Where to stay…
The west coast of Barbados is prime real estate – with Sandy Lane and Paynes Bay both slap bang in the middle of the scenic paradise. While it’s certainly worth taking a trip to the more rugged beaches of the east coast and historic Bridgetown down south, the west coast is lined with hotels offering easy access to stunning beaches, calm bays and safe waters to swim in.
There are several guest houses and Air B&B options at the cheaper end of the scale, as well as hotels set a little further back from the beach. However, if it’s luxury you’re after, the Elegant Hotels Group have that covered with six different resorts all along the west coast, each catering for a slightly different kind of traveller. We stayed at the four-star Treasure Beach hotel, an adults-only boutique right on the beachfront of Paynes Bay, which has recently undergone a $10m refurbishment. Here, experienced spacious rooms (a lounge area with a sofa, TV and fridge all separate to the bedroom and bathroom), an ocean view, and a swimming pool sans shrieking, splashing children – bliss.
A particular highlight of Treasure Beach is the food – with an award-winning head chef at the helm, everything from the basil-infused macaroons arranged prettily as a welcome gesture in the bedrooms to the extensive menu of hot breakfasts (we cannot stop talking about the creole flying fish) was unusual and delicious. Another was the complimentary sundowner hour, during which we enjoyed a different daily cocktail while watching the sun set across the Caribbean Sea in front of us.
For the sporty…
If lying on a beach makes you restless and you’re looking for something a little more thrilling than an up-to-the-waist dip, the west coast of the island is ideal for water sports. Water skiing, banana boat rides, paddle boarding and canoeing are all available options. Plus, if you do end up staying at a hotel in the Elegant Group, all water sports are complimentary – so you can speed through the sea on the back of a jet ski or grab a paddle and board free of charge.
For the culture-vulture…
Those keen to learn more about the history of Barbados should pay a visit to Arlington House in Speightstown, which spans the island’s occupation under British rule and slavery, to the sugarcane trade and its much-loved biproduct: rum. The 200-year-old building has been open as a museum since 2008, and is a great place to visit with kids – the top room has several interactive attractions including a steering wheel to navigate your way around the Caribbean Sea with, and scales to find out your weight and worth in sugar (spoiler alert: it’s surprisingly little).
Art lovers should head to the Gallery of Caribbean Art, also in Speightstown, where you can browse and buy works from local artists as well as those of neighbouring islands – don’t worry about trying to fit your purchases in your suitcase, as you can organise to have them shipped home. Earthworks Pottery is also not to be missed; here you can watch the craftsmen and women in action as they mould their wares using a red clay only found in Barbados.
Classes in batik – an alternative to painting where you use hot wax to dye cloth – are also available outside Earthworks Pottery; with breathtaking scenes of lush greenery rolling down to the sea right in front of you, you’ll be sure to feel inspired. Guests of Treasure Beach hotel can also partake in mandala art classes – painting dots onto smooth stones to form beautiful patterns – ideal for creating handmade gifts or keepsakes to take home as a memory of your trip.
For the beach dweller…
Needless to say, the beaches in Barbados are one of the biggest pulls – and will be some of the most beautiful you’ll ever see. For those looking for smooth waters and stunning backdrops, you really can’t go wrong with those on the west coast – the sea appears practically flat, with the white sands tumbling down into it; you won’t have to wade out far here to find yourself fully submerged. We recommend the stretch from Paynes Bay to Sandy Lane for a mixture of the best swimming, water sports and views of natural beauty (and celebs too – Simon Cowell, Rihanna and a fair chunk of the Made in Chelsea cast have all been spotted there).
If you’re looking for something a little more rustic, spend a day exploring the island’s east coast – Bath beach, Bathsheba and Cattlewash are all worth a visit.
For the spa lover…
If the beach isn’t enough alone to see you fully on the way to relaxation – or if you’re in the mood for some holiday indulgence – Barbados doesn’t fall short when it comes to spas. We spent the morning at The House for one of their signature treatments, which are all based on the Chinese medicine five element theory of wood, fire, earth, metal and water.
We experienced the fire and water massage – a combination designed to fight symptoms of jetlag – perfect for revitalising, rebalancing and getting your holiday off to an energetic start. The Elemental Herbology oils used smelt so good, we went and bought our own post-treatment.
For the foodie…
While there are a host of delicious restaurants on the island, many of which are attached to beachfront hotels, you can’t leave Barbados without trying the national dish: pudding and souse. Souse is essentially less conventional cuts of pork – trotters, ears, snout, tongue (you name it) – seasoned and pickled. The pudding is steamed sweet potato, traditionally cooked in pig intestines like a sausage. Typically served on a Saturday (eyebrows were raised when the chef at Treasure Beach served it as our leaving lunch on a Monday, after we begged to try it), it might not be a meal to suit all tastes, but it’s certainly the most authentic.
Beyond that, fish anywhere you go is likely to be good – and seriously fresh. If you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen and amenities to cook, head to a food market in Bridgetown to stock up on local ingredients – it’ll be cheap and an experience in itself.
If you do stay with a hotel in the Elegant group, it’s worth taking advantage of their Dine Around Programme, through which you can eat at any of their hotel restaurants along the west and south coast of the island, including Tamarind, Colony Club, Waves (which offers a delicious, relaxed buffet-style lunch) and star of the show, Daphne’s – which serves up gourmet Italian as delectable as its sister branch in South Kensington. During the daytime, there’s a complimentary water taxi available to take you between the hotel restaurants, while if you go at night you can dine on the various hotel decks to the sound of the local whistling frogs.
For the nightlife…
For an evening out in Barbados, there’s no better place to than Oistins, a fishing town on the south coast. Head down on a Friday night for the famous fish fry experience – go early for a family-friendly environment and to taste catches from various venders (be guided by the locals as to which – each will have their favourites). Then stay late for the party complete with music (contemporary in the main space but 50s rock’n’roll just around one corner), dancing and rum punch – the local speciality, certain to have you feeling woozy after a couple of cups.
Barbados is the eastern most island of the Caribbean, and has a population of just 285,000. There’s an expression Bajans use to describe the size of their island – it’s 21 miles long and a smile wide – and it’s not hard to believe why, once you’ve met some of the locals who all seem to be happy to help. You might think it’s a fluke at first, that you’ve chanced upon a friendly taxi driver, but in our experience the hospitality continued with each new ride we took, room we entered or rum shack we stumbled upon.
A former British colony, Barbados gained full independence in 1966 but maintains ties to the British monarch as a member of the Commonwealth. The island is also split into parishes, which derived from its religious Anglican history under the Church of England – the capital Bridgetown, for example, is located in the parish of Saint Michael. Towns are usually just one street, our guide told us, and because of the small size of the island it’s relatively quick to drive between them.
Whatever time of year you go to Barbados, the weather will be warm and sunny – temperatures remain between 24˚C to 30˚C throughout the year. That said, even in the dry season (January to May) you should be prepared for rain showers here and there – it’s a tropical island after all.
Currency on the island is Barbados dollars – which you’ll need to order in advance if you’re changing money back home, as most exchange outlets won’t hold it on site. The island also accepts US dollars though, but you won’t get quite as good a deal for it.
Flights to Barbados are available from multiple UK airports and through multiple airlines. We flew with Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick airport – a 9hr direct flight out during the day and a 7hr 45min return flight overnight.
Rooms at Treasure Beach start from $333 on a bed and breakfast basis*
*Minimum five-night stay
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