificent plantation houses (step forward St Nicholas Abbey) and the spectacular subterranean attraction that is Harrison’s Cave. This massive underground cave stream system, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, is the place to gaze in awe at caverns and crystallised formations.

But it’s the island’s east coast that excites me most, being that little bit more colourful, curious, courageous and crazy than the rest of the Barbados. Sequestered by sugar canes and thick fields, this is the Caribbean in its rawest, most real state. I’m staying in the eastern parish of St Philip where on a patch of grass, a makeshift wicket is set up and a tattered ball hurled at a well worn bat while ladies in their best outfits gather at the church next door; where rural roads are lined with home grown produce stands and cows and goats wander into the road, while the blue green sea glistens in the sun and the vegetation has a lush brilliance.

By contrast Bridgetown – Barbados’ bustling capital – is a lively place to stroll overflowing with fruit sellers and souvenir shops targeting cruise ship passengers in search of an ‘I heart Barbados’ t-shirt and Tortuga rum cake. On Broad Street – the Bajan capital’s main thoroughfare – you can also window shop for tax free Rolexes and Ray Bans.

When you’ve had your retail therapy fix, make for the George Washington House (the only house outside of America where the great man resided), followed by the Barbados Museum. The latter is hardly the V&A but does give you a flavour of the colonial period of life. It’s perfectly possible to ‘do’ Bridgetown in an afternoon, although admittedly that goes against the chilled out nature of the island.

After ambling around town, chances are you’ll have worked up an appetite. Fortunately Barbados has a thriving local gastronomic scene and restaurants such as the Roundhouse and The Cliff have earned a reputation for quality – as well as their arresting views. But if you’re not happily cashed up, panic not – you won’t go hungry in Barbados. Choose from food stalls, then sit and feast with locals eating street nosh like flying fish, cou cou (a cornmeal and okra staple), cutters (meat or fish sandwiches in salt bread) and, of course, jerk chicken with rice and peas. Whatever delicacy you plump for, it must be sprinkled with the fiery yellow Bajan sauce which sits on every table top.

In the evening, aim to watch the sun set from Ramshackle or Dippers – two friendly beachside bars where you can drink rum punch (be warned the ubiquitous Bajan cocktail often includes enough rum to fell an ox) from glasses the size of goldfish bowls, while watching the wavelets tiptoe up the shore. Then dance away the calories at Harbour Lights – the kind of club your Mother warned you about: think hormones, hedonism and a whole lotta fun! The cover charge can hit B$50 on Friday nights but, to paraphrase Bob Marley, when it includes rum punches aplenty, “everything is going to be all right”.

Similarly, St Lawrence Gap – Barbados’ infamous bar strip – is another good time place: a hang out for the young and hedonistic, with a lust for life. You will stay up all night (despite good intentions I never made it to bed before midnight) until the dawn of another cloudless day for there’s always one last rum and coke to be consumed.

But there’s more to Bajan nightlife than sipping cocktails with pretty young things, to fresh DJ spun tunes. If you’re in Barbados on a Friday night, don’t miss the legendary Oistins Fish Fry. The small fishing village opens it doors to tourists and locals alike, all of whom flock here for the barbecue fish and rum drinking, to a backdrop of reggae, pop and country music. Yet as fantastic as events like the Friday night fish fry are, without a doubt one of the island’s greatest assets is its people. Charming and hospitable, they always have time to talk and help make Barbados one of the most welcoming countries in the Caribbean.

Of course, all this costs. It’s safe to say that Barbados has never been a cheap destination and prices for accommodation can be shockingly high. Then there remains the matter of the journey: the biggest headache with Barbados is the usually exorbitant cost of getting there. However even if the island leaves you lighter in pocket,  trust CD-Traveller when we say that you’ll leave with a heavy heart. All in all, this is one of the Caribbean’s top treats: I’m going back next year.

Need to know

Getting around Transport is a doddle compared to other Caribbean countries. Local buses and mini-vans are safe, cheap and frequent although they are not a quiet experience. Buses blare out Rihanna – the local girl done good – and reggae at full volume and it can take forever to get from A-B because the drivers keep stopping to pick up friends and relatives!

Don’t miss excursions Two unforgettable day trips include a Tiami catamaran cruise (a five hour cruise with lunch, snorkelling and giant turtle viewing opportunities) and a trip to the Mount Gay rum distillery. Rum is the drink of Barbados be it by itself, with coke or in a cocktail. At Mount Gay Rum visitors centre, you can take a tour of a working distillery and learn a little more about the world famous rum (the darker the drink, the older the rum but note that unlike scotch, older doesn’t necessarily mean better). On Tuesdays and Thursdays, an excellent West Indian buffet that includes macaroni pie, flying fish and Bajan rum cake is offered at the end of the tour.

To book a Tiami catamaran cruise, visit www.tallshipcruises.com. To book a Mount Gay Rum tour, check out www.mountgayrum.com. For more information on Barbados, log onto www.visitbarbados.org

This article was first published on CD-Traveller (http://www.cd-traveller.com/) on January 25.