Mark Atkinson goes hotel hopping in the Caribbean and enjoys romantic dining, snorkelling with turtles and a pub crawl with a real difference
Walking towards passport control at Grantley Adams airport in Bridgetown, I notice a smartly dressed young man holding a sign with my name on it. He clocks me looking at him and immediately extends a hand. “Mr Atkinson,” he says. “Welcome to Barbados. Is this your first visit?”
“Yes,” I reply.
“Well,” he says, with a grin, “it may be your first visit, but it won’t be your last.”
A bold statement to make, but on my flight from London I’d done plenty of reading about Barbados and one common theme had prevailed: Barbadians’ pride in their paradise-like island. I’d arrived with high expectations. I wasn’t to be disappointed.
The Caribbean is one of the most popular destinations for British holidaymakers. It’s warm all year round, has some of the world’s best beaches and fine cuisine. Barbados, however, is slightly different from the rest of the islands. It’s the most easterly land mass in the region and, as a result, seems to avoid the hurricanes that hit the area from time to time. I’m told I’m here in the “rainy season”, but clearly they haven’t been to Ardrossan in November. The sun is shining, it’s 30C and I’ve got a glass of rum punch in my hand. No weather complaints thus far.
Hotels are plentiful in Barbados, so we’ve decided to try two on our holiday. We’ve gone with properties on the western side of the island, the coast that has the calmer, warmer waters of the Caribbean Sea lapping against it. Both are with Elegant Hotels, who own six across the island. The House is our first port of call. An exceptionally romantic place, its bar and restaurant area is as close to the beach as you can get and it has a secluded, serene feel to it. Our first meal here is a seafood extravaganza, with fresh scallops followed by a lobster linguine. The fish here is the pride of the island and you can see why.
The next morning is devoted to watersports just a stone’s throw from the hotel. You can jet-ski, water-ski, paddle board or be towed round the bay in a massive inflatable rubber ring, which adults enjoy far more than they probably should.
Our afternoon/evening activity is also water-based. We’ve hired a Seaduced private catamaran to tour the coastline, do some snorkelling and then have dinner on deck. The boat is luxurious and our captain tells us that within minutes he’ll have us snorkelling among turtles. I’m sceptical, but soon we’re in the sea hand-feeding one. Afterwards, we watch the sun go down while listening to Caribbean music and munching on freshly caught mahi-mahi smothered in Bajan spices.
After another night in the idyllic surroundings of The House, it’s off to our next hotel further up the coast, Colony Club. It has a lagoon-like pool as well as the beachfront and an impressive restaurant. The head chef leads tours round the hotel’s herb garden, explaining all the ingredients she uses in her cooking, before creating a dish there and then using fresh produce.
The hotel also offers a “bait to plate” experience, which involves going out on a small boat and fishing for your dinner. It’s a great experience, with most lines getting a bite within minutes.
One advantage of staying with Elegant Hotels is that you can transfer between its properties via water taxi and eat at various restaurants. One of the nights we transfer over to Tamarind, which does surf and turf on a Monday, and its steak/lobster combo doesn’t disappoint. Another night we go to Crystal Cove, which is closer to the island’s capital Bridgetown, to have a magnificent dinner, while our own property hosts a seaside grill on a Tuesday night. This is my favourite out of all of them, an all-you-can eat affair that includes fresh sushi and the opportunity to watch your steak, king prawns, tuna or lobster being barbecued in front of your eyes.
Food is a big part of Bajan culture, but even bigger is rum. Mount Gay is the most famous distiller on the island and a visit there is recommended. Be warned: you’ll probably come out of its tour and tasting session drunk. Perhaps that’s why the original owner of the distillery, John Sober, decided not to name it after himself. There are also more quaint distillers and historical places to go, such as St Nicholas Abbey in the north. It’s a perfectly preserved Jacobean house, one of only three in the western hemisphere, that once belonged to a plantation owner. It has a distillery on the side and the rum there is rarer and just as tasty.
If you haven’t had enough of the sweet stuff, a “rum shop” crawl departs from Tamarind. Bars in Barbados are called rum shops, so this is the opportunity to be transported all over the island, coast to coast, stopping off at various places for refreshments. It’s a great way to travel - we popped into Bathsheba, a picturesque village on the Atlantic coast where the waves are a surfer’s paradise, before the moving across to the Caribbean side to bask at a beachside bar while playing dominos with the locals.
My final day is spent relaxing by the beach and having more culinary adventures. Again, we’ve transferred to another hotel, Turtle Beach, to try cooking and mixology lessons. The chef here takes us round the food shops and then to the Oistins fish market, where you can probably pick up any species you wish. Back at the hotel, he cooks us up Barbados’ national dish, flying fish with cou-cou, which tastes divine.
Too quickly it’s time to depart. However, my man at the airport was right. It won’t be my last trip to Barbados.
British Airways Holidays offers seven nights at The House (www.thehousebarbados.com) from £1,989pp based on two sharing, including return flights from London Gatwick on a B&B basis. Book by 1 December. British Airways Holidays offers seven nights at Colony Club (www.colonyclubhotel.com) from £1,059pp for selected departures in June, including return flights from London Gatwick and accommodation with breakfast (based on two adults and two children under 12). Book by 30 September. Visit ba.com/elegant-hotels or call 0344 493 0120. For details of Elegant’s other hotels, visit www.eleganthotels.com