With its dramatic scenery, sunshine and stunning beaches, it’s no wonder the rich and famous come to Barbados to play, finds Fiona Laing
From Cherry Tree Hill we look across Little Scotland to a glorious long stretch of coast: crescents of sand and white wavetops fringing a lush green landscape.
This is the Atlantic coast of Barbados. It is all in sharp contrast to the west – Platinum – coast where we are staying at the Royal Westmoreland resort.
Here the shore is more dramatic, its land less developed. The wooden veranda-fronted houses, colourful rum shops and tropical vegetation still feature, but the trappings of international tourism are less visible.
We are heading south towards Bathsheba, where an old railway station is now a popular restaurant and a burger and fries are served with an intoxicating sea view.
However, the burger at the Atlantis Hotel is not as you would expect – it is grilled fillets of mahi-mahi – the fish sometimes referred to as dolphin but which is actually dorado – and the chips breadfruit.
We have visited the plantation of St Nicholas Abbey. At its heart is a grand 17th century house – one of the oldest on the island – filled with the trappings of generations of wealthy planters.
Minton, Sheraton and Chippendale vie for attention with local handicrafts as the vivacious Maureen guides us round making us laugh at every stop.
Owned by architect Larry Warner since 2006, the plantation is being sympathetically restored so that the house, working sugar cane mill, syrup plant and rum distillery will preserve this part of Bajan history.
Close by, Little Scotland dates from the time of the first sugar cane plantation workers and the Scottish “indentured servants” – prisoners of war deported by Cromwell after the civil war. From a distance, the wooded hilly area could almost be the Trossachs.
In this beautiful environment we are never far from celebrity. The St Nicholas plantation was once owned by an ancestor of Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch.
In Barbados celebs are a way of life: there are four stars of Made in Chelsea on Mullins beach; Cliff Richard has a house in the resort next to Royal Westmoreland and the island’s home-grown superstar singer Rihanna has a condo on the beach where we anchor for lunch on a catamaran.
In the Bajan holiday season, the British papers publish a stream of paparazzi photos of celebs holidaying on the Platinum coast: Simon Cowell, Chris Evans, Olly Murs, Ben Fogle, Justin Bieber, James Corden.
But it is not all showbiz; sporting stars love the island too. We pass a West Indies fast bowler in the Royal Westmoreland pro shop; we are staying in a villa owned by boxer Joe Calzaghe and Wayne Rooney’s house is next door. Other owners include Mike Gatting, Ian Woosnam, Andrew Flintoff – the list goes on.
Not that you would notice: the Royal Westmoreland estate is 750 acres and although home to more than 200 villas and apartments as well as a world-class golf course, it’s very grounded.
John Morphet, the Lancashire businessman who has owned the resort since 2004, emphasises this as we have coffee with him in the elegant clubhouse one morning.
“We do have celebrities,” he says, but adds that the owners are not starstruck and leave other residents alone.
The resort is a work in progress and after a slow period since the recession, more villas are being built – luckily the work tends to be away from the established homes.
And although not a golfer, Morphet is investing in his fairways, with plans for a second course drawn up by Rees Jones, the brother of Robert Trent Jones jr, the designer of his existing 18 holes.
Golf is one of Royal Westmoreland’s selling points and the par 72 course makes the most of its setting and sea views, but it is not a typical resort course, emphasises Bill Longmuir, the club’s Scottish professional.
“It’s much better than that, so we play European tour events here,” says Bill, who plays on the seniors tour and will be remembered for leading the field at the end of the first day of the 1984 Open at St Andrews – the year Seve Ballesteros won.
“The most challenging hole on this course has got to be 11. It is 450 yards but because of the prevailing easterly winds plays more like 500 yards. It’s straight uphill into the breeze.”
His favourite is the “tricky” 6th, a very short par 4 “dog leg left into a coral cliff” which demands strategic play. “It’s a clever little design with a very shallow green and although it is not very long it is challenging and gets you thinking.”
A lesson with Bill left me itching to get out on the glorious fairways, but there was also a well-equipped gym, tennis courts and, of course, our private pool to put to use.
Ironically we didn’t do much walking as we whizzed around in the villa’s golf buggy – even using it to cross the estate to go to the Rum Shack for dinner and its ridiculously good rum punch.
With a luxury villa that had absolutely everything we needed for self catering, including poolside barbecue, eating out was another irony.
Still, Tides in nearby Holetown was a dining out experience not to be missed. Set overlooking the beach, this sophisticated place serves up a thoughtful fusion of Bajan flavours and international cuisine.
It is in contrast to the bohemian beachside bar at Mullins, which has a shuttlebus service from Royal Westmoreland, 3km away.
Run by Rory Rodger, who as a teen boarded at Fettes College in Edinburgh, the bar serves honest fast food where chicken comes with rice, coleslaw and macaroni cheese pie.
The mac pie option was somewhat surprising on the first day on the island but we soon came to expect it as we explored.
A day on the catamaran introduces us to the treasures of the Caribbean. Snorkeling means an encounter with turtles and two of the many shipwrecks in the sweep of Carlisle Bay close to the island’s capital Bridgetown.
We then head north and to our lunchtime anchorage in front of the condos at Sandy Lane, the high profile celeb hangout.
Oistins on the south coast is the place to go on a Friday evening – for a fish supper. It’s lively and has none of the polish of the Platinum coast resorts and the fish suppers are definitely more exotic than what we associate with a seaside treat in Scotland.
Here the choice is mahi-mahi, flying fish, marlin, red snapper, tuna and swordfish – all served with the now familiar “mac pie n slaw”.
In reality we didn’t need to go that far. On a Sunday afternoon, Mullins is rocking to a live band and attracts a crowd – including those Made in Chelsea celebs – watching the sun going down on the Caribbean.
Fact box: A week’s stay in a four-bedroom villa with private pool costs from £4,403 in low season and from £8,356 in high season. This includes complimentary daily golf, a barbecue and a four seater buggy for use around the resort.
To buy a fortnight in a two-bedroom Golf Cottage with community pool costs from £43,000, while a fortnight in a four-bedroom Royal Palm Villa with private pool is from £81,000.
Property prices start at £644,000 for a three-bedroom apartment or from £1,098,000 for a semi-detached four-bedroom villa with private pool. Plots for a bespoke, detached property start at £1,700,000. Royal Westmoreland, tel: 01524 782649 (sales) 01524 782503 (holidays) www.royalwestmoreland.com
Direct flights to Barbados from the UK depart from Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester.