Easy Escapes: Barbados

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  • Andrea Thompson gets sporty in the sunny Caribbean

    Andrea Thompson gets sporty in the sunny Caribbean

    Why go? Barbados is a lush green island of year-round sunshine, flour-white beaches and exotic rum cocktails. Add in friendly locals, quaint colonial houses, spruce cricket greens, Michelin-starred restaurants and an obsession with stopping everything at 4pm to take afternoon tea and cakes, and you can see why so many British travellers flock here. Oh, and then there’s the bonus of spotting Bajan-born beauty Rhianna doing a little low-key sunbathing on the beach…

    When? Barbados has an inviting climate that’s generally warm and sunny but with a cool breeze and an average daytime high of 30°C. Officially, the rainy season is June to October (‘June to soon, October all over’ – goes the local saying) but when it rains it usually only does so for five minutes before the sun comes out. Book now for Crop Over (29 June-9 August, barbadoscropoverfestival.com) when you can gyrate till you drop in street carnivals featuring spectacular costumes and glittering floats. This is where Rhianna lets her hair down (stalkers, us?). Then there’s the Barbados Food and Rum Festival (22-25 November, foodwinerum.com), while Christmas and New Year is another great time to go (but pricier), when the island comes alive with lights and street parties and Bajans drape their gardens with festive tinsel. In spring, Holders Season (22 March-5 April 2014, holders.net) features open air concerts in the grounds of model Jemima Kidd’s family home.

    Rum, rhythm – and stately homes: don’t miss a visit to St Nicholas Abbey

    You really must… Tear yourself away from the sun-lounger. Take a half-day catamaran cruise along the sheltered west coast with the legendary Cool Runnings team (£59 with pick-up, coolrunningsbarbados.com), which includes a stop to snorkel with turtles, free dive around a wreck, eat a slap-up buffet lunch with unlimited cocktails, and jive your way back with a live DJ set that kicks in after lunch.

    If you fancy some watersports, seek out the ever-patient Roland Boyce (endlesskiteboarding.com) who operates one of the best kitesurfing, surfing, windsurfing and paddleboardng schools on the island. He’s based at Silver Rock on the south coast – a two-hour group kitesurfing lesson costs £79.

    Or go off the beaten track to the wild Atlantic east coast where you can have the beach to yourself at Bathsheba and explore the green and hilly Scotland country. Bridegtown, the capital, is also worth a visit to see its historic core (a World Heritage Site) and the Barbados National Museum.

    Lift off: The Crane overlooks one of the best beaches in the Caribbean

    Stay at: On the east coast, The Crane (thecrane.com) is an historic hotel that opened in 1887 and has just had a total refurb. Only ten minutes from the airport it’s set on the cliffs by Crane Beach – a mesmerizing white beach with crashing blue waves. All 282 rooms feature king-size four-poster beds with marbled bathrooms and traditional coral stone walls. Amenities include a colonial-style village with shops, salons, gym and a spa where the signature treatment is the 105-minute Crane Glow aromatic full-body massage with a sea salt polish (£132). Some of the staff have been there over 30 years and the hotel retains an old world charm with landscaped gardens and L’Azure restaurant serving traditional Bajan dishes including local fish cooked with spices.

    On the busier west coast, the family-run all-inclusive Mango Bay Hotel (mangobaybarbados.com) in Holetown has a small beach and 76 rooms, each with their own balcony. Unique for its exceptionally friendly, laid-back vibe, this is your home from home if you’re looking for that local boutiquey feel as opposed to the large multi-room resort. The staff here are exceptional and there’s a spa and live music every night, plus you can enjoy unlimited watersports and sample everything from scenic trips on their glass-bottomed boat to snorkelling, scuba lessons, water-skiing and kayaking.

    Room with a sea view: the Penthouse Suite at the Mango Bay Hotel

    Dine at: Looking for that dreamlike beachside dining experience you’ve seen in the brochures? Head for Daphne’s (daphnesbarbados.com) on Paynes Beach which serves good quality local dishes with a modern Italian twist. The service is impeccable without being overbearing and the bar is as well stocked as a Mayfair cocktail lounge – with great mixologists to boot! Kick off with some watermelon martinis by the bar then go for the linguini with shredded spicy crab (£15) and blackened dorado (£29).

    Also visit The Grille restaurant at the Hilton Barbados Resort (hiltonbarbadoshotel.com) where outstanding local chef Andre Nurse offers an exciting and experimental menu – stand-out dishes include the fresh lobster salad (£15) and Bajan-style snapper £18).

    If the budget’s tight, head to Oistins on a Friday night where fresh fish is served beneath the stars in an open-air market that turns into a street party after 8pm. For more dancing head to The Boatyard (theboatyard.com) on a Tuesday or Harbour Lights (harbourlightsbarbados.com) on a Wednesday – both feature thumping sound systems mixing up a selection calypso, reggae and dance.

    Open road: head to the east coast for deserted beaches

    Bring home: Mount Gay Rum Extra Old, which you can get in any supermarket for a third of the price of the UK – use it to mix up a reminiscent cocktail or two on your return. Check out the local beach traders, too, for jewellery made using shells plus handprinted fabrics that make great sarongs.

    Book now: Virgin Atlantic (virginatlantic.com) flies to Barbados from Gatwick and Manchester, from £588 return in June including taxes. The airline has a new, fresh menu and wine list, the latest film selection and perks such as free choc-ices and lollies mid-flight (and yes, those little details make a difference when you’ve got eight hours to fill!).

    Destinology (0800 634 2866, destinology.co.uk) offers a week’s package combining four nights in a junior suite at The Crane (room only) with three nights at the all-inclusive Mango Bay from £1,649 per person. This is based on two adults sharing a room and includes transfers and return flights with Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick.

    Info: Fodor’s In Focus Barbados & St Lucia (£10.99; Fodor) is an up-to-date guide, and see visitbarbados.org.

    Watersports, St Nicholas Abbey and east coast images provided by the Barbados Tourism Authority


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